How Does Ghostwriting Work? The Complete Guide to Hiring the Voice Behind Your Message

There are a lot of ways to pay, but the vast majority of good ghostwriters will use a flat fee structure, meaning you are paying a set amount for a defined book of a defined size or scope. There are some that use flat fee + hourly for revisions beyond a certain point. That’s fine too.

A diagram listing where you can find ghostwriters

How Does Ghostwriting Work? The Complete Guide to Hiring the Voice Behind Your Message

Cover image for article covering how ghostwriting works with image of woman writing in notebook in the background

Ghostwriting is a tried-and-true profession and a powerful way to get content written when you don’t have the time, talent or desire to do it yourself. Whether you’re interested in publishing a book or just want more high-quality content for your website, hiring a ghostwriter puts you in some pretty good company.

Publishers have put the power of ghostwriting to work to churn profits and meet voracious fan demands for centuries. And in today’s competitive marketing world, you can put good ghostwriters to work to scale content creation and publishing processes, improve authority and SEO, and better connect with your target audience.

Diagram listing what benefits a ghostwriter can provide for a business

But before you can do those things, you must answer the question, “how does ghostwriting work?” The comprehensive guide below provides everything you need to get started — whether you’re new to hiring ghostwriters or just want to develop a better process for it.

What Is Ghostwriting?

Ghostwriting occurs when someone contributes to creating content without credit for doing so. They don’t get a byline or author credit; in fact, many times someone else’s name appears as the author of the content. In exchange for credit, the person doing the writing typically receives monetary compensation.

Reasons Marketers and Companies Use Ghostwriting

  • Sharing your expertise when you don’t write well. If you’re an expert or professional in a niche with knowledge to share, ghostwriters can help you do that if you’re not great with the written word. You might create extensive notes and outlines for the writer to work from. The writer might also interview you to get your story or message before committing it to paper.
  • You already have a name but don’t have enough time to write. Someone who already has a recognized name in the niche may need help keeping up with demands for content. Many online marketing pros, including Rand Fishkin and Neil Patel, for example, have used ghostwriters to help keep their content production at scale when they’re busy with other tasks.
  • Creating lots of content for your brand. Not all ghostwritten work gets an author byline stamped on it. Many companies publish blogs, articles and other content from the brand as a whole and not a single person. Ghostwriters are ideal for online content marketing and branding, which may require that you publish dozens or even hundreds of pieces a week or month.
  • You don’t have the exact expertise. In some cases, the ghostwriter is actually the one with the knowledge. For example, someone who is a chef may want to launch a coaching business for rising restauranteurs. They come up with an idea to provide a white paper on legal issues for restaurants as a lead generation tool, but they themselves aren’t a legal expert. They might hire a ghostwriter who has both restaurant and legal expertise to draft the white paper.

A list of reasons why marketers and companies use ghostwriters

Reasons Writers Agree to Ghostwrite Content

So, using ghostwriters lets you expand your writing team, gain access to writing skills and potentially draw on other people’s knowledge and experience. But why would a ghostwriter agree to create content for you without having their name attached to it?

Mostly, the answer is that they get paid to write the content. Obviously, with money as the motivator, typically the better you pay, the more professional and skilled a ghostwriter you can hire. You do have to be careful when hiring someone for freelance writing, and we’ll cover how to find qualified pros that will do an excellent job in just a bit.

  • They have another business or personal brand and they don’t want to interfere with that. For example, someone who is attempting to make a name as a science fiction author may still need to pay the bills. Ghostwriting lets them put their other expertise to work without impacting their author name.
  • They don’t want any recognition. Some writers are exceptionally shy. Others have personal reasons they don’t want their name splashed across the internet. Whatever the reasons, the fact that a qualified writer doesn’t want the attention of a byline can work in your favor.
  • They enjoy writing for hire on a number of topics. Some writers simply enjoy doing work for other people that lets them research and write about different things all the time. They don’t want to be tied down to a specific niche or responsible to their own platform, and they may have learned they can make a good living by providing A+ service and content to clients.

It’s Absolutely Authentic

Here’s the thing: ghostwriting is far from inauthentic. The process of ghostwriting a book typically involves deep engagement by the named author. While, yes, someone else sits down and “does the work” of putting words on the page, the process requires a high level of intellectual involvement from both parties.

When I ghostwrite a book, I strive to embody my client’s voice. I pore over hundreds of pages of interview transcripts, looking for patterns. I piece together ideas. I build on my client’s genius. Although I write the initial words, we are very much co-creators. This is reflected in the fact that most ghostwriting clients leave the process feeling like they wrote the book—only they typically save more than 300 hours of time in the actual writing process.

How It Works

  • Initial meeting (phone or video conference): The client and ghostwriter meet and see if they have the right chemistry for working together. During this conversation, the ghostwriter often asks several questions to get an overview of the project.
  • Proposal: The ghostwriter sends a project proposal. This should be customized to the specific book, rather than a generic “plug and play” template. Once the proposal is signed, the project is a go.
  • Book outline: The ghostwriter conducts one to three recorded interviews by phone or video conferencing, which are then transcribed. From those interviews, the ghostwriter puts together a two- to ten-page (or so) book outline, which the client then revises. Typically, they’ll work through a few drafts together until it’s just right.
  • Interviews (in person): Over three to five days, the ghostwriter interviews the client, again recording for transcription. This will sometimes result in more than 400 single-spaced pages of transcripts!
  • Expanded book outline: After the interviews, the ghostwriter creates an expanded book outline, anywhere from fifteen to fifty pages in length, depending on the complexity of the book. Again, there is some back and forth before arriving at the final working outline.
  • Book draft: The ghostwriter then gets to do what she does best—retreat into a writing cave, only to emerge when the book draft is complete and ready to share with the client. This drafting process can take anywhere from three months to a year.
  • Author revision: Here’s where the client gets to be as involved or uninvolved as he wants. I encourage clients to “make it their own” by rewording, adding stories, and clarifying ideas. Some clients make thousands of edits and others make two (really, I’ve had that happen).
  • Editing and publishing: After the final draft is complete, the manuscript goes through editing and publishing. That’s a whole post in itself, so I’ll stop there.

Assuming everything goes smoothly, the typical turnaround from idea to final draft is around ten to twelve months, but it can go slower or faster based on project needs. I did one short book project in three months, and it was published a month later. Of course, that’s not ideal, but it can be done.

Alternatives to Working with a Business Ghostwriter

1. Write it yourself

2. Use a “Done With You” service (book coaches)

This is somewhat similar to doing it yourself, except you’re not totally on your own. In fact, a lot of ghostwriters will also be “book coaches” for a much lower fee, which essentially amounts to being a consulting editor on your book. This can be a good deal for many people who can afford some help, but not full ghostwriting services.

3. Use a “Done For You” service

Scribe : We created a structured interview process to turn an author’s ideas into a book, and most importantly, it’s in their words and their voice . Whereas ghostwriting is the words of another writer, this service puts your book in your words. We also do all the publishing and marketing, in addition to assisting in the writing.

(Full disclosure: this is my company, and yes, it competes directly with ghostwriters. I’m obviously biased, but the reason we started this company is because at its core, ghostwriting is a broken system, and we figured out a better way to solve the same problem that ghostwriting is trying to solve—namely, getting the ideas of an author into a book, without having to spend so much time doing it. We’ve done over 1,000 books in four years, so clearly this is meeting a need.)

Round Table Companies : I have not used them, but know a few people who have and they say good things. From what I understand, they are kind of in-between a book coach and a done for you service and can vary their service based on your needs.


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