Ghostwriting FAQ

Is a literary collaborator the same as a ghostwriter?

Ghostwriting is just one of the services that a collaborator can provide. For authors who prefer to do the writing themselves, a collaborator serves as a coach or consultant. A good collaborator can guide you through every step of the writing and publishing process.

Is it cheating to use a ghostwriter?

Many people have the idea that using a ghostwriter is just putting your own name on someone else’s work–which strikes most of us as dishonest. That kind of ghostwriting exists, but it’s not what I do. My clients participate. I handle the writing, but they do the thinking. They take—and deserve—full credit, because without their brilliant ideas, their books wouldn’t exist. Consider the relationship between an architect and a builder. You wouldn’t expect Frank Lloyd Wright to share credit with the guys who hammered the nails.

What sort of material do you write?

I specialize in book-length non-fiction about ideas–e.g., business, self-help, personal growth, holistic health, politics, philosophy. I also write articles, speeches and presentations, and design instructional materials for classroom, web or print.

How does the collaborative process work?

After we’ve agreed on an overall plan for the book, I provide you with a worksheet for each chapter. You write brief answers (a sentence or two) to a series of questions that help you define what you want to say. During a telephone conference, you elaborate on these points and I ask follow-up questions to draw you out further. Then I write the chapter and send it to you for review. After we’ve completed the first draft of the entire book, you will have several weeks to scrutinize it and list the changes you’d like me to make. I incorporate your revisions into a final draft.

How long does it take you to write a book?

Obviously that depends on length. My shortest book (25,000 words) took three months. The longest (90,000 words) took a year.

How much of my own time will it involve?

Each chapter requires about four hours of the client’s time. Add to this roughly eight hours of planning meetings before we start to write, and a long revision session after the first draft is completed. All told, figure on spending an average of two hours per week.

Will the writing sound like me?

The first draft of the first chapter probably won’t sound like you at all. (We’ll fix this in the final draft.) By the last chapter, though, almost everything will sound like it came from you verbatim. This seems to happen organically in much the same way that married people pick up each other’s mannerisms.

Will others know of the collaborator’s involvement?

It’s a good idea to clue in your agent, if you have one, and your publisher. In fact, when it comes to landing a publisher, working with a ghostwriter is regarded as a plus. A professionally written manuscript is a lot less work and risk for them. Apart from that, no else need ever know. I don’t disclose the names of my clients without their permission. When your book becomes a bestseller, I’ll be kicking myself over this policy, but there it is.

Doesn’t the collaborator’s name go on the book jacket?

Nah. I’ve seen my name on book jackets. I’m over it.

Who are your clients? What books have you written?

Obviously, I can’t publish their names. But I do provide serious prospective clients with references and work samples.

Does the collaborator get a share of the royalties?

No. You pay for my work up front and owe nothing more, no matter how much you earn from the book.

How do you charge?

I quote a flat fee based on the projected length of the book.

I need to test the waters before I dive in. Any way to do that?

Absolutely. Before embarking on a book-length project, we meet to discuss your goals, explore ideas, come up with a marketing and publishing plan, develop a detailed outline and test how the relationship is working. For these meetings, I charge by the hour. Should you decide to move forward with the project, what you’ve already paid for consulting is subtracted from what you owe for the writing. You might also wish to commission a small project–an article, presentation, or web site–before you commit to a book.

I notice you’re located in Chicago. I’m not. Is this a problem?

No. We work mostly over the phone, even if you live nearby. If you want to meet in person, and are willing to pay for the trip, I’ll happily travel anywhere.