Daft question right? You’ve just clicked onto a blog by a ghostwriter.
Boo. You’ve found me.
Seriously though, it is an important question. Quite apart from the fact I can only write a handful of books a year, I may not be the perfect ghost for every project. Indeed, the title of this blog maybe ought to be: how to find the perfect ghostwriter for you.
Perfection comes in all shapes and sizes. What is most important is that there is good chemistry between an author and their ghostwriter. When a ghost and an author sign up to work together on a story, it is not the start of a life-long relationship, but it is certainly a commitment to a fairly intense, intimate process. If the collaboration is mismatched, rocky or strained from the beginning, by the time both parties get to the end of the first draft it will be like being at the tail-end of a failed marriage. Very messy.
It is no surprise that many authors look to someone they already know to help them pen a book. It is quite common for those in the public eye to turn to a journalist who has previously written nice things about them in newspapers or magazines. This ensures that the writer will be able to string a sentence together and also that they’ll most likely continue to view the author favourably. The downside to this course of action is that even when a journalist can write a decent 500-word puff piece it doesn’t necessarily follow that they can construct a gripping 80,000-word narrative.
The extension of this strategy is for a would-be author to ask a ‘friend who likes writing’ to help get the book done. I know for a fact that this is an option that gives publishers sleepless nights. I’ll be blunt here: writing a book is a massive undertaking which really is best left to the professionals.
So, if an author is to step into unknown territory, they may like the comfort of organising a collaboration via a publisher or literary agent who often have a have a number of ghosts on their books. If you approach them with an idea that they like, they can be very useful matchmakers, lining up appropriate ghosts with authors who may benefit from their expertise. Of course, the challenge here is that you do need to get them interested in the book in the first place. If this door does get opened, the next stage is akin to a ghostly beauty parade, where a publisher will line up meetings with three or more suitable writers for an author to meet. The onus is on an author to choose a collaborator based on that all important chemistry. Other key criteria are whether or not the authors feels they can trust the writer and are comfortable enough to open up to them and, just as crucially, that the experience of working together on a book will be interesting and enjoyable for all concerned.
The alternative to an agent/publisher-led introduction is to search Google for sites like this one. When trawling through the various options it’s a good idea to look at a ghostwriter’s previous experience. While most skilled writers can turn their hands to pretty much any subject, we do all tend to specialise in particular genres. An author with a dramatic story that involves some sort of loss, might want to consider someone who has done misery memoirs in the past. If the author is a celebrity who is very glamorous or well connected, they may well seek out a ghost who is familiar with all the names they will be dropping. A writer who has made a good fist of a business biography is probably a good bet to tackle another corporate blockbuster.
It doesn’t have to be completely linear though. It doesn't always follow that thirty-something, young, female authors, should absolutely opt to collaborate with thirty-something, young female ghosts, or an older man will always work best with an older male ghost. Very often the best, most creative, collaborations are between two people from vastly different backgrounds. Opposites do attract. Again, it all boils down to good old chemistry.
Another aspect to take into consideration is geography. For a ghost to really capture the voice of an author, they need to spend some time face-to-face. I’ve written books with people from all over the world. Often the bulk of the interviews have been done by Skype, or telephone. However, I do try to spend at least some time in the same room as the author, preferably early on in the process. If you are looking at the various ghostwriting websites, check where the writer is based and give some thought to how the collaboration might work.
Ultimately, finding the perfect ghost for you takes some work. I always advise authors to speak to at least three ghosts to weigh up which one is the best fit. Start with a brief telephone conversation or email exchange, outlining the scope of the novel and see whether there is common ground and a spark of interest. If the initial exchange goes well, move on to a face-to-face meeting. It is well worth spending some time on this stage of the process: it will play a crucial role in the future success of a book.