Ghostwriting is my highest-level editorial service. It’s a lot of work that takes a lot of expertise, a lot of time and a fair bit of investment from the client. So before commencing such a big project, I want to be very sure that the client has thought carefully about all aspects of the work.
I take on a ghostwriting job only when I’m satisfied that the book I create will meet my client’s aspirations and needs, and will be of a publishable, marketable standard. Here’s a little insight into the questions I ask any prospective ghostwriting client in order to gauge the viability of a project.
Why do you want the book written?
If you want the book written simply for your own pleasure, that’s fine. If you want to use the book as a tool to build credibility or drive business growth, that’s fine. But if you want the book written because you expect to be rich and famous as a result of it, then unless you have an amazingly marketable story, we have a problem.
- You want to write your life story. Nothing particularly interesting has happened to you, but you really want to see your life in print. You want to self-publish and aren’t really bothered if you sell only a few copies (to your family and friends, mostly). You just want the fun of writing, and to capture a part of yourself in print. Great; ghostwriting will work for you.
- You have a story to tell, and it’s amazing. You’ve been featured in XYZ newspaper. A market exists for your book – people want to hear the full story. Perhaps an agent or publisher has already approached you. Perhaps you’re already reputable in the field. You have marketing ideas. You’re prepared to market the book. Great stuff.
- You want to write a business book that will set you up as an expert in your field and will be a marketable product that you’ll sell alongside your business products/services. Your work is pretty exciting and successful, and you have a wealth of experience in business. You have all sorts of marketing ideas for the book and are confident that you can push plenty of sales. You think you have a unique angle that’s unexplored currently in the marketplace and that you have something to say that loads of readers want to hear. You’d like to secure a traditional publisher for the book, but if all else fails, you’re prepared to self-publish. Great; let’s talk.
- You’ve had an idea for a book. You’re convinced it’s a goer. In fact, you’re sure this time next year you’ll be living on your own estate in Scotland in the style of JK Rowling. Heck, your book’s going to be BIGGER than hers. You have no experience in writing. There’s not much marketable about you as the author. You have no idea whether the book has a market. Surely the world will love it? Because of course you’ll be rich and famous as a result of your book. Instantly. Oh dear. We have a problem. Getting published via a traditional publisher is very, very hard. And if you do get hold of that Holy Grail, a publishing contract, you’ll find it’s only a minute percentage of authors who actually get rich and famous from their books – and they do so through long, arduous slogging, a whole heap of talent and a vast amount of luck. Perhaps ghostwriting isn’t for you after all.
Do you want to secure a contract with a publisher, or are you looking to self-publish?
It’s important to have considered this question from the outset. If you’re happy to self-publish, ghostwriting is quite straightforward. But if you want a contract with a traditional publisher, that means the book produced needs to be what a publisher wants, which is a whole different ball game.
- You want a book. You want it your way (you don’t want a bossy publisher telling you what to do). You want it published fast. You’re prepared to market the book yourself and you have plenty of marketing ideas. You want to self-publish. Sounds good to me.
- You want a book. You have contacts in publishing who are already interested, or you’re very sure that this is a highly marketable, original book. You’re credible and interesting as its author. You’re prepared to market the book yourself and you have plenty of marketing ideas. You want to try to get a publisher on board. Okay, why not? But also consider what you’ll do if no publisher bites. Are you prepared to self-publish?
- You want a book. You’re convinced a publisher will snap it up. You don’t have much idea of the reality of publishing, of how hard it is to get published. Your book isn’t highly marketable. You’re not prepared to lift a finger to help with marketing; you expect the publisher to do all the hard work. Self-publishing if you can’t find a publisher? Not on your nelly. You want traditional publishing or nothing. So what if your book idea isn’t very good and you’re not a marketable author? Uh-oh. I don’t recommend you commission a ghostwriter, because I’m concerned that your book will never get published and I don’t want you to waste your time, effort and money.
Have you checked whether such a book already exists?
It’s amazing how far you can get with an idea before realising it’s already been done. Time and again I have a book idea and get all fired up about it, but one of my first jobs post-idea is to get on Amazon and see whether someone’s beaten me to it, and often they have. I won’t recommend you having a book ghostwritten unless I can see that there’s room in the market for that book. Ideally, you want to see that a market already exists for the kind of book you want to write, but that your book has a USP (unique selling point) that makes it stand apart.
- You want to write a book on how to skydive. You’re an expert skydiver and you’ve devised an exciting new variation on the sport: skydiving wearing a rubber ring and landing in the sea. Skydivers all over the world are really getting into your variation. The media are going mad for it. You check Amazon. There are a couple of books on the subject, but none that cover it as expertly as you can and none that cover your rubber ring variation. Hooray! Sounds like there’s room for your book in the market.
- You’ve had an amazing idea: a book about trampolining hamsters! It’ll be brilliant. A worldwide sensation. You’ve already got Clive, your hamster, on a training programme. You look on Amazon. Oh, hang on, what’s that book in the humour section (I hope you were seeing this as a humour title)… a book about trampolining rabbits. Okay, so Clive isn’t a rabbit. But your idea isn’t sufficiently different to have merit. Let it go – and give poor Clive a break.
- You want to write a book on management. It’s basically a regurgitation of lots of stuff you’ve learnt about management from other management books. You look on Amazon and find thousands of books on management. Yours doesn’t seem much different. My advice? Ditch the idea.
What’s the target market for your book, and is it big enough?
This must be established at once. If the target market isn’t clear enough, the book won’t do well. And you need to check that there are enough readers who’ll actually want to read the book.
- You want to write a book about sleep solutions for babies. The target reader is the parent of a baby (expectant or existing). A clear market, and I can see that lots of parents would want to read this book.
- You’re a footballer (well-known) and you want to write a book about your life. The target reader is your fan, or a fan of your team or of footie in general. A clear market. And because you’re well-known, the market is there, waiting.
- You want to write a book about how to feed a goldfish. The target reader is someone who owns a goldfish or is thinking of getting one. Well, it’s a clear market – but really, how many people will buy such a niche, specific book? Feeding a goldfish is pretty easy, and you can get the knowhow from a simple web search.
- You want to write an autobiography in which you tell the story of a sad and difficult thing that happened in your life. Your target reader is someone who’s experienced something similar or who has a general interest in life stories. A tricky one. The truth is, these days publishers are only interested in the most sensational stories that are highly marketable. The personal memoir genre is pretty saturated. Unless you’ve got a unique angle and some good ideas for marketing, you may struggle to sell many copies.
Have you considered the cost of ghostwriting?
Phew, nearly there! Last but not least, the price tag. My ghostwriting services begin at £100 per 1,000 words and go up to £300. Yes, ghostwriting is expensive, because it takes a long time and requires a lot of skill. (Of course you’ll find some people advertising ghostwriting services who charge less, and you have to ask yourself why they’re cheap.) Before going too far down the road of commissioning a ghostwriter, be sure that you’re willing and able to pay for one.