Tips for Hiring a Ghostwriter

By Erick Mertz

Finding the right professional service provider for your needs is often tricky. This can be especially true when it comes to hiring a ghostwriter for your writing project.

What makes hiring a ghostwriter so tricky?

One reason is this: published rates are difficult to find. Then on the off chance you are able to find them, they vary wildly, making you wonder whether any two providers are offering the same service.

Finding what a ghostwriter costs isn’t like finding a new car. In vehicle shopping, price comparisons are as easy as watching a few television commercials, or looking at the want ads. When it comes to reputations for common, everyday services, like a mechanic for your ailing car, your friends and neighbors probably have a good idea who to go to (and who to stay away from).

For all these reasons, a high quality ghostwriter can seem a little harder to get a read on. There are far fewer of us out there, and what we do is more subjective than say that mechanic whose role in getting you from here to there is relatively simple.

In my professional experience, hiring a ghostwriter comes down to one thing: conducting the highest quality interview you can. I think this is so important, I wrote a book about the topic for potential customers to consider. Scrolling through the web, looking at snazzy websites, can only get you so far in the narrowing down process. If you’re about to hire a ghostwriter, and unsure what you need to do next, here are six tips for how to get the best pro for your project:

Know The Service You’re Looking For

Here is a scenario. A new client establishes contact through my website. They want to schedule a free 30-minute phone call to talk about the possibility of our working together. But when we get on the line, they’re uncertain about what services they’re looking for.

Is it ghostwriting? Is it developmental editing?

This happens more often than I could have imagined when I started out.

Go back to the example involving the car. When you’re stuck on the roadside and can’t get going the need is simple: you know you need a mechanic to get going.

Writing is a little more complicated.

Before jumping on that call, figure out the services you’re looking for. Confusion makes for a tough start between ghostwriter and client. Know what you need and you’re more likely to get it.

Feel Comfortable For Taking Control

Sometimes when a prospective client and I are in the midst of the interview process, I get the sense that they are deferring to me. They’re looking at me as an expert. They worry about wasting my time. I sense they’re uncomfortable asserting what they want for their project.

I try to convey a desire to engage in mutual learning whenever I meet with new clients. They’ve contacted me because they see me as the ghostwriting expert (which is accurate). But I quickly remind them that they’re the expert on their story. I can’t write your story without you.

When you interview a ghostwriter, the way I like to characterize the best connection is shared control. Give and take on ideas. Openly sharing needs and expectations.

Remember a very important reality: whoever you end up hiring, you are going to need to work with them on a deep, extensive level. Therefore you need to feel in control of where your project goes. 

Ask Questions When You’re Unclear

There is nothing more difficult than realizing that professional expectations are unclear. This is especially true when dealing with a ghostwriting agreement. Before signing that all important contract, you need to know what you’re getting into.

Let me share an example of where this can go wrong.

Early in my career, I contracted with someone for a simple job. I was going to proofread their non-fiction manuscript and then, when she was happy with it, format it for publication on Amazon. She described some terrible experiences with one of those “all in one” book publishers, spending a terrible lot of money before receiving a product that was not what she wanted. So she came to me.

It turns out that the “all-in-one” publisher she worked with charged her an arm and a leg for a deluxe package for formatting a book when all she wanted was someone to guide her when it came to printing and publishing. There was no need to go through the whole process of book design! She liked what she had already and just needed someone to guide her at the very last stages of publication.

Her story made me sad. The client was embarrassed to tell me that she had been sold. The salesperson she had spoken to had bowled her over and, when the time came to ask questions, she didn’t feel comfortable asking them. They were using terminology she didn’t know and, unfortunately, paid for services that she did not need.

Don’t let this happen to you. If you know what you need and ask questions when you encounter something you’re not clear on, you won’t get stuck paying more for more… or less.

References Versus Samples: Which Do You Want?

This always feels like a thorny call to make. What do you need to see from a ghostwriter as a proof of concept? Samples of their writing? Or would it be wiser to talk to their references?

I’ll come right out and say: I think you want to talk to references.

Writing samples are great. Don’t get me wrong, I love showing mine off. I can offer quite a stack of published books, both under my byline and as a ghostwriter. The trouble with using those examples as a proof of concept is that they are only examples of my talent. They show you how well I write.

They say nothing about what it’s like to work with me.

References allow you, the prospective client, to talk to someone like you. You can hear first hand what the experience of working with the ghostwriter is like.

Lets go back to that broken down car example. More than anything, I want to know the mechanine that my friends trusted enough to go to. Who did they like? What was the full experience of working with them like? In my estimation, positive feedback from another customer is a far better predictor of future success than a sample.

Don’t Worry: It’s OK To Talk About Money

Everything in the feeling out process comes down, in some ways, to money. A ghostwriter is a paid professional scribe, meaning, in order for you to work with that person, there will need to be an exchange of money for an agreed upon service.

How much you should pay a ghostwriter is a subject worthy of a blog all its own. I won’t try and cover that here, however, I can offer a big tip.

Talk about money. Talk about it early. Do not, under any circumstances, shy away.

Some ghostwriters post their rates on their website. Maybe you found someone you like through a service where their hourly, per page, or project rate were public. Some ghostwriters don’t; most in fact, keep that kind of information private on their sites, making it a necessary topic of conversation.

Go into the interview knowing your budget. Expect that any professional ghostwriter will also come to the interview knowing what they charge for that service. There are no hard and fast rules around what a ghostwriter is allowed to charge, however, if the rates are too much higher or lower than these, you should really think things through.

Shop Around

Here is where the mechanic example breaks down (pun intended). Whenever you hire a ghostwriter, unless you’re in a very rare situation of needing words pronto, you have time.

How do you use that to your advantage?

Take your time and shop around. The best client/ghostwriter relationships I’ve ever experienced come as the product of good rapport. We took the time to get acquainted. We came to a place of trust. The client shopped around and found that their feeling of rapport was mutual.

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Marcia Layton Turner


  1. Kevin James waldroup on March 1, 2024 at 4:51 am

    “Some ghostwriters post their rates on their website. Maybe you found someone you like through a service where their hourly, per page, or project rate were public. Some ghostwriters don’t; most in fact, keep that kind of information private on their sites, making it a necessary topic of conversation”

    This is probably the biggest mistake most ghostwriter. If I if you give your rates out on your website I can figure out If I can unfold you. if I can’t and I fell in love with you I would simply save up the money to be able to pay you. I do notice the ones that post their rates on their websites are the ones that always seem to be contact me back in 6 weeks.

    Thank you for the great article.
    Thank you for the great article

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