Guest Post: What You Should Know Before Hiring a Ghostwriter to Pen Your Memoir

Rob Swystun

By Rob Swystun

First off, let me just say that you have absolutely lived a fascinating life. Your accomplishments deserve to be hailed and your trials and tribulations deserve to be recognized. With that out of the way, it pains me to inform you that regardless of how interesting your life is, your chances of having a book traditionally published about it are basically zero. 

In this blog post, we will discuss why that is the case and what options you have if you still want a book published about your life (or the life of someone you know). 

It’s not you, it’s the business

Traditional book publishers are businesses and businesses need to make money to survive. The main reason your life story will likely not interest a traditional book publisher is because a book about your life probably won’t make them any money. 

Every book a publisher decides to publish is a risk for them. Essentially, they are investing their money in editing a manuscript and printing a book with the intention of recouping and making a return on that investment. 

With a fictional story, even if it is written by an unknown writer, it’s the story that the publisher is investing in. A publisher can receive a good manuscript and hand it off to an editor to work with the writer and turn it into a great manuscript. This may involve changing the direction of the story, emphasizing background characters and bringing them to the foreground, cutting characters completely, altering events or timelines, or any other number of editing decisions to make the story shine. 

With a fictional story, this isn’t a problem because everything is completely made up and there is no truth that you need to adhere to. Anything goes in fiction. 

But, it’s not the same with nonfiction. With nonfiction, like a life story, you can’t just change whatever you want to make the story better because it has to (or, at least it’s supposed to) adhere to the truth. You have less wiggle room with nonfiction to create the most compelling story possible. 

This is why it’s easier for publishers to gamble on unknown fiction writers, because they are betting on the story, which they (in conjunction with the writer) have much more control over to make them money. 

When it comes to nonfiction, it’s a bigger gamble because they have less control over the story if they want to present something factual, like someone’s life story. With someone’s autobiography or memoir, you can change the writing to be more compelling, but you have to keep the story the same. If you change the story, you’ve gone from nonfiction to fiction. 

Built-in audiences

We know that autobiographies and memoirs get published all the time. There is usually an entire section for them in bookstores. If you were to peruse this section at any given bookstore, you would notice that all the autobiographies and memoir authors have something in common; you have heard of them. 

These authors all have some form of notoriety. They may be famous actors or actresses, legendary musicians, prominent sports stars, recognizable politicians, or they may even just be internet famous somehow. 

The point is that these people come with a measurable built-in audience and you don’t. 

As the name implies, a built-in audience is a large group of people (hundreds of thousands to millions) who know the author and – more importantly to the publisher – will buy something written by the author. A publisher wants to know that they can count on a certain percentage of an author’s built-in audience to buy the book outright. As in, they see the author’s name and they buy the book without a second thought. 

Authors with built-in audiences are less of a gamble for publishers because the publisher has a greater chance of recouping and making money on their investment in the book. 

This doesn’t just go for authors who want to write autobiographies or memoirs. This goes for virtually any nonfiction book. Publishers either want the person writing the book or the subject matter of the book to have a built-in audience that will guarantee sales of the book. 

When authors pitch nonfiction books to publishers, one of the most important aspects of the pitch is demonstrating that the author (or the subject) has enough of a following that there are going to be some guaranteed sales. 

So, someone who has amassed a large following, either online, or via speaking tours, or by being in front of the public on a regular basis, is going to have an easier time getting their book published than someone who is completely unknown. Or, if you want to write a book about a specific subject, and you can prove that that subject has a large enough audience, you are going to have an easier time writing about that than a niche subject with a small audience. 

What can you do? 

If you are someone who has lived an interesting life and you feel like enough of the general public would pay to read about your life to make it worth writing a book, you can gauge interest from publishers by sending them a book proposal. 

Writer and publishing expert Jane Friedman says this about book proposals:

“A book proposal argues why your book (idea) is salable and marketable in today’s market. It essentially acts as a business case for why your book should exist, and—for many authors—persuades a publisher to make an investment in your work before you sit down to write it.”

Keep in mind that a book proposal is not just a one or two page document. They are usually dozens of pages long, and may require some sample chapters to be written. If you are already looking for a ghostwriter for your book, chances are that you will likely need a ghostwriter for your book proposal, as well. But, again, unless you can make a really compelling argument that your book would be a good investment, it may not be worth it to invest in a book proposal. 

Another route you may consider is self-publishing. 

With self-publishing, you are responsible for the entire cost of the book, any copies of it that get printed, and its marketing and promotion. 

The good news is that you get to have full control over your own manuscript. However, you will almost certainly take a financial loss on your memoir, unless you can parlay it into a speaking tour or something that will help you to recoup the costs. Generally speaking, though, if you simply want to have your memoir written and published, you are probably going to lose money with self-publishing. 

According to Reedsy, a marketplace of publishing professionals that help independent authors develop their own books, the average price to self-publish a book in 2024 is between US$2,820 and US$5,360. This amount includes things like editing, book jacket design, and some promotion. It does not include ghostwriting. If you add in ghostwriting, the price is easily going to be in the tens of thousands. 

Hybrid publishing is a third option that combines elements of both traditional publishing and self-publishing. A simplified explanation is that a hybrid publisher shares the cost of developing a book with the author. With this model, you will be expected to pitch in some money.

Should you write your memoir or autobiography anyway?


That is, yes if you want to do it and you are cognizant of the fact that it most likely won’t be traditionally published and you will likely have to bear the full cost of having it produced, edited, printed, promoted and distributed. (And, again, if you hire a ghostwriter, these costs will be in the tens of thousands of dollars.)

Writing a memoir doesn’t necessarily have to be for sale to the general public. Plenty of people want to write a memoir to leave a lasting legacy for their own families to be able to read. If you can afford it and you are interested in leaving a personal book for your loved ones, then go ahead. 

On the other hand, if you want to try and sell your story to the general public, it would be better to gauge interest from publishers beforehand with a well-written book proposal (which you can hire a ghostwriter for). 

This blog post is not meant to dissuade you from writing your memoir if you really want to. It is meant to give you a more accurate picture of what is likely to happen if you decide to do so. Your life may fit into a niche interest category that could help your book to get published. For example, if you are a veteran and you have interesting combat stories, there is a built-in audience for interesting war stories, so you could use that to your advantage. 

If you are truly interested in hiring a ghostwriter to write your autobiography, then go ahead and do it. Just know what you are getting into before you start.

Thank you for taking the time to read my piece. In addition to writing my own fiction and doing business writing for various corporations, I am also a journalist and a ghostwriter. Based in Winnipeg, I ghostwrite nonfiction business and thought leadership books, as well as fiction books in most genres. If you would like to learn more about me and potentially work together, please see my profile here on the Association of Ghostwriters site or visit my website at

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Marcia Layton Turner

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