Business Ghostwriters: A Practical Introductory Guide

Throughout history, people have used ghostwriters for everything from writing political speeches to creating poetry, novels and screenplays.

Today, ghostwriters are more likely to be found fronting for celebrities, sports figures, and executives—people who, for whatever reason, can benefit from the expertise and skillset that a talented, professional writer can deliver.

A business ghostwriter is the behind-the-scenes content creator. They produce text for the CEO, founder, and/or company without credit. They may be someone within the business’s marketing department, a freelancer, or someone who works with a full-service business PR agency.

Should you work with a ghostwriter with experience in your industry?

One question that often comes up in discussions of hiring a business ghostwriter is whether to look for someone with knowledge and experience in your field. While many ghostwriters specialize—say, in the healthcare or energy industry—others learn on the job. Both have their advantages and disadvantages.

For example, working with a ghostwriter who has experience in your industry can save time, since they’ll already be familiar with issues and jargon particular to your field. On the other hand, a ghostwriter who is new to writing about your profession can bring perspectives from outside areas to your concerns and ideas.

An important rule of thumb is to consider your audience. If you’re looking to reach IT professionals with an article about how new cooling technology can enhance data center efficiency, for example, you’ll benefit from using a specialized writer. But if your goal is to make a topic accessible to a broad, general audience, then it can be advantageous to work with a general interest writer with experience across sectors.

Benefits of hiring a ghostwriter

Odds are, if you’ve read or come across a celebrity memoir it’s been ghostwritten. Two recent examples are Britney Spears’ The Woman in Me and Prince Harry’s Spare. It’s likely that neither book could have been written without the help of a professional writer. At the very least, the end result would have been far different from the books that climbed the bestseller lists.

For celebrities as well as business leaders, one of the main advantages of working with a ghostwriter is time-management. Most busy professionals don’t have the time or knowledge to properly manage a social media account never mind write a book.

Another benefit to business leaders of working with ghostwriters is that the ghostwriter can create content for and manage social media channels as well as write blog posts, newsletters, website copy, company profiles, speeches, emails, op-eds, and more. Their skills at storytelling and ability to turn your ideas into accessible articles and posts can help expand your reach, establish your thought leadership brand, and open up earned media opportunities.

Ghostwriters are also adept at cutting through the jargon that business leaders use with their peers but which might not be understood by the general public. Likewise, a pro ghost is skilled at handling sensitive topics where it’s important that every i is dotted.

And ghostwriters are able to put aside their own egos in order to tell the best story possible and capture their subject’s voice. JR Moehringer, who helped Harry with his book, wrote in The New Yorker about how he and the prince sometimes clashed. “For the thousandth time in my ghostwriting career, I reminded myself: It’s not your effing book.”

Rate structure and typical costs

Rate structures and costs for business ghostwriting depend on a number of factors.

Project size. For smaller assignments, like blog posts and articles, ghostwriters generally charge an hourly rate. A ghostwriter may also charge per word. On average, professional ghostwriters charge between $0.10 to $2.00 per word. For ongoing assignments, like managing a social media channel, the business ghostwriter might be paid a certain amount for each post. Business ghostwriters often charge a flat rate for a longer project, such as video scripts, e-books, and white papers. According to Business Insider, some ghostwriters on LinkedIn are making $500–$700/hr writing posts for high-powered execs.

For a book, the cost will depend on where you are at in the process. Do you have an outline? Have you already written a draft? Have you dictated some or all of it? Occasionally, ghostwriters will ask for royalties from the sale of the book. According to book-writing coach Lisa Tener, “fees for a book could be charged hourly ($30 to $200), per word ($1 to $3) or per project ($5,000 to $100,000 and even more, depending on the writer’s accomplishments and genre). More experienced ghostwriters tend to charge per project, with additional hourly fees if the project scope expands. Books for which the ghostwriter receives no credit are usually charged at a higher rate.” Books of 120 pages typically run from $15,000 to $35,000, says Tener, and books of 250-pages can “start around $25,000 to $65,000 and up into the six figure realm.”

Experience. The more experienced a ghostwriter is the faster and better their work will be, at least theoretically. Experienced ghostwriters naturally charge more. For ghostwriters who have a track record of success, like creating viral content, you should expect to pay high rates.

Timeline. Some ghostwriters will charge more for a tight deadline. This is understandable considering the amount of pressure they are under.

Other factors include whether or not you already have a relationship with the ghostwriter and whether or not they have SEO knowledge. SEO knowledge is essential for blog posts, website copy and other online projects.

What to include in a business ghostwriting contract

When negotiating a contract, some factors to consider including are:

Description of the work required. Specify the amount of work, what it’s for, whether the ghostwriter is required to do research (or if research materials will be provided), deadlines, and any other expectations. You don’t want to be caught short with an incomplete project because you assumed the ghostwriter would do something that you didn’t request.

A probation/early termination clause. Sometimes things just don’t work out—the ghostwriter is there when you need them, or the quality of work just isn’t up to snuff. If this happens, cover your butt with a clause that lets you terminate the relationship at a time of your choosing, and under your terms. As consultant Bennett R. Coles points out, “Reputable ghostwriters will include escape clauses in their contracts to ensure that the relationship ends amicably should there be an irreconcilable disagreement in the overall direction of the project or if you are unsatisfied with the results.”

A copyright clause. This ensures all the rights for the work revert to you once the project is complete. Although it goes without saying that you own the work and not the ghostwriter, clarify in advance to avoid confusion.

A plagiarism/AI clause. Plagiarism, it should go without saying, should be avoided like the plague. There is no upside to stealing another’s work. AI is a grayer area, but with search engines penalizing machine-generated content, it’s worth weighing pros and cons. At the least, you should confirm with your ghostwriter if they’ll be using generative AI tools like ChatGPT to create content, and negotiate a rate that reflects this shortcut.

Payment terms and milestones. This is especially important for larger projects. For months-long project like a book, a ghostwriter will expect to be paid for specific deliverables, such as a first draft and a final product.

Tips and best practices for working with a business ghostwriter

Business ghostwriting is built on collaboration. The ghostwriter will often meet multiple times with the CEO or company exec to establish a tone and capture the appropriate voice. You will also need to establish a workflow that includes review and feedback sessions to ensure that the ghostwriter is reaching the target audience with up-to-date messaging.

Some common sense steps can ensure a smooth and mutually beneficial process.

Ensure everyone is on-board with the process. Before hiring a ghostwriter for an executive or business leader, outline the benefits and how it will amplify the company’s voice, as well as the leader’s own brand and profile. If you’re a business leader reading this, then you’ve already come to this realization yourself. Congratulations!

Set up a timetable for meetings, either virtual or in-person. Remember that the business ghostwriter’s job is to get the CEO’s message across in their voice. That means that the ghostwriter will require some time with the leader to learn about their goals, values, and personality.

Keep the lines of communication open. The ghostwriter wants to hear from the person they are ghosting for. They want to discuss the project and know how you feel about the progress. As copywriter Flori Meeks says, “I love it when clients are chatty because, in a lot of cases, they offer insights that help make their copy better. Chatty clients also give me a better feel for their communication style, so I can produce copy that sounds like them.”

Be willing to learn from your ghostwriter. Clients who are open to suggestions from the ghostwriter help make the project go more smoothly. Trust the ghostwriter’s process; they’ve most likely done this before, and have a tried-and-true formula.

Provide quality feedback. Don’t be hesitant about pointing out what you do and don’t like. Rather than being an annoyance, your feedback actually makes the ghostwriter’s job easier.

With all of this in mind, you are ready to hire a business ghostwriter. Freelancers and dedicated agencies offer a range of ghostwriting services and are often happy to discuss projects and provide quotes.

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