You have an idea for a book that you’re sure will be a big hit and reach a wide audience. You also have decided that, for whatever reason, you can’t write it yourself. So, you hire a ghostwriter.
Unfortunately, the book you got was pure drek: typos galore, inconsistent style, questionable organizational choices, and words that don’t sound like you at all. But you published it anyway.
Then came the reviews:
“Don’t bother reading this one, tons of repetitiveness in each chapter.”
“Sounds like the author is the nonfictional main character who never amounted to much in his life and made up a bunch of frivolous stories to make his Mommy and Daddy proud.”
“The author brags on social media that his watch reads 4:20, makes sense, a delusional pothead writing a boring book with tons of grammatical errors. Pass!!!
The bottom line is this: If you’re not going to write the book yourself, you’re better off not having the book written at all than hiring a bad ghostwriter who writes a terrible book.
What makes a bad ghostwriter?
If you have a bad ghostwriter, you’re pretty much guaranteed to have a bad book. A bad ghostwriter might become evident in the contract stage. Who owns the copyright? Who has final say over edits? Are the payment terms advantageous to the client or the ghostwriter? If you think the answers favor the ghostwriter, you’re probably right. Stop immediately.
How much time does the ghostwriter give to the book’s outline? I could (and one day will) write a post all about the importance of the outline. In my current ghostwriting project, the outline took months because we had to tear down the manuscript and start all over. If a ghostwriter doesn’t give sufficient time to the outline, the book will suffer.
How much time does the ghostwriter spend interviewing the client? If the goal is write a book that sounds like the client, the more time spent interviewing the client, the better the ghostwriter can pick up on the client’s choice of words (this is why journalists like me make great ghostwriters — they’re required to quote somebody accurately). Beware of ghostwriters who think their words are superior to the client’s.
But interviewing isn’t just a function of time. A ghostwriter needs to ask the right questions of the client. How many yes-no questions is the ghostwriter asking, compared to open-ended questions, the ones that start with who, what, where, when, how, and why? Open-ended questions let the client answer in detail, and those details are what’s important to telling the whole story.
A bad ghostwriter lacks organization. Therefore, there will be plot problems, poor pacing, and twists a reader can see coming miles away.
Then comes the actual writing. A bad ghostwriter will fail to capture the multiple dimensions and complexities of the characters (this is true for fiction and nonfiction alike). The word choice will not only not sound like the client, but it will be cliche-ridden, flat. Inaccuracies will become evident.
And the book will be bad.
What makes a good ghostwriter?
In addition to spending quality time on an outline, asking thought-provoking, open-ended questions that lend insights into the client so the ghostwriter can write the book in the client’s voice, a good ghostwriter uses critical thinking:
—to recognize what’s a compelling story: It’s unique, relates to the reader, puts the reader into the author’s world, and evokes an emotional response.
—to determine what details the client gives are relevant and which don’t need to be included.
—to know what’s true and what’s false — and to verify all claims the client makes.
—to be able to adapt to the client’s wishes.
—to organize an outline efficiently.
A good ghostwriter is a good listener. The client has a wealth of information to share, some of which might be sensitive and put the client in a vulnerable state. A good ghostwriter is sympathetic to that info and treats it with the compassion and decency it deserves.
Finally, a good ghostwriter is someone the client clicks with. The client needs to completely trust the ghostwriter, his or her judgment, writing ability, organization skills, and insights. Good ghostwriters endear themselves to clients by showing empathy, sympathy, respect, and support.
The result of working with a good ghostwriter: a book you can be proud of. You’ll hold that book in your hands, thumb through the pages, read the words, and recognize it’s you and your story, laid out for all to see. The emotional reward can’t be understated. This symbol of your life is part catharsis and part healing. This part of your journey is complete. You became one of only 3% of people who finish a book.
All because you worked with a good ghostwriter.
If you’re not going to write a book yourself — and most people don’t — make sure you hire a ghostwriter in Irvine who will do right by you. I’m happy to have a conversation with you to see if I’m right for you. Contact me today and let’s explore the possibilities.
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