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What to Expect When Your Ghostwriter Sends Your First Draft

The arrival of the first draft is a big moment when you’re working with a ghostwriter. By that point, you’ll have completed your content interviews and waited patiently to see the beginnings of your book on paper. You’ll also know, however, that this first version of your manuscript will require at least a few rounds of edits before it’s ready to be published. Even history’s most celebrated authors have slogged through the murky waves of the revisions process. 

“The first draft of anything is shit.”

—Ernest Hemingway

So, what should you expect from a first draft? While all ghostwriting projects are unique, a handful of impressions typically pop up at this stage.

1. The prose may sound too blunt, harsh, or bossy.

Your ghostwriter’s main tools for writing your first draft will be the transcripts from your content interviews. When authors are fired up about topics they’re passionate about in conversation, they often use words like ‘should’, ‘need’, and ‘have to’. 

“Companies need to stop using these outdated systems.”

“People have to understand how much their social media habits are harming them.”

“If you want different results, you should be trying new strategies.”

This isn’t always bad, of course, particularly if you’re going for a blunt, conversational tone in your book. Too much of this, however, can alienate readers and you’ll likely notice this if any unwanted harshness ends up in your first draft. Though your ghostwriter will be aiming to create whatever specific tone you desire, it’s a tough thing to nail right away. The first draft is about getting all relevant content onto the page so it can be crisply edited during the revisions process. Together with your ghostwriter, you can identify words, sentences, and paragraphs you’d like softened or explained through language that lands more neutrally. 

2. Gaps of crucial content may be missing.

No matter how hard you work to outline your book in detail before your content interviews, you’re still likely to hit points where you’re unsure how to connect the dots or explain certain concepts. In those moments, you and your ghostwriter can agree to fill in the gaps during revisions and skip ahead.

When you have LOTS of those skip-ahead moments during your content interviews, the gaps in your manuscript will be apparent. Whole sections may need to be added or fleshed out. The arguments you’re trying to articulate may make little to no sense. These issues are to be expected at this stage and you can minimize them by preparing well for your calls during the developmental phase of your book. 

3. The moods you’re trying to capture may sound off. 

While threading together your first draft, your ghostwriter will have to make assumptions at certain points to fill in the blanks between your ideas and create a cohesive narrative. They might assume you felt a certain way about a situation and crafted the mood of a paragraph to suit that feeling, for example.

Sometimes we get this wrong! Our assumptions can be incorrect and leave you thinking, “That’s not how I felt at all. This is totally off.” We get this. Like everyone, we ghostwriters are living life in our own shoes and projecting our experiences onto the world around us. This is why you should never feel shy about telling us we’ve missed the mark on a mood or feeling you were aiming for. We’ll be happy to make changes to get it right. 

4. There may be too much or too little vulnerability in your content.

Authors typically work one of two ways while sharing personal stories during content interviews with their ghostwriters. They either share too much or too little. Those who let it all out the first time around typically end up making cuts or edits later so they can avoid publishing information they’re not ready to share with the world. Those who are more reserved are often encouraged to open up during revisions and provide more context by digging into ideas or feelings they’re shy about. 

Regardless of which group you fall into, you’ll have time to craft your approach to vulnerability once you’ve had time to process your first draft. You’ll be able to mull specific passages over and ask yourself just how much you’re ready to share. While I don’t encourage authors to broadcast anything they’re uncomfortable telling the world, I often find those truly vulnerable tidbits are where the gold lies. By sharing what scares or challenges us, we become more relatable to readers. 

5. The content may be out of order.

We ghostwriters try to get all the essential content from interviews into first drafts in the right order, but often end up moving information around later. You might find that we’ve mixed up certain points in the timeline of your story. You may also find yourself wanting to switch chapters or sections around to present your argument more fluidly. 

Your ghostwriter will likely recommend changes to the order of how certain passages are articulated during the ‘developmental edit’ stage of the revisions process. If you have big-picture concerns about how information is being laid out in your chapters, it’s best to bring them up sooner than later. 

To give your ghostwriter the best possible chance of creating a first draft you won’t hate, it’s helpful to workshop the first draft of your first chapter with them. Ask them if you can read and provide feedback on chapter one before they write the rest of the manuscript. If you’re concerned about the tone or layout of your main concepts, ask them to rework the material with you until you’ve centered on an approach that works together. Rather than saying, “This isn’t working,” try to be specific about what’s wrong and what you’d like to see instead so your ghostwriter can finish the manuscript with a clear idea of what you’re aiming for. This will result in a better first draft and give you a peek into what the revisions stage will be like. 

For most authors, reading through a first draft can be exciting and somewhat overwhelming. While it’s thrilling to finally see their initial concept come to life on paper, the myriad of changes that must be made become apparent as well. By knowing what to expect, you’ll be able to enjoy reading the roughest version of your book without dwelling on its imperfections. While the first draft is only a starting point, it’s also a huge achievement worth celebrating. It means you’ve made it through the development and writing stages of your book’s creation! With the help of your ghostwriter (and/or editor), you’ll be able to sail into revisions with confidence.


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Peggy Holsclaw is a bestselling ghostwriter and book coach based in the Bay Area. Her company, Bonafide Ink, helps non-fiction authors bring their books to life on their quest to change the world. She has proudly collaborated with entrepreneurs, executives, energy workers, and other inspired creators from around the globe.

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