Ghostwriting & Coauthor FAQs
I work as both a co-author and as a ghostwriter on general nonfiction titles and memoirs. Here are the questions I'm often asked, with my answers. Feel free to contact me for more information.
1. What is a co-author and how's that different from a ghostwriter?
Coauthor is a term of art used in publishing to describe a writer who does most of the research and writing of original content working in collaboration with an expert in a particular field who is the credited author on the book's cover. As a co-author my name appears on the cover using a "with Victoria Costello" credit, under the main author credit in smaller type.
A ghostwriter describes the same role but without a cover credit.
2. Who qualifies as an expert author?
Ideally they are respected authorities already known to the public. Everyone in publishing wants that sort of expert and if someone already has such a platform they can usually get a book deal pretty easily.
There are plenty of other experts - business success stories, adventurers, research scientists, health or mental health practitioners, or "average people" with a unique experience to share or a grave challenge they've overcome - who are as yet unknown or on the cusp of mainstream awareness. If they have a timely specialty or story and they team up with the right coauthor or ghostwriter the expert can make the jump into mainstream publishing with a break-out book.
In my specialty area of psychology and health books, the experts are usually research scientists or mental health practitioners who are recognized in their fields, have published articles in professional journals, or perhaps a prior book or two targeting their peers more than mainstream readers.
I am often contacted directly by such experts (or their agents) about collaborating on a book project, or I will contact an expert who I feel has done timely work suitable for a book.
3. What does the coauthor (working with an expert) actually do?
As the book's co-author, I may receive an outline, a limited number of pages or simply an agreement to collaborate from my author. To write the book I do some or all of these tasks:
I adapt the expert's existing material from previously written books, articles, speeches, and/or translate the expert's material from scholarly and technical papers.
I carry out new audio interviews with the expert to obtain new material for the book.
If there's new information to incorporate from outside the expert's existing material or interviews, I do the bulk of that research and writing.
4. What is the usual format of these expert books?
This type of book is very straightforward. The questions asked and answered and the writing usually stay within the realm of the expert's professional perspective, sometimes incorporating their personal experiences or reflections. The "story" of such a book is unique only in so far as the author is a leader in his or her field. In these cases, the beginning, middle and end of the book may include the author’s process of discovery in reaching certain unique conclusions, practical examples of their relevance to the reader and why the author's work is an important contribution to the field.
If it's a prescriptive book, it will include practical information arranged in a clear "how-to" style, often incorporating "real people" case studies or examples.
5. What expert books have I coauthored recently?
In the past year I’ve done two books as a co-author with experts in psychology and psychiatry. With Jack C. Westman, M.D., I wrote a Guide to Child Psychology. Dr. Westman is preeminent child psychiatrist, Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin Medical School, and the previous author of 8 books in psychiatry.
My co-author on The Chemistry of Love, Maryanne Fisher, Ph.D. is an evolutionary psychologist who has written many journal articles in her field and serves as a professor of evolutionary psychology at the University of Halifax.
6. How do I work as a ghostwriter on a memoir?
In memoir ghosting, the story is more personal and thus must be “found” and fleshed out from the inside out. What were the events that made this person’s life what it is? Then, what about the “author” is both unique and universal enough to fill a memoir length book? The lessons learned in the author’s life usually fill out the book’s theme.
Most ghosted memoirs already out in the marketplace are "by and about" the lives of politicians, entertainment or sports celebrities, people like Andre Agassi, Keith Richards and Sarah Palin. However, with the growth of self-publishing options and the seemingly inexhaustible desire to read real life stories, the market is opening up to all sorts of personal memoirs. Lately, I've been getting inquiries from individuals (or their agents or book packagers) who may dwell outside of mainstream celebrity circles but have unique stories they wish to tell. Many of these "authors" intend their memoirs for conventional book distribution. Others wish only to preserve their stories for family and friends.
7. What ghosted memoirs have I written?
The ghosted memoir I just finished (the subject of my current blog post) is the very personal story of a young woman who experienced a brutal crime as a teenager but has gone from victim to survivor and become a nationally known victims’ advocate. Because my role on this memoir is ghostwriter, my name is not on the cover and I will keep details of my role in the project confidential.
What I can share here is that I loved writing this book, and hope to do more like it. Because it included elements of true crime and personal survival, it tapped my skills in journalism and my work as both a fiction and memoir writer.
8. Who publishes an expert coauthored or ghostwritten book?
The book can be published by a mainstream trade publisher as a stand alone title or as part of a series. Both of my most recent coauthored books are published by Alpha Books, an imprint of Penguin, as part of Alpha's Complete Idiot's Guide series. Such a series offers a built in audience and brand for an expert's work. They tend to pay lower advances but offer royalties on the back end, which given the series' brand strength, may actually be produced.
The paid services of a book packager or producer can also get a book into mainstream publishing distribution channels including bookstores, online stores, libraries. In my most recent ghosted memoir book project Booktrix, a book packager, played the role of publisher - generating and sending out contracts, managing schedules and roles, and arranging distribution.
A book can also be self-published through one of the many companies that have sprung up in recent years to meet this increasing demand. I have dealt with many such companies and can help get prices and options for clients.
9. Who pays for the book to be written?
Sometimes the book project is sold to a publisher for an advance and royalties, or a publisher comes looking for a particular type of expert and ghostwriter for a book they already have in the works. But increasingly often the expert pays for their book to be written as a marketing tool or as an entrepreneurial entree into publishing.
10. What is my fee as a coauthor or ghostwriter?
Every project is different and negotiable. But because we all like to get a ballpark before we begin a discussion, here goes:
For a book proposal to go to agents and/or publishers, of 50 to 75 pages, including a content overview, analysis of competing books, table of contents and sample chapters, my fee ranges from $3500 to $7500.
For a book, the range is from $12000 to $35000 to write 40-65,000 words, the standard length range in nonfiction.
My fees usually don't include royalties, which belong exclusively to the author.
Fees depend on several variables, but the most important are your book's schedule and length:
* the desired word count
* how fast you need it (I've written 40000 words in 8 weeks but I'm not always exclusively available to one project. More standard would be 4-5 months)
* elements in hand to begin the book (notes, diaries, articles, research)
* whether the distribution is in place or you need my help in packaging it
* whether I receive a cover credit
Given the many possible variables, it's always best to discuss and negotiate a price and schedule that suit everyone's needs.
If you are an author, author's agent or a publisher or book packager and wish to inquire about my services as a ghostwriter or co-author, please send me an email and we'll arrange a time to speak by phone.
I’m happy to have an exploratory discussion to see if we might make a good fit on your project. My rates are negotiable. I am a very fast and adaptable writer. My recent expert author collaborators and publishing associates are happy to serve as references. I look forward to speaking with you!