Originally published on linkedin. Republished with permission.
Writing your memoirs is a great way to share what you’ve learned–or to build your personal brand. As a former journalist, I’ve been using my skills to create books and white papers for brilliant people who want to write, but who choose not to, for whatever reason. I’ve done this behind the scenes as a ghost writer. If you’re thinking about collaborating with a ghost, check out these tips for working with a secret scribe for hire.
When not chasing deadlines, journalists talk about the stories they would love to write. Surprisingly, the big debate is not what to write–it’s how to write the story. Any story, no matter how bla, can be told well by a good writer–if they know how to find interesting angles and stories. You’ll get a sense of a writer by looking at their clips of course, but go ahead and ask them for a few different ways to tell your story. Don’t expect to find the best approach without detailed research and a full briefing. At this stage, you’re looking to see if you like how a writer tells stories.
Give out some homeworkIf your goal is a memoir, find a writer who loves reading and then share your fave inspiring biographies and fave authors. It’s raw intel for a writer, who can look at those works analytically, and not for fun. As someone who understands how stories are crafted, a writer can parse your picks and figure out which themes, storytelling motifs and style flourishes will resonate with you.
Make the time to make it work
You won’t get high-quality end results unless your ghost writer has access to people and information. You might be outsourcing content creation and marketing strategy to a ghost writer, but your scribe for hire can’t make a masterpiece without extensive interviews and time spent talking with you to find your voice (for a memoir) or lots of direct contact with analysts and researchers (for a white paper)
For example, I’ve found that a hour-long interview makes for a 5,000 word transcript, from which 2,000 words are relevant and 500 are quotable as is. This translates into weeks of interviews for a proper memoir.
Entrepreneurs and executives typically have PR people who fluff their answers when talking to media–and who steer writers away from hard questions. Don’t let them do it. If you’ve found a ghost writer, trust their interviewing and storytelling skills. Let them ask tough questions about how you made it through tough times. Be honest. Don’t forget: your character is demonstrated in times of crisis, not the easy times–and that character is what you should aim to share with your readers.
Trust but verif
Congratulations, you’ve got your memoir or ebook finalized. If you’ve got the budget, hire an editor make sure what your ghost writer creates is right, including verifying quotes and statistics, copyediting and proofreading. In 20 years, I’ve never met a writer who can edit themselves. Everyone’s work needs polishing. Investing in a smart editor reduces the chance you’ll be sued for libel–or that you’ll publish something that’s wrong. This costs money but works. You’ve got to protect yourself.
What other questions do people have about working with ghostwriters? I’d love to know. Please reach out and I’ll share what I know.