If you’ve ever felt the urge to tell your story, you’ll know that the feeling only ever grows and grows, until at last, you have to give in and do something about it. (Whether you hire a ghostwriter or write your own autobiography.)
Sadly, far too many people with wonderful stories to tell never get around to writing their books. It doesn’t matter how much their families nag them, something always gets in the way. Their stories are lost.
What can a ghostwriter do for you?
Our memoirs and autobiographies preserve those vital links in our collective stories and help to make sense of our family members’ histories. Suddenly we can see how those disparate pieces – and people – all fit together in the family tree!
Even now, in an age when so many of our lives are extensively documented online, many of us find we don’t know as much as we’d like about our nearest and dearest. My memories of my grandparents are sketchy; my grandad started writing his life story, but he didn’t get past Chapter 2. Even in his retirement, he was simply too busy looking after his veg beds, doing his charity work, and entertaining his grandchildren to commit the time he needed to write his book.
As you might already know, writing a book isn’t just hard work, it’s enormously time-consuming work. Which is why so many people choose working with a ghostwriter over taking on the job themselves…
A ghostwriter will learn how your story fits together over the course of several hours of interviews. Then they’ll piece all the elements together in a narratively-satisfying way, building your story chapter by chapter into a compelling book that’s rich with your tone of voice. They’ll edit it, proof it, and may even facilitate design and production too. It’s a lot of work and your ghostwriter will charge you accordingly – more on that below – but I don’t think anyone with a burning desire to tell their story ever regrets getting the help they need to tell it.
Ghostwriting ordinary people’s stories
The idea of hiring a personal biographer to tell your life’s story might sound a little bit ‘out there’ at first. But ghostwriters and memoir writers aren’t just there to tell the stories of the rich and famous; they’re there to help you document your life for posterity.
I work with all sorts of people as a personal biographer and life story writer. I’ve worked with a few people you might know, but most of my ghostwriting work is for non-famous people who have stories they want to preserve, and legacies to leave.
Choosing which biography writing service is the best one for you is a big decision. There are more personal biographers and ghostwriting companies in the UK than ever before. Some of them – like Story Terrace – have even promoted the idea of chronicling people’s lives on BBC’s Dragon’s Den.
I’m going to guide you through some of the things to keep in mind when you want to hire a ghostwriter. To be clear, I’m writing this from the perspective of an independent ghostwriter, but I’m going to be as objective as I can about the pros and cons of working with an independent ghostwriter, compared with a ghostwriting company.
Questions to ask ghostwriters
Working with a ghostwriter should make the whole experience of telling your story effortless and enjoyable. Fortunately, there’s plenty you can do to ensure that’s how your working relationship turns out.
In order to establish the pros and cons of working with a ghostwriter, I suggest you round up some ghosts and put them through their paces! You can ask them:
- Can you stage all my interviews over the course of a fortnight / a month / or a longer period of time, as required?
- My story delves into some sensitive subject areas – can you demonstrate your experience of writing something similar?
- Can we extend the length of my book, or change my print and production choices if I change my mind?
- When can I contact you? Can I get messages to you by email and WhatsApp? Will you speak to me out of hours?
- What happens if we’re still talking over my story at the end of our allotted interview time?
- When will I get my finished manuscript or published book? (If you need to finish your story quickly because you’re giving it as a gift, see who has the capacity do it for you to your timescale.)
- Can you help me publish or self-publish my book?
What are the pros and cons of independent ghostwriters versus ghostwriter companies?
Although I’m an independent freelance ghostwriter, I do occasionally work for a ghostwriting company, and they do excellent work. The standard of their books is very high, and they work hard to make their clients happy. So, I certainly wouldn’t discourage anyone from working with one of the better ghostwriter companies out there.
Ghostwriter companies are a safe option for many kinds of books. But many of their standard packages are designed for very short books. As an independent life story writer / personal biographer, I’m usually asked to write books of 40,000 words or more.
Being independent means not being tied into any house rules for turnaround times, or production schedules. It means I’m better able to flex my service to accommodate changing requirements. So, if you need to extend the length of time between interviews, so that you can deal with other life events, you can. If you need to change from one type of service to another mid-way through the process, you can. And I can give you the time you need in interviews to tell your story properly.
As objectively as possible, I think these are some of the things you need to bear in mind when choosing between working with an independent ghostwriter and a ghostwriting company.
Does an independent or a ghostwriter company give you the flexibility you need?
Can your ghostwriter give you different options for the size and presentation of your finished book? Can they give you a manuscript-only service that keeps your costs down? Can they write any length of book for you?
People tend to hire me when they want to write a longer book than many ghostwriter companies offer. And if you’re looking for a book of 30,000 words or more, I can spend the time really getting to know you as part of the service I offer. The longest book I’ve worked on came in at just under 90,000 words.
Who’s better equipped to help you publish or self-publish?
Can your independent ghostwriter or ghostwriter company help you reach out to the right publishing houses?
In the last couple of years, I’ve managed to successfully help several of my named authors get published by established publishing houses, not hybrid publishers. There is a difference.
I’m always honest about the fact that personal memoirs by non-published (or non-famous writers) are a very hard sell. But if I think your memoir fits a niche, or might pique a publisher’s interest, I’ll tell you.
You might prefer to self-publish. There are some beautiful self-published books out there now. Ask your ghostwriter or ghostwriter company to talk through your options with you. You can enjoy custom design and print services, and even add an ISBN to your book so that it can be sold online and in bookshops.
Does your ghostwriter ‘get’ you?
It may be that you want the time and the opportunity to work more slowly so that you can establish a truly trusting relationship with a ghostwriter who will come to understand exactly what makes you tick.
I get a lot of enquiries from clients with more difficult stories to tell. Because of my background as a writer of books about people’s survival stories and mental health memoirs, they know they can trust me to help them tell their stories with the right mix of tact and integrity.
Who will give you the sort of service you want?
You may prefer to work with a ghostwriter company because you favour a larger organisation, with different people handling your job. Or you may find it an easier prospect to build up a good working relationship with an independent ghostwriter who you will get to know very well over the weeks or months you work with them.
Whether you choose a ghostwriting company or an independent ghost, they should both give you terms and conditions to reassure you, as well as timescales for the interviews and writing process.
Something that really gets my goat is those ghostwriting companies who make outrageous claims about the relative merits of ghostwriters, based on what they charge. Some of them warn that unless you pay top-whack you’re unlikely to get a good book, simply to justify their outrageous pricing model.
I understand my worth as a ghostwriter, but I also understand that there is a ceiling on pricing for most people, and I’m not going to charge more simply because I’ve had books published.
Unless you have a publishing deal (and my fee is going to be negotiated with your agent or publisher) or you have a massive multi-volume idea for your memoirs, I offer pricing that reflects my experience and my ability but is affordable and achievable for as many people as possible. Bottom line: I want to tell more of your stories.
Ready to find a ghostwriter?
I did say you should question your potential ghostwriters, and if you’d like to ask me some questions, book yourself on a free half-hour ghostwriting consultation, and put me through my paces.