If you have the kind of job that can be done by someone who’s only semiliterate in English and works for $4/hour, by all means go over to Elance and hire them. If the most important thing to you is to pay as little as possible, we probably don’t have much to talk about.

But if effective communication matters to you and you want anything produced in your name to enhance your company’s reputation rather than destroy your credibility, I want to hear from you.

Who Hires Writers?

Even though ghostwriters may be most familiar in the context of celebrity autobiographies, less-famous people hire ghostwriters all the time. You might need a professional writer if you fall into one of these categories.

  • Your growing company doesn’t yet have an internal communications (or even a PR) department.
  • You do have a communications department, but they’re stretched to the limit and you need a specialized job done.
  • You can’t work on your book full-time because you have to run your business.
  • You’re an acclaimed public speaker but freeze up when you sit down at a keyboard.
  • You’re adapting a highly technical or scholarly work for a general audience.
  • English is not your first language, but it’s the language you do business in.

Most Likely to Succeed

Some of my best clients have been sole proprietors—and some have been divisions of corporations. It’s taken a bit of thinking to decide what they have in common, but I’ve identified a few qualities that tie them together.

  • You’re an expert, or you lead a team of experts, and there are people who need to hear what you have to say, because you can help them solve their most pressing problems.
  • You know that the old adage “Publish or Perish” is just as true in business as it ever was in academia—and that the explosion in blogs, e-books, and other online forums for communication only increases the pressure.
  • You know that maintaining open lines of communication with your customers, vendors, partners, and investors is critical in this age of transparency.
  • You already have management’s approval and a budget for your writing project.
  • You have an overall strategy and know where your writing projects fit into it.
  • You enjoy collaborating and value an outside perspective.
  • You want to work with someone who cares about helping you achieve your goals and look like a hero to your boss or clients.

If You Want to Write a Book

“Fit” or rapport is more important for ghostwriting books than for any other writing work, because of the depth as well as the length of the project. Ghostwriting is an intimate process; the ghost has to get into the mind of the author, and that can’t happen without some shared values and emotional resonance. So there’s not really a way to know whether we’ll work well together without meeting—at least by video chat, and preferably in person.

Before we go that far, however, we can get a few things straight. People have more misconceptions about book writing and publishing than any other aspect of hiring a writer. So to avoid wasting your time, I’ve put together a list of characteristics that make a good book writing client.

  • You recognize that books, like other written content, are most valuable as marketing tools.
  • You’re looking for a professional writer on a work-for-hire basis, not a co-author to share royalties.
  • You want someone who can write in your “voice” and convey your ideas faithfully.
  • You’re prepared to spend between $5,000 and $25,000, depending on the length and complexity of the project.
  • You’ve done your homework about the realities of publishing today and remain confident that your book will repay your investment even if you never get on “Oprah” or the New York Times bestseller list.
  • You realize that hiring a ghostwriter doesn’t always mean less work: unless you are available to answer questions, check facts, and review drafts, the project won’t get done on schedule.

What to Do Next