What is a Nonfiction Ghostwriter?

by Bennett R. Coles

What is a Ghostwriter

Nonfiction audiences are constantly seeking book titles that offer clear solutions to their problems. From weight loss, to relationship advice, psychological counseling, healthy eating, fashion tips, and home decor, the list goes on and on.

In fact, the Amazon bookstore alone lists over 3,000 nonfiction categories and subcategories in their catalog!

Now, as an expert in your field with many years of problem-solving experience, you’re perfectly positioned to benefit from this thirst for knowledge from the reading audience — but there’s a problem: you don’t feel you have the skills necessary to write a nonfiction book, you don’t have the time to write it or perhaps both.

This is precisely where nonfiction ghostwriters come into play. Ghostwriters are seasoned professional writers. Most of them are traditionally published authors with decades of experience and they have a solid command of the writing craft.

Not only are they experts in the art of nonfiction writing, but they also have a strong understanding of the marketing forces that permeate the nonfiction world. They know how readers think, what captivates them and what entices them to take action.

They know how to connect with a book’s target audience in a deep and meaningful way — in other words, they know how to get into their minds and hearts.

Now, here’s the thing: unless you enjoy the writing craft, and provided that you have the budget for it, it’s always a good idea to consider hiring a ghostwriter for your nonfiction book, because the bar for quality in the genre is quite high.

Nonfiction audiences expect books from experts to be written with excellence. Anything less will reflect poorly on the author, which may impact your reputation and your professional credibility.

A loose analogy would be to walk into a law firm to find lawyers walking around in ripped jeans and t-shirts. That’s not likely the expectation you have for that profession and such a sight wouldn’t inspire your initial confidence, regardless of their talent.

What Does a Ghostwriter Do?

To be able to condense your expertise into a book, ghostwriters need to be able to capture your writing voice so that they can “impersonate” you as the author.

In order to do that, the first thing they’ll need is to sit down with you for an extended interview so they can get to know you, what your area of expertise is, your thoughts about your book’s main idea or thesis, the problem that you’re addressing for your target audience and your solution.

This is the preparatory stage of the relationship.

Next, they’ll want to nail down three very important things:

  1. Who makes up your target audience
  2. The problem you’re solving for them
  3. Your unique solution

Then, they’ll want to take a deep dive into your book’s concept. They’ll need to learn your subject matter in detail so that they can convey it effectively to your audience.

To facilitate their job, you’ll be expected to provide them with all your notes, recordings if any, a mind-map of your book if one is available and your book’s outline and your preliminary table of contents, if available.

At this stage, your ghostwriter will enter the research phase. They’ll take in all this information and begin to thoroughly research your subject to find out what other books in your niche are already out there and what solutions they offer so they can identify your unique selling proposition.

Once this research is concluded, they’ll write your book.

Do You Need to Give Ghostwriters Credit?

This depends on your circumstances and it’s entirely up to you. All ghostwriters expect to be asked to sign a nondisclosure agreement that shields their identity, so if you want to claim 100% credit for the work, it’s really your prerogative.

For example, famous celebrities are more likely to share authorship with their ghostwriters because their lives are constantly scrutinized and it wouldn’t take long for the identity of their ghostwriter to come out in spite of a nondisclosure agreement.

However, most nonfiction experts who aren’t big celebrities expect that their ghostwriter’s identity will be concealed because their books will become an extension of their professional lives and should therefore be identified strictly with their names.

Do Ghostwriters Earn Royalties?

When it comes to compensation, it may be possible to exchange part of the upfront ghostwriting fees with a share of the royalties, but this would only work if you already have a substantial number of followers that can guarantee sales right out of the gate (e.g. you have a sizable email list or a large online presence in social media.)

Having said that, most ghostwriters will require new authors to pay 100% of their fees up front (or more specifically, an advance with the remainder to be paid on completion of the project) and will not accept royalties on future sales to be part of their compensation.

Should I Hire a Ghostwriter?

If a nonfiction book is instrumental in order to grow your business revenue or personal income to the next level AND you don’t feel you have the necessary writing skills to put out a top-tier product, you should definitely consider hiring a ghostwriter.

Although the cost can be high in relation to writing your own book, this can be recouped as you leverage your book to:

  • Launch a profitable public-speaking career
  • Attract the attention of the mainstream media as a go-to expert in your field, drawing attention to your business
  • Increase your chances of landing lucrative government or private contracts — you’ll be automatically deemed to be an expert compared to any (most?) competitors who didn’t take the time and expense to publish a book
  • Land new clients since your prospects will consider you to be a proven expert in your field upon publication of your book
  • Develop profitable strategic partnerships, increasing the size of your lead funnel

How Much Will a Ghostwriter Cost Me?

Most ghostwriters will offer you a four-tiered pay structure, as follows:

1) Preparation Stage

For the preparatory stage they’ll charge you an hourly rate. For this reason, it really pays to come prepared to your initial meetings—the more prep work you do on your own the less work the ghostwriter will have to do later on.

Typical charges for this stage range between $100 and $250 per hour, depending on the reputation and demand of the ghostwriter, with a typical project costing between $3,000 and $7,500.

2) Research Stage

The research stage, where the ghostwriter takes in all of your information and then does their own subject-matter research, is also typically charged on an hourly basis. Typical charges for this stage range between $100 and $500 per hour, with a typical project costing between $3,000 and $30,000.

The higher end of the range can be quite substantial because it usually involves ghostwriters writing on behalf of famous personalities and as such the volume of information that they must sift through requires them to hire a small staff of researchers.

3) Transcription Stage

If you’ve captured your book project notes into a voice recorder and/or you have video footage, you’ll either need to hire a transcription service or pay your ghostwriter to do it. Transcription charges can range between $1,000 and $3,000 depending on the amount of recorded material supplied.

4) Writing Stage

The main stage of the ghostwriting process, the writing itself, is typically billed according to the final word count of the book project (by final I mean “publication-ready,” when no further changes are allowed.) Per-word charges can range between $0.50 and $3.00.

3 Key Questions to Ask Before You Hire a Ghostwriter

Since not all ghostwriters are created equal, and given the onerous nature of this process, it’s imperative that you do some serious vetting before you hire a writer. Below, you’ll find three key questions to ask candidates:

1) Is The Ghostwriter Familiar With Your Topic and Niche?

This is a simple matter of cost management. If you hire a general-nonfiction ghostwriter who’s not familiar with your specific topic at all, your research fees are simply going to skyrocket. You don’t want to pay for the ghostwriter’s education when they have a steep learning curve to go through.

2) Do They Have Experience Writing Nonfiction Books?

You will encounter many ghostwriters who will list a multitude of genres on their resumes and may list nonfiction as one of their areas of specialty. However, if all they’ve written before is fiction (either as authors themselves or as ghostwriters) then you’ll want to take a pass.

Nonfiction writing demands additional skills. It also requires marketing knowledge, a command of the art of written persuasion, a knack for problem solving and familiarity with sales copy, among others. Most fiction ghostwriters will likely be missing several of these.

3) Do They Know Your Target Audience?

You ghostwriter will need to know how to address the needs of your audience. If they’ve written about your topic before they’ll have first-hand experience with the state of mind of your target audience and they’ll know how to communicate with your readers in a way that’s persuasive.

In other words, they’ll be able to “feel their pain” and write in a way that creates a deep emotional connection with your subjects, which will make for a much more compelling nonfiction book.

In summary

Writing effective nonfiction books requires a very specific set of skills. If you don’t feel confident in your own ability to produce a top-notch book (say, your business is conducted mostly face-to-face and you don’t enjoy the writing process) or if you’re simply too busy to allocate several hours a week for 6 months or longer to your book project, then you should seriously consider hiring a nonfiction ghostwriter.

Good luck!

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:

How to Write a Compelling Book in 12 Steps: A Must-Read Guide for Nonfiction Authors

Write Your Own Book and Become an Expert: 11 Reasons Why You Should

How to Grow Your Business Writing a Nonfiction Book

How Long Does it Take to Write a Book to Help Grow Your Business?

5 Book Cover Maker Mistakes to Avoid When Designing a Nonfiction Cover

Bennett R. Coles is an award-winning author of 6 books published through Harper Collins (NY) and Titan Publishing Group (UK). He is also the publisher at Promontory Press and the founder/CEO 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, printing, distribution and marketing.

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