How to work with co-authors and ghostwriters

When you’re writing a book, report, professional paper or other large writing project, you’ll often find yourself working in a team either with a co-author or a ghostwriter. Needless to say that involves developing some sort of relationship with them.

ghostwriters and co-authors

People who use ghostwriters are not necessarily bad at writing.

Here we take a look at how these relationships can work – or not!

Co-authors

I have the experience of working with a co-author on two of my books. In both cases we split the proceeds 50-50, and I believe that’s customary when both co-authors contribute equal amounts to the project. This issue can be a tricky one if you don’t know what to watch out for, especially as people are likely to have differing views on what constitutes 50% of the effort.

One expert and one (topic-literate) writer

In the first case, on The Jewellery Book, I worked with a jeweller/gemmologist. That turned out well because our skills and input were complementary. He provided all the technical content and I provided the pastoral content, plus I did all the writing, which was a reasonable 50-50 split.

We worked to a very detailed chapter structure, and would sit down with a voice recorder once a week or so. During each session I would “interview” my co-author in accordance with the structure and so obtain the technical material needed. After he had gone home I would then write up the chapter concerned, which he and I would then edit as needed. No problems.

Two experts (both professional writers)

The second co-authored book (my fourth) was Writing Words That Sell. Although it was my concept and structure, the content was written jointly with a US colleague who at the time worked in almost exactly the same fields as I did.

On reflection this was not a good idea, as we were equally qualified to write most chapters – perhaps a case of “too many cooks spoil the broth” and certainly, too much crossover. We carved the chapters up more or less 50-50 and shared them out, but inevitably there were differences in style and approach.

In the end I took over editorship of the co-author’s work and re-aligned his material so that it more closely matched the tone of the book, although I didn’t change his style. He didn’t mind my doing this but it was a lot of extra work for me.

In my experience, then, co-authorship works well when there is a rapport between the authors but each one supplies a different/complementary skill set. When both authors do similar things and can virtually replace each other, however, it doesn’t necessarily work out so well.

If you are considering writing a book with someone else, it’s worth working into your planning process (see later on) exactly who does what, and on what criteria you both will agree on structure, content, editing and so-on. It may not seem important to set the guidelines early but trust me, it’s worth doing right up front. This way you avoid disputes and misunderstandings.

Ghostwriters

If you really can’t face the prospect of writing a book yourself, there is always the option to hire someone to do it for you. Good ghostwriters charge a lot of money for doing the job, and quite rightly: usually it represents months of extremely hard work. If you find someone willing to ghostwrite a book for you cheaply, be careful because they may not be very good.

A bad ghostwriter still costs money but in the end you have to do most of it yourself or hand over an inferior manuscript to be edited by your publisher. If you’re self-publishing you may need to hire a freelance editor to sort out the mess or worse still, not be aware that the text is awful and publish it unedited.

The people who use ghostwriters are not necessarily bad at writing. Many are very good at writing but because they have other more important tasks to deal with (e.g. running major corporations, countries, etc) they simply don’t have time to write their own stuff. In these cases it makes economic sense to pay someone else to do it, even if they do charge a lot of money.

Not quite so ghostly

Some ghostwriters will charge a little less if their name appears on the book. Variants of this concept are:

  • by (Your Name) and (Ghostwriter’s Name)
  • by (Your Name) with (Ghostwriter’s Name)

Sometimes the ghostwriter will accept a combination consisting, perhaps, of a lower fee and a percentage of your royalties. Also the ghostwriter may want a credit on the book as “edited by…” It’s all down to negotiation.

Ghostwriters aren’t all that easy to find. Because people who use ghostwriters don’t normally want anyone else to know they’ve used one, ghostwriters’ wares do not tend to get advertised widely. Probably the best way to find one is to ask your trade publishers, if you have gone that route, or if you’re self-publishing contact a professional assisted publishing services company and ask them.

Check and get to know your ghost

You can also run a search on the web, of course, but check the person’s credentials before you contact them. Then invest some quality time in getting to know them. Good chemistry is very important if you’re going to work this closely with someone.

How you work with a ghostwriter, again, varies enormously according to their methods and your availability. What is true universally, though, is that you will need to allocate quite a lot of time to work with the ghostwriter, even though that is far less than you would need to write the book yourself.

Often ghostwriters are journalists and because of their training they can do a lot of research and background assembly of material for you. But usually what makes a book interesting is the “author’s” own spin on the subject matter.

And no matter how good the ghostwriter is they are not psychic and cannot become you. You need to provide them with the raw material they need to craft your book, and be generous with it.

Punchline: with co-authors try to work with someone who has skills complementary to yours. Duplication can lead to disagreement. With ghostwriters, check their references carefully and take time to develop a rapport with them before parting with your money.

What experience do you have of working with a co-author or ghostwriter?

Please share your thoughts!

This article is excerpted from Suzan St Maur’s forthcoming title, How To Write Your First Nonfiction Book, to be published later in 2019 by HowToWriteBetterBooks.com

Comments

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Thoughts

  1. This article was illuminating. I met a woman on a writing site and found we live a few miles from each other. As I read her book posts on line it became evident she’d never read any books on writing. She received a lot of good advice and loved my suggestions for her story. We worked together to improve it.
    She came to me one day and told me she loved everything I wrote for her and would I consider rewriting her book. (350 pages).
    We worked out a deal. I cut, edited and rewrote her story to a point. Now she has to decide how she wants to move forward with her story.
    If she wants another rewrite. I’ll probably have to renegotiate the price. I don’t mind helping but writing takes a lot of time, even though I enjoy it.

    • Hi Christina – in your shoes I wouldn’t hesitate to expect a fair fee for whatever further work you do on your friend’s book. If her book is to be published and you feel it will sell well, you might offer to work on it for a slightly lower fee but with a percentage of her royalties. This is quite common practice: I have a similar arrangement on books I have edited and some are still reeling in the royalties several years later!
      You could also expect to have your name on the cover and title information, e.g. “by (HER NAME) with Christina Weaver” or “by (HER NAME) edited by Christina Weaver.”
      Whatever arrangement you choose please be sure that it’s detailed properly in a written agreement.
      And good luck! Sz

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