ghost in the machine

Almost everyone wants to write a book someday. Most people just don’t do it.

There are many reasons for the lack of follow-through; one of them is time. This is especially pertinent for executives, celebrities or motivational speakers who really should have a book out there to support their work, but just don’t have the time to put one together.

Another reason is that writing scares the hell out of some people. We’re all born differently with unique talents and for some, writing just isn’t it. That’s not to say there isn’t a story to be told.

Then there’s good old writer’s block (a blog on writer’s block is coming soon, so watch out for that).


Don’t confuse a ghost-writer with an editor. With a ghost-writer, you really can start with a blank page, whereas you’ll need to have a manuscript to give to an editor.

Although each ghost-writer has a different method or way of working, in general you can expect the following:

  • Discussion to establish your goals for the book, including your target market; size and number of pages; where and how you’d like it published and sold.
  • A one-on-one session so the ghost-writer can establish your voice – your natural turn of phrase, cadence, language use and tone.
  • A framework of the book, chapter by chapter.
  • Timelines and deadlines – remember, it’s your book so your input is essential.
  • A mini style guide.
  • Quite a bit of back and forth during the writing process.
  • Some research done on your behalf, and fact-checking.
  • Suggestions to make your raw content more compelling (this includes plot development where required).
  • References/citations where applicable.
  • Ideas and copy-editing for book title, blurbs and chapter titles.
  • Questions put to you in order to fill in story gaps.
  • It’s yours.
  • Constructive criticism. Learn from it and don’t be precious.

What you won’t get, however, is listed below:

  • Loads of brainstorming meetings where you basically throw out ideas and the ghost-writer picks them out of the ether and puts them into a useable format.
  • A vague idea that’s turned into a book without any input from you.
  • Every fact or example researched and verified (a ghost-writer isn’t going to phone friends and family members to check stuff, but will check if it was 1879 that Sir Soap did that terrible thing).
  • Full editing and proofreading (although it’s edited and proof-read along the way).
  • A publishing deal.
  • Unadulterated adoration of you and your work.


Well, they’re nice. Seriously, if you don’t like the one you’ve found, find another one – you’ll be working closely together for a few months so you need to be comfortable with them.

Ghost-writers are generally writers themselves with a good degree of experience in editing, from books to articles. They’re passionate about putting words in the right order and creating compelling storylines. They will usually be exceptionally well read and passionate about delving into other people’s stories, but they’re also discreet and will keep your thoughts, yours. They are also non-judgemental, so whatever your story is, don’t feel scared about telling it in intimate detail.

They have a good feel for what readers in various different target markets want. They’re also usually pretty adept at marketing, which helps because you need your book to be saleable when you’re done.


This kind of expertise doesn’t come cheap – so be prepared. Most ghost-writers will quote you a lump sum, which can be paid in stages throughout the project. The cost of a full length book (from 40,000 words for non-fiction to at least 80,000 for fiction) can be anything from R50,000 to R100,000 – it really does depend on the amount of work that needs to be done. If you just need a paragraph or help with an article instead of a whole book, you’ll be quoted an hourly rate, which is usually consistent with freelance hourly or per word rates.


As mentioned before, people who need a book to support their work, such as motivational speakers, will often use a ghost-writer. Getting the words off the stage and onto the page so to speak.

Fictional writers really shouldn’t need a ghost-writer, certainly not for the whole book because then what’s the point. However, if there’s a particular scene that a fiction writer is battling with (sex and violence are often hard), then a ghost-writer can be used to assist. The same goes for bloggers or journalists who just can’t get to that particular part of a story, for whatever reason.

Before deciding to employ a ghost-writer, make sure you are absolutely serious about getting a book out there. Also, be prepared to work hard – the contract period will lapse if you don’t do your bit, and you’ll still have to pay the fee.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s