Until recently, I wasn’t particularly aware that what I do (or rather, part of what I do) is an unknown quantity to many people. Sure, I know not many people, on a relative scale, are ghostwriters, but I didn’t give much thought to the notion that people wouldn’t know what it is.
Then I called my bank last year, and they asked my occupation.
“Ghostwriter” I replied.
“Ghostwriter?” the woman repeated, uncertainty in her voice, evidently unclear she’d heard me correctly.
“Yes, I do ghostwriting.”
“What does that involve?”
“Basically, it’s writing content, usually books, that someone else wants written but can’t do themselves, and their name still appears on it.”
“That sounds interesting, I’ve not heard of it before. So people just send you the information or you write it from scratch?”
“Either, depending on the project. With books, usually it’s based on true events so the client sends me the relevant information, and sometimes a framework of the layout they want, then I write it.”
“So I could tell you about my life, and then you turn it into a book?”
“Wow, I had no idea that was possible.”
I’ve paraphrased the above, but it’s accurate and a fair representation of a few similar conversations I’ve had. Apparently not as many people know about ghostwriting as I assumed, so I thought I’d use this blog post to clarify what it entails.
What is Ghostwriting?
Ghostwriting is where a writer is hired but acts as a ghost i.e. remains invisible. Thus, if you have had a life you think people want to hear about it, but you don’t have the time or ability to write a book, you can hire a ghostwriter to do it for you.
Does a Ghostwriter’s Name Appear on the Book (or other product)?
The short answer is no. The long answer is that the ghostwriter is hired to stay invisible, so a credit is not to be assumed. However, this is not a hard rule, and many books, particularly celebrity ones, will mention the ghostwriter’s name – or have ‘with [name]’ so it seems collaborative. This also happens for blog posts and other articles, but rarely, if ever, for white papers and company reports. Sometimes a ghostwriter will have a more obscure credit, such as a mention in the Dedications section.
Do Ghostwriters Get Cuts of Royalties?
This depends on the project, but usually the answer is no. Ghostwriters will charge a flat fee for the project, leaving the client with the sole rights to the work. Some writers will take a reduced fee and a royalty split if the client asks, and in the case of celebrity books or other big sellers, royalties are more common (if a book is going to be generating millions, the person who wrote it will probably want a larger cut than a small flat fee).
However, ghostwriters invariably don’t want to work on a royalty basis for a regular client. Why? Because there’s no guarantee of publication, which could mean they literally earn no money for the project. Or if it does get published, it may not sell well. And when the earnings of the book have been split between the store, the publisher, the agent and the author, there’s really not much left for the ghostwriter. So the situation could be that they dedicate months to writing a book, which gets published two years later, sells a few hundred or a thousand at launch, and then sells very little thereafter. Doesn’t sound enticing, does it?
What Can be Ghostwritten?
Essentially, anything. If you have something to be written but can’t or won’t do it yourself, and hire someone else to do it, you’ve got a ghostwriter. Film writer and director M. Night Shyamalan was the ghostwriter for the romcom She’s All That. Even the hugely popular Goosebumps books were often ghostwritten.
Do Ghostwriters Write Fiction?
Absolutely. Personally I prefer non-fiction, as it’s based on tangible events, whereas fiction is merely someone else’s imagination and to tap into that in the same way they envision can be tricky. But it happens.
Is Ghostwriting Ethical?
Before I became a ghostwriter I pondered this question; after all, I certainly didn’t (and don’t) want to make my living from questionable practices. But I think it’s perfectly acceptable, and another ghostwriter gave a wonderful explanation in this interview:
Bottom line a non-fiction book is content: It’s a collection of ideas, concepts, steps, how-to information, advice, guidance, etc. The value of the book is direclty [sic] dependent on the value of the information provided, not by the name on the cover.
Think of it this way. You’ll write the story that accompanies this interview. Your editor will probably change some things. A copy editor will probably change a few more. Someone else will probably write the headline. When the magazine goes to press, will you be down there hanging plates? Bundling finished copies? Coordinating distribution? Delivering the magazine to a mailbox? No… when a person reads your story, they’ll see your name, but they will have no idea how many other people “touched” the story so they could read it – and that person doesn’t care.
Let’s say you want to learn more about your favourite musician/actor/athlete – do you want to read their story, or do you want them to physically write it? Chances are you just want to read what they have to say, and even though it’s ghostwritten, the subject of the book will have supplied all the details, explained the content to be included and given the final draft the green light. So their involvement is there, and plenty of them give credit to the ghostwriter.
Besides, some ghostwriters just don’t want the credit!
Can A Ghostwriter Match My Voice?
A good one can. That’s pretty much the whole point, and if a ghostwriter can’t do it, they’re in the wrong job – otherwise all their books will sound the same.
How Can I Find A Ghostwriter?
Well, you’ve found one already by being here, because I am one. But if you want to look elsewhere, we can be somewhat tricky to find but we’re out there (I promise).
One way to find ghostwriters is to talk to publishers relevant to your topic – publishers often know ghostwriters, and will recommend them. There are also literary forums where you may find some, or a simple search in Google for “ghostwriter in [your area]” – so I may type “Ghostwriter in Kent” or “ghostwriter near London” for relevant results if I wanted to work with someone local to me. Which brings me to my next point:
Do I Need to Meet My Ghostwriter?
Nope. Plenty of people do, and plenty don’t. I don’t always meet my clients. All the information can be provided via email or telephone conversations that meeting face to face isn’t a requirement – it can be nice though, and clients may want to know who they’ll be working with, especially for intimate projects. But it isn’t necessary. I work with people in different countries. Some clients don’t even want to talk on the phone, we just communicate via email; sometimes I’ll have weekly conversations with the clients; sometimes we meet face to face. But if you find a ghostwriter you think will be perfect, but they’re not local, don’t be put off. It’s a small world now, and a video chat on Skype or FaceTime is almost as good as meeting in person.
Do you have any questions about ghostwriting or writers? Leave a comment below and I’ll answer.