Do you dream of writing a book--but lack the time, ability, or both to do so? Like many would-be authors, you may be considering hiring a ghostwriter.
The question is--how? Do you post on craigslist--and then try to weed through dozens or even hundreds of responses? Or Google to find the right person? Regardless of how you winnow your list, I suggest you ask the following questions of a potential ghostwriter:
1. How many published books have you ghostwritten or coauthored?
Be wary of ghosts who only have a few credits to their names. You want an experienced ghost who has ghosted books before--in general, the more, the better. At the minimum, you want a ghost who has authored and published his or her own books.
2. How many different publishers have you worked with?
The more publishers a ghost has worked with, the better. Every editor and every house is different, so a ghost who has worked with different ones has more experience pleasing different editors--and meeting their requirements--than someone with less experience.
3. Have you worked with authors who have chosen POD, or print-on-demand, publishers as opposed to traditional publishers?
Many authors decide to use a POD publisher instead of pursuing a traditional publisher. If that's the case, hire a ghost who has worked with clients who chose that route. An experienced ghost can also advise you on the right publishing package to buy from a POD company--and which things, like YouTube videos costing thousands of dollars to help "promote" your book--that are a waste of money.
4. How much do you charge?
I've seen a trend (disturbing to a ghost like myself) of clients wanting to pay as little as possible for a book. Well, you get what you pay for. Depending on the scope of work, experienced ghosts typically charge in the range of $20,000 to $50,000+ to ghostwrite a book. If you think you'll find someone who will do it for significantly less than that (and forget about working for a "share of royalties" or some other nebulous promise), you can expect less-than-professional work. (Can't afford that? Consider writing your book on your own, and hire a developmental editor instead.)
5. Can you show me samples of published work?
While your voice is unique and a ghost will capture it, you want to see samples of his published work.
6. What's your background? Have you written about the subject of my book before?
One of the reasons I ghost books about health, wellness, fitness, nutrition, and psychology is because I've been writing about those subjects for more than 19 years. As a result, I have a deep background in these topics, and as an ACE-certified personal trainer and I know much more about fitness than the average writer. If you're writing a book about real estate, you want a ghostwriter who knows what "comps" and "curb appeal" mean. If your book is a memoir, you want a ghost who specializes in true-life stories. And if you're writing a cookbook, you may want a ghost who has experience developing recipes or meal plans.
7. How do you typically work with clients?
Some ghosts like to spend a lot of time on the phone with clients; others (like me) work almost exclusively via email. In general, the more phone time and back and forth, the more your ghostwriter will charge. Make sure to ask how the ghostwriter typically works with clients, and consider whether that jibes with how you want to proceed.
8. Can I see your ghostwriting contract?
An experienced ghostwriter will have a standard contract; make sure you read it carefully before you sign and pay a retainer.
9. What kind of work can you perform for me?
In some cases, you may provide all of the material your ghostwriter needs to write your book. In others, you may want your ghost to do background research, conduct interviews, and do other work in addition to writing. If that's the case, you'll want a ghostwriter who has a journalism or freelancing background. If your ghost can conduct independent research for you, that will save you time in the long run.
10. Can you give me the names of former clients?
An experienced ghost should have plenty of satisfied clients who will recommend him or her. (At this point in my career, 95 percent of my work comes from personal referrals.) If you're planning to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a book, it's worth it to vet your potential ghost. If you're not happy with what you learn, continue your search for the right ghost for your project.
**Kelly James-Enger ghostwrites books for a variety of clients, primarily those in the health, wellness, fitness, nutrition, and psychology fields. She's also the author of Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks, Second Edition: Make Money Ghostwriting Books, Articles, Blogs and More.