How to Be the Author of a Ghostwritten Book

Although it might seem so, it’s not obvious how to be the author of a ghostwritten book. The most common misconception is that once you hire a ghostwriter, your manuscript will magically appear with minimal effort from you.

Sure, the majority of the work will be done by the ghostwriter. But just because someone else is doing the writing, doesn’t change the fact that you are the author. And if you want to author a great book, you must do at least some hands-on work.

Here are five of the best practices for how to be the author of a ghostwritten book.

1. Carve Out Time for Interviews 

Your ghostwriter will need you to be available for interviews and/or sending pertinent materials that you would like integrated into your manuscript.

Some companies will boast that they can write your book for you after just 4 or 5 hours of interviews. It’s possible, I’m sure, but if you want to write a book of depth and substance, don’t take shortcuts.  I’ve found that it takes at least 30 hours of interviews to get the original content and possibly several more to refine it.

Once interviews commence, you probably won’t see any drafted material for the first 4 to 6 weeks. Don’t freak out – that’s totally normal. It takes a few weeks of interviews for a ghostwriter to get their bearings and be able to produce something that is ready for you to review. But once you get to the 4-to-6 week mark (as long as you have made time for weekly interviews), you should begin to see drafts of chapters.

Which brings me to tip #2…

2. Help Your Ghostwriter Go Deeper

Even if they are the best interviewer in the world, your ghostwriter will still only ask the questions that occur to them. But you are the subject-matter expert, so you must provide the expertise. To truly be the author of a ghostwritten book, when you start reviewing drafts, don’t just read to evaluate what’s there. Look for areas where you could expand or go deeper.

Ask yourself, is there anything we missed? Take note of any ideas that pop into your head, because often these are gold. Use track changes and write in your ideas.

I have found that the best material comes from these deeper cuts. Your surface-level knowledge is useful, but not as likely to be leading-edge as your quirky thoughts. Your unique perspective contains the highest value for your reader, but generally takes more digging to excavate.

If you skip this step, your book will lack depth and dimension. Don’t worry about making your add-ins sound good. Your ghostwriter will edit your work to make it read well.  The important thing is that you provide the insight.

3. Keep the Momentum

The faster you can review drafts and get your feedback to your writer, the better.

Fast feedback will help you and your writer keep the momentum, plus it will keep everyone on track to meet deadlines.

Ideally, you will give your writer feedback on the first draft of a chapter within one week of receiving it.

Once you’ve kept a draft longer than a week, momentum slows, and both you and your writer will have to waste time and energy becoming reacquainted with the material.

Subsequent drafts should turn around even faster.

4. Do the Final Review Yourself

Once you have a full draft and the manuscript is ready for next stages, before you send it to your publisher or to a proofreader, read it all the way through one more time. And do a plagiarism check!

Best case, you’ll catch small errors or issues with flow that are easily corrected.

Worst case, you were unlucky and hired an unscrupulous (or clueless) ghostwriter who ripped off other people’s writing and added it to your book without permission or proper attribution. So, once you’re done editing it, run your manuscript through a plagiarism checker.

As the David Agus scandal demonstrated, sadly, none of us can afford to make the assumption that our ghostwriter has provided all original content. Whether on purpose or inadvertently, your ghostwriter may have failed to follow the rules of using others’ copyrighted material, and ultimately, it’s your name on the cover.

You must verify for yourself that your book is wholly original.

5. Thank your Ghostwriter in the Acknowledgements

I get it – it can seem contradictory to thank your ghostwriter for writing the book when the whole idea of a ghostwriter is that they are invisible. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t thank them. Don’t worry – you don’t need to admit that you hired a ghostwriter. You can call them your “collaborator.”

No one writes a book alone. It’s important to thank all the people who made it possible, and your “collaborator” is certainly one of those people!

The Bottom Line is This:

Hiring a ghostwriter isn’t a handoff. You must be highly involved in generating content, providing feedback, and making sure it’s all accurate. Remember: it’s your expertise, your content, and your reputation on the line.