When I get phone calls from prospective authors I often find myself thinking about who they really are as we chat. It’s an automatic ghosting habit, since more often than not the face we present to outsiders is a world away from who we really are and I need to work out if I will be able to ‘get’ their real voice should the conversation turn into a collaboration. This propensity to display a different personality generally occurs when we meet someone for the first time, but apparently the habit is even more acute when a ghost is brought into the equation. I suspect it is amplified by a sense of embarrassment about taking-on a third party to write a book that they feel they are perfectly capable of doing themselves. After all, they know the real them and can write just fine.
Now and again, people come right out and say it: ‘I can write perfectly well you know,’ they insist. ‘I know I should probably do this myself.’
And of course they can. In fact, I reckon every author I have worked with has the writing skills to pen a perfectly decent, high quality book. You probably could too. Which begs the obvious question: why does anyone use a ghostwriter?
Well, to begin with, you’d be in good company. Even experienced authors such as Wilbur Smith, James Patterson and Tom Clancy have turned to ‘co authors’ in the past. Demand for their books is so great, they simply don’t have the capacity to write enough to satisfy their readership. Best selling American novelist Andrew Neiderman is well known for ghosting books for V C Andrews for many years after her death. This use of ghosts is well-known and, according to the publishers who have the evidence of many millions of book sales in front of them, the book buying public doesn't care a bit. Getting the book written well is the important bit in this equation.
Still not sure? Well, let me try to explain why I think authors trust ghost writers to pen their books.
First and foremost, it is cost effective. This might sound counter-intuitive because employing an experienced full time ghost does not come cheap, but look at it another way. If you are a business person, or celebrity, or simply have a good day job, why spend your valuable time toiling away on your book when you could be earning much more money doing what you are good at? Don’t forget, it could take you six months or more to complete a book. Working full time. Some people who spend months and months writing never actually complete what they set out to do either.
Which brings me to two other important factors in the mix: speed and discipline. It’s a ghost’s day job to work on the book they’ve been commissioned to write. If they don’t get it done, they won’t get paid. (This is also why it is quite rare for a ghost to get writer’s block: they can’t afford that sort of indulgence in their writing careers. It means the mortgage doesn't get paid.). Thus hiring a ghost pretty much guarantees a book will get done and done in a reasonable space of time.
There is a big element of quality control here too. While most people write well, ghosts write what sells. It’s what they do. They have a feel for what the reader wants and, since their livelihood depends on their success, or more specifically, the success of their output, they know it is their job to work out what the author wants to say, the most compelling way to say it and the best way to reliably deliver it. Their business model depends on getting it right first try, which again means things happen a lot quicker.
Working with a ghostwriter should also help open doors with book publishers if an author is hoping to get a book deal. Don’t get me wrong; it is very rare indeed for a ghost’s name or reputation to ‘sell’ a book. No, that is always down to the expertise of the named author and the interest in the subject they are writing about. If a publisher feels the author is an authority in their chosen area, or has a great and original angle, that is what will matter most. However, publishers do recognise that the presence of an experienced ghost is a guarantee of a well-written work. If a publisher is wavering in any way and then has to consider that they may need to ‘fix’ a badly written manuscript at the same time as taking a punt on a new author, it may be a step too far. A first time author is one thing. A first time writer is quite another.
Something that I have often been told is that I capture an author’s voice very well: in other words the book sounds a lot like the way they speak. It is easy to assume that everyone would write how they speak, because it’s stuff coming out of their head, right? But it is not so straight forward. There is a real skill in making the written word light up in the same, dynamic way that the spoken word does. When we speak, it is far easier to convey a range of emotions through a gestures, intonation, inflection, volume, pitch, pauses and visual cues such as smiling or frowning. That is not as easily done in the written word, which is why it can often read as stilted, dull, or unemotional. Again, a ghost can tackle that disparity with a variety of techniques which might not come naturally to an inexperienced author. They can make the ‘real’ person light-up the page.
There is something quite special about a ghosting collaboration too. Ghosts are used to teasing out information from their authors. I have often heard authors say that they’ve never said this or that to another living soul. Or, sometimes, that they have not even thought about a particular event for years, decades even. Getting to the bottom of the full story is another benefit of working with an experienced writer and interviewer.
A ghost should also be able to help an author feel more comfortable about what they are doing. They’ll anticipate what might make an author anxious about the process and provide information and reassurance to assuage any doubts. Having gone through the whole process many times before, they’ll be invaluable in solving problems and keeping things on track.
It’s well worth remembering that working with a ghost never means turning over the entire book project. While the writer will interview an author and produce the first draft, it is up to the author to review it, edit it and make suggestions. How much, or how little they get involved with that is entirely up to them.
Perhaps most importantly, working with a ghostwriter should make producing a book much less of a chore and a lot more fun. Returning to the earlier point, it can be a real labour of love toiling away alone at an unfinished manuscript for months, or even years. By working with a professional ghost the author should hopefully be able to enjoy the process and rest assured that a brilliantly written book is on the way.