Professional Ghost

If a ghostwriter can’t say what they’ve written, how do they provide writing samples?

Hiring a ghostwriter is a big investment in time, money and even emotional commitment. It’s natural that a potential client will want to try-before-they-buy, or get a pretty good idea of the standard of their chosen ghost’s work. And therein lies the biggest conundrum around ghost writing; how can a ghostwriter provide a great portfolio of writing samples, when technically they can’t lay claim to any piece of work?

A ghost can of course rave about their writing prowess in generalities; ah yes, I have written bestsellers for a stellar cast including an A-list actor, a top sportsperson and a leading business guru. The problem is; it does sound a bit vague. Plus, without any physical proof the person on the other end of that boastful conversation would be forgiven for thinking: yeah, really? It’s certainly not a good, solid start to the fledgling relationship.

The other side to this shaky introduction is where a potential author asks a ghost to write a sample on spec. This is where I usually have my diva moment and declare that I have written more than 50 books and I am hopefully beyond the point of needing to do a writing test. I realise this seems pretty bad, particularly now I see it written down. Therefore, I would respectfully suggest (in much more measured tones!) that no professional ghostwriter has the time or resources to pen pieces for free.

It is possible to strike a deal to hire a ghost on a trial basis, to write a short, say 1000 word piece. However, I believe a better solution is for the ghost to pre-empt this and ask some of their clients if they mind their books being used as a showcase. I say some, because I know there are certain names in my portfolio of work that never, ever want to admit to using a ghost. That’s fine and that is what I signed up to when I helped pen their books. I’d honour that confidentiality even if I had not signed a contract guaranteeing that I would do so. However, there are certain clients I have worked with who have openly admitted that they have worked with me, either by including a ‘with Teena Lyons’ on the cover page, or a ‘thank you’ in the acknowledgements. In these circumstances, it seems quite reasonable to ask if they’d be agreeable to the work being used to demonstrate my abilities to future clients. They could, of course, say no and I would respect that. I should add that no one has ever refused such a request.

Some ghostwriters include a permissions clause in their contract, saying they reserve the right to include the contracted work in part, or full, within their professional portfolio. I must say, I don’t do this. I make a request to selected individuals at the end of a project. The go ahead is based on the final relationship I have with my client and their approval of the end product. If they are happy with how the project went, and there are no strict confidentiality clauses that would prevent identifying the relationship, then they are usually fine about giving the nod. I should add: I never just assume this. It is a conversation that needs to be had and fully understood by all parties. If they say yes, I thank them profusely because it is a huge deal for them to do this.

I now have work sample agreements from two dozen authors or more. When I am asked for examples of my work, I point prospective clients in the direction of Amazon and give them the titles of the books I have collaborated on. Amazon has that helpful ‘look inside’ feature, so there is not even a need to buy a book to check out my writing skills across a range of titles.

Of course, this pre-supposes that a ghost has a ready portfolio of work and a number of open-minded authors happy to share. For a ghostwriter just starting out, this is not so straightforward. My recommendation here would be to write a selection of samples, blogs or short stories that can be given to putative clients. Or, even better, find interesting people with extraordinary stories and ask them to let you record them for your portfolio.

In either case, whether it is via a request for permission to existing clients, or writing samples from scratch, I would recommend that any ghost keeps a range of different styles in their sample portfolio in order to show off their versatility. When anyone asks for samples, I try to closely match the material I provide to what I understand of their particular profile, although I do also point out that no two books are the same. Thus I can put forward a clutch of different genres that include a book that is a bit edgy and humorous, another that is quite corporate, one that is a pure autobiography and so on.

Don’t under-estimate the power of a testimonial to go with those samples either. One author I was lucky enough to work with was a well-known TV mentalist (who I can’t name – I know…) and he spent a lot of time explaining to me the power of endorsement. A personal recommendation from another like-minded individual makes others value a product far, far more. It can certainly give nervous new authors some peace of mind. Since then I have always made sure to ask for testimonials from my authors. A selection is also featured on my website in the ‘featured work’ section, if you are curious.

Finally, there is one very obvious avenue for a talented ghostwriter to produce a sample or samples of their work; write their own book. This was one of the many reasons why I wrote The Complete Guide to Ghostwriting. What better way can their be to provide a example of your writing skills?