You know it's time for you to write that book you've been thinking about. Publishing a book could be a huge boost to your career, would increase your credibility, and might help you land lucrative speaking engagements. Besides, you have something important to say. You've learned a lot over the years and you want to share what you've learned with others.

But writing a book can be a daunting undertaking, even for an experienced writer. And it's a huge time commitment that can't fit in your overloaded schedule. That's why the smartest and most successful business leaders, celebrities, and politicians nearly always use a ghostwriter to help them complete their manuscripts.

Sounds good--but there are some pitfalls. Pick the wrong ghostwriter, and your beloved book project could devolve into frustrations, missed deadlines, and even an incomplete manuscript. Pick the right one, and you can end up with a highly readable product that will help you shine. If you want to pick the best ghostwriter for your book, here's some advice from Kelly K. James, author and ghostwriter, and presenter at the American Society of Journalists and Authors Spotlight on Ghostwriting workshop on Friday, November 17 at Columbia College in Chicago, which brings together experts looking to publish a book and professional ghostwriters who can make it happen. (Disclosure: I'm a board member of ASJA.) 

Here are James' tips for picking the perfect ghost for your book:

1. Decide what you want your book to accomplish and who should read it.

"You may want to do a book to raise your profile or position yourself as an expert or attract more clients," James says. You should decide what your top priorities are for your book, what topics it will cover, and--importantly--who your target readership will be. 

In fact, she says, it will help both you and your ghostwriter a lot if you can find one or two examples of the kind of book you want, similar in structure and style if not necessarily on the same topic. "Have something that you can say, 'This is the kind of thing I'm thinking of,'" she advises. "Think about where it would go on a bookstore shelf and have some idea of what it should look like. Otherwise, it's going to be hard to be happy because you don't know what you're aiming for."

2. Find someone with ghostwriting experience and some knowledge of your topic.

Your ghostwriter should at least be familiar with your general topic area if not your specific topic, James advises. "If you're a sales coach, you want someone who writes about sales or at least about business. If you're a real estate agent and want to write a book about how to get more money for your house, you want someone who's written about real estate." 

At the same time, she says, you want someone who's ghostwritten at least two or three books--not just books of their own. "You don't want to have a ghostwriter who's learning their business on your book," she explains. "There are a lot of people who can write their own books but not someone else's." Make sure to ask for both referrals and examples of a prospective ghostwriter's previous work, she advises.

Also, find out if your ghostwriter has enough bandwidth to take on your project and complete it on your schedule. "You want someone who's experienced and in demand, but don't hire someone who already has too many plates spinning," James says. "Some ghosts work on more than one book at a time. That could be a problem, especially if you're locked into a deadline."

3. Spell out exactly what you want the ghostwriter to do, and how you want to work together.

"Let's say you have a manuscript already fleshed out and you want the ghost to take that and run with it, almost more like an editor," James says. "Or maybe the whole book is still in your head and the ghost will interview you. Or maybe you're somewhere in the middle. You need to understand how the ghost wants to work and how that jibes with how you want to work."

You should also decide ahead of time on the mechanics of how you will work together, she adds. For example, do you need someone local because it's important to you to be able to meet face-to-face on a regular basis? Or will virtual meetings work? Will you share Google documents, or send document files back and forth? 

Work out as many specifics as possible up front so there are no surprises down the line, she advises. "If you want to talk to the ghostwriter at least once a week, or to get edits back within 24 hours, put all that in the contract so it's not just a verbal agreement. Make sure there will be a couple of drafts back and forth included in the fee." 

In particular, she says, if you absolutely need the book by a specific deadline make sure to put that into the contract and that the ghostwriter understands the significance of the deadline. "Writers do miss deadlines," she says.

4. Look for that click.

"You're looking for someone who, when you talk to them on the phone, you feel like there's a 'click' or a connection," James says. She thinks this may be the most important qualification of all. Your ghostwriter will have to write in your voice, she says, and you and your ghostwriter will be in each other's lives for a while. 

"It's three to six or maybe nine months," she says. "And it's a true collaboration. So if you work with someone who's technically very good but you don't have that connection, it'll be a lot less enjoyable."

5. Take this very seriously.

A ghostwritten book is a sizable investment. James estimates that your fee to the ghostwriter may be anywhere from $5,000 (at the very low end) to mid-five figures. If you're publishing the book yourself, which James says most authors do since it's a much quicker process that gives you complete control, there will also be expenses for preparing the book, creating artwork and printing it, if there's a print edition. If your goal is to sell the book to a traditional publisher, you won't have those expenses, but you will have to wait months or years for a finished product and your fee to the ghostwriter will be significantly higher.

At the same time, she says, "You cannot overestimate the value a book with your name on it can have for your career. It might give you more speaking gigs. There's a sense that a book author is an expert in that topic. So it's worth investing in."

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