4 Ghostwriting Secrets


For me, ghostwriting is a most rewarding job. The work I do in telling somebody’s in-depth, compelling story — and then getting paid thousands of dollars to do it — is emotionally and financially gratifying.

But like every other job out there, there are downsides. Here are some I have discovered.

Scheduling conflicts — There’s a reason ghostwriting books take so long, and it’s not just because the work is intense and detailed. There’s also a matter of working out schedules.

To do the job right, a ghostwriter must meet with a client again and again and again, over a span of months. That means the two people have to find times to meet, and that’s not always easy. The client is living his or her life, and the ghostwriter is juggling various projects.

Not only that, but if the ghostwriter has to interview other people — and he should because that makes the story better and more complete — the ghostwriter has to work out schedules with that many more people.

For one client, I had interview his doctors. That took months, which was why the project lasted more than a year. For another client, I had to interview lawyers and therapists — two occupations that are extremely busy. No wonder that book took a year and a half to complete.

$8,000 or $1 million — I once attended a webinar in which the guest speaker, who ran his own ghostwriting agency, declared everybody is undercharging because they’re undervaluing their work. He reasoned that if you’re going to spend a year on a project, “Make your proposed fee a number that’s so high that you cannot say it without feeling weak in the knees…and then add 20% to that number!”

When I first started ghostwriting books, I charged $8,000. Little did I know. Years later, I got up to $14,000 — and then I read that no ghostwriter worth it charges less than $15,000-$20,000. So, I increased my prices by more than double.

There are ghostwriters who can command $1 million, but those people typically ghostwrite celebrity books. J.R. Moehringer is a great example. He has written for Andre Agassi, Phil Knight and, most famously Prince Harry. I don’t pretend to be in that league.

A lot of rejections — These run two ways. The client rejects the price, or the ghostwriter rejects the client.

I can’t count the number of times people have contacted me about writing a book and don’t realize how much time and money it takes to write one. I had a guy (I won’t call him a “prospect”) think I could do it for $200! That’s one extreme example, but it’s indicative of how often I don’t get the job because they won’t meet my price.

I also had a prospect reject me because he wanted a publisher. I’m not a publisher. I have publishing connections, but that wasn’t what he wanted.

Then there’s my rejecting offers. Once, a guy had his assistant talk to me. I asked what’s the story, and he couldn’t explain it in a way that made me want to invest a year of my life.

A shrink, a coach, and a ghost — Another aspect clients (and new ghostwriters) don’t recognize is how close they become. The client shares a lot of details that run the gamut of emotions, putting them in a vulnerable spot. A ghostwriter is not a psychologist, but to the client, the emotional closeness might resemble that between a psychologist and patient. So, a ghostwriter has to be careful to treat the information — and the person – with all the care, decency, sensitivity, and honesty that is required.

Writing a book is a major undertaking (duh!), which is why 97% of people who start a book never finish it. So, a ghostwriter has to act like a coach at times. He has to instruct how to organize the book. He has to motivate the client to keep going through the rough patches. He has to guide them through the need to be as honest as possible. 

One of my clients married a psychopath. Her friends and children could tell, but she was the last to know. The part of the book that detailed her marriage shows how in the dark she was, but she bristled at being portrayed so negatively. I had to assure her that this was the right way to go because 1) it was true, 2) she really grows through her memoir, so it’s necessary to show the contrast between who she was and who she became. 

Finally, when the story’s been written, the money has been paid, and the book has been published, clients often cease communication with the ghostwriter. It can feel like a rejection. The two just spent at least a year with intimate details. They grew close and shared a lot. Now, it’s as if they never met. How conditional and transactional!

How real. It’s just one of the various parts of professional ghostwriting services that might come as a shock to some.

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