Thursday, May 16, 2019

Should You Hire a Ghostwriter for Your Memoir?

Does this describe you? You have a story—an important story—but it's still in your mind and heart.

Or maybe you’ve started writing your memoir, but you just can’t finish it. You’ve tucked it away in a drawer, but it’s nagging at you to finish.

Perhaps you lack time or motivation or skills, or maybe all three, yet you long to get those stories into print for your kids, grandkids, friends, and colleagues.

If any of that sounds familiar, you’ll want to read today’s guest post by Wayne Groner, a personal historian, ghostwriter, blogger, and author of A Guide to Writing Your Memoir or Life Story: Tools, Tips, Methods and Examples. You’ll find Wayne’s contact information, below.

Here's Wayne's message for you today:

Students in my memoir-writing class give various responses when I ask why they haven’t written their stories, such as:

“I don’t have time.”

“Who would be interested in reading it?”

“What if my family disagrees with what I remember?”

“I’m not a writer.”

“I don’t know about spelling, grammar, and punctuation.”

“How do I start?”

These are legitimate concerns and precisely why they come to my class. You may have those same concerns. If so, you might want to consider hiring a ghostwriter.

A ghostwriter will finish the job, and most of the work can be done by telephone and email. Your ghostwriter will set a specific time—often once a week—to interview you in person or by telephone, record the interview, transcribe and edit it for your approval, and present you with a completed manuscript you can take to any printer or publisher. I give my clients a manuscript on compact disk so a printer or publisher can easily format it.

Each interview could become one chapter in your book. Even though the interview may have several stories, your ghostwriter will weave the stories into a theme for that chapter. After I finish editing an interview, I email the written version to the client to check for accuracy, flow, and a voice that sounds like the client. Then I make the required changes and email it again for the client to take another look.

We may do this several times by email or talk about the changes by phone or in person. This is the client’s memoir, not mine. My job is to help the client be real, so when people the read book they can say, “That sounds just like her,” or “Yeah, that’s something he would do.”

Your interviews are likely the smallest part of your project. Your ghostwriter will edit, rewrite, research, fact-check some of your remembrances for accuracy and credibility and may clean up photos and indicate on which pages they should appear. Be sure you own rights to the photos or have written permission from the owners to publish them in your memoir.

Your ghostwriter may engage the services of other professionals to proofread your manuscript and design the interior and cover of your book. A finished manuscript of approximately 200-300 pages could take eight months to a year.

What can you expect to pay a ghostwriter? There is no industry standard fee. It could be as low as $5,000 and as high as $100,000. The more experienced and successful ghostwriters charge more. Ghostwriters who do it for a living often are in the $20,000 to $50,000 range and are working on several projects at the same time. Some charge by the hour and some by the project.

Usually—unless you negotiate otherwise—the ghostwriter’s name does not appear on the cover of your book. You are the author and your ghostwriter is the invisible writer.

Ways to find a ghostwriter:
  1. Ask members of local writers’ groups. If you are unaware of such groups, check with your librarian.
  2. Contact the English Department of nearby colleges and universities for teachers who also are professional writers. Teachers may refer you to writers not associated with their schools.
  3. Search your computer’s browser for ghostwriters, memoir writers, and personal historians. It’s okay to shop around. Besides individuals, there are companies that hire freelancers or staff to work with you. Because companies keep part of the fee, they tend to be more expensive than individuals, and companies have rules that may be difficult for you to go along with.
What to look for in choosing a ghostwriter:
  1. Be sure you can talk with your ghostwriter by phone or in person. Either of you could set limits as to days and times. This oral contact can clear up a lot of confusion and help you have a happier writing experience.
  2. Select someone with experience you can trust, rather than a first-timer. It will cost you more, but you will get a better result.
  3. Since you are paying for a service, you need to be satisfied; your ghostwriter should be willing to make revisions until you are.
  4. Get a written agreement you both sign that includes a firm fee, how you will pay it, approximately how long your project will take, and what happens when one of you wants to quit. Your ghostwriter should be willing for your attorney to review the agreement before signing.
  5. Your ghostwriter should provide references from satisfied and dissatisfied clients.
Because you are the author, you have full control over the contents of your memoir. Your ghostwriter works for you. Even though your ghostwriter gives you her or his professional opinion on how your stories should look and feel, you have every right to insist the stories appear as you want them.

On the other hand, the two of you should be compatible and understand before your project begins just how your personalities may clash. If you expect clashes, both should be willing to work them out for the best result of your memoir.

Wayne E. Groner is a personal historian and author of A Guide to Writing Your Memoir or Life Story: Tools, Tips, Methods and Examples, available in paperback and Kindle at He blogs at

You may contact him at

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