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Ghostwriting Books – 5 Things I Bring To A Project

The seriesMy Start5 Ingredients I Bring To A ProjectElements Of My Contracts or Letters of AgreementThe Working Table Of Contents AKA OutlineIs Ghostwriting Fair? Ask Anne The Pro WriterInterviewing To The Working Table Of Contents

Potential clients, other writers and people who are just plain curious ask me how I actually get a book written as if it were written by someone else. As you know if you read the first part of this series I stumbled into ghostwriting. I just jumped in and it worked.

I suppose it would be possible to develop a training course for ghostwriting. Maybe it’s been done; I couldn’t find it easily on google and I think I know why.

The relationship the ghost has with the client or author is secret and surprisingly intimate. And that provides a key to how I get a ghostwriting project done.

There seem to be five ingredients I use on a regular basis when ghosting:

  • Open mindedness – I don’t mean I write about things I don’t approve of like violence and fundamentalism in almost any form. No, I mean I have to let go of my opinion on the subjects I write about, at least while I’m writing. For example, I’m working on a project with a fellow who advocates use of credit cards to manage money. I advocate the opposite in my personal life and on one blog (Dollars and Debt). Sure the client is promoting responsible use, but I have to let go of my own notions to do a good job on that section.
  • Self-knowledge – related to open mindedness, I have to know myself well enough to spot when I’m getting into trouble and be willing to ask for help. I also have to know enough about how I work to be able to predict a schedule. I include experience in self-knowledge and it’s sure easier to ghost a book now than the first time I did it.
  • Ego free – okay, not totally ego free, but if I’m writing your book I know going in you’re going to get the credit. Not only that but the chances are there will be at least some of my initial writing you won’t like. It may be perfectly good writing, but if you, as the client, feels it doesn’t represent you I have to change it. That’s my job.

  • Listening skills – I can’t prove it, but I suspect my ability to listen with clarity and compassion and to not be dreaming up what I want to say while you’re talking is the real skill I bring to all this. Oh, I’ve got some writing talent and I honor that. But over and over again it seems to be my ability to really hear not only what the client says but the way they say it that allows me to duplicate their voice in writing.
  • Flexible and Resourceful – I’ve learned to be both flexible and resourceful. I know the client is likely not to make all the deadlines we set. I allow for that in my proposal. I also know that when a project gets stuck, and it seems many of them do at one point or another, it’s probably me that’s going to get it unstuck. I may have to come up with a new approach to the whole book or just point out, gently but firmly, that the client isn’t keeping up their end at the moment.

I don’t think I’ve got a lock on the qualities a ghostwriter needs and there may be some I’ve left out or don’t have. Ghostwriting gets done in an almost infinite number of ways.

These qualities, however, will give you some notion of what the ghost brings to each project and may help you decide if you too want to ghostwrite books.


The photo is of the head of the incredible ghostwriter sculpture that hangs in the The Evans ton Public Library (EPL), located in Evanston, Illinois by Ralph Helmick and Stuart Schechter. More phots to blow you away – on Helmick and Schechter’s pages.

{ 4 comments… add one }
  • Doran

    Great article as usual. I have given thought to trying my hand at ghostwriting. The way you breakdown each aspect is very helpful and makes such good sense. At least now ghostwriting does not seem quite as mysterious. Thanks

  • Question: How should I respond to a potential client who asks: “How do you charge for ghost-writing a book?” She is already working on a book with a ghostwriter; he gave her a project estimate based on number of chapters and pages. Now she and a colleague are co-authoring a different book. They’ve written and received a publisher’s feedback on 8 chapters. They’re “a bit stuck” and may be interested in my services. I have decades of freelance trade journalism experience and have co-authored/written one 200-pg book self-published by 4 chiropractors. I charged them by the chapter, for a total of about $12,000. My work is high quality, but I’m slow. I appreciate any input. Thanks. – Marilee Crocker

  • Amy

    Awesome article. I have always been curious about the topic of ghost writing.

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