“What’s your process for ghostwriting a book?” This is a simple question with 31 million possible answers. It all depends on how the author (client) and the ghost writer plan to work together.
Here’s a set of questions that the writer and the author/client should agree on before you get started. These apply to nonfiction books, primarily.
How will we nail down the idea?
You really need to settle the main idea before you can go about planning and writing a book. The result should be a one-page treatment, along with a title and subtitle, that define the book’s main concepts.
How will you create that?
- Author has already created a treatment; writer asks questions about it to clarify.
- Author and writer conduct a brainstorming session together; writer writes up treatment; author makes any needed edits.
- Writer reviews existing materials from author; writer drafts treatment; author reviews and provides feedback
What is the table of contents?
How will the book be organized? It’s a big mistake to start writing without a plan. Here are some ways you can create that together:
- Author has a proposed ToC; writer asks questions and both collaborate on the final ToC.
- Author and writer conduct a joint planning session to develop a possible ToC.
- Writer reviews existing materials from author; writer drafts ToC; author reviews and provides feedback
What is the publishing model?
How you plan to publish matters. Any of the following are possible.
- Author already has a traditional publisher lined up.
- Author already has an agent and plans to pitch traditional publishers; writer and author must create a book proposal for pitches.
- Author hopes to pitch traditional publishers; writer and author must create a proposal together; writer and author must find an agent.
- Author already has a hybrid publisher lined up.
- Author plans to go to a hybrid publisher; writer and author work together to find an appropriate partner.
- Author plans to self-publish and already has a contractor lined up to help with book layout and posting in Amazon, Ingram Spark, or other distribution platforms.
- Author plans to self-publish and needs writer’s help finding an appropriate contractor.
- Author plans to make a PDF available for free download.
- Author would prefer to complete the book before deciding on the publishing model.
How is the ghostwriter credited?
These are all possible:
- Writer credited as coauthor.
- Writer credited on cover as “with,” for example, by P.V. Kannan with Josh Bernoff.
- Writer credited as a writer or “writing assistant” in acknowledgments, but not on cover.
- Writer uncredited (a true “ghost”).
Does the writer share in the revenues?
A typical payment model includes payments before, during, and after the completion of the project. But there are often bonuses for the book’s success, giving the ghostwriter some upside. (Few ghostwriters will work for the bonus only, unless the author is very famous.) Bonus possibilities include:
- No sales or milestone bonus.
- Writer gets a share of book advances from publisher.
- Writer gets a share of royalties above a certain threshold.
- Writer gets a bonus for achieving bestseller status.
In creating a chapter, what source material will the author provide that the writer will work from?
Which method you use will depend heavily on how the author is comfortable working.
- Author provides rough draft of chapter; writer rewrites it.
- Author dictates content; writer reviews and creates a draft from dictated material, adding additional researched material if needed.
- Writer conducts interviews of author and then drafts chapter based on the recordings.
- Author and writer discuss chapter outline first; author provides a list of source materials and research; writer uses the source materials to draft a chapter.
- Author provides list of source materials and research for chapter; writer uses the source materials to create a draft chapter.
- Writer conducts all research based on the previous work author and writer have done together; then drafts the chapter with minimal input from author.
- Writer assembles chapter from existing materials with minimal input from author.
What is the review process?
You must settle how the author provides feedback.
- Author reviews chapter drafts and provides minimal feedback.
- Author reviews chapter drafts and marks them up extensively.
- Author reviews chapter drafts and conducts phone/video meeting to review feedback.
- Author and other reviewers (such as PR staff or publisher’s editorial staff) review draft chapters and provide feedback, in writing or in a phone/video meeting.
How many drafts are there and who creates them?
Typically, the revision of the first draft is not the final version of a chapter. Chapters often need rewrites based on how the book is developing. How will you revise the chapters to create final drafts?
- Author responsible for revisions after the first draft; writer not involved.
- Author creates revisions after the first draft; writer reviews the result for errors and inconsistencies.
- Writer responsible for revisions after the first draft; author reviews.
Who is responsible for footnotes and fact checking?
Nonfiction books need references. Who manages them? (This is a lot of work; if you fail to plan this, you’ll have a lot of trouble further down the line.)
- Author or author’s staff manage all footnotes and fact checking, including checking with quoted sources.
- Writer manages all footnotes; author conducts fact checking with quoted sources.
- Writer manages all footnotes and fact checking, including checking with quoted sources.
Who responds to the publisher’s feedback?
If the publisher (traditional or hybrid) has substantive feedback, who addresses that feedback?
- There is no publisher feedback.
- Author responsible for revisions based on publisher’s feedback; writer not involved.
- Author creates revisions based on publisher’s feedback; writer reviews the result for errors and inconsistencies.
- Writer responsible for revisions based on publisher’s feedback; author reviews.
Who manages the manuscript through copy editing and page layout?
New authors often fail to realize how much work is involved after the manuscript is done, during the process of turning it into a book.
- Author manages edits and updates in response to copy edits and laid out pages.
- Writer manages edits and updates in response to copy edits and laid out pages.
Who creates the index?
Authors rarely want to do this.
- There is no index.
- Publisher or an independent indexer creates the index.
- Writer creates the index.
Is there additional writing work after the book is published?
Books require promotion, which often takes the form of bylined articles, op-eds, and other writing.
- Author writes promotional content.
- Writer writes promotional content.
- Someone else, such as a PR firm, writes promotional content.
- There is no promotional content.
How much will it cost?
All of these decisions will affect pricing. When writers don’t get them settled ahead of time, they end up complaining that they are doing too much work for not enough compensation. That’s often a result of failing to plan a process that works.
Looking at all the combinations of the above questions, the total number of ways to do a ghost writing project is 3×3×9×4×4×7×4×3×3×4×2×3×4, or 31,352,832 ways.
Every project is different. That’s why planning is crucial to the success of the project.
4 responses to “The 31 million ways to ghost write a book”
Yikes. All the more reason to quote an hourly rate.
I appreciate what you’re saying, but I disagree.
In my opinion a better strategy is to (1) plan carefully, collaborating with the client, (2) quote a high rate that allows for setbacks, and (3) stage payments so that you’re getting paid as you go along.
I’d never quote an hourly rate, because that tells the client that you are slow and want to be paid for going slowly. Clients want to know what it’s going to cost. You want to know what the work will be. Both should be settled before beginning.
Totally fair. You’ve been down this road more often than I.
A Checklist for 31 Million Ways to Ghost Write a Book
Nail down the idea, Leah
Devise a ToC plan, Stan.
Arrange to produce, Bruce.
Acknowledge the scribe, Clive
Shoot for a bonus, Jonas
Get material from author, Arthur
Make plans for reviews, Suze
Manage chapter rewrites, Bryce
Assign the fact checks, Rex
Handle publisher feedback, Jack
Turn it into a book, Brooke
Remember to index, Tex.
Promotional content, Kent
Eyes on the money, Bunny
Only now you can write, Dwight