WORKING WITH A GHOSTWRITER: The Fine Points of Working Together

Fine Art of Working TogetherThe book ghostwriter has been selected, key items have been discussed and the contract has been signed. Now it’s time to answer a few important questions:

Which style will be used in writing the book?

Will the ghostwriter use his established voice or adapt to your personality? Beyond that, which style will be used: dramatic, academic, humorous, narrative, novelistic, and so on.

Do we start with the Table of Contents?

The table of contents (or another outline for the book) should be determined and agreed upon right off the bat. Creating a table of contents will force you and the ghostwriter to work through your idea/story and determine how it will be presented. It will then serve as the blueprint for the book. Nailing down the table of contents at the beginning of the project keeps you and the ghostwriter on track when creating your business book, health book, memoir, biography or inspirational book, and serves as a checklist that will help ensure that the “construction” is going according to plan.

Is it best to work chapter by chapter, or produce a rough draft of the entire manuscript first?

That depends on the type of book you and your ghostwriter are creating. If your book has a story arc, must build to a certain climax and show character development, as is the case with novels, memoirs, and many biographies and inspirational books, it’s often best to begin by sketching out a rough draft of the entire manuscript or producing a very detailed outline. This will help make sure that all elements are present and in the right order and that the story develops properly. Each chapter can then be worked on individually.

Other types of books, including most health books and business books, do not have a story arc, character development, or other elements that build as the book progresses. Instead, in most cases, each chapter can be lifted out of the book and stand on its own. For books like these it’s perfectly acceptable to work chapter by chapter, and even write them out of order.

I can’t write: Do I have to be heavily involved?

No. You don’t have to do any of the writing at all, or work on the book structure, plot outline, or anything else. That’s what the ghostwriter is for. If you’ve found a skilled ghostwriter you trust, its fine to let him or her do all of the writing.

Is it okay for me to wait until the book is completely written before I give my opinion?

Many authors do so and are very pleased with the results. However, there’s always a chance that the book will develop in a way you had not intended, even if the ghostwriter is working from a detailed outline and employing an agreed-upon writing style. Sometimes the author and ghostwriter think they see eye to eye, but as the writing progresses, differences become apparent. For this reason, it’s best to read chapters or sections as they are written to keep abreast of things, just as you would if hired an architect to build your house.

Is it okay to change my mind during the writing process?

Yes and no. Changing your mind about small matters is not a problem; the  ghostwriter expects that to happen. It’s impossible to determine exactly how a book will look when it’s done, so ghostwriters are used to reshaping concepts and content on the fly. However, it is not okay to decide to radically restructure the book; to turn, for example, a diet book into a positive thinking book in the middle of the writing, or to let the ghostwriter get well into a book exposing a certain situation and then asking him or her to praise it instead.

Think of it this way: Suppose you hired an architect to build a 15-room house, complete with a bowling alley. Halfway through construction you say, “I’d like to change the bowling alley into an indoor movie theatre.” That’s your prerogative as the client, but you would expect to pay for the change. The same holds true with your book. If you radically restructure it, forcing the ghostwriter to spend extra time making the changes, expect to pay more money.

Should I get outside opinions?

Some people like to show early drafts of the chapters to their family, friends and colleagues. That’s your prerogative, of course, but beware of taking their comments to heart.

It’s very easy to become overly confident when you get positive feedback, or to start second-guessing yourself when someone says something even slightly negative. But remember that most of your friends, family and colleagues will say something nice just to be polite. As for criticism, bear in mind that your well-intentioned critics are probably not knowledgeable enough to critique a manuscript in progress, and probably do not understand all of the elements of a good book. They may know what they like, but their tastes are not necessarily yours, and may be radically different than that of your prospective readers.

Outside opinions are fine, but take everything with a very large grain of salt. Better yet, wait until the manuscript is finished.

Check out these related “Working With A Ghostwriter” articles:

  • How Do I Select a Ghost?
  • Before to Discuss Before You Begin…
  • The Fine Points of Working Together

About Nadine Taylor, M.S., R.D.

Nadine Taylor, a Registered Dietitian, is an experienced writer who has authored or co-authored several books in the health and memoir genres. Her memoirs include Diana & Dodi: A Love Story, and her health books include Green Tea: The Natural Secret to a Healthier Life, Runaway Eating, Natural Menopause Remedies, Arthritis For Dummies and 25 Natural Ways To Relieve PMS. She has also ghostwritten numerous books in various genres.