The Online Entrepreneur’s Complete Guide to Ghostwriting – Part II

Guest Post by Marcy Sheiner

In Part I of this article, I reviewed ghostwriting basics such as reasons why you may want to consider hiring a ghost, reasons not to hire and I also address a common concern that many online entrepreneurs have.

Let’s continue now with Part II:

Who Ya Gonna Call?

How do you ultimately decide who to hire? First of all, it’s simple to see if you like a writer’s work: Read It! A professional writer will be happy to show you his or her work samples.

Job sites such as Guru or Elance provide freelancer profiles and histories where you can access a writer’s work before you even contact him or her. These sites also post feedback from employers about the writer’s performance.

The same job sites post jobs from employers, so you can put up the details of the book you want written, and let the writers bombard you with proposals (they will).

If you know anyone who’s used a ghostwriter, ask them for recommendations. Even with a stellar referral, however, you should still read a writer’s samples before hiring; someone can do fabulous work, but write in a style very different from what you prefer, or what’s most appropriate for your business.

Search Online using Google or another search engine. You’ll find web pages for individual ghostwriters as well as for small groups and larger organizations.

Some Ghostwriters and Information on Fees:

The Penn Group

Manhattan Literary Services

Editorial Freelancers Association

What’s It All About?

This frenzy of publishing isn’t happening because it’s so prestigious to be able to write. Nor does it suddenly make its practitioners fabulously wealthy. No, the reason so many people with other occupations are writing is because they’ve figured out that a book is a great tool to help sell a product/s and/or service/s.

Let’s say, for instance, that you create and distribute a line of high-end specialty gourmet delicacies such as pickled vegetables, gourmet-flavored pasta, sauces, and salad dressings. A self-published paperback or ebook is one of the best tools you’ll ever have for selling these products. Businesses have always distributed catalogs—but today’s printed material goes beyond simple product description.

Today people are eager to read the story of how you happened to learn your specialty, if it’s connected to your family or ancestors, and how you took the whole process into the digital era. Where did someone get the idea to pickle a carrot, and what made you think pickled carrots belonged on the menu at _____?

For those entrepreeurs who haven’t yet recognized the value and relevance of this kind of book, listen up! In a few easy steps I will show you the how’s, why’s and wherefores of the promotional press.  And before your anxiety blossoms into the full-blown panic attack that’s just beginning, I’m also going to tell you how you can get this book written. The heart of the matter is this:

To Publish and Sell (or Give Away) This Book, You Do Not Have to Be The One To Write It!

 (That sound I hear must be the whoosh of relief coming from dozens of entrepreneurs who thought they’d have to do it themselves!)

Let’s begin at the beginning, with you and your gourmet products in your home kitchen, where you’ve been puttering along for three years, cooking and selling these items, with gradual but steady growth. You discovered you really enjoy running your own business – except that lately you feel a sense of inner tedium as you repeat the cycle of tasks over and over: cook, sterilize, seal, label, catalog. You hired a part-time assistant, but still need more help.

You’re starting to wonder how long you’ll be able to maintain this rate of production. You don’t want to stop; in fact, you don’t even want to stop growing. So, you’ve begun to look for ways to move your business to the next level.


Let’s say you’re a consultant, an executive coach who teaches workplace sensitivity towards people with disabilities, a field you stumbled into when an accident put your sister in a wheelchair. What with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act,  state and local legislation, and the growing number of people with disabilities on the job, the top executives of American companies genuinely want to do the right thing—but they don’t know what the right thing is. Essentially, they’re clueless.

As word-of-mouth made you the go-to person in the field after five years of working hard at this, your consulting biz suddenly took off. At the same time, unfortunately, the economy went into free fall: your clients are dropping like flies, going out of business, and scaling back, sensitivity be damned. Even if jobs were still so plentiful you’d easily be able to get one, you don’t want to anymore: in fact, you love being your own boss, and can’t imagine going back to the nine-to-five routine.

You happen to hear a speech by a woman who calls herself an “authorpreneur.” After her presentation, you get on line to get your copy of her book signed, and a chance to talk to her one-on-one. You tell her about your bumpy business, and she says without any hesitation, “Write a book.” You do a double-take – every writer you’ve ever known in your life has to work like a dog just to pay the rent.

You decide that this lady knows nothing about  business – or about you! She doesn’t realize you’re all about action, networking, schmoozing – skills you’ve relied on to propel your business forward. The idea of sitting alone in front of a computer for all the hours and days it would take to write a book makes you want to run screaming from the room…

What If You Just Can’t Write?

Fortunately, the authorpreneur actually does know something about you; as it turns out, you aren’t that unusual. First she tells you that the book will be ghostwritten, never fear. She announces, for the benefit of all the people standing on line waiting to talk to her, that she has more to tell them. And then she outlines the reasons to get a book written:

1. You don’t make money on a book – you make opportunities to make money.

Your impression of writers as struggling financially is, with minor exceptions, correct. Very few books earn boatloads of cash for their creators, so if you expect yours to make a killing, you’re in for disappointment.

That said, your book may not be a moneymaker, but it is:

• a marketing tool, the one in your toolbox that gets the most use;

• a calling card that attracts speaking engagements and consulting ventures;

• a launching pad for re-inventing yourself as a celebrity expert and performer; and

• a way of differentiating you from the competition.

You wouldn’t attempt to build shelves without a hammer, or hang pictures without a drill. In the same way, you need a book to get out your message and establish yourself as an expert in the field.

Your book is the ticket by which you entertain audiences while selling them products, information, and/or services. Your book is like a billboard that places you front and center so you stand out from your cohorts, no matter what your field.

I was not the best-writing writer. I was a best-selling writer.
 ~ Robert Kiyosaki

The idea of sitting in a room day after day, grinding out words and sentences and paragraphs, can be anathema to someone who’s used to thinking on his or her feet. Even introverts who have the personality for the process find writing a major challenge.

Not only can the process be lonely and intimidating, but people shy away from it for dozens of other reasons. Maybe a teacher said your writing was no good. Maybe you never understood the nuts and bolts of grammar. Maybe writing just isn’t your forte. After all, it’s a skill, like playing tennis or gourmet cooking, and not everyone is good at every skill – or even competent.

Besides, since writing is the major task required to write a book, not just a small part of the job, you must be good at it and you must enjoy it in order to finish an entire book. I speak from experience: take my word for it. Writing is one of those things you can only do if you feel passionate about doing it.

Okay. If you’ve established the fact that you just aren’t a writer, don’t want to be a writer, and will never write a decent book that people will want to read, then you’ve cleared first and second base: you are going to hire a writer, period. Whatever your situation or reason, you can create a book even if you don’t write it. You do this by hiring someone else to be your ghostwriter. Just as you’d hire a chef  to cater a party if you can’t or won’t cook, or to build bookshelves if you can’t hammer a nail, if you want to get a book written, you hire a professional writer.

Before You Hire: Be Prepared

The client provides the ghostwriter with written information to get started: an outline if possible, or chapter notes–pretty much anything she happens to have written on the subject; perhaps she suggests other relevant reading material.

. If you teach classes, your notes are a great start. Review, clarify, and clean them up, then hand them to the ghostwriter. I recently met someone who videotapes all his workshops, and speaking as a ghostwriter, I’d consider that a godsend. If you do have any audio or video records, save yourself time and money by paying a professional transcriptionist to type them up (it could take your writerweeks to do them herself).

2. Telephone interviews are a fairly efficient way to pass information from one person to another. Yes, face-to-face is best, but the phone will do if distance makes that impossible.

Before even hiring a ghost, write up rough drafts of as much information as you can, then give it to the ghost to use.

4. Speaking of “Before even hiring…”, it helps to have a clear vision for your book. At the very least, you should know what your subject is, who your audience is and why you want to write it. If you don’t know, you’re guaranteed to run into trouble: the writer will either flail about cluelessly, or will substitute his or her own vision, which could lead to conflict.

Hiring a Ghostwriter

The Ghostwriting Process: Four Easy Steps

To some people, the ghostwriting process seems strange and mysterious. They wonder how a complete stranger can possibly manage to write an entire book when it exists only in their own head. That it does work might prove the existence of ESP or the collective subconscious — not! The process is actually quite simple and logical. In my experience, it goes something like this:

(1) Once we’ve agreed to work together, we sign a standard work-for-hire contract, some aspects of which are negotiable (I read somewhere that a contract, prior to signing, should be regarded as a negotiating tool). It outlines the work to be performed, time frames and deadlines, fee and schedule of payment, copyright, and other issues endemic to book publishing. The average 300-page book takes me 3-4 months, and my fee covers, at minimum, a first draft and one revision (sometimes two, depending on certain variables).

(2) Next, we meet, if convenient, or schedule a telephone conference if the distance is prohibitive. I prepare a list of questions beforehand, almost as if I were interviewing you for a magazine or newspaper article.

(3) During the course of the writing, more questions typically arise, which I ask via email. I usually send my first drafts of chapters or sections as they are completed for comments, changes, corrections and feedback. I incorporate these into the text.

(4) After the entire book is completed in this manner, I do what is hopefully one final revision. Any further rewriting is negotiable. If it’s not extensive, I’ll probably just do it; but if there’s a great deal of rewriting because the client has a sudden change in vision or direction, we might have to negotiate.

If you need help getting clear on “the vision thing,” you might want to consider hiring a book coach (yup, they exist; just Google and ye shall find!).

This brings me to the topic of what a ghostwriter does and does not do. As stated, s/he does not supply the overall vision for your book. What s/he does, rather, is guide you to discover or to pinpoint it yourself, and also offers guidance around decision-making throughout the process. She might make suggestions, or ask you leading questions to unearth your answers. You must, therefore, be willing to talk openly with your ghostwriter (I know, it’s starting to sound like a relationship with a therapist! I have sometimes felt it’s similar.).

In other words, you must actively participate in the project for it to be successful. You do so by

(1) attending regular meetings, either on the phone or in person;

(2) Return manuscript drafts with feedback and edits in a timely manner. This is probably the biggest part of your job in the ghost process, but it cannot be avoided. It’s up to you to catch and correct factual or other kinds of errors, and to be sure the book reflects your vision.

(3) Payment. This ought to go without saying, but some people assume they can ask the ghost to wait for a book deal: NOT! The chief advantage to ghostwriting, as opposed to writing one’s own books, is guaranteed payment rather than dependence upon sales. It’s the reason the ghost gives up the byline and the slim but possible reality of big bucks if the book hits. So be sure you can meet your financial end of the bargain. (And don’t forget, under the contract you’re sure to sign, you can be sued if you don’t.)

I’d love to hear your thoughts on ghostwriting in the comments below…

Marcy Sheiner
Marcy Sheiner has written five novels, ghostwritten eight full-length works of non-fiction and one eBook and has edited a dozen anthologies of fiction by women. Her articles, reviews and opinion pieces have been published in print and online, as well as in many anthologies. Her professional services include ghostwriting, editing and other jobs pertaining to the art of the written word and the business of publishing.


  1. I am going to stick my neck out and say that you need to be very, VERY careful about outsourcing writing to overseas contractors from places like elance and odesk. Many who claim to have writing skills, do not, no matter how good their English will be.

    If you are going to hire a ghostwriter, hire somebody who is fluent in English (or whatever the language of the book will be) AND who is a skilled writer. You will pay much more than you may want to when you go this route, but it will save you a ton of headache having to go back and practically rewrite what the contractor wrote.