Superb writing skills. You are paying good money—sometimes a lot of it—to someone who will tell your life story, write your speech, or represent you on your organization’s website. You’ll get what you pay for if you choose someone who can write flawlessly in terms of grammar, punctuation, syntax, and so on; someone who knows you “can’t wait for inspiration—you have to go after it with a club” (as Jack London noted); and someone who reads widely. Your ghostwriter, first and foremost, must know the craft of writing.
Curiosity. People read widely because they are curious, if not downright nosy. Look for that spark, that interest in everyday people and events, that ignites the imagination.
Trustworthiness. Or, a tamed ego. Your ghostwriter will spend hours honing paragraphs, looking for that natural connection between you and your reader or listener, and analyzing what you meant when you smiled that time, or cocked your head and glanced at the ceiling. To get your money’s worth, you must find someone you can trust with your secrets and foibles—and who doesn’t mind standing out of the way while you’re in the spotlight.
That elusive thing called voice. You’ll know it when you read it. Find someone who is able to reflect your voice without merely imitating it. Someone who can turn pages of transcribed interviews into a linear narrative, with all the plot points in their place and doing their job, instead of just page after page of Q and A.
Alignment with your personality and work style. You will spend hours with this person, either over a period of weeks or months, or in an intense few days. Try to find someone you’ll be happy sharing personal and confidential information with. Your ghostwriter is a professional doing a job, not your new best friend, but you’ll need to feel comfortable sharing deeply personal or embarrassing information. Not all of it has to be included in the work, of course, but it provides a context for the writer to shape your story. If you don’t remove the mask and show the real human being behind it, your work will not resonate with your readers or listeners, and they can spot a phony right away.