What Is a Ghostwriter and Why Do You Need One?



old books in a old library
old books in a old library

What do you think it takes to write a book? 

I used to think it took

  • genius ideas and

  • a healthy dose of commitment.

    Then I became a ghostwriter.

And now I can tell you, while you need them, genius ideas and commitment are not enough to get your book done. Especially if you run a business and/or have a thriving career and a life outside of work. 

So what else do you need? 

Here’s where a ghostwriter comes in.

A ghostwriter can mean the difference between an abandoned book project and a finished book. Traditionally, clients hire ghostwriters to take their great ideas and turn them into a book. Ghostwriters often don’t get author credit or any credit. Sometimes they’re listed in the “Acknowledgments” section of the book. 

But that traditional “ghostwriter” definition is rapidly expanding to become accessible to more first-time authors, just like so many other aspects of the book publishing industry. 

Before I explain how, here’s a little more about the traditional version of working with a ghostwriter.

The traditional ghostwriting process: In this scenario, you sign a contract with a ghostwriter and she writes your book based on a series of interviews and research. You pay the ghostwriter a set amount, but her name doesn’t appear on the cover of your book. In fact, depending on how the contract is written, the ghostwriter’s name doesn’t have to appear anywhere. You, the client, are listed as the author and if you self-publish, you also own the copyright. 

The important thing to remember: even though the ghostwriter writes the words, she can’t write them without the client’s ideas. As ghostwriter Kevin Anderson has said, “A client who hires a ghostwriter is still the author of their book. . . . A ghostwriter is an interpreter and a translator, not an author, which is why our clients deserve full credit for authoring their books.”

It’s the clients ideas, concepts, and stories that make the book. Under this model, the ghostwriter partners with the client, who provides the ideas and concepts. The ghostwriter provides the expertise in linking those ideas into the sentences, paragraphs, and chapters that make a book. 

As a ghostwriter, I provide this service, but I also offer another ghostwriting service: book coaching.

Book coaching is essentially everything but the writing. It’s more accessible because it’s less expensive, but hiring a book coach can be just as pivotal in going from stalled book project to finished, published book. 

Here’s how: 

Guide + Accountability Coach + Second Editor = Book coach 

You may want to write your own book. Some people crave the satisfaction that comes with writing their own words. It’s also cheaper to hire a book coach if you want to write the book yourself. 

Just like in the traditional ghostwriter example, you, the client, have the genius ideas and the commitment. But you need more than that to get it done, especially if you’re not a professional writer. 

So, what does a book coach do for you if she’s not writing?

A book coach can turn your writing process from a slog that produces a finished book that isn’t even very good into a meaningful (and sometimes fun) experience that produces a much better book in less time. A book coach helps in 3 ways. 

  1. A guide: Many writers have written shorter forms of content, like articles, blog posts, essays, and emails. But a book is different because it requires a book-length argument – an arc that takes the reader through a beginning, middle, and end that all add up. As you’re writing, a book coach walks you through connecting the dots between the concepts you lay out in the book, so that you end up telling one cohesive story, instead of making a bunch of good points that are fragmented and feel “all over the place.”

  2. Accountability: I can’t speak for all book coaches, but a contract with me includes built-in deadlines. Once you commit to writing a book, accountability ensures that you make your writing a priority so that you actually finish. In my contracts, if you miss your deadline without any advance notice, you forfeit your place on my calendar for that month and must pay a fee to get back on my schedule.

  3. A second editor: After you finish your first draft, you need a fresh set of eyes on your work, both at the global-level—(Does this book tell me a compelling story? If not, where are the holes?) and also at the sentence-level—(Do some sections drag? Do some need to be cut or moved? Do individual sentences need to be written) and so on. That’s why I have a second editor on my team that provides fresh eyes.

You may have genius ideas. You may be totally committed, with the book project at the top of your to-do list each day. But if you don’t have a 

  • guide

  • accountability

  • a second editor

    You will struggle more than you have to. 

But if you have them, they save your book from the garbage heap of unreadable books published by well-meaning newbies who have something important to say, but don’t know how to shape their thoughts meaningfully. 

Ghostwriter as Publisher. 

Here’s another way the definition of ghostwriter has expanded. As part of my ghostwriting services, I also include self-publishing services–everything that goes into taking a finished manuscript from a document in your Google Drive to a paperback book you can hold in your hands, sell to bookstores, and an e-book for sale online. That includes: 

  • Cover design. (Why designs book covers? What’s that process?)

  • A copy editor and proofreader. (Where do you hire these people? What’s the going rate?)

  • Getting the inside of your book to look like… a book, and not a Word document. (Hint: It’s a unique process called typesetting, and it doesn’t happen automatically.)
  • Listing your book on all e-book vendor sites, not just Amazon.
  • Listing your book so bookstores can find and order it.

  • Getting an audio version recorded and distributed.

Services like Kindle Direct Publishing can allow you to DIY many of these elements (although not the editing), but even when you use KDP’s publishing features, they are time-consuming, and they result in a book that looks DIY (because it is), and is only available on Amazon. 

It’s a bit like a one-speed Huffy bike. Yes, a one-speed Huffy works if you’re riding around the block, but if you need to climb a mountain, you could really use a better bike. 

We know your book ain’t a ride around the block. Genius! Commitment! It’s your legacy. Your book’s production values should match that intention. 

Ultimately, I help clients publish the book that establishes their legacy. A book that people will continue to read and talk about even after they move on or retire. Their book’s impact outlasts them. 

If you want to write a book like that, the way you go about that project is up to you. You have the genius ideas and the commitment to get it done. But even with those things, you may need support to go from “book project” to “finished book in your hands.”

Clarifying sessions, accountability, editing, self-publishing support, and yes, hiring someone to do the writing itself, are all ways that a ghostwriter can help.

If that interests you, get in touch! Email maggie at maggiefrankhsu dot com.

Scroll to Top
Scroll to Top

Get Writing Tips and Encouragement
In Your Inbox