Should You Hire a Ghostwriter?

businessman in black suit hiding face behind sign ghost writerHiring a ghostwriter was the topic on a recent online post. The person in question, who did not yet have a manuscript, was being encouraged by an un-named publisher’s representative to hire and pay for a ghostwriter to write his book, as the rep thought the topic matter of the book was brilliant. I followed up by looking at the fellow’s website, and indeed, his ideas are brilliant.

The budding author asked around and got in touch with a ghostwriter, who offered to write the book for $25,000. So the query to the online community was: Should I (the author) hire and pay for this ghostwriter?

For professionals who have an idea but not a manuscript and are too busy doing what they do to write a book, a ghostwriter may be the only option. But why would a supposedly reputable publisher tell the author to hire and pay for a ghostwriter himself if the publisher thinks the book is a bestseller and believes in the project? At the very least, a legitimate publisher would have a substantive business discussion with the author, not just butter him up and tell him to go out and spend such a large sum of money. My “Spidey senses” are heightened when I hear stories like the one in this online post, because several “big” publishers now have self-publishing “divisions” that continue to scam authors in astonishing numbers, and their words and enthusiasm are no substitute for a detailed plan and a substantial investment on their part.

If you are an author facing this predicament, here are some things to consider:

  • Do you know what the publisher will do next if you invest in a ghostwriter?
  • What investment will the publisher make?
  • What do you and the publisher both hope to achieve with your combined investment?
  • Has there been a discussion with the publisher about national publicity and book signing tours to get the word out? Any book will just sit there without this serious effort and a corresponding serious budget in money and time.
  • Does the publisher promise national bookstore distribution?
  • Has the publisher shared a spreadsheet of potential sales?
  • Will this even begin to compensate you for your investment? (Most authors earn a dollar or two per book, which means the book must sell 12,000-25,000 copies just to break even. This sales volume is difficult to achieve for any publisher.)
  • Have you been offered a real contract that specifies your earnings for each book sold?
  • If so, has a publishing attorney working in your best interests reviewed the contract?
  • Has the publisher offered any sort of advance payment?
  • If things don’t pan out with the publisher, can you afford to lose the investment of $25,000?

Sitting down and speaking with the publisher about the above points will help flush out any self-publishing scams and show the publisher that you are not to be messed with.

If you have never been approached by a publisher and are thinking about self-publishing your book, you might still consider a ghostwriter. As with any self-publishing project, you must start off with a budget (see this blog post on planning your budget) and your budget would include a ghostwriter. Your per-book profit margin has the potential to be higher than if your book is published by a traditional publisher, but you may have a harder job reaching the sales numbers to break even or make a profit. However, a ghostwriter may make sense for a professional who wants a book to help grow his or her business; if a book is part of a larger marketing plan, a well-written book is simply an investment that the professional was already willing to make to increase his or her company’s overall success.

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