In my experience, the vast majority of top-level editors prefer that you write a business book with the help of a professional ghostwriter. Why? Because most top CEOs and executives are so busy and overwhelmed with the daily demands of their job, that it’s always a bit of a challenge for them to find the time and space to sit down, focus, and write a well-crafted and compelling manuscript.
Sure, we build editorial deadlines into contracts, but often they don’t stick if the author is left to their own devices. And every publisher waiting for a manuscript is very eager to read what the author has to offer on the page and then map out a major publicity and marketing campaign based upon the author’s platform. This process all takes some long-term strategic thinking within the publishing house. But all of it is based on having a fully finished, presumably well-written manuscript.
That’s where the ghostwriter becomes a key player. The ghost is the one who quietly sets up the time-consuming meetings with the author, those critically important one-on-one sessions where the writer can conduct an interview, take voluminous notes, and record what the author has to say. The ghost is then responsible for spinning those stories/opinions/insights into golden prose, and doing all of this in a timely manner. They understand and can help with the pressures on the editor to get the book written well and delivered on time.
When I know an experienced ghostwriter has been assigned to the project, I breathe a sigh of relief as the editor. That’s because I know I’ll be able to stay in close contact with the ghost to make sure that real and substantial progress is being made and know when I can expect to see some chapters as they’re being written. I’ll also be able to come back with any editorial concerns while the pages are being crafted, and ultimately have confidence that the full manuscript will be delivered when I expect it.
This isn’t just an editorial concern, however. A successful process is critically important to all of my colleagues in publicity, marketing, promotion, design, production, and maybe most importantly, the sales department. They are all waiting to read the manuscript to maximize the book’s commercial potential fully.
I’m not suggesting that every book I’ve edited and published over the years was ghostwritten. That’s hardly the case. I’ve had the good fortune to work on original manuscripts from New York Times bestselling authors such as Cal Newport, Bob Sutton, Chris Anderson (the head of TED), John U. Bacon, Mihir Desai (from the faculty at Harvard Business and Law School), and dozens more. But many other business projects came to me as solid proposals from literary agents with the ghostwriter already baked in. These were projects where the author clearly had something significant and important to say, but may not have been gifted as a writer. Consequently, the agent would find the best ghost and attach them to the project. This was true when I edited major titles from Jack Welch, Tiger Woods, Ted Turner, and several others.
If I weren’t familiar with the ghostwriter’s work, I would perform my due diligence to make sure they had the proper credentials. On rare occasions, if I felt that the ghost wasn’t a good fit, I would call the literary agent and engage in discussions until we landed upon the right writer. More often than not, the author would be fine with that, knowing I was looking out for their best interests in developing the very best book we could.
I should also point out that whether a ghost receives a formal byline on the cover is always open for discussion. In my experience, often the author prefers that the ghost’s name does not appear on the book jacket, but appears in the acknowledgments instead. There is no hard-set rule one way or the other, but often it’s up to the author. Ghostwriters are usually understanding of this.
Bottom line? It’s become well-accepted that when it comes to top-level business books, if the author simply doesn’t have the time, energy, or the writing talent to deliver a superb manuscript on schedule, it’s in everyone’s best interest to find the right ghostwriter, assuring the project is a win-win for all involved.
RICK WOLFF has acquired, edited, and published close to sixty New York Times bestsellers in his career and founded and ran the highly-successful Business Plus imprint (Hachette) from 2000-2015 before he left for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. He currently serves as Senior Executive Editor-at-Large at Kevin Anderson & Associates.