Monday, March 17, 2014

Busybody Ghosts

To be successful, ghostwriters must be more than good writers. We also have to be part therapist, part marketer, part bartender, and part busybody. Ghostwriters have to ask a lot of questions.

During my association with a client, I ask hundreds of questions, many of which arise spontaneously during conversation. But I have some standard questions that I almost always begin with. Here are ten of them:

1. Who are your desired readers? (Do NOT let them get away with answering “everyone.”) Be as specific as possible.

2. What do you want your readers to learn? Why don’t they know this already? Why would they want to learn it? Why wouldn’t they want to learn it?

3. How do you want your reader to feel? What emotions do you want to awaken, and why is it important to you that they feel this?

4. What is the purpose of this book? Make money? Educate? Entertain? Save the world?

5. What are the hot buttons, hot topics, or controversies in your subject? If there is a lot of interest in your subject, what is your stance on the controversies? If there is little interest in your subject, why is that and what can you do about it?

6. Are there Facebook or other social media groups that focus on, or are related to, the subject of your book? Do you belong to these groups? If not, why not? What are the people in these groups most interested in?

7. Have you tweeted questions or teasers about your subject to test the waters of interest? What has been the response on Twitter?  

8. What other books deal with your subject? Have you read these books, and if so, what is your opinion of them? If you haven’t read them, why not? In what ways do you want your book to be different?  

9. If no one reads your book, what will happen – to them, to you, or to the world at large?

10. If many people read your book, what do you think will happen, to them, to you, or to the world at large?  
The answers to these questions give me valuable insights into the way my client thinks and feels, helping me to “get” his or her voice. They also help me understand what kind of readers I’ll be writing for, and what is important to them.

By the way, these questions are also the ones I ask myself when I first begin to write a book of my own. And I don’t let myself get away without answering them.
Kim Pearson is an author, ghostwriter, and owner of Primary Sources, a writing service that helps others become authors of professional and compelling books and articles. She has authored 6 books of her own, and ghostwritten more than 30 non-fiction books and memoirs. To learn more about her books or services, visit


  1. Terrific check list, Kim. "What is the purpose of this book" really resonates with me - even more, what is the purpose of the main relationship in my story? What is the shared vision of the characters? So important to driving a powerful plot!

  2. Great questions to ask ourselves as we write! Thanks!

  3. Some variations of these questions are also good to ask our characters. Why do they want to tell their stories? What purpose(s) will be accomplished by that telling? Who will benefit? Who will pay? Will the story compel to reader to keep turning pages? What are the takeaways at the end for the readers and the characters?

    Very interesting post, Kim, and one with multiple applications. :-)

  4. I so agree that it's fruitful to ask these same types of questions of our fictional characters -- and of ourselves.

  5. Excellent post. We should ask ourselves as writers those questions.

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  7. My very first editor was a ghostwriter for some pretty famous people, many of them mobsters and detectives, even a Rockefeller, written like novels. Of course they were all non-fiction. A few were optioned for film, but none was ever made. He's since passed away, but I loved to listen to his stories about the subjects of his books. I'm sure he had a checklist much like your great one. I suppose if someone needing a ghost writer asked themselves those questions, they wouldn't need anyone to help them. I'm not sure if it would be easier or more difficult to write fiction as a ghostwriter or non-fiction. I admire anyone who can do either.

  8. Thank you, Polly. One of the best things about being a ghostwriter is that I get to hear some great stories. I have never ghostwritten fiction, only non-fiction, my favorite being memoirs. The real lives of real people are often just as enthralling as fiction.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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