How does the ghostwriting process work?

There's no mystery to the process, but there can be magic

(Note: I was interviewed extensively on this subject by article writer Carl Friesen. You can read the interview transcript here.)

Businesspeople are busy people, so for most, the arduous process of writing a book begins with a phone call between ghostwriter and subject matter expert to gauge interest, expertise and objectives. If the call is a productive one, it leads to a consultative meeting during which the writer lays out some of the process including estimated length of time to complete, suggested roles and functions, meeting times, fees and payment schedule.

The ghostwriter’s job is to listen closely, ask the right questions, offer general suggestions and advice, and perhaps make specific suggestions. But the main purpose of the consultative meeting is to ensure there’s a fit, to establish both the writer’s and client’s expertise, to see if there’s a book to be written, and to generate trust.

Follow-up:  the mechanics and timing are explained in detail, a suggested theme, initial outline and suggested contents are proposed. The writer determines the client’s primary and secondary goals in writing the book and their estimated time commitment. A written summary is then submitted for approval, and sample introduction pages are often submitted to establish the correct style and tone of the book.

Once agreement is reached and formal approval is given, the writer will email an engagement letter and contract to the client outlining rights, responsibilities, obligations and production schedule. After the letter and/or the contract is signed and an initial payment is received, a full interview and creative session will be conducted to establish:

1)      The level of sophistication of the book’s contents and theme (and target audience)

2)      Overall direction -- possible titles, perspective, focus and contents

3)      Research access/availability, including possible access to subject matter experts or colleagues (for example, a financial planning book might include direct quotes from economists, analysts, fixed income/ equity/ tax/ estate planning specialists).

4)      An optimal production and interview schedule

Within two to three weeks of signing the contract, the writer will deliver a table of contents, a detailed outline or a synopsis of the book, plus several draft pages that will form the introduction to the book. When the contents and tone and narrative voice are to the client’s satisfaction, the introduction is refined and resubmitted, and all subsequent chapters are submitted in stages for approval – not always chapter by chapter, because it depends on the length of each chapter.

For a financial book, for example, the writer might as a natural part of the research and writing process suggest charts and graphs for insertion at key points. Research is often a critical part of the writing process. However, the client is the expert; they decide what and which shall be used, how they will be used and how they will be executed. Keep in mind, you are the author, your ghost is the writer. What’s the difference? An author is either “a person who has written something” or “a person who starts or creates something, such as a plan or idea.” Clearly, the latter is more applicable if you decide to collaborate with a ghost. And it truly is a collaboration. (Take a look at this article for more insights: Estimated completion time is 6 to 8 months from contract signing, although that can be accelerated, depending on client and writer schedules.

That's the process. There's no mystery to it. So where's the magic? Frankly, the magic may never happen. It depends on the chemistry between business expert and writer which, if it happens, comes early in the process. But magic is not needed: as long as the two are on the same page and are running with the same story, the result will be a solid book.




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