5 Tips for Working With a Ghostwriter

Experienced ghostwriter Anne Violette describes a nightmare situation after being hired for a project: She had to meet with the client three to four times a week as he stood over her shoulder and dictated what he wanted. “I told him I felt more like a ghost typist than a ghostwriter,” she says.

If you’ve hired a ghostwriter, don’t be that guy. Here’s how to help ghostwriters do great work without driving them insane.

Clarify Your Goals

What is your goal for the piece? Who is your audience? What tone are you looking for? If you don’t feel like you can communicate that clearly, provide examples of work that’s similar to what you’re envisioning. A great ghostwriter can work backwards from those samples to establish a framework and personality.

“It is not enough to say, Wow, I have a great story to tell!’” Violette says. Instead, she compares working on a writing project to building a house: It requires a blueprint and a foundation. “Have a plan, so that the ghostwriter has something to work with.”

Establish Your Roles Upfront

Ghostwriters can come into the process at many different stages. Do you want help organizing the piece, but then to write it yourself? Or do you mainly want someone to edit and build on your work? Do you want the ghostwriter to create the whole first draft and finished book using your research and knowledge? Or do you want a ghostwriter to the do the research as well?

All of these options are common, but you should clarify your expectations upfront, says Jenna Rose Robbins, a writer, editor and ghostwriter. She recommends drawing up a contract to ensure everyone’s on the same page. “This isn’t just for legal reasons. It’s also to help both parties understand each other’s expectations. For example, many writers will expect some sort of recognition, even if it’s not as an author on the front cover, so that credit should be spelled out in the contract.”

Share Your Inspiration

If you have interesting articles on the topic, share them! Anything that has given you inspiration will help your ghostwriter understand your vision, says David Lowbridge, copywriter at Two Feet Marketing. “You need to tell your ghostwriter every detail of your project, what you want or any other detail related to the project,” he says. “Ghostwriters are supposed to create the materials for you by becoming your voice. However, they are not mind readers.”

When she writes for businesses, Lori Osterberg of Vision Business Concepts needs her work to sound like them. “I not only review their documentation and learn more about their services, but I talk to them about personal things to discover who they are and what they like,” she says. I also have them send me things of interest to them, learn about books they are reading, or even follow people they find of interest in the social world. This helps me see things from their perspective, which ultimately influences the way I write content for them.”

Organize Your Thoughts

Great ghostwriters can walk away from even the most rambling phone calls with the material necessary to create great articles, blog post and even book chapters. But a little prep work can help you both get to a quality final product a lot faster.

Violette recommends preparing an outline for your ghostwriter to work with, and then spending an eight-hour day working with the ghostwriter for every 100 pages you want in your finished draft. You can then follow up weekly or as needed. This gives the ghostwriter enough detail to work with to build the foundation, and the details can come later.

Be Open — and Patient

It can take a little while for writers to familiarize themselves with your voice. Don’t be afraid to share feedback, especially at the beginning of the project, says Marc Anderson, CEO of TalktoCanada. Even if the writer is a good one, you may not end up with what you wanted if you don’t talk about what you’re looking for during the process.

Remember, too, that good writing takes time. “Projects that require ghostwriters can go haywire when the person doing the hiring is in a big hurry,” says Markelle Harden, director of content and business development at Get A Copywriter. “All ghostwriting projects are collaborative, and expecting someone who has never met you in person to nail it on the first try in 24 hours is asking for failure. Give yourself plenty of time. Give the writer plenty of feedback. If you are in a hurry and are stressed about the outcome, it may be best to pass on the project and start on a new one.”