The five elements of ghostwriting

Ghostwriting is a misnomer. Because most ghostwriters do more than write. If you hire a ghostwriter, which of the following do you want them to do?

  • Ghost-ideating: Coming up with ideas for you.
  • Ghost-organizing. Organizing your thoughts into a logical structure.
  • Ghost-researching (or just, researching). Finding proof that you are right.
  • Ghostwriting: actually typing text to reflect what you are trying to say.
  • Ghost-synthesizing (or just, synthesizing): Assembling feedback from multiple viewpoints, such as authors, editors, and reviewers, and combining it in a rational way.

Ghostwriting jobs that are just writing are easier

If you bring an idea, and organization, and proof points to your ghostwriter, all they have to do is write. That can happen quickly and ought to cost less.

If you insist that your ghostwriter do the research, that takes longer and is slower. And the results will be lower in quality, too, since the ghostwriter is not the expert in the topic that you are.

If you want the ghostwriter to come up with the ideas, too, that takes even longer. And why are you, an author, even putting your name on a book that is another writer’s idea? (This is apparently how Tony Schwartz ghostwrite Donald Trump’s Art of the Deal.)

The funny thing is that author clients tend to price ghostwriting projects without recognizing the distinction between just writing and doing all those other things, too.

What it means

If you’re hiring a ghostwriter, be clear about what you want — what you bring, like ideas and structure, and what the ghostwriter needs to bring, like research, writing and synthesis. It’s always a collaboration, but how much are you going to supply yourself and what are you hiring somebody else for?

If you’re a ghostwriter, get those questions settled before you quote a price.

Because “ghostwriting project” is a pretty vague way to talk about something this varied.

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  1. Astute observation, Josh!

    Often, writing is the “easy” part; the “hard” part is everything else.

    For example, as you rightly point out, synthesizing feedback from multiple stakeholders — especially when feedback from Susie conflicts with feedback from Steve — is neither simple nor quick.