One of the first questions we ghostwriters are often asked is: ‘How long will it take to ghostwrite my book?’ It’s an understandable question because you may have a deadline in mind – a conference you want to sell your book at, a business venture you’re tying it in with, or even just old-fashioned impatience to get your story out there.
The short answer is: it depends.
It depends on how long your book is, how much material you’re giving your ghostwriter versus how much research you want him or her to do, how quickly you can pull your thoughts together for your content, the amount of time you have available for interviews, and how busy your ghostwriter is with other projects.
It also depends on how quickly you need your book. Sometimes a publisher will have an extremely short deadline because a major newsworthy event is riding on its publication – celebrity memoirs are a good example of this.
Having said that, there are some general guidelines, as I discovered when I canvassed the other talented writers in United Ghostwriters. In the process, we had a lot of fun comparing our shortest and longest ghostwriting projects. Some are pretty hair-raising.
There’s the regular: five to six months for a full length book. This is the ideal because it gives a ghostwriter long enough to do a good job but is in a short enough time frame to be realistic for most authors. Bear in mind you’ll need to add publication onto the timescale (which varies depending on how your book is being published), so it may take a year or more to get your book from ‘bunch of ideas in your head’ into ‘it looks amazing on the shelf’.
There’s also the by-the-seat-of-the-pants scenario: three to five weeks flat. Some of us have done this and vowed never to do it again! Apart from anything else, there’s no way even the most experienced ghostwriter can do their best work in this space of time, although sometimes publishers will demand it for a book on a hot topic. ‘It wasn’t my greatest work,’ says one of our crew. ‘But it went to number one of the bestseller lists for four weeks.’
Even slightly less demanding deadlines can take their toll. ‘I once ghostwrote a TV tie-in book which had to be written in three months. I recall writing all night long to meet the deadline. My other half went to bed to hear me tapping away on my keyboard in the room next door and woke the next day to the same sound of keyboard-tapping.’
Or how about this? ‘The most I’ve ever written was 10,000 words in one day. I had to lie down afterwards, and when I opened my eyes I couldn’t see out of my left eye for about 30 seconds. I thought nothing of it until I mentioned it to my friend, who ordered me to see my GP. She told me to go straight to hospital, where I had tests for a suspected stroke ( I was only 32). Thankfully, all was absolutely fine.’
At the other extreme, there’s the Brexit, the seemingly open-ended book project which twists and turns according to the nuances of those involved. Although this can lead to a loss of urgency and focus, it isn’t always a bad thing. ‘I’ve just finished the first chapter of a family history my client and I have been researching together as we go along. He’s not in a hurry and I’m happy to be flexible. It’ll probably take another two to three years to complete.’
The prize for the longest ghoswriting project, however, has to go to one of our tribe who is on Year Five of a book. This is due to an ongoing legal enquiry which might affect its content, and will probably lengthen its development span to six years by the time it hits the shelves. As frustrating as this can be, the ghostwriter in question says, ‘It’s satisfying to have helped somebody tell their story, which I sincerely hope will help her move on in some way.’
This is why we do it. To get your story and ideas out into the world in the most credible and long-lasting format available: a book. Sure, you can always discuss flexible timescales with us, but if you’re able give us a reasonable deadline of five to six months you’ll be amply rewarded by a publication that’s worthy of your name on the cover.
After all, ghostwriting your book may take a few months, but the words in it last forever.