What is your ghostwriting process?
What is your ghostwriting process?
Clients unfamiliar with publishing often ask ghostwriters to talk about their “work process,” or how the writing will be done. What I think they’re really asking, however, is how, exactly, their thoughts will flow onto the printed page of a book or into an insightful blog post by way of the ghostwriter’s brain and typing fingers.
It’s a valid question, especially since many ghostwriting clients struggle with writing and have difficulty formulating any kind of written document.
So what do you tell prospects? How do you describe what you do?
Since this is such an important factor to potential clients, it’s essential for you to have a clearly articulated answer at-the-ready. How about taking a few minutes to break down how you do what you do, so you can describe it to someone who is not a writer?
Some of the aspects of your process that you’ll want to address and describe include:
- How do you gather information? Do you prefer to meet in-person or do you talk by phone, through video, or do you have email exchanges?
- How frequently do you schedule input sessions to get the information you need? Do you travel to sit with your client for a full week, recording every discussion? Do you schedule lengthy phone conferences? Do you send long email questionnaires for your client to complete? Do you set aside time every week, or every other week, to talk through information?
- How long are these discussions? Do you spend full days in meetings interviewing clients or are the phone interviews one hour, two hours, three hours? What kind of time should the client expect to have to invest, is what they’re really asking.
- Do you provide an agenda, or questions in advance of any input session? Or do you go where the conversation naturally takes you?
- How do you gather the information? Do you record the in-person meetings or phone calls? If so, do you transcribe them yourself or do you have a transcriptionist do the work? Or do you take copious notes by hand?
- Do you outsource any of the work? That is, do you have subcontractors involved in any aspect of the information gathering, writing, or editing? Who are they? What are their qualifications?
- Do you create an outline? Is the client involved in the outline creation? How long does that take? How many iterations do you typically go through before finalizing the outline?
- How long does it take for you to write a draft of the work? Are we talking hours, days, or weeks?
- When do you work? Are you available to the client 24/7, or do you have boundaries around work and non-work hours? How quickly do you respond to client calls or emails?
- Do you like to get feedback from the client on the current draft before proceeding to the next book chapter or blog post? Or do you prefer to wait until all the components are done and then circle back?
- Do you do any research if it is needed? Is that included in your price quote? What kinds of research can you do – interviews or internet searches?
- When is your job done? That is, at what point do you hand the completed product back to the client? After a round of edits? After two rounds? More? Do you guarantee that the client will be satisfied with your work?
- What do you do to match the client’s voice? Since ghostwriting is all about making a written piece sound like the client, how do you put yourself in their shoes in order to write like they do, or sound like they do? What are your tactics?
- When will you be paid? Are you paid in full at the start of the project? In full at the completion of the project, or according to mutually-agreed-upon milestones? Do you continue to work while you’re waiting for payment?
In nearly every conversation I’ve had with potential clients, they have asked me to describe my work process, or how I’d propose that we work together.
Being able to confidently describe how you prefer to work, as well as other approaches you have taken when clients have requested it, demonstrates to clients that not only are you an experienced ghostwriter, but that you are capable of guiding them through the entire publishing process.
Huge topic, Marcia. But here’s some of it in brief.
A book has two components: the conception and the execution. Conception comes first. “What do you want to create? What’s the vision of the finished product?”
I work backwards. “If this book succeeds to your fondest hopes, what will that look like?” For business, it’s profits, brand positioning, drawing customers, passing on my legacy/wisdom or similar. For academics, it may be sharing my thesis research with a wider audience of non-experts. For individuals, it may be telling my story to my family so they understand me and know their origins.
I use the acronym A-I-R Audience Information Response
The fundamental questions I ask are,
“What is the effect you want to produce in your target audience?”
“Where are the eyeballs connected to the brains you want to influence?”
“What are the hot buttons in your audience that you must push to stand the best chance of eliciting the response(s) you want?”
I explain to the client I use this and similar information to guide me in making the choices I always have of what to say, how to say it and where to say it, which includes the outline structure.
I always want to work from an outline structure, because I hate working hard at creating an unusable mess. I want to know where I have to go in order to decide how to get there. (I have ADD and do not live my life this way. I have impulses not plans, but I don’t write for money that way.)
Mostly I do it by email, because it gives me records to refer to. Some clients cannot do that and prefer phone or in person. But I rarely draft text in the presence of the client and I NEVER want to negotiate contract terms on the phone. That’s risky, especially with narcissistic or very controlling people.
I talk with the client as often as needed, usually with specific questions. Fishing expeditions are for the beginning only.
I do not outsource, but the next time I have a substantial non-fiction book, I will get a professional to index it and maybe to proofread it.
“How long for a draft” is too general. I work as fast as I can, because I have an intense desire for closure. Unfinished work or problems yet to be solved give me discomfort. Once the tasks are there, I want to get on with it and answer the nagging question, “Can I pull this off to my satisfaction and the client’s?” When I don’t know what to do, I hesitate. So I make it as clear to myself as I can, and I press the client to help me know what I need to do, but not how to do it. That’s for me.
I tell clients there are two types of time: goal time and clock time. I prefer goal time (work until it reaches the standard you aim for.) Clients often impose clock time (work until the time is up.)
To draft an entire book can be 2-3 months, depending on what the client brings me. I usually show work in progress to make adjustments and corrections. I think chapter by chapter works.
I work whenever with a few boundaries. I live in California, Pacific time. I don’t work on the Jewish Sabbath, 25 hours from before sundown Friday to after sundown Saturday. I also take off the important Jewish holidays that we treat like the sabbath: New Year, Day of Atonement, Passover and a couple others. I aim to have family dinner at home from, say, 6-8 p.m. In the Spring and Summer I play baseball on Sundays. I respond as quickly as possible, the same day if I can. I alert clients in advance when I am not able to work.
For me, I am not finished until it is as good as I can make it. Clients often want to settle for less.
I often work on a small piece at an agreed price payable in advance. If the client is happy and wants to hire me, I estimate a project price paid in thirds, (start, middle and end.) “Approval not to be unreasonably withheld.”
Research as needed, but if it’s too difficult or time-consuming, I would refer it out. I am not a professional researcher.
Matching the client’s voice is essential but tricky. His spoken voice is less formal than his writing or should be. Sometimes I have to give him a version of his voice that works best for his audience and will not embarrass him. Also, the client is within an industry, group or community. I might look at how his people talk in writing among themselves or to their audience. In the back and forth of the review process, it will get resolved so it works for the audience while feeling right to him.
Even briefer: You tell me your goal. I consult with you on how to achieve it. You tell me what I need to know. I structure and write it. Together we do additions, deletions and corrections until we get it right. You pay as agreed.
I agree it’s really important to be clear on the process – clients want to feel they’re in the hands of someone who knows what they’re doing.
I am very strategic with my business book ghostwriting, so we have an initial session in which we pin down their goals, audience and content. After that I interview them on Skype every 2-3 weeks, sending them first draft chapters as I go along. Then I re-draft and send them the whole manuscript as a second draft, after which there is one more round of changes.