What You Need to Know to Hire a Ghostwriter: 19 Questions to Ask to Help You Make Your Selection
Updated: Jul 27, 2021
Hiring a ghostwriter to write your book can be done very easily but choosing the right person for the job takes knowing what to ask them. Upon hiring a ghostwriter you will be interacting with them for around six months until they complete your project. Do you want somebody who is direct and easy to work with who will deliver great work? That's far much more important than their fee.
What is your process for learning your client’s voice?
How do they prefer to work? Once you've asked them the following questions you'll have a good idea of how to answer this one. It's crucial and your relationship with the person who writes your book project. Read more about the collaboration process.
Do you have a sample contract I can read?
To get an idea of how the ghostwriter does business ask for a sample contract. This will answer many of the questions you may have about working with a ghostwriter, in addition, it will answer questions you didn’t think to ask but will benefit from asking them.
The purpose of interviewing a prospective ghostwriter is to get a clear idea of what it would be like to have them produce work for you and what they expect of their clients.
Such an interview should take around 30 minutes and include a cursory discussion of your project though with enough detail to give them a solid idea of how long it will take to complete your project and how much it will cost. In such an interview you should learn when the prospect of Ghostwriter can begin your project and expect that they will let you know if it's not the right project for them by the end of the conversation or shortly after and lastly, this is where intuition comes in, whether or not you think they're right for the job.
What genres and subject matter are you familiar with?
Read their website before you talk to them. Skilled ghostwriters work in niches so a ghostwriter you hire should operate in one. This means they market themselves as doing one thing expertly.
A ghostwriter working in a niche might specialize in genre fiction. That is they are familiar with romcom, steam punk, historical novels, literary fiction, modernism, postmodernism, westerns, science fiction. You'll notice that the aforementioned genres overlap with one another. Everything mentioned above is in one larger group called genre.
A note on definitions. Literature is a genre and it is also separate from genre. Genre works are also literature.
It works like this:
Genre fiction has a specific agenda and way to achieve it that is codified by other works that have the same agenda and a similar way of achieving that agenda. Literature is fiction that does not follow a predetermined agenda. Don Quixote and Ham on Rye are examples of literature. Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis novels are science fiction, though Butler’s work is also literature, and academicians categorize Don Quixote [as satire among other things] and Ham on Rye [autobiographical] as genres.
Do you have a niche?
You want a ghostwriter operating in a niche market. Many ghostwriters do not operate in a niche. They will offer any writing service whether or not they are capable of delivering it.
A ghostwriter who says they write various genres is a ghostwriter working in a niche. Ghostwriters offering other services within the spectrum of achieving the same goal—marketing services for self-publishing for instance—are niche. Though somebody promoting themselves as a ghostwriter who also specializes in copywriting and marketing services is not niche.
In 2021 it is good practice to operate in a niche spectrum. The bottom line is how the relationship between the clients and the ghostwriter is.
Read their website and talk to them for a half hour. Asking the right questions for that length of interview will provide you with more than enough information to know if you want to entrust the prospect to develop your project over the next several months.
How and when do you bill your clients?
It comes down to relationships. If it’s not already paramount in your book, who you work with it matter more than when and how much you pay them.
Like other freelancers, ghostwriters have their own way of doing things and among them are how they are willing be paid for their services.
Some will want a retainer up front and to be paid monthly, others weekly. It often follows that when work is turned in, a payment is made. If you want your ghostwriter to submit a chapter for you every Friday, they may ask to be remunerated every Friday.
How many projects do you have going at once?
It's a good idea to know upfront how a ghostwriter works. That is how many projects they take on at once and when they can start yours. It’s a good sign if a ghostwriter is occupied for a few weeks or months with another project before they can take your project on. Good ghostwriters are in demand. As a rule of thumb, it’s a good idea to work with a ghostwriter who works on one long-term project at a time. You want all of their attention while they’re working on yours.
Whether you hire a ghostwriter to start your project at their earliest opening six months from now, or they can start today, consider the following:
Do they instill you with a sense of purpose, professionalism, optimism and communicate clearly?
How much experience do they have?
Now consider how long your project has been gestating. No one wants to wait, they want things done right away. Your book project is your baby. It’s strategy not a race you’re enduring to get to the finish. Find the right person for the job. They may not be the first person or even the second or third you talk to. You'll know when you find them.
In most fields experience is considered the highest value. It’s even more valuable than ability because with ability you can have somebody who makes mistakes because they don't know how things are done, so while the talent is there the means for providing effective service may be lacking.
In ghostwriting it's all about capturing the client’s voice. Ability is the prime skill to look for in a perspective hire, because unlike cost or experience, it’s the ability of the ghostwriter that will deliver the book you envision.
How long does it take to write a novel?
The time it takes to write one’s own novel is not equivalent to the time it will take to write a client’s novel. For instance writing an average length work of fiction for a client might take seven months. It could take an author three months or five years to write their own novel.
Georges Simenon spent around 12 days writing his detective novels. He is reputed to have been in the habit of writing 6,000 to 8,000 words a day, that's 24 to 32 pages. He supposedly broke off his affair with Josephine Baker because she took too much of his time away from his work. One thing to keep in mind is that the novels that he was famous for writing in a couple of weeks were around 150 pages, or 38,000 words long. A typical full length novel is about 100,000 words long, so Simenon’s writing 2-3 books for the length of each typical sized novel. If you've got something to say and a style to say it, 150 pages in two weeks is doable. What's impressive is that he did it for years.
Stephen King has said that he writes a novel in about four months. During his earlier years he’s reputed to have written 10 pages, or 2,500 words a day. In a 2016 YouTube post with George R. R. Martin interviewing him, King says when he works he works every day and tries to get six clean pages completed. In comparison to another author who writers quickly, Marlon James spent two years researching his Dark Star Trilogy before beginning to write it.
How and when will you deliver updates of my work?
You will want to work with a ghostwriter who is flexible enough to work with your schedule. They may have suggestions when and how often to turn in work that would likely come from their experience, but go with your gut instinct. If you want work weekly, or monthly, or to see the whole draft once it's done, then work with someone who can confidently deliver that wish.
How much do you cost?
It's most important to know how they charge. You’ll want to know how they would charge you if you decide to add an another 20,000 words to your project.
You can expect to pay roughly the same amount for ghostwriters in the same bracket of fee structure.
A standard length novel is 100,000 words long and 250 words is considered a page in academia, so that’s 400 pages. However, many books have a higher word count per page. In most cases trade paperback will have a number closer to 315 words per page, making the book around 320 pages.
Some ghostwriters charge by the hour, others charge by the word or by the page. You can expect to pay around $50,000 give or take $5,000 or so for a ghostwriter to execute your project. Ghostwriter fees range from $20 an hour to hundreds of dollars an hour. You should be able to find a good ghostwriter working within the margin of $50 and $150 [or the equivalent of] an hour.
Freelancer writers who charge $20-$60 an hour are typically copywriters, whether or not they made market themselves as a literary ghostwriter.
How would you like to be paid?
They'll probably have a preference but this comes down to what works for the both of you.
What can I expect if one of us needs to cancel the contract?
Read the contract before you sign it. In most cases the ghostwriters will email sample contracts by request.
In a thirty minute phone call, you’ll get an idea of how the ghostwriter operates when things are per usual. A contract will give you a good idea of their behavior should there be a problem from either end in completing a job.
Avoid working with anyone who accepts payment for work that they didn't — so read the contract carefully so they don't have the legal right to claim fees for work they didn’t do.
Turning your book from idea to published product is a long process that extends far beyond writing it. When it’s worth it to pay thousands of dollars to have a ghostwriter tackle your project, don’t begrudge their fee. Hire someone who will work transparently with you from beginning to end. Hire a ghostwriter who shows you their work, don’t hire a copywriter to do a ghostwriter’s job. They are not the same talent.
How often can I expect to communicate with you and what is your response time?
Regular communication by phone, email, and text should be available. It's generally not the most important thing that your ghostwriter is willing to talk to you on the phone every day or that they answer text messages within ten minutes.
What's important is that they understand you and the scope of your project and all of the details within it. Ghostwriters are artists who require time to create and the creative process should not be interrupted unless it is necessary.
Ask them what rate of communication with their clients do they tend to have.
The amount of contact you should have with your retained ghostwriter is a balance of what you need to say to them and how they optimally work. Within these two tendencies is the frequency you’ll want to interact with them.
That said it's not necessary to be able to speak to the ghostwriter whenever you have an idea to add. Nine times out of ten it’s more effective for them to get it in writing so they can make a note of it when they break from working on the manuscript. Another thing to consider is the creative process.
Writing a novel for someone else takes imagination, skill, discipline, and lots of time. The same things that go into writing one's own novel are used in developing a novel for a client. This signifies that the best writing is done during an uninterrupted span of time ideal for the writer.
This is not to say that you should be inconvenienced in anyway. Your concerns for your project should always be voiced so the writer can shake your project in your voice. It is a matter of priority and sometimes the ghostwriter can help the client put priorities into perspective from maximum efficiency.
A note on the creative process
It might take an hour to get a paragraph and then a mere fifteen minutes to get the rest of the page. The creative process is funny, sometimes an author will write six pages in forty-five minutes other times it takes two hours to get a single page completed.
Casual observers—that is anyone who is not developing a manuscript or a writer themselves—tend to not realize how much thought goes into writing. My observations and experiences have shown me that the non-writer is amazed and surprised by how much of writing is thinking.
It's as if they say to themselves:
“I can talk quickly, the words come out as quick as I think them, and I can type quickly, so writing from the imagination should happen very rapidly.”
It does. All the time, everywhere—the ideas pour onto the page quickly.
This is a relative example of output because writing is also slow all the time everywhere. Output fluctuates. The main thing is to maintain consistency. The most important thing is applying time and effort consistently.
The bottom line is hire somebody who has an agreeable communication style, but let them work to the full capacity of their creative process to deliver their best work to you.
Do yo provide other services?
Many ghostwriters provide marketing and digitalize your book for a selling platform such as Amazon. Check their website to see if they offer a follow up services. If they don't advertise but you like what you've heard in the interview ask them if they'll set you up for digital sales or consult you on manuscript solicitation.
What books have you ghostwritten?
In most cases ghostwriters are contractually obligated to keep their clients’ identity secret. Ghostwriters who name their clients are likely to have post books they’ve authored on their website.
If you don't see work samples on their website, ask them. Many ghostwriters will provide them sourced anonymously.
What style guide do you use?
Knowing dialogue tags that you would use when writing is important so that the ghostwriter knows what to apply in their draft.
Some writers only use “said,” so there are manuscripts are filled with: “he said,” “she said,” “they said.”
Other writers prefer more expression in describing what their characters say. Their tendency will to write dialogue tag such as: “He opined,” “She questioned,” “they intimated.”
These two styles don't mix. People tend to have very strong feelings about using one over the other. Tell your prospective ghostwriter what you want. The more they know about you and your style, the better job they can do in their first draft. It’s the ghostwriter’s job to mimic you your style and capture your voice on the page, seamlessly from top to toe.
What do you need from me to get started?
Once you retain a ghostwriter you should hand over all of your notes on your project. Don't have any? Tell them everything you know about it. Some ghostwriters may request their clients to make an outline of their project. This does not mean that the ghostwriter won't make an outline of the project themselves. They need to do that following an in-depth conversation about your book idea. A client’s outline will show the ghostwriter the thought they have applied to their own idea, it’s very helpful to see this. A good outline assists in mapping out the fundamentals of the project ahead.
It's crucial for your ghostwriter to know everything about your project. People have different ways and rates they digest information. If you've got a lot to say about your project because it's been on your mind for years but you also have extensive notes, give the ghostwriter your notes first and let them absorb them. Then have a conversation with them tell them everything, and expect to get intelligent questions in response.
How long have you been ghostwriting and how did you get involved in it?
Yes, you want to know how long they've been in the business.
There is a lot of weight placed on experience just like in other occupations. Experience is very important but it's not the most important thing. The most important thing is capturing your voice on the page. This is tantamount to a ghostwriter’s ability. Experience is someplace down the line after that. Cost is after that.
There are people with experience who do excellent work as well as people with experience who do crappy work. Do not rely on conversations alone to get a feeling for your perspective. See their work.
What did you do before you were a ghostwriter?
Talk to a few ghostwriters and you will find most of them got into ghostwriting from some unrelated occupation. They weren't writers. They may have read a lot, they might be very smart but they aren't artists. They've never struggled through a work for no pay because it was driving them to complete it.
Before you set out to find a ghostwriter know in advance whether or not you want to work with somebody who has labored over their own work for no money and developed a skill out of years of practice, or somebody who decided to try the field. Therein marks the difference between talent and capability.
If you're not sure where you should start looking to find us, have a quick look here to know where to find ghostwriters.