Why Would a Good Writer Hire a Ghost?

Perhaps the most surprising fact about ghostwriters is that the people who hire them often write beautifully on their own. That’s certainly true of my clients. Two of them are former English professors! Every one of them is exceptionally articulate, some commanding high fees on the public speaking circuit. So why would they hire a ghost?

The answer I hear most often is: “It’s cost-effective.” Those former English professors, for example, are now earning megabucks doing something else. When they compare what they earn in an hour with what they’d pay a writer per hour, delegating the job makes obvious business sense. Speed is another factor in the business equation. Authors who expect what they publish to generate money-making opportunities need to publish promptly. Books only get finished promptly if someone is working on them full time.

The difference between professional writers and non-professionals who write well has less to do with talent than with efficiency. Contrary to popular opinion, people who write for a living seldom suffer from writer’s block. They can’t afford to. “Blocked” means “unable to pay the electric bill.” Nor can the professional writer afford to accumulate a drawerful of unsold manuscripts. When a person’s livelihood depends on selling words, they learn to identify buyers in advance, figure out what those buyers want, and deliver it reliably. With experience comes the ability to work at a brisk pace and get it right the first try. As the writer’s client, you get the benefit of all that experience.

Other benefits of hiring a ghostwriter are less obvious. Here are a few you might not have thought of:

A published ghostwriter improves your chances of being published.
From a publisher’s standpoint, the ideal non-fiction author is not necessarily a writer. The author should be recognized authority on the subject matter–if not famous already, at least potentially good at being famous. (That is: personable, well-spoken and regularly engaged in some activity that attracts an audience.) Nevertheless, publishers want the book to be well-written. Knowing you’ve hired professional reassures them that you’ll deliver an acceptable manuscript on schedule.

Hiring a writer frees you to concentrate on promotion.
Prior to the release of your book, a publisher would much rather see you engaged in building an advance audience than laboring over a word-processor. That’s what you’d rather do, too, if you want to become famous. A collaborator liberates you from the grunt-work, so that you can concentrate on becoming a star.

On paper, a skilled ghost may sound more like you than you do yourself.
Most of my clients are great talkers. As a rule, great talkers dislike their own writing. If they simply write down what they’re used to saying, something seems to be missing. Words are only a small part of what listeners take in when we speak. Tone, facial expression and gestures all contribute to putting across our message. On paper, though, words are the whole show. A good ghostwriter knows how to make the charisma you have in person come across on the page.

Ghostwriters are great listeners.
With the possible exception of your mother, nobody hangs on your every word like a ghost. As your literary alter-ego, the writer attempts to live in your head, thinking your thoughts and seeing the world through your eyes. This empathy gets reflected back to you on the page. If the relationship clicks, you have the rare experience of feeling deeply understood–at least, on the topic of your book. It’s very gratifying.

Two heads are better than one.
When you work with a collaborator, don’t be surprised if you hear yourself saying things you never knew you thought. The ghostwriter is, in a sense, your first reader, and the representative of all your other readers. It’s her job to anticipate the questions that might arise in other readers’ minds. You’ll be challenged to look at your own ideas from a fresh perspective and to develop them more fully.

A calm collaborator relieves your own angst.
As a first time author, it’s normal to freak out about everything from participles to publicists. Experienced writers might still freak out about their own books, but they generally don’t freak out about yours. A ghost who knows the publishing ropes can lay many of your anxieties to rest, while at the same time anticipating–and quietly solving–problems that might never have occurred to you. Though ghostwriters can’t absolutely guarantee your success, an experienced one can predict and forestall the most common causes of failure.

It’s more fun.
Unless you have the temperament of a born writer, the process of writing itself can be pretty unsatisfying. You have to sit alone for hours, sending words into what seems to be a void. Until you have readers, there’s no way to know what impact you’re having. If you’re trying to finish a book in your spare time, that reader response might be delayed for years. It’s no wonder so many would-be authors give up in the early chapters. Contrast this with what happens when you work with a collaborator. You talk for a couple of hours and, two or three weeks later, you get a chapter. As the pages pile up at a steady pace, the project feels more and more real. There’s a target date for completion, and you’re actually going to meet it! You are not, after all, going to be regretting some unwritten book on your death bed. With the help of your collaborator, you’ve made a major dream come true.