How does the book collaboration process work?

Once I’ve signed a contract for a book project, I typically work out a system that best meets the client’s needs, goals, and availability.

In general, the process goes like this:

  • Kick-off meeting. At the start, I try to meet in person, even if the primary author lives out of state. I find it beneficial to be face to face for several hours to a few days so that we can lay the groundwork for the entire project. During this initial meeting, we hammer out the overall book idea, structure, and major points, and we conduct interviews for the first few chapters.
  • Chapter outline. After several lengthy interviews to get a feel for the story or subject matter, I put together a detailed outline of the entire book. This outline remains a work in progress and evolves as we go along, but it gives us direction and makes the interviews more targeted and specific to a particular chapter or set of chapters.
  • Timeline. For memoir projects, I develop a timeline concurrently with the chapter outline that lists key dates and milestones of the person’s life, including important historical or cultural events. Not all of these dates and details make it into the narrative, but the timeline is immensely useful in keeping track of what happened when.
  • Extensive interviews. These are conducted in person, on the phone, or via video conference and recorded and transcribed. We can interview for several weeks to capture all the material upfront, or we can have weekly interviews to work a chapter at a time. When appropriate, I also interview friends, family members, colleagues, and others associated with the story. Any such interview is first cleared with the primary author, who usually then makes an introduction.
  • Research. In addition to interviews, I do quite a bit of supplemental research to either verify the details of the story or to add rich, textural details.
  • Drafting copy. Once enough interviews and research have been completed, I dive into the actual writing. I usually submit chapters as they’re completed so the client can offer feedback as the manuscript is being developed.
  • Revisions. After reviewing new material, the client then sends back edits or requests for revisions. I revise those chapters accordingly while also moving forward on writing additional chapters. Each chapter gets revised once or twice before the manuscript is complete.
  • Manuscript edits. Once the book has been completed, I go back and edit the entire manuscript one more time to ensure a cohesive whole. This process includes any last edits requested by the client.
  • Editing and publishing. If the manuscript is being traditionally published, the editor at the publishing house takes over from here, though I remain on hand to make any requested revisions. If the client is self-publishing, we typically enlist a professional copy editor to be a fresh set of eyes on the final manuscript.

How long does it take to write a book?

Provided that the primary author and I are interviewing regularly, it typically takes four to six months to complete a manuscript of average length. This timeframe doesn’t include any requested revisions from the editor at the publishing house.

How long should my book be?

Personal memoirs range from 60,000 to 100,000 words, depending on the person and lifespan covered. General nonfiction books range from 50,000 to 75,000 words on average. I recommend your book be no less than 50,000 words, but whether it reaches the longer lengths depends on the subject and timespan.

Do you collaborate with clients outside your area?

I’m happy to work with clients almost anywhere in the world where there is an internet connection. For clients who live out of state, I typically travel to visit them for a few days to a full week at the beginning of the project. Regular interviews can be conducted on the phone or via video conference, though I’m happy to meet in person as needed.

Is a book proposal necessary?

If you intend to self-publish, then a proposal isn’t necessary. If you hope for a traditional publishing deal, then yes, a book proposal is part of the process.

If you intend to hire a hybrid publishing agency, note that some firms require the same information on their submission forms as you would find in a full book proposal.

How to best pitch to traditional publishers also depends on the type of book. Publishers treat fiction and nonfiction differently: A novel has to be completed before it can be sold, whereas nonfiction books are sold before they’re finished, using a book proposal and sample chapters.

Memoirs are more like novels than other forms of nonfiction, but are often sold with a book proposal before they’re finished, especially if the primary author has a strong personal or professional following.

Can you help me find an agent?

If we are collaborating on a book project, I can assist you in querying agents. Depending on the type of project, I can also introduce you to agents with whom I’ve already worked. Note that I can’t guarantee an agent will choose to represent your project.

How do you choose a publisher?

As the primary author, you have the sole right to choose the publisher should one or more extend an offer for your manuscript. Please note, however, that working with a collaborator, co-author, or ghostwriter does not guarantee that you will land an agent or a publishing contract.

The truth is that it’s increasingly difficult to secure a traditional publishing deal. In the current industry climate, publishers put the most weight on the strength of the primary author’s personal or professional platform and their willingness to invest their own money, time, and energy into promoting the book.

Even if you don’t secure a deal with one of the Big Five in NYC, a midsize house, or an independent publisher, there are other options to ensure your book is made available to your intended audiences. Many authors are successfully getting their books to market by either self-publishing or working with a hybrid publishing agency. I’ve worked with reputable hybrid publishers and can recommend ones for consultation.

Read more about your publishing options here.

The upside to producing your own book is that you get a book that looks professionally published while keeping a much larger share of royalties. The downside is that you front the costs of writing, designing, printing, and distributing your book. With either route to publishing, you will still be responsible for the bulk of marketing and promotion.

No matter which direction you go, I’ll work with you to ensure the text itself is the highest possible quality before going to print.

Who owns the copyrights to a co-written book?

In most cases the book project is considered work-for-hire, and the primary author owns the full copyright, patent, trademark, publishing, marketing, or distribution rights to any and all materials produced. In rare instances in which there is a royalty sharing arrangement, rights may be split accordingly.

Am I obligated to give you cover credit?

Many co-written books are credited in such a way that the primary author’s name is given top billing with the co-author listed underneath, such as “with Heather Ebert.” Another way to give credit is to name your collaborator in the Acknowledgements, depending on what works best for you.

Whether you want to put my name on the cover or stick to a ghosted arrangement is completely up to you (with absolutely no hard feelings on my end), though project fees may differ for books without attribution. In some circumstances, I also reserve the right to refuse cover credit or other attribution even if offered.

Do you help with marketing and promoting the book?

Primary responsibility for marketing and promotion falls to the author and publisher, but I can be available to write articles, blog and social media posts, and other supporting materials as requested post-publication. These smaller projects are priced separately.

What does it cost to hire a ghostwriter or collaborator?

Working with a ghostwriter or co-author is a significant expense, because you’re paying a highly skilled professional for full-time work over the course of several months. According to industry surveys, project fees for qualified ghostwriters and co-authors can range from $25,000 to $150,000 depending on the scope and complexity of the project and whether the writer receives credit for their work. Most clients consider this expense a worthy investment to further their professional goals.

While you can find cheaper writers, remember you get what you pay for.

The spectrum of available writers is similar to the spectrum of people who can make food. On one end, you have the fry cook at McDonald’s or the Subway sandwich artisan. On the opposite end, you have celebrity chefs like Gordon Ramsay or Wolfgang Puck. Similarly, on one end of the writing spectrum, you have freelancers on Upwork who write for pennies a word, and on the other end, best-selling book collaborators like Maryanne Vollers and Ken Abraham.

Where a writer falls on that spectrum depends on a number of factors, including their proficiency in the English language, education, professional experience, mastery of long-form narrative, and whether writing is a full-time job or a side gig. Just because someone can boil a pot of noodles doesn’t mean you’d hire them to cater your wedding. So it goes in ensuring you have a manuscript you can’t wait for people to read.

My projects are priced by a flat fee calculated according to the scope and complexity of the project and goal word count. Book project fees include story development, chapter outlines, interviews, research, writing, two to three rounds of revisions, and any changes requested by the publisher.

Will you help me if I agree to split royalties 50/50?

Contrary to popular assumptions, ghostwriters and co-authors aren’t paid by royalties unless the main author is a prominent public figure, and in that case the co-author still typically receives a guaranteed minimum upfront for the work involved.

Beyond the months it takes to write a book, it can take another six months to land an agent. After the agent begins pitching the book proposal, it may take yet another six months to find a publisher. Once a traditional publishing contract is in hand and the manuscript has been submitted, it’s usually another 18 months until the book hits shelves. The publisher then has to recoup initial expenses and any advances on book sales before royalties are paid out. All that to say royalties are not a feasible way for a collaborator to earn a living.

My projects are priced by a flat fee calculated according to the scope and complexity of the project and goal word count. Book project fees include story development, chapter outlines, interviews, research, writing, two to three rounds of revisions, and any changes requested by the publisher.