Is a Ghostwriter Right for You?

One of the first things I learned when I first opened kn literary arts is that the term “ghostwriter” has a realllllllly bad rep.

I would be chatting with prospective clients, and the same publishing obstacles would come up:

  • Not enough time to write a whole book or proposal
  • Not confident in the writing process
  • Not in love with writing enough to sit down everyday for months and do it
  • Not sure how to reconcile the above with the desire to have a book in the world

Having spent 15 years working at traditional publishing companies like Penguin and Harper and Sounds True, I knew this dilemma well. I also knew there was a simple answer: hire someone who loves writing—and does it for a living—to collaborate on the writing with you.

“Sounds like you’re looking for a ghostwriter!” I would offer cheerfully.

Cue the sound of silence, and an intuitive sense that I had just offended the client I was trying to win over.

When I could get them to talk again, I would hear (often in a defensive tone):

“I want to write my own book.”
“That feels like cheating.”
“I don’t need…one of those.”

For a period of time I actually stopped using the term “ghostwriter”—swapping it out for the more digestible “co-writer” or “writing collaborator.”

But over time, my editorial matchmakers and I learned how to soothe our clients’ anxiety: by educating them in how common it is to have a work ghostwritten.

Any given week, as many as 50% of books on the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list have been written, or at the very least heavily doctored, by someone other than the author on the cover.

As of this writing, there are books on the bestseller list by The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah, Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly, the Dalai Lama and the stars of the reality TV show “Fixer Upper.”

I’ll eat my hat if any of these incredibly busy humans wrote their books entirely on their own. How would they find the dozens and dozens of hours required?

Meanwhile there are some working writers on the NYT list, too. Michael Lewis, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Thomas Friedman and others are full-time, career writers. They probably (but not certainly) wrote their own books. Because that’s what they do for a living.

So which category do you fall into? Are you someone who is well-suited to writing your own book? Or are you someone who should consider a ghostwriter, either for your book or perhaps just for the proposal?

Here’s a quick checklist to help you determine whether working with a ghostwriter is a good fit for you.

Yeas and Nays of Hiring a Ghostwriter

YEA: You might be a ghostwriting candidate if…

✔  You have a lot on your plate and have a hunch that writing your own book is not the best use of your time

✔  You know precisely what you want your book to be about, and maybe even already have an outline

✔  You have a significant archive of written/audio content that can be repurposed for the book

✔  You have some time to devote to the process (5-8 hours a week) but not an abundance of time (20-40 hours a week)

✔  You are prepared to remunerate a professional writer an industry standard wage to do the heavy lifting for you

✔  You are comfortable with delegation and have had good experiences delegating important tasks to others in the past

✔  You are ready to patiently work with your writer to achieve a reasonable approximation of your voice

✔  You understand where a book fits in the ecosystem of your life and career, and know that hiring a writer does not guarantee the book will become a profit center for you

NAY: You’ll probably be happier writing your own book if…

✔  Prose writing is a preferred outlet of artistic expression, and you identify as a writer

✔  You already make a lot of time in your life to write

✔  You care deeply about word choice and feel there’s usually one right way to express a given thought or idea

✔  Writing a book feels like a good use of your time, and doing so fits well in the ecosystem of your life and work

✔  You are unclear what you want to write about, and you want to use the writing process to develop your ideas further

✔  Life is busy and full, and you don’t have 5-8 solid hours a week to devote to collaborating with your writer

✔  You are not in a position to make a significant financial investment in a project that may or may not become a direct source of revenue for you

✔  You find that “nobody does it better than you do” and see evidence to that effect around you all the time

Now, count up the checkmarks in each category. Did you have more yeas? Nays?

It takes a village to do anything great. When it comes to a book, that village includes an awesome editor at the very least. But oftentimes it also includes working with a professional ghostwriter. If you want to explore working with a ghostwriter, let us know. We’ve got great writers at the ready, just waiting to help you bring your world-changing book to life!


Kelly Notaras is a writer, book editor, NLPMarin Master-certified coach and the founder of kn literary arts. She offers one-on-one book consultations by appointment; fill out our questionnaire to get started.