Cracking “Voice” with Ghostwriting Clients

By Jeff Raderstrong

I was in an interview with a potential client, discussing a book she wanted to write on young leaders in politics. I asked her some of the standard questions I usually ask at this phase of the process: “How would you describe your voice? How would you want me to capture your voice?”

She gave a short laugh and said: “I don’t care about my own voice. I want to sound smarter. That’s why I’m talking to you.”

The candidness surprised me. Most potential authors usually give some variation of the same response to these questions: saying that their voice is accessible but thought provoking, inspiring readers but also giving them tangible advice that’s applicable to their own lives. This author, though, was very straightforward about a potential collaboration. She understood the value of working with a ghostwriter was not just in having an extra hand to help write the book, but to actually co-create a voice and persona that could elevate her own self in the way she wanted.

“Voice” is a word thrown around a lot by ghostwriters and potential clients, as it should be. As a ghostwriter, you need to be able to capture the voice of the person for which you are writing. If you can’t, you shouldn’t be a ghostwriter.

But what does “voice” actually mean? As I talk more and more to ghostwriters about the topic, and work with more and more leaders, it seems each ghostwriter and each client has a different concept of voice and what it means.

I’ve had clients tell me they don’t care about capturing their voice at all, or, like the woman who wanted to sound smarter, actively wanted to change their voice on the page. Some clients consider capturing “voice” synonymous with the way they talk or think, and expect ghostwriters to be some level of a glorified transcription service. I’ve had some clients go through a manuscript word by word to make sure everything is literally something they would say, not understanding that a written voice is different from a speaking voice.

After writing for dozens of executives and leaders, I feel like the premium placed on “capturing” voice is overblown. It’s important to capture the essence of the client, but part of my job is to “create” that voice in collaboration with the client. Unless you are working with someone who is super well known, they probably don’t have an easily recognizable voice (which, in my case, is almost always true, because I work with CEOs and other executives on thought leadership books). It’s part of your process to figure out not just what their voice is, but what it should be.

Every ghostwriter has their own tricks on how to capture the voice of an author while writing. I’m a big stand-up comedy fan, so I like to think of myself as doing an impression of the author as I write. Many of the best impressionists–Dana Carvey is my favorite–usually have a word or a phrase that gets them into the character. I try to do the same with my clients. Sometimes it’s not even anything spoken. I can imagine the person on a stage gesticulating, for example, to help me get into their voice.

But I think beyond those tricks, we can put a little more structure to the process of “voice,” just like we do with crafting narratives or creating book outlines. By breaking down what voice is, we can help to elevate it for our clients and reach the level of a true collaboration.

I tend to approach capturing voice with three different components, which I walk through with each of my clients:

  • Structure: Some authors will have different sentence structures than others. Some may like having short, declarative sentences or paragraphs, vs. long ones with lots of detail. Can I use conjunctions or not? Do you want to ask the reader a lot of questions, or be more declarative? Do you want to use bulleted or numbered lists, or rely more on paragraph flow?
  • Tone: This is probably the component most closely resembling what clients mean when they talk about “voice.” This is the feeling readers get as they read the writing–the more “art” than “science” component of the manuscript. But even tone has some standard components to discuss with a client: Should the language be formal or informal? (This relates to the conjunction question, above.) Can you swear, or not? Should things be up-beat, or more somber?
  • Content: This may seem unrelated to voice, but the type of information you convey through a book or piece of writing is a big part of the voice of the author. The content itself matters. You can tell funny, inspiring stories, or stories that scare readers. You can include a lot of research or rely on broad anecdotes. A book about young leaders in politics written by a demographer would contain very different information than one written by a comedian. This component essentially helps determine what they want to say and why.

All of these components combine to make a unique product that the client can point to as wholly their own. Working through these different elements with a client can help to establish the voice up front and make a more seamless process for creating an excellent manuscript.

We need to pull back the curtain a bit on this voice process, for ourselves as ghostwriters as well as potential clients. They should understand the value of a deep, collaborative approach that covers much more than just the literal words on a page. Writing in this way can help to refine the author’s voice and not just create a great book, but help elevate the author’s brand, business or persona in the process. That’s the true value we can add as ghostwriters.

Jeff Raderstrong is a ghostwriter and collaborator who helps CEOs and other leaders to elevate their brand and achieve business goals. You can learn more about his work at

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Marcia Layton Turner


  1. Thomas Hauck on February 29, 2024 at 2:19 pm

    Excellent article! In my own ghostwriting practice, when a client asks me about “voice,” and if they should be concerned about it, I reply with two thoughts:

    1. People don’t write the way they speak. Writing is different and has its own rules.

    2. There’s good writing and bad writing. You’re going to get good writing. Good writing means no gratuitous filler, no wasted words. My job is to deliver your message to your reader, with sensitivity, clarity, accuracy, and yes, humor.

Leave a Comment