“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you,” said Maya Angelou, poet, singer, memoirist, and civil rights activist. The story gestates inside your very being and stirs your personal holy ghost, refusing to rest as discontent rattles the chains of your soul.
The story could be anything. It could be an inspirational memoir, a biography, an autobiography, creative fiction, non-fiction, a ‘faction’ (a mix of history and fiction), a legal thriller, a murder mystery or family drama, a how-to book about entrepreneurship, a novelette on leadership, the discovery of a cure of diabetes, a company’s brand or journey, or any combination of the foregoing, which would make it a blended hybrid.
But there’s one small problem. When you look in the mirror, you don’t see an author. You see someone who’s never written a book. Maybe you see someone who’s never even attempted to write a published article or push out an informative blog. You’re neither poet nor writer nor singer nor activist nor typist. That’s not what you do. Your life has taken a different course, away from the digital realm of keyboards, keystrokes and monitors…and because of it, you have something burning inside of you that must be told.
You may be a businessman or businesswoman. You may be an athlete or housewife or familyman or wealth manager. You may have risen from poverty through the thorns of hardship to great success, or you may have been born with a silver spoon in your mouth that you turned into gold – or truth. You may be a soldier or bodyguard or protector. You may have been weaned on academia or hardened from potholes on the bumpy streets of rock n roll.
You may be a politician or priest or mason or producer or financier or seer or doer acting on stage or screen or Ted Talks. You may love things or hate things or want things a different way and just wish wish wish the world would be a better place. You may be the kind of person who lives by a personal code of ethics devoted to reporting what breaks through rather than what breaks down. You may be magical or practical or march for justice just to rail!!!
You may even be the greatest orator or writer on planet earth – but you are the one-armed man or woman hanging wallpaper in a windstorm and don’t have the time to write a book whose agony throbs inside you. For all of you, ghostwriters were created. They were conceived to solve the exact challenge you face or from which you, thus far, have shrunk or faltered. The ghostwriter, in his/her small way, might well be your personal saviour.
My mind leaps to an example. The talented writer Lou Aronica has worked in publishing, editing, and authoring all his life. He’s a man who knows books and somewhere along the way he went into business with the legendary literary lion, Peter Miller, the lit agent/manager behind 1500+ published works of fiction and nonfiction (and also my own lit manager on a new Dion Fossey book). Peter’s client Sir Ken Robinson agonized from an untold story about educating children that he desperately wanted to tell. So Peter connected the two and a bestseller conceived in collaboration, The Element, was born.
The same thing has happened to me, most recently with Dr. John Burd, a biochemist renowned for co-founding DEXCOM. He yearned to tell his story on the discovery of Lysulin, a natural supplement that helps cure diabetes but has been resisted by the collusion of the ADA and Big Pharma. His partner Rob Vickery Googled for a ghostwriter and found me via The Books Factory (where I’ve hung an author’s slate). The three of us conceived, researched and wrote, In Search of Natural Support for Diabetes Wellness, and by the time you read this article, hopefully this important book will be rocketing up the bestseller charts.
So here you are, like Sir Ken or Dr. John and what you need is someone who will relish the act of penning your story under your name with or without his/her own credit. What you now desperately need is a ghostwriter who will unchain your melody and let your story sing to all those who will listen. And you know that the time has finally arrived, because you’ve put aside the budget and you’re ready to pull the trigger…but gosh, what do you do? How do you hire, find, and choose a ghostwriter?
Enter the inimitable and omniscient Checklist. Without the Checklist we would be bobbing about in a sea of darkness with neither sextant nor stars to guide us. And like every serious endeavor, there are things that must be done and things that should be avoided. So here I offer you what I would describe as the Essential Checklist for Finding, Hiring, and Selecting a Great Collaborative Ghostwriter, whether for yourself, your friend, your spouse, your family, or your client.
What is a Ghostwriter?
Starting with the basics is always the best place to begin, because we all possess uninformed assumptions, because in today’s world we all live in narrow silos of information, and because certain realities are nuanced. Technically, “a ghostwriter is hired to write literary or journalistic works, speeches, or other texts that are officially credited to another person as the author. Celebrities, executives, participants in timely news stories, and political leaders often hire ghostwriters to draft or edit autobiographies, memoirs, magazine articles, or other written material. In music, ghostwriters are often used to write songs, lyrics, and instrumental pieces. Screenplay authors can also use ghostwriters to either edit or rewrite their scripts to improve them.”
As a practical matter, however, a ghostwriter means more than the Wiki definition. In today’s world of easy self-publishing, a ghostwriter is – first and foremost – a collaborator. H/she will collaborate with you to get your life story and thoughts to paper or your prose to narrative. By collaboration, I mean working with you in whatever way you want or need to achieve your goal: a novel, a book, a brand, or topical authority. Some people have a very rough draft of a manuscript already written, or partially typed, but have hit it wall. Others have finished the book, nearly, but something is missing. Still others have only burning thoughts in their heads, and maybe a short outline of chapter headings – but nothing else.
This is the exact intersection at which a ghostwriter is your personal saviour. H/she will ride in on a white horse and enable you to get the book done and published. Sometimes you – “the Hiring Party” in the Writer’s Contract – are listed on the book jacket as the sole author. A Life of Abundance, by John Smith (you). Other times the ghostwriter is listed as a co-author, which means h/she is not a ghostwriter at all although that’s how the relationship started. A Life of Abundance, by John Smith (you) and Jane Doe (the ghostwriter). Or sometimes you straddle both worlds with what is commonly called “the with credit.” A Life of Abundance, by John Smith | with Steve Eggleston.
All of these relationships, either spelled our in the Writer’s Contract or agreed to verbally along the way, might initially begin with the Subject (you) searching the internet for “hire a ghostwriter” or “need ghostwriter for memoir” or “want ghost writer for autobiography,” because you don’t know any other way to describe it to Google.
How Do I Find a Ghostwriter?
Most people start with Google or one of the other search engines. Google is like Xerox back in the day. In the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, the Xerox brand was synonymous with the act of copying. “Would you Xerox a document for me?” people would say, rather than ask for a copy to be made from a copy machine that may or may not be Xerox. Now we say we’re Googling something when in fact we may be using Bing, Yahoo, Ask or some other search engine. And because of this phenomenon, Google may one day be what Xerox once was, leaping into general usage. “Honey, would you google me a shirt that goes with my blue jacket, please!” NOT!
So yes, Googling is how most people start and it can work quite well, but alas, the devil or his opposite is in the details. You’ll see Google ads at the top of your search results (like my own), followed by organically ranked author websites (like my own, SteveEgglestonWrites.com, complete with reviews of prior “ghostwritten” books), freelancer websites like Upwork, where I’m a Top Rated freelancer with dozens of 5-star reviews, and ghostwriting services websites like Gotham Ghostwriting in America, of which I’m a proud member, and London Ghostwriting in the United Kingdom/England, of which I’m also a proud member).
Were I to be honest (a phase cloned from a Sheffield client), or, were I to put myself in your shoes, I’d surf to the author websites first (whether via Google ads or organic SEO rankings). There you can read in depth about the author you might soon be collaborating with. And whatever you do, don’t just skim it over the website. Really dig into the site and overturn all of the tabs, going deep deep deep. Sure, always study the author’s prior samples along the way, but realize these are highly curated. Be assured that you will learn loads of things about your prospective collaborator by going through the whole website, soup to nuts, beyond the samples (and from those ghostwriters who are afraid to reveal any person aspects or vulnerabilities about themselves – run!).
Your time is valuable, but believe me, when it comes to hiring a great ghostwriting collaborator, learning about the person you are considering hiring is well worth the investment of a few hours. And even if you go through Upwork or an lit agency or writing service, you’ll only end up at an author’s website anyway when Upwork, the agency or the writing service connects you with ghostly prospects, all of whom will have an author website if they are ghostwriting professionals, (because ALL ghostwriting professionals have author or brand websites).
So Then, Now that I’m Here, Now that I’m Yearning to Hire a Ghostwriter, What Am I Looking for in the Perfect Ghostwriter?
Look for a true collaborator.
The two – ghostwriting and collaboration – intersect and advise each other like honey and butter on steaming hot Spelt bread. Certain people are collaborators; certain people are not. Unfortunately, since writing is a lonely sport, many writers – like artists generally – tend to be recluses, preferring the comfort of a quill or keyboard to the raucous contact sport of personal collaboration. This one trait separates most mainstream authors from most ghostwriting collaborators. And while the celebrated mainstream author will always fight to the death to twist a phrase just so, the collaborator must always be malleable, bending his/her will to perfect the view of the Subject (you)…for the book is yours, owned by you, and designed exclusively to achieve your ends or mission or sooth your agony.
Look for multi-faceted experience.
“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience,” Eleanor Roosevelt once said, and your ghostwriter – especially of memoirs – should embody these words like tailored apparel. You want your ghostwriter to be someone who has lived, for only by living can empathy and understanding bloom with wild colors and richness. And that is what the ghostwriter must have, in spades – wild colors and richness. H/she is ideally a person of the world, one with informed views and many capabilities…as your book is about to enter a universe of readers connected by the tap of a finger.
Experience in the process of ghostwriting collaboration is, without question, an absolute must. You want to find solid evidence of prior books written about different times and places and slices of life, proving the capability of your prospective collaborative ghostwriter to be both highly adaptive and yet as invisible on the stucco wall as the wily chameleon. The ghostwriter should intuitively and naturally move between titles and subjects and genres, evincing strength and diversity and versatility, because you and your book will be like no other. The last thing you want, is to sound like someone else.
Which brings me to a particular pencil in the cup upon which I’d like to put a sharpened point. In the reviews of the ghostwriter’s prior works, focus maniacally on how well the ghostwriter has captured the true voice of the Subject who hired him/her, as revealed by the Subject or others who know him/her. In this regard, I’m particularly proud of this review given by someone who knew the Subject as his priest, and who honoured us by reading the inspirational memoir, Conquering Your Adversities, by Dr. Kenneth Polke | with Steve Eggleston:
“Conquering Your Adversities is delightful. Ken Polke writes in the manner and style in which I have encountered him—engaging, smart, and reflective. Not only does he give readers insight into the Boomer generation, but his reflective questions at the end of each chapter give readers an opportunity to go deeper into their lives to make clearer choices for their futures. These questions come out of the author’s faith background and are both self-help and spiritually-oriented. As a Catholic priest who lived through the years Ken writes about, I recommend this book for enjoyment and for the spiritual and historical journey you will encounter in its pages.”
— Father Raymond Thomas, Pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Ashtabula, Ohio
Needless to say, this kind of review should be your ghost’s #1 goal, and when it comes down this way, it separates good from great.
Also Look for great reviews.
The ghostwriter you hire should have loads of great reviews, not just as an exceptional author and wordsmith adroit at penning a phrase, but equally as an energetic and robust collaborator.
Now, when I use the word great, I don’t mean great in a literary sense. Great writers of fiction and Pulitzer Prize winning novelists and biographers rarely offer themselves up as ghostwriting collaborators, though you will get their attention if you are prepared to pull out your black AmEx and give away loads of royalty points. The most notable example of this phenomenon that comes to mind is award-winning author Tony Schwartz, who was paid $500,000 cash and half the royalties to write President Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal, a book so powerful that it has been said Trump never would have been elected President without it!
An artist’s reviews can usually be found in a combination of places:, so don’t be afraid to look for them all: the author’s own website , the book’s dedicated website, a company website where the book is featured, the Subject’s personal website, and the articles/blogs written by or written about the author’s writing process or the author himself. In all of these I use my own examples (click any or all of the hyperlinks to see), only because it is easier and demonstrates my point.
On my own website, I even have a tab dedicated to “What Do Steve’s Clients Say,” where you can find reviews of my collaborative acumen (of which I’m quite proud as I really try to invest my heart, soul and writing into the Subject and his/her story). Here is an example of a collaboration review given about me by my now dear friend, the absolutely amazing Steeve Simbert, who rose from poverty in Haiti to become the first Haitian and Haitian-American to ever obtain a Master’s Degree from the University of Oxford’s vaunted school of government:
“I want to begin by thanking my dear friend, Steve Eggleston. Steve has provided me with the treasured feedback I needed while writing my memoir. At all hours of the night, I contacted Steve to discuss the innumerable ideas that bounced back and forth in my head like ping pong balls. Steve helped me remain focused on a vision greater than myself. His infectious personality and the positive influence of his belief in my potential inspired me to write the best manuscript I could write. Without Steve’s exceptional lens and perspectives, I would not have been able to realize my dream memoir. In this process, I sharpened my craft in the beautiful art of writing and grew as a writer by following the footsteps of this acclaimed author and illustrious gentleman of the first order.”
— Steeve Simbert, Finding Hope in Chaos
Look for wide credentials.
I use the word credentials in the broadest way imaginable, not just school or book smarts, though we should start there. For books that have a technical basis, it is invaluable to have a ghostwriter who also has a post-graduate degree in the subject involved or at the very least very extensive experience in the field.
If you are a lawyer, solicitor, judge, or someone working in the legal profession, and you want a ghostwriter to collaboratively guide you through your memoir so you don’t make the cardinal mistake that people in the legal profession make (self-gloating, bragging, talking only about the law, not revealing any weaknesses or faults, lacking in humbleness and humility), which are irresistible to the legal breed (this article, you could say, is an eloquent symptom! lol, if I were being honest) – you should not hire a ghostwriter uneducated in the nooks and crannies of the law. There is no way most non-lawyer ghostwriters could ever navigate the esoteric, odd, and arcane terrain.
The law is a many splendored thing, however, and where a wider social justice or injustice is involved, non-lawyers have excelled. While Vincent Bugliosi (a seasoned prosecutor) wrote Helter Skelter, the Charlie Manson story that became the biggest-selling true crime book of all time, Truman Capote wrote In Cold Blood (the second biggest-selling true crime story of all time) in the wake of Breakfast at Tiffany’s (a New York gossip novel), and his friend, the struggling wannabe non-lawyer author Harper Lee, wrote To Kill a Mockingbird, considered one of the greatest pieces of literature ever written (and so successful she was set for life and never wrote another book).
There are other topics where credentials make a world of difference, like health and diabetes and technology and cybersecurity. After I ghostwrote The Food Mafia, I followed it with two books on health and diabetes (The Fast Diabetes Solution, by Suzanne Ridley | with Steve Eggleston, and Dr Burd’s book referenced earlier), making me quite knowledgeable in these technical fields, as well as U.S./American food policy and holistic health generally. As for tech and cybersecurity, I cut my teeth by co-writing a cyber-thriller with an ex-MI6 agent (think “Bond, James Bond”), then became the exclusive content writer for WindtalkerSecurity.com, the company the leads the field of infosecurity for lawyers and the legal profession, where me being a law school Valedictorian, former law professor and seasoned trial lawyer (see my legal bio on my author website), has made that world of difference.
That said, in less technical fields the credentials that matter are less about doctorates and summa cum laude statuses than having proven life experience, proven analytical experience, proven practical experience, and a pre-existing capability of understanding the material to be covered in the book (or at least a good working understanding drawn from time spent, papers written, books read, and the like). The last thing you want is a ghostwriter who is still learning the basics as you’re trying to relate the nuances of the story being told.
Hire for energy, productiveness, and optimism.
Writing a book, especially someone else’s book, is a big job. The ghostwriter doesn’t need to be a Gold medal winner in the triathlon, but having a history as a marathon runner or mountain climber might not hurt. (See my own Passions and Activities, for example. I’ve climbed Mount Shasta’s 14,000 feet three times, swam Alcatraz three times, and run three marathons for Team N Training), or here for why writers are often long-distance runners or martial arts fanatics.) I say this tongue-in-cheek, admittedly, though not entirely. While I’ve written many books energetically in six months’ time, if I were honest, I’d admit that several have taken years. Not because I didn’t show up to work, but because writing a book (from the Subject’s viewpoint) can be painful, difficult, cathartic, and difficult to fit into the rigors of life.
One fellow wanted to write an inspirational book about business, but in the process of writing the book it turned out he had been molested by his brother for three years running as a young child…and thus the book transmogrified into a story of pain, healing and recovery. Another Subject sold his business and moved back to his hometown after taking several months well-deserved vacation, right in the middle of the book. Still another lost her mother to time and disease and the start of the book got delayed, as she underwent her own spiritual journey and reckoning with the loss of someone she loved dearly. The examples are endless, but collaborating with an author with tenacity, metal, persistence, gumption, and stay-with-it-ness – will pay off in the long run, I promise you.
Passion cannot be under-emphasized.
Here passion means much more than excitement about the topic of the book. Sure, that’s all well and good, and you want someone who is passionate about cooking to help you write a cookbook (I’ve written two and I love to cook for our family of five – it helped greatly). But there are many more levels to passion. Cynics can be passionate about cooking, but negative about everything else. In my opinion, great ghostwriting collaborators (as opposed to great literary writers) are passionate about helping you achieve your goal. That goal may far exceed writing a great book. So you are looking for passion on many many levels.
Passion and a zest for living reside deeply in a great ghostwriting collaborator. This person will love you for your journey, find fascination in the subject matter of your story, be eager to learn and take on new things, always be open to differing points of view and seeing things in a new and different light, and be a bit of perfectionist as to what matters (and I don’t mean copyediting, because that’s a totally different person than a great collaborating ghostwriter).
So there we have it, the Essential Checklist for Finding, Hiring, and Selecting a Great Collaborative Ghostwriter. I’m sorry it’s not more cut-and-dry, but if you are fortunate enough to find a collaborating ghostwriter who embodies most of these qualities, you are guaranteed a great book (though no book is flawless). These qualities could even be described as The Ten Commandments of Hiring a Ghostwriter, though they don’t add up to any particular number.
Check off all of the items on this Essential Hire-a-Great-Collaborator-Ghostwriter Checklist and your story will emerge with wings that will fly you to the moon at God’s speed. And of course, though it may pain some, always remember this trite-but-enormously-true caveat: you will get what you pay for. So be prepared to pay what you’re worth to your ghostwriter — not a penny less, and not a penny more.