How to find a ghostwriter for an autobiography

You’ve found one!

OK, maybe too flippant. Chances are though, you’ve found me through Google, or a referral from another site. These are the obvious first ports of call for any author considering penning their autobiography with the help of a collaborator.

So, where else could you go?

Well, it makes life a lot easier if you already know a ghost. Or, at the very least, a professional writer. It’s not unknown, for example, for celebrities or public figures to look-up a journalist who has previously written nice things about them in previous magazine or newspaper articles. The would-be author will be reassured that a), this person can string a sentence together, and b), they are probably going to be good to work with. Plus, if the two parties have had a previous connection, it makes a potential partnership a more attractive proposition for the ghost too, because they will know exactly what he or she is letting themselves in for.

Occasionally, collaborations are organised via a publisher or literary agent. Some literary agents have a number of ghosts on their books and, if the agent themselves are interested in a project, they can be very useful matchmakers lining up appropriate ghosts with authors who may benefit from their expertise. Likewise, most publishers have a pool of up to a dozen ghosts who they return to time and again. When it is obvious a ghost is required for a particular project, a publisher will usually get the ball rolling by setting up a beauty parade of three or more suitable writers for the author to meet. Of course, what both these scenarios count on is interest from agents or publishers in the first place, which, for the majority of writers, is somewhat putting the cart before the horse. The book often needs to be written, or at least partly so, to attract this sort of attention in a crowded market.

While we are on the subject of publishers, I will add a word of warning here. There is nothing more guaranteed to make a publisher wince that would-be authors using a good pal to write their book. Yes, that good pal probably knows the author better than most, but ‘fancying becoming a writer’ is not nearly the same as being a professional writer with a string of published books behind them. If you want the job done properly, you need a professional ghostwriter.

All of which leaves the majority of people seeking a ghost to turn to Google and the like. The obvious follow-on question here is: how do you know whether or not you have found the right ghostwriter for you?

There are many elements to consider when checking out a ghostwriting service, but how the two parties get along is paramount. Indeed, talk to ghostwriters about their relationship with named authors and vice versa and one word that comes up time and again is ‘chemistry’. When a ghost and an author sign up to work together on an autobiography, it is not the start of a life-long relationship, but it is certainly a commitment to a fairly intense, intimate process. If it is mismatched, rocky or strained from the beginning, by the time both parties get close to 80,000 words or so, it will be like being at the tail-end of a failed marriage. Very messy.

Working at achieving a smooth collaboration is important for a wide range of reasons, over and above pure chemistry. Another word bandied about a lot in ghosting is ‘voice’, as in ‘finding the author’s voice’, or in other words projecting their personality through the written word. It stands to reason that if either party can’t stand being in the same room as the other, the main author’s voice is never destined to come across very well. Finding a good match is key to the success of any co-authored project.

Other key factors that I’d recommend that any author considers include:

Trust – Do they have complete faith that this writer really knows what they are doing? An author has to feel comfortable sharing their life with a ghost and be satisfied that their ghost can produce a book that truly reflects their story and is a compelling read too.

Fun – Is the ghost going to be a good person to work with? Again, it is not a lifetime commitment, but co-writers do need to spend a lot of time together, particularly in the early stages of collaboration. Wouldn’t it be much better if there were a few laughs along the way?

Experience – Most skilled writers can turn their hands to pretty much any subject, but it is helpful to delve into what they’ve done in the past. An author with a dramatic story that involves some sort of loss, might want to consider someone who has done misery memoirs in the past. If the author has had a very glamorous or well connected past, they may well wish to seek out a ghost who is familiar with all the names they will be dropping. Someone with a background as a successful captain of industry will need someone who is familiar with business to properly tell their story.

Authors don’t always need to go for the ‘obvious’ ghost with an expertise in their particular area. Although the book will undoubtedly be technically brilliant, displaying a ghost’s detailed knowledge and understanding of the subject, it may not be as effective at engaging people outside the immediate sphere of interest. Sometimes a bit of a wild card and experimentation works well, particularly if the ghost and author hit it off well.

Choosing the right ghost is a matter of preference and the potential for a good, productive working relationship between the pair, plus a few laughs along the way, should be a priority. Any collaboration will inevitably involve a bit of a leap of faith, on both sides. However, if an author and a ghostwriter are careful to do their due diligence ahead of time, then the match will be good.

If you would like to learn more about the benefits of working with a ghostwriter, or would like to discuss your book with me, please feel free to drop me an email here: