Less Writing, Not Less Work: The Truth About Hiring a Ghostwriter

I’m starting to think I should put this over on the ‘static’ half of my website in 24-point letters: hiring a ghostwriter is not less work than writing a book yourself. It’s just less writing.

Let me qualify that statement. If you just want articles, or even a book, written on a certain topic, and you hire someone with good research skills or appropriate expertise to write it, then the only work you really have to do is devise a scope of work. But that kind of writing isn’t really ghostwriting. It’s contract writing. Publishers of series like Wiley’s “For Dummies” do this all the time: they perceive a demand for a simple how-to book on a subject, and they go find someone to write it. Not all contract writers get bylines the way Wiley’s do, but the principle is pretty much the same.

Most of the people you find on sites like Elance are contract writers. You can hire them to write two dozen short articles on any subject you want for you to submit to article banks or post on your website.

But when you want to publish something that conveys who you are, you need a ghostwriter. Ghostwriters are the people who immerse themselves in your personality like an actor into a role, who get to know your habits of speech and thought so well that your own friends would never know you hadn’t written that book yourself.

And in order to do that, we have to spend a lot of time talking to you and working with you. We need to ask you questions and to see you at work and in social situations. We need you to provide raw materials like recordings and notes. We need to read what you’ve written and to understand not just your subject but your own insight into it. We need you to go over drafts we send you and tell us where something doesn’t sound like you and where something isn’t quite right.

And that means you have to put in some serious time and effort.

On the other hand, it also means that you have to articulate your thoughts and your values much more clearly than you might otherwise bother to do. That means a more readable, more focused book. What’s more, doing all that work makes it your book in a way nothing you’ve assigned someone to work on without you could be.

The obvious next question is, “If I have to do so much work anyway, why hire a ghostwriter?”

The obvious next answer is, “Because you need someone who writes better than you do.”

But there are some non-obvious answers, too:

  • Working with someone else creates a sense of accountability. This can make it easier to meet deadlines.
  • A ghostwriter may also know the publishing industry and the genre better than you do.
  • A ghostwriter can help you refine your thoughts and choose the most marketable angle on your idea.
  • In between those revisions and interviews, you can still run your business, so you don’t have to drop everything for a year to produce the book.
  • A ghostwriter can bring your unconscious assumptions to light and ask the questions you’ve never thought to ask yourself.

But don’t kid yourself. If you want a book that really represents you, you’re going to have to work for it.

4 thoughts on “Less Writing, Not Less Work: The Truth About Hiring a Ghostwriter

  1. I am dealing alot with this same issues (this is Dec 08 when I’m writing this post). I have a client – he has political aspirations so wants to start blogging as a step in the direction of writing a book – all in the effort to market his personal brand. Thought leadership is what he is after. I can see him using an editor for speechwriting and certainly for his book. But he’s got this “editor” crafting messages now as blog posts. Sure the client has a 2 mn conversation saying “I’d like to talk about X, Y, and Z and the impact of it on our economy.” Then the editor takes it from there.

    I’m in charge of his overall marketing. He’s a bull in a china closet so it’s hard to keep him down. He went and hired this editor to help make him sound intelligible I think. I’m just concerned the blog doesn’t “sound like” him at all. How do you create intelligible thoughts yet authenticity in voice at the same time.

    -Randy, Fort Worth, TX

  2. Ah, the Ghost Blogging Problem. Though–he’s planning to be a politician, and you’re worried about authenticity? (Not to mention implying that he would not be coherent on his own…)

    I’ve written about ghost blogging before, but will say again that when a blog is really supposed to represent an individual’s thoughts and opinions, it’s better for that person to do the writing himself. He can have an editor fix really glaring errors, but otherwise, it really should be him. If the ghost isn’t making it sound like him, then he’s not much of a ghostwriter anyway–though it sounds like he didn’t necessarily set out to be.

    The client may not always be right, but the client is still the client. You can express your concerns to both client and editor, but you might be stuck with it.

  3. First, a quick caveat: I realize that I’ve stumbled across this article somewhat belatedly. Still, I feel compelled to comment on it just the same. Having read multiple articles on the ethical nature and ultimate purpose behind ghostwriting from the standpoint of other writers, it was infinitely refreshing to find a piece that viewed the issue from the other side of the fence.

    As an aspiring writer, I’ll admit that the idea of ghostwriting, though intriguing on a theoretical level, struck me as a little murky. In my own personal experience, hatching an idea worth writing about is the most difficult part of the writing process. As a general rule, I feel fairly confident in my ability to string together coherent sentences and communicate my thoughts with clarity. Disappointingly, my creative muse is often MIA. On the rare occasion that inspiration does strike, I find that I am often possessive of my ideas. As a result, I found myself unconsciously nodding in agreement when myriad bloggers posed the question, “Why would you want someone else to write your ideas?”

    Your post allowed me to step outside of my “writer” persona and recognize that not everyone is so eager to identify themselves as such. The obvious answer to your obvious question, though simple, requires a great deal of courage and humility to utter. In order to come to this possibly demoralizing conclusion, information and purpose must supersede ego.

    Many would argue that the real work behind writing occurs before pen strikes paper. In my days as an undergraduate English major, I often spent days brainstorming (alone and with colleagues) before I could pinpoint how I wanted to approach a particular assignment. Discussions with classmates and friends often served to expand and illuminate a thesis. A fresh pair of eyes and ears can truly work wonders. By giving credence to the idea that writing begins in the mind and not on paper, we have to acknowledge what you have pointed out in this article: the client of a ghostwriter is involved in the most important aspect of the composition process. Though we may be tempted to set the craft in and of itself on a pedestal, we should not forget that writing is but a vehicle.

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