The Seven Biggest Mistakes People Make when Choosing a Ghostwriter

By Jerry Payne, ghostwriter

I know about these mistakes because I’ve seen them all. Too many times, disappointed people have come to me after having made a bad decision. Sometimes I can help, but sometimes they’re under a contract from which they can’t extricate themselves. And in most every case, they’ve already spent a ton of money. Hiring a ghostwriter is serious business. Please don’t make these mistakes:

1. Hiring a ghostwriting company instead of a ghostwriter.
Many ghostwriting services are faceless companies that sign you to a contract and then assign your project to a “staff” writer. Most likely, the staff writer is, in reality, some freelancer that the company contracts out to. Your relationship with your ghostwriter is like a marriage. You need to know the person who’s writing your book. You need to feel comfortable with him or her. These are red flags: the company won’t tell you exactly who’s writing your book. The company won’t let you speak directly with the ghostwriter. The company won’t commit to a specific writer in their contract. Here’s an easy test: if the ghostwriter isn’t willing to take the time to travel to where you are, to meet with you personally, then you need to hire someone else.

2. Hiring a ghostwriting company that also just happens to be a publishing company.
It’s disturbing how common this is becoming. These companies (which shall remain nameless here) typically charge a suspiciously low fee to write your book. Then they make all kinds of promises about how, once it’s written, they’ll publish and market and distribute it for you. The promises, naturally, turn out to be hollow. They may do all those things, but of course there are steep fees attached. And if someone guarantees success with your book before it’s even been written, run from them. As fast as you can. Here’s a tip. If you come across a company that makes promises that seem too good to be true, Google their name with the word “scam” and see what turns up. You’ll see what I mean.

3. Giving away any rights to the book.
This is a frequent trick the scammers above use. In teensy tiny print, there will be a line about how the ghostwriting company will own part or all of the copyright to the work. Sign that and you’re really stuck. Make sure the contract specifically states that all rights to the work remain with you.

4. Giving up editorial control.
Never hire a ghostwriter who’s not willing to make revisions to the work until you’re completely satisfied with it. Get it in the contract. This is your book. You need to be happy with the end product no matter how much work that creates for the ghostwriter. That’s how he or she earns the fee, after all.

5. Paying too much up front.
You should pay for the book on a pace that’s commensurate with how it’s being written. By the time a third of the book is finished, you should have paid no more than a third of the fee. Half the book, half the fee. Never pay 50% or more as a deposit. What happens if you’re not happy with the work? Which brings us to…

6. Entering a contract without a means by which to cancel it.
If you’re not satisfied with your ghostwriter, you should be able to walk away from the deal. It’s just that simple. Sure, you might owe the writer for what he or she has already done; that’s only fair. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find another writer to finish the job. Never sign a contract that doesn’t allow you to cancel if, for any reason, you’re not happy.

7. Not getting a commitment up front for when the book should be completed.
This commitment should be in the contract. Will that mean the deadline will be automatically met? Of course not. Sometimes projects just take longer than anticipated. But your ghostwriter should at least be willing to make a good faith effort to hit a predetermined target. If not, then that might just mean you’re not his or her top priority.

Don’t make these mistakes. You don’t have to hire me, of course, but please don’t make a decision you’re going to regret later. Your book is way too important. Of course, I assume you’re already planning to check out the writer’s references and previous work and read samples, etc. And I also assume any contract you plan to sign will be very clear as to the fee – not open-ended and vague. Those things probably go without saying. More than anything, find someone you feel very comfortable with. There are plenty of good, honest, hardworking ghostwriters out there. Find one. Avoid the above mistakes and you’ll be just fine.

Best of luck with your book!

Download the PDF of this post: The Seven Biggest Mistakes People Make when Choosing a Ghostwriter.