The Who, How, and Why of a Children's Ghostwriter



Contributed by Karen Cioffi, Children's Writer

A while ago, I had a conversation with a fellow attendee at a children’s picture book workshop. When I mentioned I’m a children’s ghostwriter, she was curious how I got started in the field.

I couldn’t answer her. I couldn’t remember how it actually came about.

Thinking back, though, I did start out editing for authors. Many of the manuscripts I received were in such poor condition that I ended up rewriting the stories, some almost to the point of ghostwriting.

It just seemed to evolve from there.

In case you’re wondering, a ghostwriter is a writer who will take your idea, notes, outline, or other information and write a story for you. And they write in every genre you can think of: fiction, nonfiction, memoirs, screenplays, video, TV scripts, technical, medical, speeches, music, and so on.

The ghostwriter offers a nondisclosure agreement if the potential client wants one. Most of my clients never ask for one. The ghostwriter also provides a freelance agreement. And she usually doesn’t get any recognition for her work. However, there are instances where the ghostwriter and client agree to other terms.

Two other terms that may arise between a ghostwriter and a client:

1. The ghostwriter has her name on the book as co-author for a reduced fee.

2. The ghostwriter gets a percentage of the sales, again for a reduced fee.

In my opinion, it’s never a good idea to accept either of these terms unless you absolutely know the book will be successful or the author is famous.

WHO hires a children’s ghostwriter?

The answer to this question always amazes me.

There are people from around the world who want to be the author of a children’s book but don’t have the skills, time, or inclination to do it themselves.

I’ve worked with well over 350 clients from lots of different countries, including Italy, the United Kingdom, Scotland, Norway, Saipan, Jordon, Dubai, and all over the United States, even Hawaii.

It seems that most often, it’s parents or grandparents who develop a desire to be authors of children’s books. They usually want to have a story created about their children or grandchildren or impart some wisdom to children.

I’ve also worked with child therapists and child psychologists who use children’s books as a tool to broaden their ability to help children.

And then there are the business people who see a children’s book as part of a marketing strategy for their industry or as an addition to a product they already have.

In addition to this, I’ve worked with clients who wanted a series of children’s books to use as the foundation of a new business.

I’ve even ghostwritten for a dentist.

WHAT skills does a children’s ghostwriter need?

1. Being a skilled writer.

While a number of authors who self-publish have the “I want it now” syndrome and ‘wing’ their books into publication, you can’t do this when someone is paying you to write a professional story.

Aside from knowing how to write, it’s essential to understand the specific rules of writing for children. The ghostwriter needs to know what the current industry guidelines are.

2. Knowing how to listen.

Listening carefully to the client is a must. The ghostwriter needs to take simple things like an idea given over the phone or in an email, notes, or a basic outline and create an engaging and publishable book.

Along with this, the writer needs to ensure the book reflects the client’s voice and vision. Listening is an essential factor in doing this.

3. Being patient.

It may seem unusual, but a ghostwriter needs to be patient.

I’ve had a couple of clients who approved a final story, then came back in a week or two and decided they wanted revisions.

I had a middle-grade client who kept putting multiple POVs within one chapter. I’d edit it, and he’d change it again.

I had another client who kept ignoring my advice as I rewrote his young adult novel.

It’s important to be patient and tactful while explaining over and over why something doesn’t work. The reason to keep after the client is that it’s the ghostwriter’s job to make sure the final product is professional.

4. Being organized and focused.

I usually handle more than one project at a time. I’m currently juggling ten clients; it’s an all-time high number of simultaneous clients for me.

If you’re dealing with multiple clients, you need to be able to switch stories and sometimes genres without losing a beat. This takes focus… and flexibility while handling all the emails from clients.

For organization, I use a Word and Excel file for each client. I keep track of every email and every phone call.

When you’re dealing with writing clients, you must things moving smoothly and keep your clients satisfied and in the loop throughout each project.

5. Having the ability to follow through and be on time.

As with any writing project, you’ve got to complete it and come in on time.

In the terms of the agreement, there is a time period for the project to be complete. The ghostwriter must meet the deadline.

WHAT'S the motivation?

I can’t speak for all children’s ghostwriters, but for me, I love writing for children. It’s satisfying to teach children, engage them, amaze them, take them on adventures, and stretch their imaginations.

And I love helping others fulfill their desire to see their children’s story ideas come to life.


Karen Cioffi is an award-winning children’s author, ghostwriter, rewriter, and coach with clients worldwide. If you need help with your children’s story, please visit Karen Cioffi Writing for Children.

A 250+ page book that cover everything to help you write your children's book.

And for those children’s authors who are self-publishing, you might check out WRITERS ON THE MOVE PRESS.


Terry Whalin said...


I'm always interested to hear any author's background and reason why. Other than you, I don't know any children's ghostwriters. You have carved out a distinct speciality from my experience. Keep up this important work.

Terryauthor of Book Proposals That $ell, 21 Secrets To Speed Your Success (Revised Edition) [Follow the Link for a FREE copy]

Karen Cioffi said...

Thank you, Terry. I'm always interested in authors' stories also. It's kind of amazing how we sometimes stumble onto a road we hadn't really thought of. While I wrote stories and poems since childhood, even a couple of songs, I went for accounting as a career. I was an assistant controller for a manufacturing company before I dove into the writing arena.

Suzanne Lieurance said...

Hey, Karen,

I agree with Terry. It's always interesting to learn how other writers got started. From accounting to children's writing. What a switch! I'm sure some of your accounting skills come in handy for you as an entrepreneur, though.

Great explanation of children's ghostwriting! All kinds of skills are needed for that.

Suzanne Lieurance
Law of Attraction Coach for Writers

Karen Cioffi said...

Thanks, Suzanne! The accounting skills do come in handy. I think it helps with focus and organization in my business and writing.

Nina said...

Thank you Karen, so interesting to learn about your business as a ghostwriter!


Karen Cioffi said...

Nina, glad you liked it!

Linda Wilson said...

Karen, I found your description of being a ghostwriting author intriguing. I didn't know anything about it and appreciate your candid and thorough explanation. Your experiences have been varied and fascinating. I didn't realize how many different types of people need a ghostwriter for all sorts of reasons. Thank you for sharing.

Karen Cioffi said...

Linda, I'm so glad you found the article interesting. There can be a lot of challenges to being a ghostwriter, but a lot of rewards, too!

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