Because ghostwriters so often work “in the shadows”, that is, offer confidentiality to their clients, finding the right ghostwriter is a very different enterprise than finding, say, a house painter or restaurant. Personal references are difficult to come by. In my own ghostwriting business, I promise absolute confidentiality to my clients. My promise is so absolute that it begins from the initial inquiry – even if the client chooses a different writer, that I spoke with them is sacrosanct.
This confidentiality is highly-valued by my clients but it does pose a Catch-22 with potential clients. After all, when asked for references or the titles of books I’ve worked on, I have to say I cannot provide those things. Sometimes my potential client respects the situation but sometimes I lose the client. That’s fair. I understand my prospective client’s interests and perspective. I just do not compromise my professional relationship with clients.
So, given the confidentiality of the ghostwriting relationship, how might one of my potential clients decide to work with me, or any other ghostwriter for that matter? Because writing is a creative endeavor, the people who do it well do not fit tidily into a particular “type.” And the quality of a writing relationship is not easily quantifiable. So, my first piece of advice is, Trust your gut! If, for whatever reason, the writer you are speaking to doesn’t feel like someone you can work with, don’t. Don’t worry about hurting feelings or “making it work.” Run for the hills.
Beyond that, do whatever you need to do to feel comfortable with the relationship. And expect your ghostwriter to meet you well more than halfway in making you feel comfortable. Want a confidentiality agreement? You should have it right away! Want a contract reviewed by your attorney? At the least, a “boilerplate” that your ghostwriter uses should be in your in-box pronto! Want to speak to your ghostwriter? Either call (and ask, Are you the one who will be writing my book?) directly or email asking for a good time to talk. (I often turn off my phone when I am writing so as not to be disturbed, but I do want to speak with you!) If it is practical and it will make you feel more comfortable, ask for a face-to-face meeting. This should be easily arranged for the mutual convenience of you and your writer.
Ask questions so you can be sure your ghostwriter “gets” you and understands your material and story. Your writer doesn’t have to be like you to write your story beautifully (women can write “men’s” stories and men can write “women’s” stories, non-physicians can write books for physicians, etc.) but he should effectively communicate to you that he understands you and likes your story.
Make sure your ghostwriter can modify his process to make it as comfortable for you as possible. The goal is for your writer to write your book, not for your material and story to be contorted into his vision or comfort zone.
Find a writer who allows you to move forward in small enough increments so that you are not committing a ridiculous amount of money blind. Take baby steps. When you read what the writer can do for you, and you’re happy, then you can charge forward.
Always remember, it is your story or book. You have to be thrilled with it. The purpose of ghostwriting is to find a writer who will write the book that you would write if you had the skill and the time to write it.
A good professional writing relationship between a ghostwriter and a client can be a beautiful thing. A less than good one can be a disaster. I have written many, many books for clients who come to me after a bad ghostwriting relationship. Better to find the right ghostwriter the first time.