How long does it take to ghostwrite a book? That’s up to you.

Even if you hire a ghostwriter to write a book for you, you’ll still need to put in plenty of time on the book. You can outsource the writing, but it’s still a collaboration. And your involvement, more than anything else, determines the speed of the project.

I have ghostwritten two books. The cost was similar and the results were similar, but the processes were very different. So was the schedule.

On one book, once we got started, the two coauthors (that is, my clients) met with me weekly. We rapidly made progress. When I completed chapter drafts, the authors turned them around in a few days. When I needed information to continue, such as contacts for case studies, somebody at their company got me that information relatively quickly.

That book went from agreement to finished manuscript in five months.

On the second book, the author didn’t meet with me very often. He had little feedback on the work I created. Case study contacts were hard to come by, and mostly left to me to source, qualify, and interview. The project stalled for months at a time. It finally got moving when my most responsive contact at the company, the author’s head of PR, convinced the author that meeting with me regularly was the key to completing it.

That one took 14 months.

Both clients were similar: busy senior executives at B2B technology companies. Both books are about the same length. The chapters are similar. The case studies, reasoning, and use of additional data are similar. The faster book actually included its own consumer survey, which would normally add time and complexity compared to a book without that feature. In my opinion, both books are of equal quality and both served the clients equally.

In the end, I actually completed the faster book mostly while waiting for responses from the slower client.

If you hire a ghostwriter, you must budget your own time for the project

If your ghostwriter is efficient and a good listener, they can minimize the time and effort you need to put in. But your involvement as author and client still makes the most difference in the speed of the project.

Up-front, you and the ghostwriter need to settle the idea and plan the table of contents, which rapidly becomes a to-do list for the ghostwriter. For a quality nonfiction book, that planning will typically take at least five hours. But since it lays the foundation for the whole project, it is essential.

And you and the ghostwriter will typically need to meet to discuss each chapter, both before the writing and after it’s drafted. In between, you need to review the chapter. Your total time per chapter is likely two to four hours, for a chapter of 4,500 to 6,000 words.

There are other elements you need to put time into, but that planning and review process is what will determine the speed of the project.

If you’re available on a regular schedule, the ghostwriter can probably complete the manuscript in six months — or even faster if the source material is sufficient to reduce the need for original research.

If you’re only available sporadically, it will take longer. It could be years until you actually see the book.

Since ghostwritten books are typically expensive projects that fulfill important corporate marketing objectives, the schedule matters. Keep your own time in mind as you plan one. Ghostwriters like me prefer to work fast, but that’s up to you.

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