‘How does ghostwriting work?’ ‘How do you ghostwrite a book?’

I get asked these questions a lot, for two reasons.

Firstly, once people find out I’m a ghostwriter, they’re curious about how it all works. Ghostwriting is not a well-known profession and writing a book for another person, in their voice,  sounds like a mammoth task. (which it is!)

How Do I Hire A Ghostwriter?

Or they’ve been thinking of hiring a ghostwriter to write their book, but are wondering what it entails, and how much time and energy they will need to put into it themselves.

If you’re in the second category and not sure how to go about hiring a ghostwriter, read my blog post, 5 Steps To Finding The Perfect Ghostwriter for some useful tips. 

Ready To Start The Ghostwriting Process?

Now that you’ve hired your ghostwriter and signed on the dotted line, you’re ready to roll.

What I am about to tell you is based on my own processes in writing memoirs and life stories, which are my specialty.

I can’t speak for the processes of other ghostwriters, but they will be similar, because ghostwriting a book entails certain common methods. 
How Does Ghostwriting Work Methods

Step 1: Planning

Planning how the book will be written is vital, before I start writing.  How will it be structured, how will it start and end, what are the main events and the climax?

What is the theme, and what does my client want the reader to gain from the book?

I find that at least some of these questions will have already been discussed with my client during the getting-to-know-you process before they officially hire me. 

Ghostwriting is very much a collaborative process, and it’s important to involve my client in the planning, because they have to be happy with the way I write the book.  

After we’ve brainstormed and I’ve created a plan they’re happy with, we can get down to the nitty-gritty..

Step 2: Information Gathering

I do this in 3 main ways.

1. Interview The Client

Interviewing sounds very formal; even though I ask questions of the client to get the necessary information about their life, it’s more of a conversation than a back and forth question and answer.

By this stage I’ve already established a rapport with the client through the process of their hiring me and planning the book. But some of what they tell me could be sensitive or distressing, so it’s important that they feel comfortable enough with me to talk about those issues.

Of course, it’s always up to the client what goes in the book – anything that’s too upsetting, for them or others, doesn’t need to be included.

The interview is the most important way of information gathering, because it’s also the way I get to know the client’s ‘voice.’ In literary terms, this means how they express themselves, what type of language they use.

For me this is imperative, because I’m writing the story in the client’s voice, ie how they would write it.  

The book will have the client’s name on it as the author, so it has to read as if it was written by them.

I record all our conversations and have them professionally transcribed into Word documents, so the information is all there to use in the story. 

I can also go back and listen to any conversation again to pick up any nuances that might not be in the transcription.

If the client lives locally,  we meet in person, but if not, we talk over Zoom.

It’s the next best thing to talking in person, and also means I can write stories for people all over the world.  You gotta love technology!

2. Use Background Material

Sometimes the client has material already written – it could be a family history, some factual information or research they’ve done themselves, or even their own attempts to write their memoir.

I always welcome this, as it saves me time and work. One client, who wanted me to write his father’s life story, provided me with a 40 000 word document of his story by a previous writer he’d hired.

He wasn’t satisfied with how she’d written it, so hired me. 

That document, with all the information it contained,  was worth its weight in gold.

3. Do My Own Research

I always check historical facts my client has given me, even if they swear they’re right. It’s amazing how our memory can play tricks on us.

We can be so sure of when/how/why a certain event occurred,  then find out we’re wrong.

Or if I’m writing a certain scene from the past, especially if it takes place in a public arena, and the client’s memory is hazy, I’ll do some research to fill in the gaps.

What were the surroundings like? Who else would have been present and what else happened? What were the sight, smells and sounds?

All those details make the scene come alive for the reader.

I love doing research; I learn so much about so many different topics. To read more about my research, read my blog post How A Ghostwriter Does Life Story Research.

Step 3: Begin Writing

Even though I’ve put this step after the information gathering, I start writing as soon as I have enough material to write the first chapter, which is usually after the first couple of interviews.  

Then I write the story progressively as I obtain the information.

Feedback from the client is important – they are paying me to write the book, so they have to be happy with how I’m writing it.

Each ghostwriter is different in the way they obtain feedback. Initially I send the first couple of chapters to the client, to make sure they like the style of writing and that I have captured their voice.

Once they have approved those, I will usually send the manuscript at about the 25% mark, the 50% mark and upon completion.

This is to verify to the client that the work is being done, though they are also invited to make comments and correct factual errors
How Does Ghostwriting Work Identify Errors

A Word About Scheduling

This schedule can vary, though, as it usually corresponds with the payment plan. When a payment is due, I will send what I have written so far.

Usually this is by email; however, sometimes due to the age of my clients I need to be flexible with this process.

Some older clients are not computer literate, so in that case, I will print out the relevant chapters for them to read.   

One client, Bob, who was 96, didn’t use computers, was sight-impaired and could only read very large print with the help of his magnifying machine.

To save him the arduous task of reading many chapters all at once this way, I would email each chapter as I wrote it to his son Greg, who would print it out in large type.

Bob would then read the chapter on his magnifying machine (we joked about him doing his ‘homework’ each week) and the next time I visited he would correct any factual errors I’d made in that chapter.

Step 4: Client Comments & Editing

Once the manuscript is finished, I send it to the client for final comments.

At this stage, they have already read a lot of it and suggested changes along the way, so there is usually not a lot of rewriting to be done.

When they have approved the final manuscript, I put it through its paces in my online editing tool Pro-Writing Aid, which helps me improve it for clarity and readability, as well as spelling and grammar.  

But nothing beats human eyes (and brain), so after that, I send the manuscript to a proofreader for a final check of spelling, grammar and punctuation.

Step 5: Publish

Once the manuscript is proofread, I send it to the client and it’s ready to publish. That’s a proud moment – for me and the client.

 There are three options for publishing – self publishing, partner publishing and traditional publishing.  

For an extra fee that can be negotiated at the time of hiring me or later, I am more than happy to assist my client with any of these processes, as I have experience with them all.

1. Self-Publishing

This involves handling and funding the entire publishing process yourself, ranging from formatting and cover design to making the book available in stores, online and physical.  

You don’t necessarily need to do all those tasks yourself, you can outsource them.

2. Traditional Publishing

You can submit your manuscript to a publisher, and if it’s accepted, they will take on the work and the cost of publishing your book, so you have no upfront costs.

Some publishers may offer a small advance, but many don’t offer any at all.

Be aware that it is extremely difficult to get a publishing contract, especially for a memoir, because everyone’s writing one these days. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying.

3. Partnership Publishing (somtimes called Hybrid Publishing)

This occurs when a publisher accepts your manuscript for publication, and will do all the work involved with publishing the book, but you are expected to pay for it.

Partnership publishers have a less rigorous process of deciding what to accept for publication than traditional publishers.

Some will publish any manuscript; others will suggest necessary changes to make your book more publishable.

Publishing Options

There is so much more to know about publishing options – it could be the subject of a blog post in itself.

And in fact, it’s going to be! Keep your eyes peeled for next month’s blog post on How Do I Publish My Memoir?.

To keep you going until then, here's a blog post from Author Learning Center - 4 Ways to Publish a Book in 2022.

So that’s how ghostwriting works. It can take up to 6 months, sometimes longer, to write a book. The best part is seeing the client’s expression when they hold their book in their hand.

Ooh - I forgot to mention the last step in the process.

Step 6: Pour A Glass Of Champagne

Oh yes, let's not forget to celebrate the victories...large and small.

I hope that answers the question; "how does ghostwriting work?". Let me know in the comments if you liked this post and any thoughts you might have about ghostwriting.

Also, if you’d like to talk to me about ghostwriting your life story or memoir, please click the button below to submit your name and email address and I will contact you as soon as possible.

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