How does this whole ghostwriting thing work? This is probably the question that I’m asked most frequently during consultations with new clients. People coming through my website, never having hired a ghostwriter before, really want to know how a typical ghostwriting project is supposed to work.
When I first started out in the business, answering this question scared me a bit. Every new project felt just a little bigger than I could handle, intimidating even, but now, with so many years of experience under my belt, I have found a truth exists in this industry: most ghostwriting projects, whether they are screenplays, fiction, memoir or business books, follow a highly predictable pattern.
There are steps, or phases, that are common to almost everyone. What, in the beginning, felt like a lot of uncertain question marks has settled into something almost predictable.
Steps In A Ghostwriting Project
Information Gathering Phase:
This phase in a ghostwriting project usually happens when the client makes first contact with me. Having found my profile on social media or my site on-line, they either call or email, and we speak briefly, and in general terms, about what they want written. This is like a job interview and I fully expect that a client is going to ask me questions about what goes into working with me.
On my website, I advertise a free, 30-minute consultation to anyone who calls. A half-hour is usually the industry standard, but sometimes those calls run a little longer. On the other hand, sometimes we discover we’re a match in less time. It is all client dependent.
Ghostwriting project | Creating The Contract & NDA:
This phase of a ghostwriting project commences when we agree that we’d be a fit to work together. Either during the consultation phone call, or in a later email exchange, the client and I decide we’re a match and move onto making the agreement official.
The NDA, or non-disclosure agreement, and contract are actually different phases wrapped up in the same general step. First, I ask that the client sign a non-disclosure because it protects their intellectual property beyond the duration of our working agreement.
Some clients balk, thinking this is unnecessary. I always say to them, think of your story like intellectual property, IP, like the recipe for Coca Cola. It has value, and for that reason, protect it. Once the NDA is signed, we move onto the contract. The contract, in some detail, defines the working agreement in the terms of timelines, ownership and payments.
This is important. Nothing moves forward until both of these documents are signed by both parties.
Ghostwriting agreements are ‘work for hire’, meaning I receive payment for each subsequent step in the larger process. I, like most other ghostwriters, structure my agreements with three or four payments (these terms will have been agreed upon and included in the contract). Once the NDA and contract are signed, we arrange for that first payment, deliverable in a variety of ways.
Ghostwriting project | Clients/Ghostwriter Interviews:
Once the agreement has been signed and payment made, we move onto the first major work phase. Interviews on the substantive elements of the project. In order to really know how to write your ghostwriting project, I need to get to know the story. Screenplay, fiction novel, memoir or business book, regardless of what the end product looks like, an interviewing phase is necessary.
Sometimes clients are able to supplement the interviews with documentation. Court transcripts, journals and recordings help, but at bare minimum, we need to interview at least a few times.
Creation Of Outline:
This might be my favorite part of writing anything: breaking down the story in search of the outline. The writing itself ends up being a very satisfying process, but nothing matches the reckless fun of taking hours of interviews and notes and boiling them down to an outline. This is where the story goes from hazy and uncertain to something more focused and streamlined.
Ghostwriting project | Writing The First Draft:
Once the client approves the outline, I write the project. Plain and simple. Of all the steps in the ghostwriting project, this one takes the longest in terms of time and energy. The longest step, this can also be a bit lonesome as we communicate more infrequently. But this is where the rubber meets the road. The execution of the plan laid out in our agreed upon outline.
Client Guided Re-Write:
The final stage in any ghostwriting project comes when the client guides me through a rewrite of the initial submitted rough, first draft. Even though I’m a professional ghostwriter, and we agreed upon the outline, there is almost always something in the rough draft that needs work.
I like to tell clients that anywhere from 10-30% of the original draft will require attention and not to worry about that. Usually, we can get the project done with one set of notes, however, there are times when we go back and forth multiple times before we settle on the final draft.
Variations In Your Ghostwriting Project
The steps outlined above are what you, as a client, can usually expect to transpire between the beginning and end of a finished ghostwriting project. Rarely do I ever skip one of these phases. In all my years of ghostwriting experience, I consider each of them necessary. Not just for me, but for you, the client.
But sometimes, in rare instances, a client dictates the need for something else, above and beyond. What do I mean?
I don’t work with a one-size-fits-all process. Some ghostwriters do and that’s fine, it works for their business, but for me, I think a customer driven process works far better.
Over the years, I have had clients request additional steps. Some clients want additional review benchmarks, say, looking at the manuscript every 3-4 chapters or television series every episode, or taking a more hands on approach in the drafting or re-writing phases. These extra accommodations are, by and large, just fine.
The key to integrating these steps effectively into any project is communication. If you’re thinking of hiring a ghostwriter and they outline a process, and you, for whatever reason, need more than they’re offering you, talk about it. Ask for what you need.
One-size-fits-all doesn’t work. Why? Because every one of us is unique.