Why Do Former Journalists Make Great Ghostwriters?


… because the skills needed to be a great journalist and a great ghostwriter are very similar.

A journalist spends much of their time meeting new people in new situations. They have limited time to gain their subject’s trust and enable them to open-up. They need to quickly find the nub of that all-important story that will inform, entertain, persuade or enlighten their readers and consumers. They need to be great listeners, great probers and great questioners. This experience is a perfect foundation for a career in ghostwriting.

Independent research is another notable ghostwriting skill that journalists possess. A ghost may not necessarily be party to all the information needed to write the book or document and will often have to source their own research and background material. A thorough understanding of research methods is a boon.

Working at speed is another journalistic skill required in ghostwriting, especially if the ghostwriter is writing marketing material with a commercial deadline or if the book they are working on is particular ‘timely’.

Alan Samson, publisher at Weidenfeld and Nicolson says former tabloid journalists often make good ghostwriters because, ‘The new breed of modern ghosts have to be able to ask searching personal questions, sometimes be as bold as brass, and of course be able to write. These multiple qualities are what many tabloid journalists possess and that is why they can add value to a book project’.

However, ghostwriting is ultimately about storytelling. It’s about taking a series of sometimes unconnected events and turning them into a structured narrative complete with rising action, conflict, denouement and resolution.

Whether journalists or novelists make the better ghostwriters, one primary skill they both need is the ability to listen and to be truly engaged and interested in their subjects. Curiosity is a good thing … it doesn’t kill the cat in this instance. They also need to be confident and up-front in their questioning abilities.  Shy ghosts make bad ghosts.

Ghostwriter, Katy Weitz is a proponent of what she calls ‘full-immersion’. She says she is happy to ‘…root around a subject’s home, get close, sniff around their fridge, meet their mother, look at their photos. You have to be them so you have to know them inside out. I really need that full-immersion.’

It sounds rather like method acting for writers.

If you are considering ghostwriting, hone the following priceless journalistic skills:

·      Successful interviewing skills

·      Effective listening skills

·      Effective questioning skills

·      Solid research skills

·      Efficient time management skills

·      Valuable interpersonal skills



What is a Ghostwriting Non-Disclosure Agreement and Should I Have One?

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A non-disclosure agreement (NDA) is a contract between the author and their ghostwriter which protects the author. The ghostwriter promises not to disclose any information their client gives to them in relation to the written project. This can be especially important when both parties are working on a topic of a sensitive nature such as a memoir or a business strategy. Remember however, that there is no copyright in ideas – only in their execution (the way they are presented and structured on paper or screen).

NDAs are particularly pertinent when an author is presenting themselves as the actual writer of the text and the activity of the ghostwriter is completely hidden. This is particularly evident in celebrity authored memoirs and some best-selling business books, although the ghostwriter’s input is often recognised (but not always) in the acknowledgments.

Below, you will find a standard NDA used by Wordshaker.  However, this can be adapted to make it more personal to each client.

THIS NON-DISCLOSURE AGREEMENT between: The Client (“the client”), and Sandra Cain (of Wordshaker), (“the recipient”), relates to the revelation of certain proprietary and/or confidential information by the client during discussions concerning the development of the client’s book project, otherwise known as “the project”. The terms and the obligations of both parties under this Agreement (items 1-9 below) shall come into effect immediately and will survive termination of the Agreement between the parties and shall be binding upon their respective heirs, successors, assigns, and affiliates.

Assuming that the recipient is awarded the project, the term will end at project completion and/or its termination. As used in this agreement, the phrase “recipient” also includes any of the recipient’s officers, directors, employees, agents, and representatives, including, without limitation, attorneys, accountants, consultants, and financial advisors (collectively “representatives”). The client wishes to protect any of his proprietary or confidential information being revealed under this agreement, and, to that end, the parties hereby agree as follows:

Proprietary and Confidential Information.  Both parties agree that any and all proprietary and/or confidential information, whether written or oral, which is disclosed to the recipient shall be subject to the terms of this agreement. During the term of this agreement and thereafter, the recipient must not, for any reason whatsoever, either individually or in partnership or jointly or in conjunction with any person or persons, firm, company, or corporation, as employee, independent contractor, principal, agent, shareholder, director, or in any other manner, whether directly or indirectly, share and/or sell information the client provides to the recipient.

1.    Non-disclosure to Third Parties.  The recipient of the information shall treat the information as the proprietary and confidential information of the client’s, and shall not disclose the information to any other person or entity except as authorized, and shall safeguard the information at least to the same extent that it would her own proprietary and confidential information.  The recipient shall immediately notify the client of any request by any third person that the information be disclosed and shall cooperate with the client in his or her efforts to protect the information from disclosure.  The recipient further agrees to promptly notify the client of any request by a court or regulatory agency (or other governmental body) for information owned by the client prior to complying with such a request, and to cooperate with the client in obtaining adequate protective orders and arrangements for the information.

2.    Publicity.  The recipient shall not publicly either announce or disclose the terms or conditions of this agreement, or the fact that the aforementioned discussions are taking place or the nature of such discussions, without the prior written consent of the client.  This provision shall survive any expiration, termination, or cancellation of this agreement.

3.    Ownership and Use of Information.  All information delivered by the client to the recipient pursuant to this agreement shall be and remain the property of the client and such information, if written, and any paper copies or electronic versions thereof, as well as any summaries of any information disclosed orally, shall be returned to the client within 48 hours from receipt of written request or destroyed, at the client’s choice.  The recipient shall not use the information for any purpose other than to evaluate possible improvements to the structure, organization, grammar and depth of information provided.  In any event, the disclosure by the client of information shall in no way preclude the receiving party from purchasing or using similar information or products.

4.    Survival. The terms, conditions and warranties contained in this agreement by their sense and context are intended to survive the performance hereof by either or both parties hereunder, shall so survive the completion of performance or termination of this agreement.

5.    Legal Obligation.  The recipient acknowledges and agrees that the client reserves the right to take any legal action to which s/he may be entitled in the event of breach, in full or in part, of the confidentiality and non-disclosure provisions of this agreement.

6.    Employee Access and Control of Information.  The recipient shall maintain a list of the names of her representatives, if any, who shall have had access to same, and shall furnish such list to the client at his or her request.  However, prior to any such access, the recipient shall inform each such representative of the proprietary and confidential nature of the information and of the recipient’s obligations under this agreement.    Each such representative shall also be informed that, by accepting such access, he or she thereby agrees to be bound by the provisions of this agreement.  Furthermore, by allowing any such access, the recipient agrees to be and remain jointly and severally liable for any disclosure by any such representative not in accordance with this agreement.

7.    Exceptions.  The obligations contained herein shall not apply to: (a) information which is now in or hereafter enters the public domain without a breach of this agreement; (b) information known to the recipient prior to the time of disclosure by the client or independently developed by the recipient’s representatives without access to the client’s personal information; or (c) information disclosed in good faith to the recipient by a third person legally entitled to disclose the same.

8.    Miscellaneous. The obligations of the parties shall be binding on and be to the benefit of their respective heirs, successors, assigns, and affiliates.  This agreement may be amended or modified only by a subsequent agreement in writing. 


By: _________________________

Client (The Client)





By: ____________________________

Recipient (Sandra Cain)




The Importance of Voice in Ghostwriting

It's YOUR voice that matters ...

One of the most important things for any ghostwriter is to write in the ‘voice’ of their client. It’s also one of the hardest to nail. Ghostwriters act as a conduit, translating their client’s thoughts and feelings on a subject onto paper or screen. They are expected to write a text or document that reflects their client’s words as though they had written those words themselves. To be effective they need to refine their writing voice to reflect the expectations and vision of their clients, whether they are a corporate entity wanting a newly minted, sharply written brochure to inform and persuade or a self-help author wishing to spread their inspiring message,

There are several ways to help the process of finding a client’s voice. At Wordshaker we always put our clients first. We understand the importance of creating long-term relationships. We listen to our clients - we assess their needs and we adapt our writing to their preferred style and voice. Essentially we search for ways in which our clients best engage an audience and aim to reflect that in our writing.

Many of our clients want their books to reflect their personalities, so it’s our job to find out who and what that personality is and to tap into their personal voice. We pay attention to our client’s natural speaking style. Are they fun and flirty; dry and academic; serious or funny, energetic or slower-paced? Do they speak in long drawn-out sentences or short pithy sound bites? Do they use characteristic expressions or buzz words?

Ultimately, we provide content where the client remains uniquely visible.  It’s about combining our craft with their unique voice. After all ... it's not our voice that matters, it's yours!


Finding the Ghost Who's Right For You


Do you have a great idea but can't get the words down? It may be that you have a story to tell, a memory to share, an idea to spread or a message to persuade but you are stumped as to where to start.

If that sounds like you, have you considered working with a ghostwriter? Celebrities, entrepreneurs, academics, sports stars, business movers and shakers - they've all hired ghosts to write their stories for them.  Some of the biggest names in fiction have worked with or hired ghosts for their projects.

The process is simple,  The author finds the ghost, hires them, tells them their story and waits for a well-polished manuscript to land glowingly on their desk.

Sounds easy doesn't it? But although the process is relatively simple, the relationship between the ghost and author needs to be properly negotiated.  After all, the author might be sharing their innermost secrets with the ghost - so they must be comfortable and confident in their chosen ghostwriter's discretion.

Therefore, finding the ghost who's right for you is paramount.

Today, ghostwriters are sometimes called collaborators, editors or helpers, but they are part of a team that helps bring a great writing project to fruition. Sometimes the ghost is credited in the book, sometimes they are not. But it will be your (the author's) name that appears on the cover of the book. Authors hire a ghost for several reasons:

·       Perhaps they are an adequate writer but just don't want to write the book.

·       Perhaps the author realises that good writing requires expertise and is often better when done by a professional writer.

·       Perhaps the author may not have the skills nor the talent to write.

·       Or maybe they just don't have the time or the stamina.

What about the ghost? What skills do they need to have?

·       Better than average writing skills.

·       First-rate people skills.

The match between ghost and author should work seamlessly and it's all in the 'voice'.  Capturing the author's voice starts with the way the ghost listens.  The ghost must be able to translate your voice into words that reflect your style, flair, phrases, unusual slang, witticisms and other elements that make you unique. The ghost must be able to duplicate your speech/word  patterns so that  the writing is authentic.

·       If you are a business person writing a serious business title, you may talk in elongated statistical sentences.

·       If you are authoring chicklit, you may talk n short, sharp, snappy sentences.

If you decide to hire a ghost to write for you, there are a number of things to consider and questions to ask.  You should be prepared to ask them:

·       If they like the idea of the project?

·       What their background and writing experience is?

·       When they are available?

·       When they expect to complete the project?

·       What the cost of the whole project will be?

The relationship goes 2-way and the ghostwriter will also be checking to see if they can work with you.  They will expect:

·       To ask you lots of questions.

·       You to stay on topic.

·       You to tell them all the details and be honest.

·       You to remember that their time is valuable

·       You to pay them.

You should also be prepared to answer some of the ghost's questions, which could include things like:

·       Your reason for hiring a ghost? 

·       Your goals for the project?

·       Your intended readership?

·       Where you are in the writing process?

·       What exactly you expect from them?

·       Your budget?

There is no set fee for hiring a ghost writer.  We set our own fees and determine our own worth, so you may find that fees fluctuate wildly.  Most ghosts calculate how much to charge by the amount of work required and the length of time it will take to complete the project to everyone's satisfaction.

The relationship between author and ghostwriter should be joyful and respectful. The best recommendation for a professional ghost who writes well, understands your project and works to agreed deadlines is via word of mouth.

A version of this article by Sandra Cain first appeared in Self Publishing Magazine, Issue 32, Autumn 2014.