How to Hire a Ghostwriter for Your First Book

So you want to be an author. You’re not alone: More and more entrepreneurs and business owners want to write a book or, more accurately, have a book written by someone else under their names, observes Larry Leichman, co-owner of Arbor Books.

“The book has become the 21st-century calling card,” he says. “It presents you as an expert, a hook for publicity that gives you access to the media and to places you’ve never had access to before. The guy with the book is a celebrity.”

People who don’t have the time — or the skill — to write a book often hire ghostwriters. Ghostwriters are abundant and relatively easy to find: Simply do a web search for “ghostwriter” or go to an online clearinghouse like Elance or Guru. You can also enlist the help of an agency, such as Arbor Books or Legacy One.

How to choose the right ghostwriter for your particular book, however, can be a challenge. Of course, the writer’s experience and references are paramount: Has he or she written about your field before? You probably don’t want to hire an art historian to write your company’s history unless you are an art dealer.

Before approaching a potential ghostwriter, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is my intention a one-off book project or a continuing relationship?
  • Do I want a traditional book, an e-book, or a compilation of a series of articles, perhaps for a continuing blog?
  • How long (by pages or word count) do I want the book to be?
  • What’s my deadline?
  • What writing style do I seek: chatty and casual, or a formal presentation for the chairman of the board?
  • What’s my budget? (Know this before you start negotiating with the ghostwriter. There may be other expenses beyond writing, such as editing and self-publishing.)

The writer’s job is to interview the client and absorb any pertinent materials offered.

Karen Lynn Maher , a Seattle-based entrepreneur who used to be a ghostwriter, now acts as a clearinghouse for ghostwriters at Legacy One. She cautions: “The client must understand that this is a collaboration, and he must expect to exert the time and energy to edit the manuscript. The ghostwriter merely tries to reflect the client’s voice and message.”

Nothing is more dispiriting, she says, than when the client reads the first draft of the manuscript, dislikes it, and fires the ghostwriter because the product wasn’t what was expected. “It’s in revision when all of the clarity and magic happens,” Maher stresses.

Leichman observes that choosing an inexperienced ghostwriter is a bad investment. “This is not a regulated industry,” he says, adding that he’s seen many unqualified candidates churn out manuscripts . You’ll also want to ascertain whether your ghostwriter will complete the work herself or outsource all or parts of the job to another writer.

Leichman says fees can range between $5,000 and $55,000 depending on the length and complexity of the manuscript. That also determines the amount of time it takes complete it. And of course in both cases the number of interviews between client and writer factor into the final fee. Proofreaders and editors may also be summoned to review the text.

The length of time it takes to complete a document is equally variable depending on the availability of the client and the writer. Arbor Books has seen a manuscript completed in as little as 30 days with premium prices being paid. The average is somewhere between 90 and 120 days.

But things can go for much longer if you aren’t careful. Says Leichman, “My firm is often contacted by desperate, frustrated people who ask us to rescue their jobs from other writers who have dragged them out for one, two, or even three years.”

About Francine Brevetti

Francine Brevetti has covered business for newspapers in New York, a Hong Kong, the UK, and most recently the Oakland Tribune. A native San Franciscan, she delights in her Italian heritage and despairs about ever learning Mandarin. She also ghostwrites autobiographies and runs a workshop guiding people to write their own memoirs. Find her at
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