Introducing Gotham GHOSTMASTERS

Finding Your Perfect Ghost Match

October 30, 2016

Toni Robino

Editor’s Note: One of the first questions our agency gets asked is how we go about matching our clients with the right writer. What are the main ingredients to picking the perfect pairing?

Today we feature some expert answers and inside insights from one of our favorite ghosts.

When you work with the right writer, you co-create a book you’re proud to call your own, a book that captures your true voice and brings your message or story to life. It represents you so well that it’s as if you wrote it yourself. Authors who are fortunate enough to collaborate with their perfect match not only create great books but also benefit from the experience. The right writer will help you to crystallize your thoughts, identify the strongest hooks, ask insightful questions and create an organizational structure that supports your book’s content.

Here are ten tips to help you find your perfect match:

  • Experts can assess authors’ skills and talents better than most authors can themselves.

One of the questions I hear a lot is, “How do I pick a great writer if I’m not one myself?” It’s a wonderful question. If you have an agent, ask him or her to help you choose your writer. If you don’t, consider hiring a professional book editor or working with a company that can help you make the best choice. The benefit of matchmaking services is that the good ones aren’t just assessing whether writers are qualified for your job—they’re also taking personalities, work styles and other factors into account.

  • Quality is more important than quantity.

A ghost who’s written twenty books isn’t necessarily better than one who’s written a few. I’ve seen some very talented writers get passed over simply because they hadn’t chalked up enough book credits. When this happens, the writers and the authors lose out. It’s true that experience matters, but once a ghost has written a couple of excellent books, they’ve proved they can do it.  You can get a better idea of what a writer can do for you from writing samples or a trial chapter than from a bio or a CV.

  • Location rarely matters.

For some reason, many people who’ve never collaborated on a book have the impression that the ghost needs to be located nearby. This is rarely true. While there are situations and circumstances that may make this necessary, in most cases great books can be produced with phone, Skype and electronic communication. If you’re thinking of working with someone who’s on the other side of the globe, though, make sure there will be time frames when you can connect. My clients are rarely nearby, and I’ve found that I prefer recorded phone interviews over in-person meetings because it allows me to be completely present and really hear what they’re saying. It also helps me to capture their voices faster than face-to-face communication because I’m focused entirely on their words and their tone.  So, don’t miss out on a wonderful match just because the ghostwriter doesn’t live nearby. That said, I try to have one face-to-face meeting with new clients at the outset of the project.  There’s so much we can learn about each other just by spending a little time together, and that goes a long way toward creating a great book.

  • Experience with your topic may or may not matter.

If your book is aimed at the mass market, it can be helpful to work with a ghost who isn’t familiar with your industry or area of expertise. They’ll have questions that industry insiders probably won’t think to ask. If your book is geared toward other professionals in your field, then you’ll probably want a writer who already has some level of understanding so you don’t need to explain basic concepts.

  • Compatible work styles make collaborating easier.

If you’re the spontaneous type and don’t do well with making or keeping appointments and your writer is highly organized and structured, you’re going to have problems. If you want to be involved in every aspect of the process or want to take a hands-on approach, you’ll want a writer who’s comfortable working closely with you. If your plate is full, you’ll need a writer who can get the job done with as little of your time as possible.  Talk to prospective writers about the process they use. Some writers are fine with lots of back-and-forth, but many others have processes that include just one or two rounds of revisions.

  • Great ghosts are also great project managers.

Some authors are worried that they won’t know how to lead the process of collaborating on a book. Stop worrying. You shouldn’t be taking the lead. Experienced ghosts have systems and processes in place that are tried and true. They’ll manage the project. Your ghost isn’t your subordinate; he or she is your partner in the project. They’re working with you, not for you, because they have expertise with writing in general and also with putting together a strong book.

  • Mutual trust and respect are essential.

At conferences, I joke that collaborating on a book is like having a baby with someone without the benefits and perks of having sex. It’s an intimate relationship that flourishes when the author and the writer are willing to be honest, authentic, compassionate and respectful. Your ghost is going to learn more about you than you may realize, and they will be listening more carefully to what you say than most of the people you interact with in your day-to-day life. When I’m working with authors, I pretend I’m looking at the world through their eyes, experiencing events through their perspective. I do whatever I can to tune into who they are at their core and what matters most to them about the book, our relationship and life itself. On the other hand, don’t mistake your ghost for your personal confidante. Disclosing the important details for the book is critical, but telling your ghost about the fight you had with your wife last night or why you can’t stand your brother-in-law is usually crossing professional boundaries.

  • Your perfect match is worth waiting for.

If you find a ghost who’s perfect for you and they’re busy working on another project, that’s a good thing! Good ghosts are busy ghosts, and we often have projects booked months in advance. If your book is under contract and has to be completed by a certain date, you may have to settle for someone who isn’t your best match but can still do a great job for you. In situations where you have control of the time line, though, waiting a few months for your perfect match is the way to go. There are always preliminary assignments your ghost can give you to work on in the interim, such as collecting research or stories.

  • Your book is an investment in your brand.

Very few authors get wealthy by writing and publishing books. For the most part, the authors who do financially well use their books to build and expand their platforms, heighten brand awareness, get better speaking gigs or bolster their credibility as experts. When you have a great book, you also have the potential to create multiple streams of income and even an associated product line. When you have a mediocre or bad book, you’d be better off with no book.  Your book represents you to the world.  That’s priceless, so be prepared to pay the price for the level of skill and talent your book deserves.

  • If there’s a tie for “most talented,” choose the ghost you like the most.

There are thousands of talented ghostwriters, and if you go through a matchmaking company, the writers recommended for your book will all be qualified. When you’re faced with the challenge of choosing from among two or three writers you think could all be great matches for you, choose the one you like interacting with the most.  That’s likely to lead to the most enjoyable and productive collaboration.


  • Toni Robino

    Toni Robino, co-founder of Windword Literary Services, loves writing novels that plant inspirational seeds and nonfiction that can make a positive difference. A leading collaborator and concept developer, her credits include New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestsellers.

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