Professional Ghost

What a ghostwriter does

If you’ve got a great story to tell, but don’t necessarily have the time, the writing skills or experience to write it, a ghost writer could be the answer. Employing an experienced author to help you tell your story could save you months of anguish in front of your computer. It could even ensure your story does actually get written, rather than being abandoned as too difficult, or too time consuming.

But, you may well be thinking: what does a ghostwriter do? The way ghost writers work does vary, but it is common practice that, once a ghost writer has been engaged, they will listen to the subject’s story over a series of one-to-one interviews. My preference is to keep interviews to an hour to two hours in length as experience shows me this is the optimum time to get the best material. Interviews are all taped and transcribed, so the ghost has a rich resource of material to call upon. Ghostwriters may also request supporting material to help their research, which may include anything from family photographs, to newspaper clippings, to important documents. They may even take a look at an author’s social media profiles and blog posts, to get a feel for what makes them tick. Even public relations material can prove useful. Occasionally, if it is appropriate, interviews will also be done with relevant associates of the main named author, such as family, friends and work colleagues. This can be really useful to get a fuller picture of the subject in hand and often acts as a useful aide memoire for the main author.

‘Your colleague mentioned the time that you…’

Additional interviews frequently produce a rich vein of material.

It may be that in many cases, a ghost will begin writing during the research process. Many authors are busy people, so may be only able to spare an hour or so every other week, or even be available for interview only occasionally. In this case, it makes sense for the co writer to begin writing as soon as there is enough material to be getting on with. They can continue the interview process in the author’s own timescale and can use the time to add in questions on the material currently in hand. Other times, if the author is more able to spare the time and the interview process is more concentrated, the ghostwriter can begin writing after all the information is gathered.

In both cases, the ghost will use their skills to capture the voice of the author, while telling their story in as interesting and engaging a way as possible.

As the book begins to take shape, authors can expect to receive regular draft chapters, which they can read and adjust as necessary. In fact, the more feedback the better. The ghost may well suggest angles that will make the book more commercial so it has greater appeal to publishers and readers and it is very useful if an author can add their thoughts to this process. It is, after all, a collaboration. Whatever happens though, the story will remain at all times under the control of the subject and nothing will go into the book that an author doesn’t want in there. It goes without saying that anything that is told to a ghost in confidence to set the scene for a story will, of course, remain in confidence should an author wish it to stay that way.

Working with a hired ghostwriter should be a shared process throughout. Authors can expect a manuscript to go back and forth a number of times, while every detail is checked adjusted and agreed. The aim is to end up with a high quality book that engages and interests the target reader.

Once the manuscript is completed, a ghost writer can help the named author through the publishing process, whether it is via a mainstream publisher or through the self-publishing route. Mainstream book publishers usually welcome a book written by a ghostwriter because they know they can expect a well-structured book which flows well, matches the publishing proposal and is delivered on time. However, hiring a ghost is no guarantee of a book deal. If, on the other hand, an author choses to self publish, there are many options which a ghostwriter can explain in detail.

When the book finally goes into publication it is up to the named author to decide what credit, if any to give to their ghost writer. Some subjects choose to acknowledge their ghost writers as ‘co authors’ on the cover, while others will note that their book was written ‘with Ms Ghost Writer’. Sometimes they simply thank the ghost in the acknowledgements. Others chose not to mention it at all. Either way is fine. The vast majority of ghost writers are not on an ego trip, they write books as a commercial transaction. If there are any concerns about this, or indeed any other aspect of working together, this can all be agreed up front.


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