Do You Need a Ghostwriter? A Three Question Quiz

To write or not to write. For the authors I coach, writing can be a conundrum. They really want to write a book, but it is never their full-time job. They try to squeeze it in between running a company, running a family, running a marathon, running an investment fund, running a city or a state . . . Sometimes it works out. Other times it doesn’t. When it doesn’t, we find ourselves a year or two into the project without a completed manuscript. For these authors, a ghostwriter is often the solution.

So many people go through life with world-changing ideas locked in their heads because they aren’t expert communicators or because they’re busy doing important work.

I’ve heard some people say that ghostwriting is unethical. I don’t believe that’s true. I think of myself (when I’m ghostwriting) as a one-woman surgical support team. The author is the cardiologist. I’m the nurse, the anesthesiologist, the junior surgeon, and everybody else who makes if possible for him to leverage his unique knowledge to fix a heart. So many people go through life with world-changing ideas locked in their heads because they aren’t expert communicators or because they’re busy doing important work. Isn’t it better that we all get access to those ideas?

Should you consider hiring a ghostwriter? Here’s a three-step litmus test:

1. Do you like to write and are you a good writer? Or good enough that a coach or editor could help you develop a strong manuscript? If you’ve never written more than a term paper, if you need an editor for your memos, or if you simply don’t like to write, a ghostwriter may be for you. If you enjoy writing and are good at it, move on to question 2.

2. Can you realistically make the time to write? Lots of people believe they can, but realistically, if you can’t devote five to ten hours a week to writing, and sometimes more, you won’t make much progress. If you really believe you can find that time in your schedule, move on to question 3.

3. Is writing the best use of your time? I was working with two authors not long ago. One decided to pull back from her duties running an international organization and essentially sequester herself in order to get her book written. She had good reason. The book covered some profound topics, and the process of writing helped her deepen the ideas, prompted her to do the necessary research, and forced her to get clear in her own mind about these big ideas. That work wasn’t only beneficial to the book, it also helped her shape the direction of her organization. Nobody could have written that book but her, and it was an excellent use of her time, although the tradeoffs in terms of opportunities pursued were sometimes steep.

The other author was also working to develop the ideas she had outlined, and each time we would talk, she would tell me about another client interaction that had helped her clarify an approach or a message she planned to address in the book. Her client work was essential to her ability to write the book, but it also meant that she had no time to actually write the book. For her, a ghostwriter was the perfect solution. She recorded sessions and speeches and shared client proposals and presentations and other materials with me and I was able to match her tone, style, and voice and produce a book stronger than she could have produced on her own, given her limited ability to focus on it.

I love writing, so I would not deny anybody the pleasure of writing a book. But I do think that there are valuable, compelling ideas just waiting to be shared. And if some of those ideas are sitting in your head, maybe you should consider hiring a ghostwriter. You should also learn about other types of support an editor or writer can offer. Start by reading this post.

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