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Hiring a ghost writer in the UK is more common than you think. Although many fiction novels have been ghost-written–such as the famous Vampire Diaries, which was ghost-written from book eight onwards–by far the highest demand for hiring ghost writers is for nonfiction books.

Lack of references doesn’t mean the ghost writer can’t write

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It’s the trickiest aspect of doing business as a ghost writer: “Can you provide any references?”

If he can’t, it doesn’t mean he can’t write, or that he hasn’t written dozens of books.

The very nature of ghost-writing is that it is done in the background. A ghost-writing deal is rarely done without an ironclad NDA in place.

This becomes even more true when dealing with high profile books–autobiographies of celebrities and such.

I constantly snicker whenever I see a famous person’s mug on a book cover, touting that they have personally penned this autobiography of theirs.

Haha. Liars!

Non-writers are too often under the impression that writing is a piece of cake, a task engaged upon by anybody “with the time.”

This is not true. Writing is a brutally difficult skill, something learned through years of sweat and tears, and massive amounts of wordage produced. I just can’t see that high-profile celeb who has never written a word in their life, suddenly taking to the keyboard every night to pound away at this mill, and revealing at the end of it all a memoir worth reading.

Donald Trump was called out on this. In the UK, household names such as Sir Alex Ferguson, Jordan, Andy McNab, and Victoria Beckham apparently also used a ghost writer. So did Russell Brand and many other UK personalities.

It’s big business.

And the ghost writer doesn’t always get credit.

Ghost writers who do take credit can charge megabucks

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Ghost-writing costs depend on:

  • The genre.
  • The ghost writer’s clout.
  • The size (amount of words or pages) of the final product.

Romance novels are generally cheaper than, say, autobiographies or Brand Books (a book whose purpose is mainly to promote your brand).

There are market rates for ghost writers, and some degree of flexibility in pricing as with any business.

But if your UK ghost writer can openly tout penning a memoir for, say, the Queen of England, you’d better bet those fees are going to rise commensurately and astronomically!

Ghost-writing is big business at the top of the chain–mega business. And this can make it difficult for business people to get a fair deal from a ghost writer.

No ghost writer can work for peanuts, but it shouldn’t cost you the crown jewels either.

How to know if your UK ghost writer can deliver the goods

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First, foremost and above all else, your ghost writer must be a professional in matters of business. He must inspire confidence the same way any other business inspires confidence.

He is delivering a service for which you are paying. His service is a professional service, but it is indeed a service, just as plumbing is a service and cleaning cars is a service.

Don’t go into the contract with the idea that the ghost writer is an artiste whose inspiration manifests only when the moon and planets align.

No. Your ghost writer is a plumber. He is a person of work, of service. And you are his client.

All true writers know that inspiration comes to those who whip it into appearance. A ghost writer has no right to lean back and rest for lack of “inspiration.” You are his inspiration, and if your paycheck doesn’t inspire him to write, find another ghost writer.

UK and US language–it’s not only about the spelling (and your ghost writer needs to know both)

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The best writers are chameleons. They are able to adapt fluently between styles, voice, and genre.

Spelling is one thing, and easily learned. I grew up writing in the British manner, until I discovered that the only way to really sell books was to write for an American market. So I learned American spelling, American slang, American turns of phrase.

The task is more daunting than you might imagine. It’s by far not only about the difference between “color” and “colour.” It comes down to punctuation, common expressions such as “vacation” and “holiday,” or “you gave me a fright” versus “you startled me.”

But these are matters of minor editing. Your ghost writer, if he’s a real pro, will send the final work to a professional editor before sending it to you as a completed product.

If you plan on selling your book internationally, the spelling is of secondary consideration because it is easily fixed in the final proofreads. It is the slang and the colloquialisms and the overall “feel” of the prose which must really be nailed down.

The British tend to understand American slang far more than the reverse, because of American movies and the sheer ubiquity of American influence across the world.

If you want your book to sell to an international market, you have to write it in such a way that an American reader will understand it easily (difficult books are more quickly put down), while still maintaining its British flavor.

Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime was clearly written for an American crowd, but even he flubs when he says “holidays” instead of “vacations.” In the States, “holidays” are “Bank Holidays” or, more specifically, Christmastime or Hanukkah in December.

If your book, however, is decidedly British through and through, such as Peter McLean’s Drake, you would indeed want it to drip with British colloquialisms. A good ghost writer should be able to write in both tones easily.

“My book must be a best seller!”

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Yes, we all want this. But, provided the book is decently written, best-selling books have more to do with marketing than with the writing itself.

The writing must be good, indeed. But even the most brilliant books go undiscovered. Testament to this is the sheer number of writers who “died poor,” only to have their material sold posthumously and become huge hits. Kafka, Poe, John Keats, and countless others.

When hiring a UK ghost writer, keep some budget for your marketing. Contrary to all the countless “get rich by writing!” articles you find on the internet, the real world is quite different. Trust me, I’ve been in this game for a long time.

This is another reason to make your book accessible to as many people as possible, not only to a small niche. It’s okay to write to a niche if you already have powerful marketing channels established in that niche. If not, get the book written in such a way that it will appeal to the largest possible audience.

Summary of what to look for when hiring a ghost writer in the UK

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  • The writer must be a professional, competent in business first, not an “artiste.” He must be reliable, and deliver a service.
  • The writer should be able to write in both American and British styles, and that doesn’t only mean spelling.
  • Lack of references doesn’t mean lack of skill. Look at the writer’s business. Look at examples of his work, both fiction and non-fiction. Read some of it yourself. Does it show a fluidity of style? Is the writer a “chameleon” who can adapt to the subject matter being addressed?
  • Avoid freelancing sites at all costs. For ghost-writing, they are your worst enemies. Of all the writing skills being sold–content writing, blog writing, technical writing, ghost-writing, etc.–ghost-writing is by far the most taxing and demanding. It requires a strong relationship between you and the ghost writer. And, if he is writing about your life, you certainly don’t want someone who’s pressed for income because he had to give you bargain-basement rates on a freelancing site which will take a cut of his final pay anyway!

Ghost-writing does not need to cost you a new mortgage. At the same time, you’re certainly not going to get that 300-page memoir written for five hundred quid.

Choose a ghost writer who is fair in his pricing. Some ghost writers charge per hour, others charge per word. I try do a combination of the two, limiting the number of hours per week and simply not charging for more if I do need to spend more time on it.

Whatever you choose, finding the right ghost writer for a UK audience comes down to working with someone you can trust and who will do justice to your final manuscript, delivering to you a physical manifestation of the vision you initially sought when you decided to put your life’s memories down on paper.