Preparing for the ghostwriting interview

You’re in line for a nonfiction ghostwriting job. How should you prepare for the interview with the author client?

Consider that there are two risks here:

  1. You won’t get the job.
  2. You will get the job, and it will be a disaster.

If you don’t create a good impression, you might not get the offer, risk 1. But if don’t take this time to learn more about the job, you in danger from risk 2.

Before you even get to this point, the client should have seen a copy of your résumé, list of projects, and writing samples. And you shouldn’t even do the interview unless you have a fair description of the author’s project. So don’t spend your time in the interview on those. Instead, prepare for the questions the client is likely to ask, and the ones you need to ask.

Likely client questions

Here’s what the author client is likely to ask, and some suggestions for your response.

Why are you best suited for this work?

Cite your relevant experience and work produced. “I did x which is similar to your project,” is far better than, “I’m sure I can do this based on my experience.”

What factors that are likely to lead to success in a project like this?

Making the original idea as powerful as possible, agree on a logical table of contents, and build an effective process for creation and review of drafts.

Can you guarantee the book will sell?

No. I can work to make the book reflect your vision. I can help craft well so that it will generate word of mouth. But these things alone won’t make it sell. To sell well, a book needs effective promotion, and that is the responsibility of the author and their publicity and promotional staff.

How do you usually work with authors?

Here’s what I often do, and why it works well. (Follow this with a description of your process. While every ghostwriter’s process is different, you need a good answer for this question.)

How much of my time will this take?

As the author client, you’ll need to set aside time to collaborate with me on the main idea and book structure, to brainstorm or dictate content, and to review drafts. We’ll work as efficiently as we can, and your reviews can take place on a schedule that works for you.

How much do you charge?

Let’s figure out if I’m the best choice for this work, then we can work out the details. If you’re picking your ghostwriter based on price, I’m not the right choice for you. I can tell you that we’ll break the payments down so you pay for sets of completed milestones once the work for those milestones is done.

(Note that you shouldn’t get to the interview stage without at least rough agreement on the price range — if you typically charge $70,000 and the client wants to pay $15,000, the interview is a waste of everyone’s time. The final price is likely to vary based on the process and how much research and rework the ghostwriter needs to do. When I work through an agency, the agency actually prohibits discussion of price in the interview, which is a wise policy. I never work by the hour, because that makes it very hard for the client to budget for the project and raises questions about the author’s writing process and efficiency, which are irrelevant to the final product.)

Questions you should ask the author client

To whatever degree you can, you should not only ask these questions, but use them to direct the interview in productive directions. They will help you to reduce the risk of getting into a disastrous project, but will also help set the tone for your eventual relationship with the client, should you get the job.

In your own words, who is the audience and what is the main idea of the book?

The author’s ability to articulate the main idea is crucial. If they can’t do this at all, the project is likely to be ill-formed and unmanageable. If the idea is there, but not clearly articulated, you need to budget additional time (and cost) for idea development.

What is the existing source material?

You are going to have to create the book from something. If it starts with interviews or dictated content, you’ll have a significant amount of research to do. If it starts with existing written material, you’ll need to adapt it. Until you know where the content is coming from, you can’t properly assess and quote on the job.

I love feedback from authors, since it helps me perfect the content as well as get to know the author’s needs better. Are you comfortable reviewing chapters and marketing them up in Word or Google Docs? Does you schedule allow you to turn chapters around within a week or two?

I am very responsive to criticism and edits. When there is useful feedback, projects tend to succeed. When there is not, they are likely to fail. So I need to know the author is able to provide feedback.

Does anyone other than you need to review the content? If so, during what stages will they be providing feedback?

Corporate clients often have colleagues that need to review or approve content. If the client is a CEO, this might include the CMO or Director of Corporate Communications. I’ve also had authors share content with their spouses or friends and then come back with time-consuming suggestions for improvements. This is especially challenging if it happens towards the end of the writing process. It’s unrealistic to expect high-powered clients to be the only eyes on the project. But as the writer, you need to understand where other feedback might come from and when it’s likely to happen so you can budget time for it.

You can’t avoid every risk

You don’t know who else is bidding on the project or how the author makes decisions. But with these questions and answers prepared, you can mitigate your risks. They’ll make you appear more intelligent and professional, which is likely to help you close the deal.

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