By the very nature of their work, most ghostwriters go unsung. But the truth is that a significant portion of the books sold every year will pass through the hands of an experienced ghost. From memoirs and how-to books to novels of all genres, writers for hire are helping authors get their ideas out on he market at an incredible rate.
The question for most aspiring authors is whether the ghost approach is right for them? In this post, we'll tackle this conundrum...by asking more questions.
The world's best writers can spend years developing their skills. To expect all authors to craft a perfect book first time around (and in a timely fashion) could be seen as unreasonable. Ghosts, on the other hand, tend to have a lot of experience under their belts, according to ghostwriter Marcia Layton Turner.
"Ghostwriters have often written many more books than successful authors have. With that experience comes an understanding of what a book should contain, how it should flow, where additional material can come from, and the most efficient way to pull it all together."
Countless courses teach people the craft of writing, but none of them provide the sort of on-the-job training you get from working with a professional. For many authors, working with a ghostwriter is like a full-time immersion course in producing a professional book.
Even skilled writers often turn to ghosts, as their other professional commitments may already dominate their time. "Handing off the grunt work to a professional helps ensure you'll receive back a publishing manuscript, while you're able to continue generating income," says Turner.
Some of the world's most successful authors use ghosts. Think of almost any political memoir or celebrity autobiography. Do you think Ronaldo has the time to write a book between playing football and unveiling disgusting busts? James Patterson, the world's bestselling novelist, now openly uses ghosts for almost all of his books.
When writing almost any type of non-fiction, an author will usually start with some amount of material - whether it's research notes or diary entries for a memoir. In most cases, ghostwriters will also want to set up interviews to extract details that the author may have forgotten or overlooked, according to ghost Vanessa Mickan.
"They know the right questions to ask that will draw out insights, experiences, or stories you didn't even know you had inside you."
So when considering a ghostwriting partnership, remember that they're not just great writers - they're also effective interviewers.
One job of a literary editor is to act as a second pair of eyes on an author's manuscript and provide much-needed outside perspective. But if you're struggling to see how a reader might receive your book before you write it, then collaborating with a ghost may be an option.
A ghostwriter who is new to your subject will ask the sorts of questions that a reader may have: ones that may not have occurred to you at all. They will also give you confidence that your book isn't fundamentally flawed before you devote too much time to it.
One of the most common questions ghosts get asked is whether they will write a book in exchange for a split of the royalties. And in almost every case, the answer is 'no.' That means the authors need to know if they can afford to work with a ghost and whether the potential benefit of their book outweighs the upfront cost.
While a full manuscript from a reputable ghost will cost tens of thousands, there is another option that may appeal to the cost-conscious author, which brings us to our last question.
Securing an agent and a publishing deal is one of the greatest challenges facing authors. One route that many non-fiction authors take is to work with a ghost on writing a book proposal - a document that pitches the project to potential publishing partners. Good ghosts will know better than most people how to create a proposal that will impress: after all, they've done it before.
The advantages of a ghostwritten proposal include just about everything mentioned above, but at a much more manageable cost. If the proposal does the job and secures the author a book deal, they can use the advance to help pay a ghost to write the manuscript or take a crack at it themselves.
Martin Cavannagh is a writer for Reedsy, the world's largest marketplace of professional editors, book designers and ghostwriters. He also curates a series of free webinars and online courses designed to teach writers how to create and publish better books.