Thursday, June 17, 2010

Five Things You Need to Know About Ghostwriting

Guest post by Justin P Lambert 

I'm always a little amazed at the varied views of ghostwriting: what it is, what it costs, what it can mean to you, your personal success, your career or your business. If you look around online or root through your local library, you'll find an incredible array of opinions about this subject, and you'll be lucky to find two that agree. So, since I try never to shy away from a good hearty battle of wits, I'm throwing my hat in the ring too! Here are, in my opinion, the five things you absolutely NEED to know about ghostwriting:

What it is: Ghostwriting is anything written on your behalf, that carries your name as the author and/or presents you as the source. That's the simple bottom line. There's nothing complicated about it. Based on that definition, it can take just about any form: books, magazine articles, e-zine articles, blog entries, speeches... the possibilities are essentially endless.

What it is not: For one thing, ghostwriting is not limited to the flashy make-the-celebrity-look-like-a-writer "autobiographies" that we've all seen flying off the shelves. (Not that I would ever turn down that kind of action, mind you. That's really good money.) As noted above, it goes far beyond that. And true ghostwriting would never include "as told to" or "with" and the name of the ghostwriter on the cover or byline of the finished product. That's called co-writing. A ghostwriter remains anonymous, and for good reason, as we'll see.

How it works: Generally, a ghostwriter will begin by offering a free or low-cost consultation, which allows the ghostwriter and the potential client to discuss the client's needs in depth. A rough timeline and outline may be drafted during this meeting to allow both to get an idea of the scope of the project, and to facilitate the ghostwriter's fee calculations. Once both agree they're a fit for the project and a fee is agreed upon, one or more further interviews are usually arranged based on the amount of client input needed. Drafts are written and submitted to the client according to the pre-planned schedule and feedback is provided and acted upon until the client is satisfied with a final product. A good ghostwriter will make this entire process easy and painless, handling it like the professional service it is.

What it costs: Both extremes are scary. If you look around online, you'll find writers on some freelancing sites willing to write a book for you for $1 a page or less. In all honesty, that's pretty scary. Just using some round numbers, let's agree an average soft-cover book has about 250 words per page and has about 250 pages. That's 62,500 words. Considering that the average-to-good typist can type around 50 words-per-minute, that comes out to just under 21 hours of straight typing. Roughly $12 per hour. Which isn't horrible for typing. But, if you want your writer to actually think about what's being written, to talk to you a little bit to get your thoughts on your book, to spend some time outlining, drafting, proofreading, editing and rewriting what he's writing, well, it's going to take a little more time. And how comfortable are you working with someone who values their time at $2 an hour? Of course, the opposite extreme is difficult to accept also. While I know enough about the value of a well-ghostwritten book, $75,000 would be tough for me to swallow. But some are charging that much and more. Let's just leave it that a high-quality ghostwriter is going to be figuring their fee by valuing their time at anywhere between $60 to $120 per hour, and it's going to take some time to really do the job right. But a high-quality ghostwriter is also going to know how to perfectly translate your thoughts to the printed page as efficiently as possible.

What it's worth: A well-ghostwritten article or book can, quite literally, make you an expert in your field of choice! How valuable is that? Only you and your imagination can limit it. Just imagine being "the guy who wrote the book on..." whatever. Or being able to put "Published Author" on your resume. Can you reasonably expect increased income? Job security? A promotion? How about your self-esteem? Your confidence level? Your ego? Don't downplay how valuable THAT can be!

Justin P Lambert is a freelance copywriter, ghostwriter and speechwriter who offers his thoughts on all-of-the-above and more with each daily post on his blog: Come join the fun!


  1. Not something I'd thought about - except when I read Ghost Writer. Headinb over to Justin's blog.

  2. This is an interesting article and a timely topic. I would add, though, that an author should expect a well-trained, professional ghost to include mentoring, critiquing, and substantive editing, as appropriate.

    Sometimes, a ghost writes a project from scratch using author interviews, like my current project. I wrote the entire book. But often, as with most of my projects, notes, a partial manuscript, or even a nearly complete manuscript exist. Then, the ghost has to be willing to keep the author's voice and tells, while making the book shine. Finished project must always be polished and worthy of attention.


  3. Sheila, thank you kindly.

  4. mkpelland,

    I definitely agree. As is the case in any writing project, editing and re-writing is often the lion's share of the job anyway. So any quality ghostwriter will take that portion on for a client and work to mesh the completed and fresh portions of the manuscript into a cohesive whole.

    Thanks very much.

  5. I think someone should at least mention that ghostwriting is like an arranged marriage. Even if you are a good judge of character it is impossible to predict what will happen down the line. Expect assistance (read: horrifying interference) from the spouse (even, in the case of one of my collaborations, from the mistress!) who knows nothing about publishing. Another rule of thumb: the harder you work and the more you do for your client, the more he or she will expect and demand - most likely without even thinking of paying you more. It's a slippery slope.


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