If you’ve never worked with a ghostwriter, how do you know what to look for? Do you want someone who is the most experienced? Do you want someone with the most published credits? Do you want the writer with the most successful books? Do you read their samples and consider their writing style? Or do you just want someone with whom you get along? If you’re a first-time author, you want to meet with multiple ghostwriters, but how do you know when you’ve found the right one? Here’s a simple list of criteria to help you get started:

THE BASICS 

These aren’t the only criteria, but they are the most obvious and the best place to begin. 

#1. RATE 

Know your budget going into the process. The top industry ghostwriters for the biggest books can charge high six-figures or more for their services. Elite bestselling ghostwriters can charge low six figures. Most experienced and well-respected ghostwriters charge in the $30k-$80k range. Newer and up-and-coming writers might charge significantly less, so it is possible to find a diamond in the rough. Every writer’s rates differ and can be influenced by the scope of the project, type of book, word count, deadline, research required, publisher involvement, amount of existing material available, amount of material already written, and the stage at which the author and ghostwriter begin the process. 

Most every ghostwriter is work-for-hire. Some have an agreed-upon fee that is typically paid out in installments. Some charge per word. Some may charge hourly or have monthly retainers. However, ghostwriters don’t typically work on spec or for a percentage of profits. Would you expect a contractor to build a house on spec and agree to a percentage of a potential sale sometime in the future? No, because they need to be compensated for their time, work, and expenses. Ghostwriters work the same way. 

#2. PUBLISHED BOOKS

What has a ghostwriter worked on before? Ideally, you want to find a writer who has experience writing the type of book you want to write. You want those books to have been well-received and successful. If your writer knows the genre, they can speak that language and are familiar with similar books, so they can help yours stand out from the pack. Just keep in mind that the more successful the writer, the higher the fee and the more in-demand their services. 

#3. WRITING SAMPLES

Writing samples are another good way to vet writers. However, it’s important to keep in mind that you aren’t reading an original piece of work by the ghostwriter written in their voice. You are reading a book the ghostwriter wrote based on the author’s material and written in the author’s voice. Looking at multiple samples from a writer can give you an idea of their range, but subject matter and voice shouldn’t weigh as heavily as other factors such as readability and execution. 

These three factors are good starting points that can help you winnow down your list. You can then further narrow your search by considering your personal needs. 

WHERE DO YOU NEED THE MOST HELP?

Not all authors have the same needs. Every project is different, which means different authors face different challenges. Every author also starts from a different place. Some begin with a strong outline but struggle to articulate their thoughts on the page. Some struggle with organization. Others need someone to conduct research. Some want a collaborator who is familiar with the subject matter and can help enhance their material. Some would benefit from a writer who can play devil’s advocate and challenge their ideas. Some are just looking for the path of least resistance and want someone to shepherd them through the process to make it as painless as possible. 

Just as every author has their strengths and weaknesses, so does every ghostwriter. If you’re looking for a writer who can do independent research, take the reins, and transform your vision without much of your input, that’s a different skill set than a ghostwriter who works best when gathering information through one-on-one phone calls. Do you want a writer who can mimic your voice, or do you want a writer who specializes in flowery prose-like writing? The same writer might be capable of doing all of these things, but you want to look for someone who has the skillset you need the most help with. However, some of the most important and valuable skill sets are difficult to measure. 

MEASURING THE INTANGIBLES

Remember that this process is a collaboration. That means you will work with the writer you hire for eight months to a year, or maybe longer. That’s why you want someone you get along well with and feel comfortable confiding in. This is especially true if you plan on discussing sensitive or personal subject matter. Writing a book is difficult enough. Take the pressure off by trying to enjoy the process and make it fun. One way to do that is by collaborating with someone you get along well with. You can’t learn everything during a consultation or introductory call, but it’s a great way to get a feel for how you might work with a ghostwriter. You can also talk to other authors who have worked with that writer before to learn about their working relationship. 

Before you begin interviewing potential ghostwriters, create a personal checklist of everything important to you so you can see which candidates tick the most boxes and best fit you and the project. If you do your research and talk to enough writers, the right candidates will stand out.