How I Approach Ghostwriting

There's a lot of different ways to approach ghostwriting and it depends on my client’s affinity to write, as well as their commitment to the project (meaning the time they can give me). What I like to say is I’m a builder and a master craftsman, building a home for my client’s voice and ideas to inhabit. In working in the narrative form, I would also be adding the scenery and the soul, or if you’re a musician—the melody, harmony, bass, and kick drums.

Regardless of the project, interviews are essential. If it is a person’s narrative, at the outset I look for that nugget—that serendipitous or divinely appointed moment, that kernel of truth, that insight, that tragedy from the past—that which created the modern person and sent them on the journey of who they are today and/or why they feel they have something to share with the world. From there, I help create the structure or foundation that keeps the story moving and holds it up.

If a person is committed to making her/his book a priority and it's the only thing I am working on, I can generally do a book in about 6 to 8 months (of course you never truly know until you get into it). The heavy lifting is up front—getting the story out of them. If there’s already something to work with, such as chapters, lectures, or notes, even better. With that said, I could also act as a book doctor/editor, advising on a story's structure, flow, the missing parts, things that need to be expounded upon, etc. 


When I worked on a nonfiction book heavily based in science, the process was a bit different because for the most part it was based on lectures. This New York Times bestselling author had outlines and knew from the outset where the book was going. As an example, for one chapter I listened to five lectures of what he deemed to be the best way he presented the material. Due to the fact that it was science heavy, my job was to turn it into something not only consumable, but understandable and accessible for the reader.

Because his lectures moved east to west, east to west, I had to find the flow and through line for each chapter so it read north to south. At times, there was a significant amount of research on my part, as well as me having to make leaps and connections regarding the material. From there I would send him drafts, he would make edits, corrections, add content, tell me to research this or that—and back and forth, back and forth. It did require two in-person meetings, but much of it took place over the phone. This book set a Hay House (the book publisher) record by being translated into 28 languages within the first nine months of publication. I have also been collaborating with this person for three years to write his biweekly blog (370k+ followers on Facebook).

With the book proposal for an SVP at a Fortune 500 company, she had never done anything like this before. She had an idea of what she wanted to express, but she had no experience as to where to begin to turn her thoughts and feelings into facts and ideas. So it was really a matter of me drawing it out of her to help create the structure and outline of the chapters. It was a lot of conversations initially and me acting as a sounding board. The structure and chapters kept changing the more information we gathered, which was garnered from her performing countless interviews with female leaders in STEM fields. There's a structure to nonfiction proposals of about seven steps. 

I also recently completed another ghostwriting project for an international NY Times bestselling author whose first book was published in more than 40 languages. When we began, there was a very rough outline and about 15k words to work with (much of which was repetitive). With that said, most of the book was garnered from extensive interviews with him and his partner. At the midway point of the project, I spent five days with them to sort through what we had, fine tune the outline, and bring a new order to the book.

Hopefully this gives you a little insight into a malleable and fluid process. It's a lot of hand holding at the beginning, as well as asking the right questions of my client to understand what they want to put out into the world.

Key to success are trust, partnership, and mutual respect.

Finally, here are my personal and professional mission statements, as well as what I bring to the table.

Personal Mission Statement:

I translate light, frequency, and energy into story, so as to lead others to their truth.

Professional Mission Statement:

I help visionaries, artists, and global changemakers articulate their ideas and amplify their message through the economy of words.    

What I Bring to the Table:

To bring big ideas into the world is my calling and I have spent more than 28 years personally honing my craft in order to do so. Prior to stepping into my calling, I had a career of more than 15 years as a writer in marketing and advertising.

Ultimately, what I bring to the table is passion, partnership, and a commitment to unearthing and articulating ideas, no matter how big or small.

When it comes down to it, I just really love meeting fascinating people, understanding what makes them click, and sharing their story with the world.  

~ Tim Shields