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11 Things Your Ghostwriter Doesn’t Want You to Know

ghostwriting secrets

If you’re thinking about hiring a ghostwriter, it’s best you get the skinny straight from the horse’s mouth. Unfortunately, if you are a ghostwriter, I’m about to air your dirty laundry for all to see.

The thing is, ghostwriting has become one of those “popular careers” that lacks a firm standard of ethics and often draws out people who just want an easy fix for their professional woes. I’ve run into many a ghostwriter whose ambition far outstrips her talent, so people searching for ghostwriters need to know how to protect themselves.

The following eleven statements are not true of every ghostwriter, but you need to be on the lookout. And if you are considering a career in ghostwriting, these are the things you’ll want to avoid.

1- “I have NO IDEA what editors and agents want.”

Most ghostwriters—even those with immense talent and potential—don’t take the time to increase their knowledge of the industry. This is dangerous for all ghostwriting clients, especially since most of you actually want to see your manuscript in print.

Just the other day, I stumbled across a ghostwriter’s web site that claimed the writer had “extensive contacts” with literary agents and New York publishers. The first red flag was the New York qualifier—it might sound impressive, but there are plenty of excellent publishing houses located in areas of the country besides Manhattan.

Furthermore, even if the ghostwriter does have friends in high places, this fact doesn’t help the client. No self-respecting agent or editor is going to trust a ghostwriter who pimps out every one of his or her clients. It isn’t practical.

A ghostwriter you can trust is one who is honest about his qualifications. He’ll admit that he reads up on industry news, follows publishing trends, tracks articles published by editors and agents. But he won’t try to sell his relationships because good writing, and not PR, is the name of the game.

2- “I’ve never been published.”

When I was working as a ghostwriter, it always bothered me when I came across competitors who claimed “dozens of sales” to publishers and “over 100 books in print”. My ghostwriting career lasted about five years, and during that time four of my clients sold manuscripts I’d written or edited. FOUR. Not dozens, not hundreds: FOUR.

And by the time the fourth went to print, I was ready to strike out on my own as an author.

Statistically, most ghostwritten manuscripts either never make it to print or are self-published. In fact, many of my clients hired me specifically because they wanted to self-publish, and although I’m not a big fan of POD publishing, who was I to judge?

The thing is, most ghostwriters choose this career because they can’t get published themselves. Get clear on that right away. If you manage to hire a ghostwriter whose prose is flawless, whose plot development shines, you’re very lucky indeed.

There are, of course, exceptions to the rule, but you’re not paying a best-selling novelist to write your manuscript. Instead, you’re hiring a ghost whose writing abilities exceed your own. That’s the bottom line. So if your ghostwriter is claiming multiple sales to publishers, ask for proof.

3- “I don’t like your idea.”

At the beginning of my ghostwriting career, I took every project offered me, sometimes even when the client’s opinions drastically clashed with mine. As I increased my reputation, however, I began choosing my projects more carefully, and the change was dramatic.

Your ghostwriter should be honest when expressing feelings about your manuscript idea, especially if the topic is controversial. The problem is, you can’t always tell if the feelings expressed are genuine.

I’d tell you to avoid ghostwriters who gush unnecessarily over your idea, but I’ve been known to get overenthusiastic myself if a client proposes a project that really jazzes me. My advice? Ask for a telephone conversation so you can judge the ghostwriter’s opinions more easily.

4- “Our relationship isn’t really a secret.”

Ghostwriters, just like other professionals, need a way to prove that they are capable of handling projects offered by new clients. Consequently, they will disclose the nature of the work they’ve performed for you, and might even provide excerpts from your project to new clients.

The problem is that some ghostwriters won’t disclose this to you, which is a breach of your rights. By definition, a ghostwriter works in secret, and the fact that he or she wrote your manuscript should never be made public. Using excerpts in a portfolio is acceptable, but only under certain conditions.

First, your ghostwriter should obtain a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) from anyone to whom your working relationship is revealed. This means that your ghostwriter’s prospective clients agree not to share privileged information with anyone else.

Second, you should be told whenever your manuscript is used in a portfolio. This is common professional courtesy. The only exception is if the client has agreed to place the ghostwriter’s name on the finished product, such as in a shared byline.

A ghostwriter who breaches confidentiality without your knowledge is not a professional.

5- “I might not write your manuscript—”

An increasing number of ghostwriters are contracting their services out to other professionals, sometimes writers who are not as skillful or as experienced. If you think the telephone company is the only one engaged in outsourcing, you’re kidding yourself.

This is most common in ghostwriting businesses that label themselves as “firms” or “companies”. A ghostwriter working alone is probably doing all of the writing, but if you go with a larger organization, there’s no telling who actually writes your manuscript.

This isn’t a problem if the final product meets your expectations, but what if it doesn’t? You were lured into the contract with samples of one writer’s work, then handed substandard material by another. Chances are, you won’t have any options at that point.

To protect yourself in this situation, make sure the actual writer’s name is in the contract, and look for language that specifies who will actually be working on the project. This isn’t a guarantee, but it’s better than nothing.

6- “—But someone in India will.”

Did you know that the ghostwriter who pens your manuscript might not even speak English as his or her first language? Outsourcing is popular, but a growing number of ghostwriting firms are working with people in India and other countries to save a buck and increase volume.

Some writers in foreign nations will work for as little as $0.50 an hour, which means the thousands of dollars you pay for ghostwriting is lining the pockets of an unscrupulous intermediary. Again, your contract should spell out who is ghosting your manuscript.

7- I’d rather you paid me more.”

There is no set industry standard for ghostwriting fees; therefore, price quotes widely vary between professionals. I never accepted less than $10,000 for a single full-length manuscript as a ghostwriter, but I knew other writers who routinely worked for less than half that figure.

The reality is that you get what you pay for. If you insist on paying a ghostwriter peanuts for his or her work, the final product will not meet your expectations. End of story.

This doesn’t mean that you have to overpay, but it does mean that you need to provide adequate compensation to your ghostwriter. The product will be better and your ghostwriter will be happy to take your calls in the future.

8- “I’ll work with you on price.”

The flipside to the previous point is the fact that ghostwriters are usually more than willing to work with their clients on price. For example, some ghostwriters will offer a hybrid service; they’ll help you write portions of your manuscript while overseeing your completion of the rest. This is a major money-saver.

It is true that you’ll spend big bucks to hire a ghostwriter to write a full-length novel, but you do have options. Strapped for cash? Ask your ghostwriter about services that will help you save money while still getting the project done.

9- “I might not give you the best advice.”

Like anyone else, ghostwriters have their own set of obligations, biases and alliances. This means that the recommendations your ghostwriter offers concerning your manuscript might be in their his best interests, but not in yours. Or they might be colored by his point of view.

A ghostwriter is not a publisher, editor, literary agent or book marketer, though some might have skills in this area. It is best to compartmentalize the production of your manuscript; solicit one professional for the writing, one for the selling, one for the marketing, and so on.

10- “My contract protects me more than you.”

When hiring a ghostwriter, look over that contract carefully. Many ghostwriters do not hire lawyers to draw up their agreements, and instead write them for themselves. This means that it might contain language that is potentially harmful to your project.

For example, does the contract specifically state that the copyright to the material is yours upon payment? Does it spell out the payment agreement in a definitive manner? What are your rights to final edits?

Make sure that the contract is one you can live with. Unfortunately, many ghostwriting clients just sign whatever document they are handed—and regret it later.

11- “I’m not perfect.”

This one should be common sense, but you’d be surprised how many of my ghostwriting clients have thought, at one time or another, that I was infallible. I’ve received countless angry e-mails from clients complaining about a misspelled word or a forgotten exclamation point, shocked that a writer could make such simple mistakes.

Your ghostwriter is only human. The manuscript you are handed at the end of the project won’t be perfect, and you might even need to hire an editor to clean it up before you start the submission process. It’s no different from any regular writer penning his or her own manuscript.

That said, your ghostwriter should be willing to admit his or her mistakes, and correct them where appropriate. Don’t expect perfection, but don’t settle for substandard material.

Are Ghostwriters the Devil?

Of course not. These eleven points are designed to help you search for an appropriate ghostwriter, not to scare you off from the arrangement entirely. The fact is, there are scrupulous, reputable ghostwriters in the market—and then there’s the other kind. My goal is to spare you from the latter.

When hiring a ghostwriter, engage in a thorough vetting process. Not only should he or she be competent and experienced, but also the right fit for your project. A great ghostwriter is not necessarily the best ghostwriter for you.

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194 Comments leave one →
  1. Wendy permalink
    January 10, 2019 9:35 pm

    My name is Wendy Murray. I live in a rural town in Ohio. I have 3 beautiful Children. Oldest Kyle 22, middle Child Nicholas 19, youngest Jay Michael age 12. We were a normal middle class family. My oldest son Kyke was more than a pillar in not only his School, our Community but yet our County. He had his whole life mapped out since he was in early elementary school, always wanting to be the a President of the United States. I’m sure your giggling at that since I’m sure that every young boys dream. But as early as I can remember he had his dream mapped out. A very gifted student, not only academic wise but always striving to do better, as if he needed to but yet he did. He was always top of his class Teachers adored him, he was kind to all and always rooted for the underdog! He was involved in everything Model Un (great debater lol), Mock Trial ( which he introduced and implemented In his High School his Freshman Year), Varsity Soccer Player, Class President since his early years in middle school, National Honor Society, Top of his class with Honors, Our Hoby Leader Advisor, Advisor for our Soecial Olympics, Raised many Dollars for our Local Boys and Girls Clubs, Created a bank within the School so Seniors could Manage there money while away at College, already in his Junior year peeked the interest of Scholarship for Vanderbilt University, and the list goes on! He was the real deal, They Called Him The Mayor of The School…until life changed for him at the age of 17 in the middle of his Junio Year……on February 5 th, 2014 Kyle was involved in a major automobile accident, called DOA on the scene. It was a snow day from school and living in a rural area the roads are never plowed well. Both myself and my husband were not home and as any teenager who thinks there invincible decided to head up to the local market to buy eggs to make French Toast, which was his favorite. The local store is about 8 minutes from our home and the speed limit on this curvy rural road was 55. Kyle came to a curve in the road and happened to hit a patch of black ice. He immediately tried to control the car but over corrected going sideways where another teenager driving a mini van hit him (also at 55 miles per hour) smashing the entire pasaanger side over to the drivers side. Kyle’s Vehicle a 1996 Black Ford Taurus after being hit slid down an embankment. First responders arrived and immediately knew it was too dangerous to climb down the embankment to retrieve him from the Vehicle. They waited for our Fire Depatment to arrive to poke the car up and use the jaws of life to remove him from the car. At this point they felt as though Kyle had not survived. They retrieved him from the car laid him on the cold concrete street. As they did that Kyle’s clothes were very dis-shoveled. Kyle very cold took his hands and pulled his shirt down as if to warm himself at this point the first responders moved into actionintibati g him at the scene, sending him first to the local Hospital and then Transferring him to a Trauma one Hospital where he Clinged to life. He suffered a series of Traumatic Injuries and one of the most severe head Traumas being placed on life support. They induced a medical coma as he lay there lifeless. When the accident occurred he was four minutes away from home. His wallet was still intact in the vehicle and the car was registered in my name. Knowing all of this you would think that I would be the first one they contacted, however unbeknown to me they found a Triple A packet in his glove compartment reached out to Triple A to find out who it was purchased by. It was purchased by his grandmother for Christmas on his fathers side in which his Father and I are divorced. I received no phone call, no police knocking at my door but yet friends and family members who saw his vehicle that was in horrific condition on face book took and placed by a local news paper. I did not find out or arrive into hours later as his father did not inform me. Kyle was out in a medically induced coma and we were told he would not live and if he did the injuries sustained especially from the brain injury he would have no quality of life and placed in a nursing home in a vegitative state. I refused and announced that the God would be the only person to take him, if that was God’s Plan….Kyle was taken off of all of the meds that provided him the comfort of an induced coma and still would not respond…. he remained in this coma for nearly 5 months. The discharge papers from Trauma read as follows….send to a Long Term Acute Center and Follow up with your PCP Doctor in two weeks. This is where the real story begins. Through Faith, Determination, and a Mother who made a promise to her Son begins….Kyle by all means is more than a miracle, he is a fighter, a warrier and admired by his whole medical team. He spent 4 1/2 years either in a hospital or Skilled Nursing home with Geratric Doctors, Geriatric Nurses, and Geriatric Thrrapists, and non of them knew how anything about a Traumatic Brain Injury and how to help him, and we had a medical system that just didn’t care, as he was just a number a statistic. This story is about Hope, Faith, Determination, Drive, and a Mother who made a promise to her son that would be kept. One mother who fought the system the doctors and so many more. And a child who was so determined is now entering his first Semester of College.

    I’ve explained the outline of the story but the in the middle isn’t what is so important and the story that needs, no that has to be told as there are so many more loved ones out there who aren’t given the chance like Kyle was because the system wouldn’t allow it. This needs to change families need to stop feeling as though Doctors are right up there playing God. And Miracles happen, with that deep devotion of love and advocacy!!! There is so much to this story that needs to be told. That one boy ignited thousands of people to believe again, inspire those who need inspired. And if we can touch more lives inspire more people than our purpose has been served! Please, I beg you to take just a brief moment of your time to think about how many lives we can touch, and faith and determination can be spread. My contact information is 440/935-5367 or e-mail wendy_murray3@aol.com

    • DeeDee M permalink
      April 1, 2019 12:18 am

      good luck. sounds like a good story for you to write up

    • July 15, 2019 1:19 pm

      This is an incredible story! IF you need guidance or help, you can reach out to me. I am a writer and do a small amount of ghostwriting, but can tell you exactly how to go from blank page to self-published if you don’t want a ghostwriter. tarajayneschnetz@gmail.com

  2. Kathryn Irvine permalink
    March 19, 2019 6:22 pm

    I’ve written a lot, mainly short stories, paragraphs, and jot lists. While there continues to be so much to write about, my depression and PTSD is preventing me from writing.
    Making money is not my focus.
    Kathryn Irvine 805-722-9007

    • July 15, 2019 1:22 pm

      Hi Kathryn, if you are looking for a writer you can reach out. I am an author of 4 of my own books and do a small amount of ghostwriting. Depending on the topic, I can write the book for you if you want a ghostwriter.

  3. Audrey permalink
    April 14, 2019 10:59 am

    Need good writet

    • July 15, 2019 1:24 pm

      Hi Audrey, If you are still looking for a writer feel free to reach out to me. I have written 4 of my own non-fiction books and do a small amount of ghostwriting on the side to help others get their books into the world.

  4. Shannon permalink
    July 18, 2019 8:21 pm

    I’m looking for guidance, and came by this page from a google search. I’m looking for a writer, but I’m the one who wants to remain unnamed. I’ve had a very interesting life, and everyone who meets me says I should write a book. I’ve got tons of journals and notes, but no time.
    How do I find a writer who is able to take credit for the book? What is that called, and how do I begin searching to find someone? Thank you for any leads you may provide.

  5. August 1, 2019 11:01 am

    This is good info, thanks for taking the time to write it – I took a year ghostwriting a colleagues story which is being published shortly…that said, I’ve been wondering what the rules were for telling/not telling people (I’m PROUD of it!) along with how it works with marketing for future writing opportunities. After reading this, mum’s the word on my efforts…and I’ll cross my fingers that it sells enough copies to pay for my daily diet coke.

    Check out the website for my therapy blog http://www.meaningtolive.com – I’d love to hear thoughts on my writing and even critique…as an addiction therapist, I’ve developed pretty thick skin. Thanks again for writing this article! It was very helpful and motivating.

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