Published Podcast Ep. 2 — Understanding Ghostwriting

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In today's episode, we'll be discussing ghostwriting with Dan Gerstein, the Founder and President of Gotham Ghostwriters. Gerstein is a nationally recognized political writer, communications strategist, and idea man who has been writing professionally for himself and others for 25 years. To learn more about Dan, his full bio can be found here

1:40 How do you define ghostwriting? 

  • Traditionally, it has to do with books, and it's the act of one person writing in the name of another person. 
  • Overall, it applies to any kind of content creation where you're getting hired to write for another person or business, whether that's speechwriting, thought leadership content, etc. that won't be under your byline. 

2:42 Are there any things a ghostwriter does not do? 

  • The ghostwriter's primary role is to create the content, but it's an intimate relationship. The ghostwriter can also play the role of therapist, diplomat, and partner in the venture. Authors tend to view ghostwriters more as collaborators. 

4:42 How is a ghostwriter different from other editors? 

  • When authors are not strong writers themselves or don't have the time, a ghostwriter can flesh out their ideas into a full manuscript.
  • Other authors need help establishing the structure or the hook of the book at the beginning of the process. Some ghostwriters can help with this. Some authors may prefer to go to an editor, or "editorial strategist," to develop a game plan for the manuscript that they can then complete themselves or work with a ghostwriter to do so. 

7:05 Are there any ethical concerns around using a ghostwriter? 

  • There's nothing unethical about working with a collaborator to create your content. For much of history, writing has been collaborative. 
  • At the end of the day, it's the author's ideas that will be represented. 
  • The only exception is when authors engage a ghostwriter and then claim they wrote the book alone, or misrepresent the work they did. But these days, there's no reason to claim it because it's not surprising that busy leaders would use a ghostwriter. 

9:48 How do authors find ghostwriters? 

  • The internet is one of the best places to find ghostwriters, though there is a lot of risk involved when going through websites only. 
  • Agencies like Gotham Ghostwriters help authors find the right match for them to minimize the risk of the search process. 
  • Authors can also look in the acknowledgement sections of books they like. More often than not, the ghostwriter will be mentioned in the thank-you's. 

12:30 What types of questions should an author ask when looking for a ghostwriter? 

  • Ask about the ghostwriter's experience. Have they written similar books? 
  • Ask about their work style. You want to find someone who can be flexible to the author's work style. 
  • Ask about the fee range up front. 

14:19 Are ghostwriters able to share the names of past projects? 

  • These days, most ghostwriters can list their professional credits on their resume. 
  • The exception to that rule is when a ghostwriter works on a celebrity project. 

18:00 What does it cost to ghostwrite a book? 

  • It's a complicated question. Every book is different, and it's important to talk with several ghostwriters to find what works for you. 
  • The complexity of the project and the ghostwriter's credentials are the two main drivers of cost. Another driver can be speed. If the author needs the book on a short timeline, the cost will be driven up. 
  • Typically, ghostwriters are paid a flat fee, which is negotiated ahead of time and paid in segments throughout the project at certain milestones. 

22:47 Is there ever a case where there's shared ownership of the content? 

  • Majority of the cases are work-for-hire where the author maintains full control of the content. 
  • Exceptions to that rule are when the ghostwriter is true collaborator and there will be a royalty split. In exchange for a lower up-front fee, the author may share some of the advance and royalties with the ghostwriter. 

24:30 How much involvement does the ghostwriter expect of the author? 

  • The level of involvement needs to be negotiated and agreed on at the beginning. Clarifying expectations up front increases likelihood of a useful partnership. 
  • How much time the author puts in depends on how much they want to be a part of the book's production. The more time they put in, the more it will be an accurate reflection of them — their voice, their story, etc. 
  • Authors should expect to invest 10-20 hours of talking time at the beginning of the process to develop structure and allow ghostwriter to understand an author's voice. After initial conversations, ghostwriter will likely want regular check-ins to review work and get feedback along the way. 

28:49 What's the typical timeline for working with a ghostwriter? 

  • Ghostwriting projects usually take 4-8 months, except when a life event  interrupts the author's time or the author changes focus of the book. 

30:17 If the author isn't happy with the ghostwriter, how do you work through those scenarios? 

  • Make sure there's a fair termination provision in the contract. 
  • Often it's more valuable to try to preserve the relationship. The most common breakdown in the relationship happens when the author doesn't communicate clearly when they're unsatisfied with the ghostwriter's work. Sharing that feedback early on usually makes them fixable. 

33:49 Anything else an author should know about working with a ghostwriter? 

  • The most important thing is to understand that mastering someone else's voice takes time. Be sure to give the ghostwriter the space to make mistakes at the beginning and share specific feedback along the way. 

Additional Resources: 

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