If you’re planning to hire a ghostwriter for your nonfiction book, you’re making a great decision. There’s a constant demand in the market for top-quality nonfiction titles that target well-defined audiences with a unique solution to a burning problem.
As a professional and subject-matter expert, you’re perfectly suited for the task of identifying a big problem experienced by a group of people and then providing a unique solution – but you may not be as well-suited to conveying this solution in written form.
Unfortunately, the bar for nonfiction writing is quite high because the market expectation is that nonfiction books are written by experts, therefore the quality of the writing must be on par with their level of expertise.
Luckily, this is where ghostwriters come in, providing readers with the best of both worlds: their professional writing skills coupled with your subject-matter expertise in a single, winning formula.
Now, hiring the best ghostwriter for the job is critical for this formula to work, so I’ll share in this article five tips to help you filter out the less-than-ideal candidates and shortlist the best ones for your consideration.
Tip 1: Check for Nonfiction Experience
Nonfiction ghostwriting requires a very specialized skill set. The ghostwriter must be able to concurrently manage the following set of different challenges:
- They must be able to clearly capture your voice in their writing – since you’re the subject expert, your readers will naturally assume that you’ve written the book.
- They must also be marketing experts in their own right. They must know how to connect with a target audience through their writing in a way that compels them to take action.
- They must know how to connect with an audience intimately. It’s difficult to create a deep connection with a reader without this skill.
- Finally, they must be masters of the writing craft, with full knowledge of the best techniques used to engage, captivate, entertain, stimulate and retain readers from cover to cover.
When you interview ghostwriters, make sure they have a minimum of 7-10 years on the job. Although it may be okay to hire writers with less experience in other genres, for nonfiction you need to hire the best that you can afford.
Tip 2: Ask to See Prior Nonfiction Ghostwritten Books
Now it’s time to see evidence of their work. Ask candidates to either lend you copies of their previous nonfiction work, or at least to provide you with the titles so that you can purchase them.
Just be aware that this request can be tricky at times because ghostwriters are sometimes required to sign non-disclosure agreements with their clients to keep their identity secret. However, it would be foolish to hire a ghostwriter without being able to see the quality of their work.
Many ghostwriters will comply with your request because they’ll want your business, however. When you read their work, check to see how they managed the various challenges outlined in Tip 1 above.
Is the author’s voice consistent throughout the book? Do you feel the book is addressed to a single, clearly defined audience?
Are you connecting with the book? Is it a page-turner or is it hard to get into? Do you feel compelled to take action after reading it? Is the writing clean and elegant but also unpretentious and down to earth?
You want the ghostwriter to hit all the right notes before you consider them for the job. Ghostwriting is a complex process and it can be quite an investment, so you want to make 100% sure you’ve hired the right person.
Tip 3: Ask for 2 or 3 References
Once the ghostwriter clears the first two tips, it’s time to have a chat with their clients. Ask for two or three references so you can ask them questions such as:
- How was your initial author interview process?
- What materials did they ask you to supply them with?
- How did you engage with the ghostwriter during the book-writing phase?
- Did they ask you for feedback throughout the ghostwriting process?
- Where you satisfied with the final product? Did you feel your book was written in your own voice?
- What are the ghostwriter’s strengths and weaknesses?
- What were you happiest with, unhappiest with?
- Would you recommend them without hesitation?
Tip 4: Ask to See a Sample Ghostwriting Contract
If the ghostwriter clears the first three tips, you’re certainly in good shape, but not quite done yet. Ghostwriting is a significant investment and you want to make sure you’re contractually protected.
Ask the ghostwriter to give you a sample copy of a contract so that you can read the fine print in advance and make sure there will be no unpleasant surprises once you’ve committed to the process and are too emotionally invested.
First, check the fee section to make sure that it’s crystal clear. Although at this stage there won’t be set costs defined for your project, there should be specific per-hour and per-word costs that would apply to all projects.
You should expect to see the following fees:
- Preparation Charges: expect fees between $100 and $250 per hour, depending on the experience and reputation of the ghostwriter.
- Research Charges: expect fees between $100 and $500 per hour, although the latter applies to ghostwriters working with celebrities, where they have to hire additional help due to the volume of research.
- Transcription Charges (when audio files are supplied): expect fees between $1,000 and $3,000 depending of the overall length of the audio materials to be transcribed.
- Writing Charges: expect fees between $0.50 and $3 per word, depending on the experience and reputation of the ghostwriter.
Ghostwriting is a significant investment, so you want to look for a clause that offers flexible payment terms spread throughout the engagement, without large sums to be paid upfront.
Unlike other types of contractors, ghostwriting has very little in the way of “material costs” that must be paid for ahead of time, so upfront payments are not typical in the industry unless you’re locking in a celebrity ghostwriter.
This is one of the most important clauses in the contract. Even with the best of intentions by all parties, things could sour. Perhaps, you’re not satisfied with the results or you feel uncomfortable with the relationship, among many other factors.
To allow for any contingency, ensure that there’s an equitable termination clause that allows either party to end the contract at any time, provided that all costs up until the time of termination are settled.
Most ghostwriters will rather have an amiable termination than a disgruntled client – that’s just a good business practice.
If you can demonstrate that you have a large built-in audience – for example, an extended email list with which you communicate regularly, a large social media following, and so on, you might be able to strike a royalty sharing deal.
If the ghostwriter is convinced that you’ll have a large amount of “warm” book sales from the very beginning with little marketing effort on your part, they might be willing to reduce their fees in exchange for a percentage of your book revenue.
If they decide to go ahead with this type of arrangement, expect that they’ll want to receive a much higher overall compensation than just paying them for the work done.
Tip 5: Ensure That There’s a Strong Rapport
Last but not least, the working relationship you’re about to enter is going to be very special. Your ghostwriter must capture the essence of who you are in their writing, and in order for that to happen you must have complete trust in the relationship.
The most well-intended relationship will fail if there’s poor chemistry, so you must ensure during the candidate interview process that you both have excellent rapport. You have to be able to feel 100% comfortable working with this person over an extended period of time.
Once tips 1-4 are fulfilled and all the boxes check out, listen to your inner voice and only proceed to sign on the dotted line if you “feel” you have a strong personal connection that will ensure a constructive working relationship.
Good luck with your search!
If you enjoyed this article and are in the process of writing a nonfiction book, be sure to check out my free nonfiction success guide, drawn from years of experience editing books for bestselling authors (including a New York Times bestseller) and ghostwriting for CEOs and politicians. Simply click here to get instant access.
Leave me a comment below if you have any questions or a specific need that I can help you address – I operate an author services firm that specializes in helping entrepreneurs, professionals and business owners who want to publish books as a calling card for prospects, to establish their status as an expert or to just to generate additional leads for their businesses.
Here are some related posts I highly recommend:
Bennett R. Coles is an award-winning author of six books published through Harper Collins (New York) and Titan Publishing Group (London). He is also the publisher at Promontory Press, editor for multiple bestselling authors (including a NY Times bestseller), ghostwriter for CEOs and politicians and the founder of Cascadia Author Services, a boutique full-service firm that specializes in premium author services specifically designed for busy professionals. Our end-to-end services include writer coaching, ghostwriting, editing, proofing, cover design, book layout, eBook production, marketing, printing and distribution.