If you have a great idea for a book, but you don’t consider yourself the kind of writer who is capable of tackling a project that large, you may be considering the idea of hiring a ghostwriter. You might have a compelling life story, or you might have accumulated a unique and valuable set of business expertise. Hiring a ghost writer may be a good option for some, but there are a number of caveats. If you’re trying to decide whether hiring a ghost writer is the best option for you, these pointers will help make the process a bit clearer.

  1. Invest time in learning the craft of writing. The idea of sitting back by a fireplace, telling your story while someone listens, then seeing a finished book materialize with your name on it may sound appealing, but it doesn’t really work that way. Writing a book is going to require some sweat equity on your part—so if you’re don’t consider yourself a writer, take a class or two. There will be plenty of writing to be done after the book is finished, and your ghostwriter won’t be on hand to do it all. For example, you may need to respond to a comment on a blog post or a Facebook post. Social media has made writing skills mandatory for basic communication. If you’re going to be the author of a book, you need to be able to express yourself clearly and succinctly in writing.
  2. Plan your budget. I’m not going to sugar coat this part: hiring a good ghostwriter is not cheap. If you’re looking to hire someone to write an entire book for you, be ready to spend at least $10,000 (and that’s assuming you don’t ask the ghost writer to do any research). Writers with specialized expertise may charge considerably more, especially if they are well-connected in the publishing industry. This doesn’t include the cost of editing or promotion. One last note on budget: don’t ask a ghostwriter if he or she will work for a straight royalty when the book is published. It’s not going to happen. Here’s an article from Scribe Media about evaluating the skill and fit of a ghostwriter–be prepared to pay! 
  3. Do some of the writing yourself. One way to reduce the costs involved in hiring a ghost writer is to play an active role in the writing process. You will be much better off if you start with an outline and a specific plan for what the finished product will look like. It’s one thing to be open to a ghost writer’s suggestions; it’s another to expect the ghost writer to figure it all out for you. One way that I’ve worked with writing clients in the past: I’ve taken the first crack at getting something started from a blank page and let them take it from there. You might consider having a ghost writer do something similar for you.
  4. Do your market research ahead of time. Take a look through your local bookstore, or search online, and look for other books similar to the one you’re planning to write. Having a clear picture of who your market is and what types of messages speak to that market will help you make more effective use of your ghost writer’s time.
  5. Create a timeline and work backwards. When do you want to have the book completely finished? Six months is the most aggressive timeline I would recommend. Think about your overall goals for writing the book when putting together a timeline. You need to be crystal clear about deadlines before you bring a ghost writer into the process.
  6. Get a recommendation if at all possible. Put out the word on your network, and be specific about the type of project you are working on. Try to find someone who has hired a ghost writer for a similar project. If you are unable to find a direct referral, your next best bet is to ask for writing samples and hire a writer for a small test project (such as a single chapter or a short article). You can find writers for hire on Craig’s List and ELance.com, but be careful. You will have to spend some time and perform some due diligence to find the right person. It’s important to pick a writer who communicates on your wavelength and understands the heart of the message you want to share with the world.
  7. Leave time for editing. I am a firm believer that no matter how talented your ghost writer is, you will need a second pair of eyes on your book. If there’s no money left in the budget for editing, you might be able to coax a close friend to serve as your editor (or your spouse, or a family member). I wouldn’t get an editor involved too early; I would recommend planning to work through the entire first draft with the ghost writer before showing the manuscript to anyone else. Finally, don’t use up your entire ghost writing budget on the first draft. Leave at least 20% for rewrites and additional material that you may decide to include after the first edit.
  8. Plan your promotion strategy ahead of time. Even if you hire the best ghost writer in the world, your book isn’t going to promote itself. Whether you plan to pursue a traditional publisher or self-publish, the promotion is going to be up to you. If you think you’ll go the traditional publication route, put together a list of potential publishing houses and start figuring out what that will entail. If your plan is to self-publish, think about how you will let people know about your book. A ghost writer is only paid to write a book. Don’t assume that your ghost writer will promote your book or get you published.

Ghost writers can help to make the process of writing less intimidating. An experienced professional writer who has chosen to dedicate a career to the art of writing can help you make your book the best it can be. But remember that, at the end of the day, your name is the one that will be on the cover. You are the one who must ultimately accept responsibility for the words inside the pages.


Dave Baldwin is a writer who lives and works in Raleigh, North Carolina. You can find more of Dave’s writings on his blog about writing, creativity, and business.