Ghostwriting Framework

The most important aspect of ghostwriting is ensuring that the process runs as efficiently as possible and that the author’s voice is heard throughout and is clearly and properly represented in the text.

However, there are a number of points where the process can run astray of these goals if it is not carefully structured, understood, and properly managed. For example, if at the outset, the ghostwriter does not perform his or her due diligence to fully understand the author’s intent and topic, things will quickly go wrong with the relationship. There is also the issue that overly abundant and/or irrelevant research materials can act as their own driving force pulling the writer and/or author from the central theme and idea of the book.

The process that I have outlined below is intended to make the writing process as efficient as possible while ensuring the authors voice and intent is fully understood and clearly enunciated throughout the writing process:

Step 1 – What is the book about? This should be a broad discussion with the author outside of the context of the manuscript (e.g. just talking) of what the subject of the book is. If it's a memoir, is it about a specific moment in the author's life such as surviving cancer, a political campaign, a relationship, etc. If it’s historical, a how-to, or about a technical concept: describe and discuss the topic, why is it important, what does it do/mean, and so on (avoid getting into specifics and details as that will be fleshed out during research). Apply these principles to define in broad terms what the book is about.

Step 2 – What does the author want the book to do? By this I mean, define what the point(s) is (are) for writing a book on this subject. Is the book a polemic about racism designed to change minds and impel people to action? Is it to tell a compelling story designed to help others in a similar situation? Are you trying to take a leading role (a thought leader) within an industry or intellectual discipline by enunciating a new theory? And so on.

Step 3 – This is where the ghostwriter should go out and do some general research on the subject with the goal of being able to hold an educated discussion about it. This means looking at what others have written or done on the subject and maybe even conducting a handful of cursory interviews to expand the writer’s basic understanding of the subject. For memoirs, I like to interview the person in general terms on the story they want to tell and then briefly talking with others that may be involved with the telling of the story.

Step 4 – Broadly outline the structure of the book. Will it be in three parts or just a series of chapters? If it is done in parts what is the overall point and goal of each part and how do they fit together to tell the story? If it is a series of chapters, what is the narrative arc of the chapters? This is where the ghostwriter and author begin to flesh out how to write the book and narrow down its focus. The outline should be more than simply saying "Let's try this and we'll change it as we go along." This part of the process is about pushing the author to make some decisions, albeit with the caveat that as the writing progresses changes can be made. What this will do is set a context within which changes can be made so that you don't start removing and adding text, chapters, and so on, on a piecemeal or ad hoc basis.

Step 5 – Once the parts and chapters have been identified that are necessary to tell the overall story, you need to outline each chapter with a hierarchy of headings. This should be done in collaboration with the author. I would advise going at least three or four levels. The research and my growing understanding of the subject will help determine how to structure the discussion/explanation/narrative. What I am doing at this stage is setting the context and content of specific pieces of the book in order to better focus my research and interviews. It is also at this stage where I get a better sense of how well developed the author’s vision for how to write the book and what it ultimately should look and read like.

Step 6 – Here is where I prepare DETAILED outlines of three key chapters of the book (depending on whether it is memoir or a research piece these can be the first three chapters or important chapters for each section, and so on). The reason why I say detailed—and I mean very detailed—is because I present these to the author in order for him or her to precisely see what I am going to write and how it will be written (voice, etc.). It is critically important that the author has enough information to make a strong evaluation of the direction the book is going. Then the author and I will go through each piece of the outline, line-by-line, to check for factual accuracy, voice, content, and to ensure the outline adheres to the author’s vision.

The author should also realize that ghostwriting is an iterative process. I happily receive comments and then make changes and review with the author again so that I know I am getting the writing right as quickly as possible. I use a detailed outline at this point because in outline form the text is very easy to alter and move things around to reorder them, rewrite pieces, remove items, and add new sections, etc. By contrast, performing these kinds of changes on a large block of text can be very challenging.

This piece of the process also strengthens and solidifies the author’s vision as well as my understanding of what the book should look like. To say the least, it is far better to do this work early and get it right the first time then after a larger portion of the book has been written.

At this point we can also identify graphics, photos, sidebars and other elements to sharpen the manuscript. Basically, by solidifying the content via an outline, we have a much firmer structure to guide the rest of the research, writing and other elements to be included with the text. We also will be more firmly on the same page and have done quite a bit of brainstorming (harvesting blinks and etc. from the author) at the beginning rather than end of the process.

Step 7 – I will write the chapters and send them to the author and other reviewers that have been agreed upon by the author. Qualified reviewers help provide the author with peer support to say the book is good, but change here, or to identify inaccuracies and other howlers (things that standout to the reader). The remaining chapters will go through a similar process, but since the heavy lifting has already been done, the process will go very quickly.

In all, this framework not only ensures the best, highest quality result, but also that the book is written as efficiently as possible. It has been my experience that a good process can save weeks and months of work, which is good for both the author and ghostwriter.