Do you know any businesses that hide their services instead of marketing them? And yes, I’m only talking about legal operations here.
My favorite example is my father-in-law. He’s a legal recruiter. His team remains intentionally obscure. No one actively publishes case studies or thought leadership articles about hiring. They don’t run ads and barely have a website. They find leads and recruits through cold calls.
They remain obscure so that secretaries at law firms don’t immediately hang up on them after a quick Google search. No one wants their most powerful lawyers talking to recruiters!
Ghostwriters fit into this secretive category as well. Our whole job is doing work for which others receive the credit: Writing books, articles, and social media posts under another person’s name.
The result of this quiet career is that most people know almost nothing about ghostwriting. In this article, I want to explore what it’s like to work with a business ghostwriter. No more secrets. Here’s everything you should know:
How to hire a ghostwriter
Let’s talk about how to find and hire a ghostwriter.
SparkToro says there are over 120,000 journalists and 320,000 authors, based on the number of people with those words in their online profiles.
How many ghostwriters? A measly 3,000.
This is in part because ghostwriting is a small field. It is also because many professional writers who offer ghostwriting services don’t say so publicly. Think of it as a secret side career that professional writers use to pay the bills.
If ghostwriters are so rare and secretive, where do you go to find a quality one to hire?
There are a few common paths:
Ask your network for referrals: Hiring a ghostwriter is very common. It’s been estimated that 60% of nonfiction books are ghostwritten. Look within your network. Who regularly publishes books, columns, or social media content? If you like the style and tone of their work, ask if they work with a ghostwriter. If so, get a referral.
Ask publishers, agents, editors, or journalists: Many people working in publishing will know a few ghostwriters. For example, publishing houses often work with a few go-to ghostwriters to help produce books on behalf of athletes, celebrities, and influencers. Ask industry insiders for a referral.
Browse LinkedIn, Reedsy, or other professional sites: You can also find ghostwriters on your own by searching for them online. Reedsy is a strong website for vetting book ghostwriters because you can browse their past publications. You can use the LinkedIn search bar to find ghostwriters, especially for shorter-form content like social media and thought leadership writing.
Hire your favorite writers: Who are the journalists and bloggers you admire most? If you already love their writing style, then reach out to them directly. Ask if they offer ghostwriting services. Many highly accomplished and famous writers occasionally take on ghostwriting work, if it’s a good fit. Ryan Holiday (Ego Is The Enemy) and Mark Manson (The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck) are two examples of famous writers who occasionally write for hire.
Check the Acknowledgements section of nonfiction books: Many ghostwriters receive subtle credit from their authors. You just have to know where to look. For example, flip to the back pages of your favorite nonfiction books. Many authors will thank their ghostwriters in the Acknowledgements section. Google the ghostwriter and reach out to them directly.
4 skills to look for in a ghostwriter
There are three factors to consider when looking for a quality ghostwriter:
Writing quality: Many professional ghostwriters won’t have past client samples available to showcase. They’ve signed NDAs. Their work is largely anonymous. However, the best ghostwriters are simply great writers. That means most will have personal writing samples (from magazines, books, or their blog) to showcase their ability to write.
Professionalism: Freelance writers have earned a bad reputation when it comes to reliability. Many behave more like whimsical artists than efficient business professionals. If you’re not careful, you can hire a writer who consistently delivers work late, fails to prepare for calls, and doesn’t understand the business needs of the work you’re producing together.
Personal connection: Most ghostwriting projects are highly collaborative. The ghostwriter needs to receive a lot of information from you, their client. That might mean hours spent talking over Zoom. It means emailing, texting, or Slack messaging back and forth regularly. All this to say, it’s best to find someone with whom you have good professional chemistry. The easier it is for you to speak with your ghostwriter, the better the work experience will go.
Business or industry competence: No ghostwriter will know everything about your business or industry before you start working together. But it is helpful to find a ghostwriter who has at least some working knowledge of the ideas you’re hiring them to write about.
Common business ghostwriting projects
Ghostwriting isn’t just one professional service. Ghostwriting services vary in scope, price, quality, and project types. So, let’s talk through the most common ghostwriting services.
This is likely what most people picture when someone brings up a business ghostwriter. Authoring a high-quality business book is a straightforward way to expand authority in your industry. It’s common for senior business leaders, executives, and investors to publish books to build their credibility. A book is the ultimate business card.
Writing a high-quality book can take months or sometimes multiple years. Even if authoring a book is the top priority for a business leader, where will they find the time? Responsibilities don’t simply go away.
This is where business ghostwriters come in. One of the most common reasons for hiring a book ghostwriter is to give business leaders their time back. The ghostwriter writes the book on the author’s behalf.
It’s worth mentioning that the best ghostwriters will demand the attention of their clients. Even busy executives must give some time to the project to ensure ghostwriters receive the information, stories, and insights needed to write a book of substance.
Book collaboration is often used interchangeably with ghostwriting, but there is a technical difference. In the traditional sense, a book collaborator produces some of a book while the author produces the rest, like working with a part-time ghostwriter.
This only partially captures book collaboration. The reality is, some book collaborators hardly do any writing at all. Oftentimes the book collaborator exclusively helps in a strategic or motivational sense, providing deadlines, feedback, and editing for the author.
In other words, if you have the passion and time to write the book yourself, then you may hire a ghostwriter for advice, accountability, and occasional writing or editing help.
Another form of long-form ghostwriting is writing ebooks. In this case, I’m specifically talking about self-published business ebooks.
These are often used as lead magnets on websites to bolster sales. A good ebook usually deals specifically with a customer's interest or pain point. I’ve ghostwritten many ebooks like this. I typically start by interviewing customers to understand exactly what they might find helpful in this resource.
The final product is usually 2,500 - 10,000 words in length.
Blog and op-ed ghostwriting
You might call this category “thought leadership” ghostwriting. Thought leadership articles tend to be blogs containing 800 or so words. They are idea pieces, like you might find in Forbes or Entrepreneur.
Thought leadership articles are often written to appear on popular business sites. They’re used for publicity, to get the author’s name in major media outlets.
Most popular business blogs turn down a lot of article pitches. They don’t merely want a well-written article. They also don’t merely want an expert story or opinion. They want both: A well-written article that conveys some deep expertise from the author.
A ghostwriter handles the writing. Their client supplies the story. Working with a ghostwriter is a great formula for publishing with reputable media brands.
Social media ghostwriting
Many professionals aspire to grow their influence on social media. In the business world, this primarily means publishing regularly on Twitter (X) and LinkedIn. The ghostwriter will usually work on a retainer with an executive. On social media, quality matters. But consistency matters even more.
A good ghostwriter will help their client achieve a consistent publishing cadence. They will also pay attention to what “works” for their clients and then double down.
For example, I always pay attention to the comments under my clients’ posts. These comments are a window into the interests of the readers. I’ll turn those comments into inspiration for the next few posts I write for clients. Social media is the fastest media feedback system ever invented. Great ghostwriters leverage that feedback to improve with every post.
How ghostwriters write: The process
There’s no standard industry process that every ghostwriter follows. But it’s safe to say that most ghostwriters will at least follow some version of these three steps:
Research and outlining: In my business, I always like to get on the phone with customers. My goal is to tease out your best stories and insights. The easiest way to do that is through an interview. But that’s not where the research ends. Research can involve reading books and articles from the industry, monitoring industry news, paying attention to your company’s marketing and launch calendar, and combing your past media appearances to uncover additional stories. This data is processed and stored, often in the form of multiple outlines.
Production: Armed with research, the ghostwriter begins their deep work. They must turn loose ideas and unconnected stories into compelling narratives that are easy to read. Once a strong draft is completed, the ghostwriter submits it to the author.
Revisions: There’s always going to be some feedback, no matter how talented the ghostwriter. Sometimes it’s as simple as swapping out some word choices. Other times, the entire article or chapter needs to be reworked because the voice or story is wrong. Either way, the ghostwriter and author will go back and forth a few times until the piece achieves the author’s goal.
Then, you publish and (if you like) repeat the whole process.
Beyond the words: Ghostwriters as experts
Some ghostwriters are exclusively wordsmiths. Their work starts and ends with words on the page.
But most ghostwriters offer non-writing services as well. After all, writing is only half the media game. It takes additional expertise to publish with impact.
Ghostwriters regularly offer multiple forms of consulting in areas like media relations, market research, agent querying, social media strategy, and marketing, among others.
It’s important to understand your goals before selecting a ghostwriter. The right one may bring a lot more to the table than mere prose. For example, I’ve worked in B2B tech marketing for over eight years. That’s why I work primarily with tech executives.
I can write clearly and simply about technical subjects and provide sound marketing guidance that helps my clients accomplish bigger career or business goals.
My job is more than writing. I help my clients attract top talent, raise investment funding, find new clients, and build career recognition they can carry for years.
On that note, if you’ve read this far then you’re likely in the market for a ghostwriting partner. I’d like to suggest myself as a potential collaborator shamelessly.