How to become a ghost writer

Imagine this. You are the CEO of a family business about to celebrate its 100th anniversary. You have worked at the company your whole life with your grandfather, father, cousins, and siblings. What you know about running a family business could fill a book – you think it should. This was the situation my client Kent found himself in. 

The only problem? While Kent could compose a killer email, sitting down to pen an entire business book wasn’t within his Bally wick. Enter the executive ghostwriter.  

My personal experience as a writer for more than two decades, has allowed me to help my clients bring their ideas to life on paper, and online. I’ve written 12 of my own traditionally published business books, which have sold more than 450,000 copies. I’ve also penned hundreds of articles for magazines and newspapers on everything from the best chocolate shops in Paris to how to get in and out of the mall in less than 20 minutes during the holidays.  

As an executive ghostwriter, I’ve helped scores of my CEO clients write books, book proposals, articles, social media posts, speeches, and even critical emails. Here is my take on the topic based on my experience with executive ghostwriting. 

What is Executive Ghostwriting? 

Executive ghostwriting is a partnership between a professional writer and an executive, resulting in on-brand content that enhances the individual’s reputation and brings attention to the company. It can also be a significant step in helping to build an executive’s reputation and establish their thought leadership. According to one recent study from Edelman/LinkedIn found that 55% of industry decision-makers use thought leadership as an important way to vet companies that they’re considering. And 61% are even willing to pay a premium for workworking with brands they consider thought leaders.

Cover of Karen Tiber LeLand's book, The Brand Mapping Strategy

Reasons to Hire an Executive Ghostwriter 

In essence, executive ghostwriting takes on projects that CEOs and other leaders need more time, skill (or sometimes interest) in crafting themselves. The six most common reasons a CEO or other leader engages in executive ghostwriting are: 

  1. You write well but only have the time to pen anything beyond a few pages. 
  2. You speak well and can talk about your ideas, but when writing them down, you are a hot mess. 
  3. You dislike the writing process. 
  4. Time is of the essence. You could write the book, blog post, article, etc., yourself, but it would take too long. 
  5. The type of writing you want done requires an expertise you don’t have for example a speech or formal book proposal. 
  6. The subject matter requires research you don’t have the time, skill, or talent to take on. 

Types of Executive Ghostwriting Projects 

Leaders hire executive ghostwriters for various projects, ranging from a 100-word email to a 50,000-word book – and everything in between. Some of the most common projects executive ghostwriters are engaged to create include:  

Business books. 

One of the most common uses of executive ghostwriting is to help a CEO write a business book. Regardless of if the book is self or traditionally published, to be successful, a business book should feature an executive with a strong point of view, specific expertise, and substantial stories and experiences. It also requires a specific type of writing that can convey business ideas without boredom. This often means hiring an executive ghostwriter with deep expertise in engaging business writing. 

Specialized nonfiction books. 

Many leaders with the expertise to share often want to write a specialized nonfiction book. For example, I have one client, a top cosmetic physician in New York. She is well known for her non-surgical approach to such pesky items as cellulite, neck wrinkles, and sun damage. She has a ton of information in her brain that she wants to share with her current and potential clients. I’ve been working with her to translate what she knows into a non-surgical beauty health book. 

Long-form writing.

 Long-form content is writing on a particular topic, usually between 1,000 — 7,500 words. Consider it a deep dive into a specific subject to provide the reader with valuable insights and information. Long-form content can be an article for a magazine, newspaper, or online outlet. Today, executives publish long-form content on LinkedIn to increase SEO and thought leadership. According to research, long-form content gets 72% more links than short-form content, making it ideal for getting new backlinks (searchengineland.com). Excellent executive ghostwriting can combine CEOs’CEOs information with research to create a substantial long-formlong form post. 

Blog posts. 

Like long-form articles, blog posts that live on a company or executive website can be an excellent source of SEO and thought leadership. Blog posts are more typically between 500-1200 words in length.  

Speeches. From crafting a camera-worthy speech to delivering a keynote in front of a live audience or creating an outline for a simple toast, an executive ghostwriter can help take the pressure off.   

Important emails. 

You are hiring an executive ghostwriter to craft an email, really? Many people are surprised to learn how much time and effort it takes to draft an email communicating sensitive or important information—case in point. One of my clients sold his company to a larger player in his field. While he was staying on as CEO, and had communicated this to the company, rumors began to fly. He wanted to send an email expressing why he sold, what was next, and how people could address their concerns. The email, which ended up being only 3 or 4 paragraphs long, took four drafts and several hours to write. 

Social media posts. 

Over the past year, I have dramatically increased the number of leaders asking me to take over the writing (and posting) of their social media. What CEO or executive has the time to create three social media posts a week? The key to hiring an executive ghostwriter to scribe your social media is the creation of an editorial calendar that reflects your topics, expertise, and business.  

Book proposals. 

A well-written book proposal is required to gain representation from an agent or sell a book directly to a traditional publishing house. The book proposal is the business plan for your book, and its content and quality will often determine whether you get a thumbs up or down for acquisition. Book proposals have a particular format that needs to be followed to be taken seriously and include an overview of the author, books on a similar topic, a marketing plan, a chapter outline, and sample chapters. An executive ghostwriter with experience writing book proposals can make the difference between finding a publisher for your book – or not. 

Executive Ghostwriter taking notes to write a book

How To Hire an Executive Ghostwriter 

A Google search for “executive ghostwriter” generates more than 2 million results. How do you separate the choices and narrow them down to the few candidates who might be the right fit? There are a few types of executive ghostwriting. Including: 

  • Independent freelancer writers. 
  • Boutique branding firms who have freelance writers on staff.  
  • Traditional advertising agencies who have dedicated writers on staff. 
  • Book bundlers who offer soup to nuts book writing, production, publication and promotion.  

What To Look for In an Executive Ghostwriter 

A Google search for “executive ghostwriter” generates more than 2 million results. With the popularity of self-publishing at an all-time high, CEOs and leaders looking for someone to help them turn their wisdom into words have dramatically increased. However, as with all branding and marketing services, executive ghostwriters are not created equal. Here are a few things to keep in mind when evaluating the right person to do your writing. 

Executive ghostwriting is not co-authoring. 

Make certain the person you hire is an actual ghostwriter and not looking to be a co-author. In short, a ghostwriter assists you in getting your thoughts out of your brain and onto the page. As the word would imply, the writer is a ghost. They are not seen, known, or even mentioned. A co-author collaborates with the client to complete a piece of writing. The co-author is publicly acknowledged as an equal writer on the book cover, article, white paper, etc.  

There is a third category where a book or article contains the phrase “with.” For example, “written by Casper Crispy with Dela Delorious.” In this event, the “with” indicates that the second person named was the ghostwriter on the project. 

Match personality and proficiency. 

Even if an executive ghostwriter is experienced and proficient at their craft, they may be a better match for you. Think of executive ghostwriting as a business marriage. You will spend a lot of time with this person (face-to-face or by Zoom), and they will become privy to some of your deepest thoughts (feelings, insecurities, wishes, and dreams) and hold your brand in their hands. For this reason, you want to ensure that your personalities are a good fit before hiring them. 

Pay rates. 

The amount you can expect to pay for executive ghostwriting is as significant a gap as the Grand Canyon. Some charge by the word, a few by the hour, and many by the project. The number of words, the research involved, the amount of content needed, the deadline, and how often content is required are all factors that can influence the cost.  

Agreement on method. 

There are many ways to write your book, article, or blog post. In part, the method used depends on your comfort level and where the executive ghostwriter’s talent lies. Some of the most common ways executive ghostwriters get the job done include: 

  • Record an interview with you, transcribe it, do a light edit, and return it for you to read and edit. 
  • Records an interview with you, uses the content as a guideline to create new material, and then sends the draft back for you to provide feedback. 
  • Interviews you, come up with an outline, sends it to you for you to add your content, then edits what you have provided.  
  • Interviews you to understand the goal of the content, does independent research, writes a draft, and sends it to you for approval. 

Clarity on deliverables. 

One of the most challenging parts (for both the client and the executive ghostwriter) is agreeing on the project’s specific deliverables.  

Issues such as the number of drafts and rewrites, timelines, amount (if any) of research to be done, word count, and other specifics must be agreed upon before any work starts. 

Karen Tiber Leland Can Help You with Your Executive Ghostwriting Needs   

Karen Tiber Leland has ghostwritten over a dozen books for CEOs, executives, and experts looking to build their brand by writing a book. In addition, Karen has ghostwritten hundreds of blogs, speeches, long-form articles, and thousands of social media posts. She has penned numerous book proposals for CEOs and executives, which have been sold to publishing firms and agents. Karen herself is a best-selling author who has written 12 traditionally published books that have sold more than 450,000 copies. 

In addition, if you want to write a book once the content is finalized, SMG can have the book professionally designed, including the front and back cover and interior layout. When it’s perfect and ready to go, SMG will get the book placed on Amazon for sale.

Finally, SMG can work with the CEO or executive to create and execute a professional book promotion plan focusing on selling the book and building the executive brand. 

Book an initial consultation at no charge to discuss your executive ghostwriting needs.