Ghostwriters from the Inside Out by Michael Rasmussen and Jason Tarasi - HTML preview

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Choosing Your Winning Ghostwriter

The first thing is you should be precise in what you’re looking for. If you need someone to flesh out an e-book on the subject of your time in Vietnam, that is a very different project, and will attract a completely different set of resources, than a project to write, from scratch, on how to build an internal combustion engine or a set of six articles on how to get your website the top rating on Google.
As an example of the number of possibilities Elance boasts that it has “50,000” professionals available at any time. Even if this is true, and you decide to peruse Elance in your search for a great ghostwriter, how can you possibly select from among 50,000 or even 50 writers effectively?
The answer is, you can’t, really. What you can do is “qualify out” the majority of potential submissions and then develop the ability to quickly assess the rest, culling the herd down to just a few from among which you will then choose.

First, you can – and we generally recommend you do – avoid offshore resources for writing. This will reduce the bidding pool significantly on any of the project auction sites or the response rates to your classifieds or job listings.

How About Offshore Resources?

While offshore resources offer a compelling price point, our experience is in writing you are dealing with subtleties that are both cultural and linguistic and the money saved using someone in India, Mexico, Argentina or China to write prose will be spent two or three times over fixing their work, as well as wasting time and causing frustration.

Remember we are talking about ghostwriting – not general copywriting for example for search engine optimization purposes. That sort of keyword-driven work can easily be done offshore with great results. Ghostwriting of longer pieces with personality and skill, cannot.

When you are producing “content” for a series of websites or RSS feeds or similar kinds of “word hungry” situations where the actual quality of the writing as writing is less important than length, word frequency and other factors that can be handled by almost anyone who has basic competence with written English, we encourage you to go for a cheap resource that delivers. You need volume and speed primarily, and volume and speed can be had for a song.

On the other hand, when you’re writing something more meaningful, intended to be read and reread, that you may charge money for and that will have your name and or your company’s name clearly associated with it, you want something better than just OK.
We’d say you want US, UK, Canada or similarly-based resources. You can shop regions. A typical NYC writer will generally charge more than a typical Katy, Texas writer, for obvious reasons.

What About Prior Experience? Can It Be Verified?

You definitely want to hire experienced writers, but unfortunately, specific experience can often not be verified, either because the work was actually covered by a Nondisclosure (as a huge percentage of ghostwriting and indeed copywriting is), or for other reasons.

Also, when we say “experienced” we mean experienced at the kind of writing relationship, deadlines, and project you have – and except in a few complex scientific, tech and medical areas, specific subject matter background generally matters less than basic skills and professional writing experience. A truly talented writer can write on almost any topic effectively, if given time to do the necessary research.

In terms of qualifying, bear in mind that you can ask things of an independent contractor that you might have legal trouble with asking a potential W2 employee. You can ask detailed questions about experience and background, you can even ask how old someone is, since experience in a contractor is not the same as in an employee – and while the law is evolving on this, you are unlikely to get sued by asking a contractor who claims 25 years of experience how old he is. If he’s 28, that should tell you something, since some writers might well start professional work in their late teens, but none start at age 3!

Writing Samples – And How To Read Them

You can and should request writing samples, as well as having a detailed written exchange with any potential writer. Writers write – you should get fairly fast, fairly literate replies to any questions you may have.

You can also start to gauge whether you and the writer will have a personality fit, from the interactions about the samples and other early discussions. About the writing samples themselves, chances are that the writer will not have “just” what you are asking him or her to do, as a sample. What you are looking for in a sample is a sense of the person’s skills and style.

Ask these questions when you review writing samples:

• Does the writing make sense?
• Does the writing get the point across?
• Does the level of vocabulary in the writing match your style, preferences?
• Are there obvious mistakes in the writing?
• Does the writing style, tone, pacing, organization, “feel” and quality match the subject matter and intended audience or purpose?
• Are the intended audience or purpose obvious?

Also don’t be afraid to ask for specific context for the sample, which can make all the difference in whether it reads well or doesn’t read well at all. Who was it for? When? Why?

We once saw a proposal document that was as dry as burned toast. When we asked what it was for – it was the introduction to a proposal that was accepted, for about $10 million! Since we wanted a proposal writer, the fact that it worked was far important than whether it was fun reading for a lay person.


Most writers will have some sort of references, but we’re cynical enough to suggest you rely more on the writing you see and your own “gut” about the person than on any references unless the references are people you already know and trust. We would say the same in a fulltime hiring situation.

If a ghostwriter or for that matter any potential vendor or employee had no references at all we’d be a little nervous, but we also have found that some of the worst contractors we’ve ever seen have great references, and some of the best can have very few.

When it comes to judging personality – just Use the Force! As you would in any other situation.



You want it cheap. Well of course, everyone wants everything cheap – but also of course as a general rule you will get what you pay for in a ghostwriter as in most anything else in business and in life.

Copywriting – of which ghostwriting is a specialized sub-category – has no “standard” pricing models. Freelance copywriting had a traditional model of print articles for things like newspapers and magazines, which would generally be on a price per word basis. The old rule for decades was 0.10 per word. Like gas prices the rates are going up a little. The more recent standard is closer to 25 cents.

If you needed a 350 word article for a local magazine, at 10 cents a word that’s almost nothing – $35 – and at a quarter a word it’s still not much – $87.50.

If instead you needed a 100 page e-book, at 400 words per page, 25 cents per word, you’re at $10,000 – when in fact the going price for a 100 page e-book by a domestic writer on a non-specialty topic with quality is probably closer to $2,000 – 2,500.

The problem with the per-word model is first, it encourages overall length which is not necessarily a good thing. Second, it encourages use of more words per sentence, per paragraph and per page. Also not necessarily good. Third and most important, on smaller projects it is a waste of time for the writer and on bigger projects it will get too expensive for you!

Some writers will work on a per-page basis and for shorter projects this may well make economic sense for you. Expect to pay around $25-75 per page for a good US, UK or Canadian writer. You can find offshore resources who will charge $1 per page. But remember what we said about getting what you pay for…

Many writers will offer to work on hourly rates. You can find offshore rates as low as $5 per hour. Domestically, in most markets writing rates are $25-45 per hour in 2005. In some metro areas, or for specialized expertise, you can expect to pay far more – medical and technical writers can easily charge $75-100 per hour, legal writers even more. Whether it’s worth it depends on the nature of your project.

A better approach in many cases than per word, per page, or per hour is a project model, where you define what you want, and the writer agrees to do it for a set fee.
We’ll have more to say about pricing a little later. For now, we’re just touching on pricing as a decision-making element in choosing a writer.

You certainly can choose on price – but we recommend choosing on fit, quality and value as long as the price is affordable and makes sense for your business.


Management Style

Regardless of what you’re paying, where the writer is located, and other variables, something very important that buyers and sellers of freelance services often fail to consider is style – yours and theirs.

As in management in an employment setting, the way you expect to work with someone will largely define how you feel about working with them.

• Do you prefer lots of small updates?
• Do you have a lot of specific ongoing questions?
• Are you very detail-oriented, are you likely to ask a writer to change a word here or a word there very often?
• Do you want justification for each editorial choice the writer makes?


• Do you prefer less frequent, bigger updates?
• Do you generally only have a few questions about direction and progress?
• Are you inclined to “defer” to the writer’s expertise in most word choices?

There’s no right and wrong.


There’s just your preferences, and the writers. Which should match, or you are asking for trouble.

This can make a huge difference in the success of your project. A self-directed writer with a bigger personality will be a conflict if you are of the first detailed type; a quiet, slow writer who needs continual prompting will be a nightmare if you are the second more hands-off type.

Think a little about the way you like to work, and factor that in when choosing your ghostwriter, particularly if your project is personal in nature. Also, if a writer asks you questions about your preferences and style, try not to be defensive about it. Chances are he or she is trying to save both of you potential aggravation, and nothing more.