The Savvy Ghostwriter: 7 Smart Questions to Ask About the Client -Before- You Sign the Contract

In most job interviews, the person doing the hiring asks a lot of questions in an attempt to determine your qualifications and ability to do the job. In a ghostwriting interview, after the client asks her questions, you ask yours. I can’t stress h2ly enough how important your half of the interview is to a successful outcome. What follows are the smart questions you should ask about the client.

1. Why do you want a ghostwriter?

Reasons for hiring you will range from I don’t have time/skills/desire to write a book to I’m gathering material from many sources, and I want the ghostwriter to organize it and create a consistent voice. These are all valid. Just be aware of any response that sounds frivolous or unrealistic.

2. What do you hope to achieve with this book/project?

People’s reasons for wanting to write a book fall into surprisingly predictable categories. Executives often want to share their visions or successful careers. People of all ages are attracted to memoirs, which often turn into full-blown autobiographies. Experts want to impart their knowledge through “how-to” books. Self-help, spiritual guidance, and overcoming adversity are common themes. You may be better suited to some of these themes than others. If you are really opposed to a topic, take that into account.

3. What kind of working relationship do you desire/envision?

Some authors will want to walk through the process with you, step by step, keeping tabs on every word you write. This too-close-for-comfort arrangement will quickly become stifling. At the other extreme, are those who want to hand you a carton of papers and not see you again until you hand them a finished book. Their hands-off approach is a set up for failure because you are on your own with no interaction or guidance. If a client says, “I want a collaborative relationship with you. I will provide guidance, information, answers to your questions, and feedback; but I won’t get in your way or be a control freak,” this is a very good sign.

4. What, if anything, have you done up to this point (research, interviews, notes, transcriptions, outline, writing)?

The more the client has done in advance, the faster you can get started. The fact that she has taken the lead tells you she is serious about this book and takes some ownership of the project. All the legwork she has done is less you will have to do, which will enable you to concentrate on writing instead of research. Just be sure this material will actually help you and isn’t just a pile of information you can’t use.

5. What is your experience with previous writers/ghostwriters?

If she has never worked with a ghostwriter, much of your job will involve education. Here’s how we would work together; here’s my role; here’s your role, etc. If she has worked with a ghostwriter before she will know what worked and what didn’t. Listen carefully for what didn’t work; those are the landmines to avoid.

6. Do you have a budget? (If so, what is it?)

This is the game part of the conversation. What do you charge? What is she willing to spend? Your fee may be way out of her ballpark or just more than she thinks the job is worth. On the plus side, she may say, “Sure that sounds reasonable.” One client told me I was not asking enough. Rare. Very rare.

7. Are you interviewing other ghostwriters? (If so, on what will your decision be based?)

These are the principal criteria: experience, fee, ability to make the deadline, and chemistry. You either have enough experience or you don’t; you may be able to negotiate a mutually acceptable fee; the deadline is either reasonable or it isn’t (Can you make it if you kill yourself? Do you really want to kill yourself?). Chemistry is intuitive. Do you like each other? Do you connect? Your “gut” feeling on this matters. If you inner voices are screaming, “No! No! This is not going to work,” pay attention. Don’t convince yourself it will work, when you know deep down you should walk away. These are the things you must know about your potential client before you continue your side of the interview. There are other questions to ask of course—about the process, about the book, about payment and contracts—but if you aren’t happy with the answers you have received so far, think twice about accepting the job.

One comment on “The Savvy Ghostwriter: 7 Smart Questions to Ask About the Client -Before- You Sign the Contract
  1. Thabi says:

    I’m a budding ghost writer so this helps.

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