Ghostwriting: 3 Good Outlines, 3 New Lengths


As I’ve previously written, the outline is the most important part of the ghostwriting process. It provides a plan, a blueprint, a direction, a pathway—call it what you want—to help you write the book. 

There is no way to ghostwrite a tightly focused book without first having an outline to determine what’s going in, where it’s going in, and what isn’t going in. Without an outline, a story will meander and wander off into unimportant, confusing and illogical tangents that detract from the most compelling parts of the story.

I have yet to meet a fellow ghostwriter who doesn’t recognize the importance of the outline, nor do I know of any who don’t have some sort of process to create one.

But this post isn’t about the specifics of the process. It’s about how the process takes varied amounts of time, depending on the client and the client’s story.

I tell clients to expect the ghostwriting process to take about a year, with the outline taking up anywhere from three to six months of that. But on three different occasions, I’ve experienced clients whose outlines took different lengths to complete.

First, there was the Philadelphia-area schoolteacher, my first ghostwriting client. When we started working, he already had a detailed, six-page outline completed. When he showed it to me, I was amazed. Here was the entire story: Twelve areas of focus that became fifteen chapters. He had the introduction, the events leading to his crisis from various perspectives, how people acted and reacted while he was in a coma, his awakening and consequences of being in a coma, his heart surgery, his rehab and the problems with insurance, his return to school, and his being honored with the yearbook dedication. (I’ve condensed the twelve sections into eight here).

He made it really easy for me to know who I needed to interview, what I needed to ask, and what points I had to write about. This became a template for all future outlines.

In the other extreme was a Phoenix-area Realtor. She had been trying to write her book for a decade, so she had a manuscript. But because her story had left her suffering from severe post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and because the manuscript had been written with two other people, it was a mess. 

The story in her manuscript moved through several pages, but then several pages later, the same events would repeat, albeit with some different details. Because several people wrote the manuscript, there were different voices, and each had differing commands of proper English, so in some places, the copy was clean and in other places typos abounded.

What I thought was going to be an editing job turned into a full ghostwriting project that took sixteen months, the first six of which we devoted to breaking down the manuscript into a workable outline.

And what an outline: Fifty-seven pages covering nineteen chapters that not only included all the story points we needed but also much of her original manuscript and sections I rewrote with her input. It resembled a first draft, and that made the actual writing that much smoother.

Then there is a current project. Two guys crash award shows, concerts, movie lots, and auto racing pits and have adventures. This outline is easy: We start with why they do it and detail the tricks they’ve picked up that make it so easy. Then we divide the rest of the book into four sections, the four areas where they’ve crashed. What will take the most time is figuring out which stories to include in those four areas.

Three outlines, three different amounts of time.

Ready to learn more about the ghostwriting process or work with a ghostwriter in Chicago? Contact Lee for ghostwriting services today.

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