Last week author and entrepreneur Tucker Max featured an ambitious post on the blog for his independent publishing company Book in a Box called “The Complete Guide to Ghostwriting” that naturally captured our attention. “Shockingly,” Max wrote, “there is no comprehensive resource that answers all the common questions about ghostwriting and explains the different options to give authors a framework for making a decision.”
Max then set out to offer just such a resource, explaining how to know when you should (or shouldn’t) work with a ghost, how much you should expect to pay, and how to go about finding a quality one—a feat, he said, that is much easier said than done. “There is no single place to go to find vetted, accomplished ghostwriters,” he said. “It sounds crazy, but it’s true.”
Of course, we at Gotham Ghostwriters know that’s not really true since we pride ourselves on our ability to offer our clients access to some of the best ghostwriters in the English language. But there’s no doubt that, generally speaking, finding a quality ghostwriter on your own can often be a daunting process—by its nature, ghosting is an opaque field. So we asked our own network of experts to weigh in on Max’s maxims. Were his resource assessments and cost estimates accurate? Was his advice reasonable? Was he fair to the profession?
Overall, our community of ghosts thought it was a smart, helpful post, though several writing pros offered additional perspectives on what to expect in the client/ghostwriter relationship.
“I wish he had added a few lines on the difference between commercial books and privately published ones,” wrote William Novak, a well-known ghostwriter who has collaborated with figures such as Lee Iacocca and Magic Johnson. Given that one must consider the publisher’s perspective when writing a book for a house, but self-publishing allows the author to maintain full control, the process of working with a ghost could be very different in each case. So it makes sense that one should consider that going into the selection process.
“I…appreciate his point that the relationship [between the client and the writer] must be managed well,” wrote John Kador, an independent business writer and president of Kador Communications. “I wish [Max] talked more about the responsibilities of clients, referring to how clients can—and should—work to make sure the relationship is a good one.” He then pointed to a recent blog post he wrote about this very subject in which he urges clients to treat freelancers with appreciation and respect. Not only does this guarantee a smooth process, it also makes the freelancer much more willing to go the extra mile for you.
Kyle Weckerly, a freelance writer who specializes in working with thought leaders, felt that Max’s article took something of a cautionary tone, almost warning would-be authors against hiring a ghost. Weckerly thinks one of the reasons for this is that there is still something of a stigma around hiring a ghost, but he thinks that is changing. “True, it’s a very mysterious field and one can’t simply Google ‘ghostwriter’ to find a decent one,” he wrote. “But I feel that ghostwriting is starting to become a little more mainstream. What I mean is that there is likely to be some sort of ghostwriting organization that will set the standard. While this may not mean a cohesive governing body, it does mean that there will be criteria set up for ghostwriting quality and how potential authors can go about finding one.” If Weckerly’s prediction is correct, would-be clients should have a much easier time identifying the perfect freelancer for their needs and ensuring that the final project is up to industry standards.
Business writer Alice Griffiths appreciated the fact that Max discussed the financials of ghostwriting in plain and simple terms. “We need to shed a lot more light on the ghostwriting industry, for the benefit of the writers as much as anyone,” she said. “My clients will never tell me, for example, if they are paying someone else another $20 an hour for the same work (why would they?).” Griffiths feels that the more people talk about pricing, the more transparency there will be, and it will be easier for clients to know what to expect—and what is fair—and for the best writers to get paid a wage consummate with their skills.
One of the common concerns clients have when deciding whether or not to hire a ghostwriter is that the final product won’t sound like them. In his article, Max said pretty much the same thing when he described ghostwritten project as written in “the words of another writer.” Alex Dwyer, a ghostwriter who specializes in memoir, took issue with this statement, stating that a ghost’s job is to capture the author’s true voice.
“The added benefit of the very best ghosts is that they are actors on the page: able to walk, talk and behave like their author across the page even when the author is all talked out or out of ideas about how to say something” Dwyer said. “In the end, the author might not remember what ideas were theirs and what ideas were the ghost’s because the goal remains to make the best book possible in the author’s image.”
One final point our team would add: a high-quality ghostwriter is not only a great writer, but a true partner—someone who believes in your project and will get the best ideas out of you as possible. This is what we strive to do in our client-writer matches, and it’s what you should look for if you’re thinking of engaging someone to help you on your next project.