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Should You Write Your Book Yourself, Get a Coach, or Hire a Ghostwriter? A Few Things to Consider…

April 21, 2023

This article was originally published on killiancreative.com and reshared here with permission from the author.

So you want to write a book — in fact, you need to write a book. It’s not just a whim, but something you need to do as part of your mission in life. There is a message burning a hole in your soul and a book feels like the best way to express it. It is something you have been kicking around for years, and now is the time to get it done.

What do you do? How’re you going to turn that conviction into an actual finished project?

Well, there are options, and each is a fit for a different set of circumstances. As someone who has ghostwritten, coached, and written for myself, I’ve seen which options seem to work best for which kinds of authors. Here is a quick overview I hope will help get your book off your “someday” list and into “available at a bookstore near you.”

There are three main criteria you should keep in mind, with a fourth “elephant in the room” that’s worth considering as well:

1) Time

The biggest question you’ll need to answer is “When would you like your book in the hands of readers?”

The most shocking thing for most people I talk with is just how long it takes to write and publish a book. Here is a quick overview of typical projected timelines:

  1. Ghostwriters generally take three months to a year to complete a manuscript.
  2. Coaches will help you get your book written in one to three years, depending on how busy you are with running your organization or if you run into any major interruptions along the way (like surgery or something).
  3. The time it takes to write your book yourself varies widely, depending on your schedule and writing experience. As a rule, I think it takes at least twice the time it would take with a coach if this is your first book.
  4. The time between a finished manuscript and a published book with a hybrid publisher will take at least three to six months, depending on how thorough they are in the editing process.
  5. Most traditional publishers, because of the way they market and sell books, will want eighteen to twenty-four months after you sign a contract with them.

Of course this is a wide spectrum and every situation is unique. I know of books that have been written in less than a week, and I’m sure you’ve heard of ones that took ten years or more. I also know of books that have been rushed to print in a month, and if you’re publishing an ebook online, it can be available within the hour.

For the process of writing, however, it takes time to let concepts and ideas “simmer” to produce a worthwhile book. And as with anything in life, the faster and better you would like something done, the more help you should get to do it.

Although you will reap more benefits personally from writing your own book, sometimes you just don’t have the time. It might be that you’re busy with keeping your business or nonprofit going, or that the news cycle for your book is now and if you wait two years, any interest will have all but disappeared. As the saying goes, “Timing is everything,” which is why time is your biggest concern. 

Of course, saving time tends to cost money, and the same is the case here, so the second factor to consider is the expense.

2) Cost

Writing a book yourself will cost you time away from your regular work, unless you are able to tuck it into personal time outside of your office hours. The story is told that James Patterson started writing his books while he was working for an advertising agency. The agency hours began at 9:00 am each day, so he made a habit of showing up as early as 5:00 am and writing until everyone else came to work. In case someone showed up early and saw he was in, he put a sign on his door that said something along the lines of “Do not knock before 9:00 am.” It’s a schedule that seems to have worked out pretty well for him.

If you are considering coaching to help expedite the process, packages vary widely. I’ve done coaching that was in the thousands of dollars over the course of a couple of years, and others that were in the tens of thousands because the author asked for extensive feedback and need a good deal of help reworking things along the way. A lot of the final coaching cost depends on how well you incorporate your coach’s training and remain in charge of the writing yourself.

Ghostwriters, on the other hand, usually charge a set fee based on the projected word count. Fees for good ghostwriters will vary from $0.50 to $2.00 a word, which means a 50,000-word book will cost somewhere between $25,000 and $100,000. There may also be a rush fee if you need the book more quickly. At the same time, the fee you agree to will almost always be the fee you pay, and tends to be less open-ended than coaching.

The third factor to consider is the organization of your content.

3) How well-developed is your book idea?

In my career, I’ve taught writing to middle and high schoolers, spent some time as an editor in a publishing company, hung up my own shingle as a freelance editor, and then slipped over into ghostwriting as editing clients came to me with new book ideas they didn’t have the time to write themselves. It’s given me a chance to see the writing process from a lot of different angles.

About a decade ago, I decided to add book coaching to my freelance editing and ghostwriting services because I saw some authors would benefit more from being guided through the process than having someone else write for them. We all grow through writing, and sometimes this shouldn’t be taken away from an author. Why? Because writing their book themselves changed the way they operated their organizations. It consolidates their thinking, changes the way they communicate, and gives them a stronger context for why their organization is needed in the world. In such cases, writing their book themselves with a ”sherpa” who has traveled the route of book writing path several times before has many more benefits than just having a book to get your message out.

I have found when I am ghostwriting that there needs to be a strong and well-defined concept for the book. Either the author should already have a book proposal roughed out or should be able to communicate most of the content for the book in a day or two of meetings together. For example, say the author is positioned to present a certain topic they have spoken on or have a number of testimonials or stories to illustrate the principles they teach, or perhaps they have done a lot of research they can send my way. Maybe they have a number of guidelines for a certain issue or a process that will walk readers through solving a problem or finding healing. Maybe it’s their own story they need to tell in a memoir, or a screenplay that needs to be turned into a novel. A book can also come out of a curriculum they have been teaching or they need a declaration of why they do what they do and a book that explains what their organization stands for and why.

If their book idea is something the author has been over numerous times before through speaking, teaching, or training — yet they have an organization that demands their daily attention — then ghostwriting is a great option. If they are still figuring out what their best ideas are and have the time to explore them, then a coach can help them get the clarity they need to fully develop a book and keep them on the right path to getting it done.

Beyond balancing these three, there is one other consideration worth mentioning, which tends to be the elephant in the corner of the room.

4) What about the stigma of having used a ghostwriter?

From personal experience, I can tell you being a ghostwriter means membership in the “seedy underbelly of the publishing industry.” I would mean it as a joke, but too often I’ve had authors “request” (though “demand” might be more accurate) I not mention I had anything to do with their books, afraid of what people would say if someone found out they didn’t actually write every word on the pages of their book themselves.

They seem to have bought into the criticism that to have used a ghostwriter is to have somehow cheated. That the book is less theirs because someone else pulled it together for them. You could liken this to Thomas Edison not getting credit for inventing the light bulb because he didn’t make his own light bulbs. As if, somehow, the ideas that form your book are somehow less yours because someone else organized them and committed the words to paper.

Ghostwriters don’t create book ideas for authors, rather they help authors communicate ideas they have had for some time. Ghostwriters go to great lengths to use the author’s words so their books reflect who they are. If the ideas in a book are of any value, you should pat the author on the back, not the ghostwriter. If they are written clearly, succinctly, and in the author’s voice, it’s good to give some love to the ghost, but they are merely the messenger. They are glad to have helped and gotten paid for their expertise, but all the awards, accolades, and benefits of a growing audience go to the busy author.

Still, some people will criticize. While such criticism may be valid in the literary fiction space, I tend to think it is small-minded in relation to business and general nonfiction.

If there is some reservation for you in this regard, there are a couple of options. The first, of course, would be to write the book yourself with the help of a coach. I’ve never heard anyone being criticized for having the help of a book coach.

The second would be to beat the critics to the punch and admit you used a ghostwriter up front, giving them a “with” or an “as told to.” (I think what upsets people is that an author is somehow being duplicitous pretending they wrote the book when they actually didn’t. If you admit you had help and aren’t ashamed of it, it tends to nip this criticism in the bud.)

As much as you might want to brush this concern aside, you really shouldn’t. It’s a very real issue. One of the first questions I often get when I meet someone and tell them I am a ghostwriter is, “So, did Obama write his books or have a ghostwriter?” (which I don’t know.) And people are still wondering if John F. Kennedy wrote Profiles in Courage or hired someone else to write it, so it’s still a question in a lot of people’s minds.

Hopefully this has helped you see getting your book written may not be as difficult as you think. The important thing is, five years from now, will you still be wondering if you should write that book that is nagging to be written, or will it be available for purchase? As Oliver Wendell Holmes once said,

Many people die with their music still in them. . . .
Before they know it, time runs out.

Don’t let that be you. Get your book written. If for no one else, for yourself. I’ve never met an author who regretted it.


  • Rick Killian

    Rick Killian began his professional career as an English teacher, then an in-house editor, and has been a developmental editor, ghostwriter, and publishing coach since 2001. Altogether, he has guided roughly eighty mission-driven manuscripts to completion that have sold more than 5.4 million copies, with two top 5 NYTimes best sellers. For more information, visit his website at killiancreative.com. He and his wife, Melissa, have lived and worked on four continents engaged in a broad range of educational and development projects. They now reside in Boulder, Colorado, where they enjoy playing tennis, riding bikes, watching their cat face off with deer, and hiking in the mountains with their three-legged dog.

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