For the first in the series, I thought I’d jump in and discuss what is ghostwriting? A quick side-note: I’m off again, to another undisclosed location, writing off the expenses and meeting glamorous people, eh hum *eyebrow raise*…it’s why you’re interested, isn’t it?
I mentioned in Ghostwriting 101, that I’m asked what I do. What are the W’s behind the mysterious career path? The plan for today is to hit the basics: rudimentary definitions and applications. What is ghostwriting, what it’s not and how to know if you might ‘fit’ into this strange world. I am referring to fiction and nonfiction works, sharing what applies to both.
Disclaimer: Please excuse the humor if you checked your funny bone at the door, it’s not meant to be a dissertation.
Ghostwriters are more than writers: we are investigators, reporters, editors, poets, producers, and marketers. There’s research, interviews, background checks, and legwork, not to mention hours conversing with the client(s) and then actual writing time. One needs to know how to format a good story, set up the rhythm and pace, choose the correct language, listen to the dialect and select the dialogue that fits the characters’ voices. A wordsmith who is familiar with cadence, syncopation and intonation will call on all these talents. The finished product doesn’t just happen, it is massaged into being, an ability requiring direction, intention, discipline and divining to read the market’s pulse. Have I scared you yet? A little fear goes a long way to dose the zeal of *squee* a new thing!
On the other hand, many ghostwriters are on the path in-between all these skills. It is not necessary to possess every one of them if you are part of an excellent team. But, if you know your craft, you are highly marketable in the arena.
Ghostwriting is complex, ranging from writing your ideas to meshing another individual’s story into a complete book. For example: a client contacts me and says, “Hey Roxie, I hear you’re a ghostwriter. I’ve got this idea for a book about my mother’s uncle who was accused of being the man on the grassy knoll the day Kennedy was shot.” Dramatic pause… “What do you say, will you help me write this thing?” I’m thinking, who is she and how’d she get my name? But what I say is, “It sounds like a project I wouldn’t be able to devote time to until I clear some obligations, at least another six to nine months. Let me take some information from you and then get back to you. If you commit to another writer before I call, go with them. No problem.” The gentle prodding of data will help me determine if the job will indeed pan out. Are you thinking, Hey it can’t be true, don’t get involved with it? Or, are you saying to yourself, Hmmm, I wonder if there really is anything to that conspiracy theory, and will another book sell?
If you asked yourself the second question, you are ghostwriter material. You don’t have to believe what you write, you have to be passionate about it. Not the same thing. Everyone who brings a venture across your track will believe it is truth. Their truth, which is different from evidentiary fact. You must ask yourself if you can get behind the gig and push it to the limits, is it interesting enough for you, challenging, and feasible for the market? Unless the call was from an editor at a big honking publishing firm, then you know it’s marketable.
Even if you don’t live in a bustling community, you can ghostwrite. Many of my original clients hailed from small towns. There are stories, good ones, to be found everywhere. So how do you drum up business? One of my previous posts may help, The Sweet Taste of Success: 10 suggestions to market your writing.
Where will you work? From home? An office? This is a business and you should give yourself the best opportunity to succeed by treating yourself as a professional. Meaning: go to the small business administration and find out how to begin. If you’re already freelancing, chances are you know all about taxes, quarterly reports, what’s deductible and what’s not realistic as an expense. Know your local laws. Some require a business license, others do not. Do your homework and prepare yourself.
How much time are you willing to devote to a new business venture? My advice is, never expect a business to pay dividends to support you until after year five…but if you’re a writer, you may never want to quit your main source of income. I’m serious. Writers are a dime a dozen, or to escape the cliché, paid by the word, page, or completed project. Many times pay is a penny a word, or when you do the division (yes there’s plenty of math involved), you may pocket $20 for a 500 word piece. How many of those puppies do you need to score to pay your mortgage each month? Other places ask that you write for FREE. And they sell your work. Go figure.
May I rant a moment? If you don’t respect yourself, others will not either. (More about the business end of things later…) This is why it’s important where you jump in, how you maintain your bio, and whether (or not) your writing will be taken seriously. Street cred will not get you in the door at a major publishing firm, but bios will get you into the crack you are able to shove open, when timing and networking line up like lovely astrological signs. M’kay, done, thank you for indulging me. But on the flip side, if you are an established writer, the sky is the limit, sort of. You can set your rates and people will pay them.
So you think you want to be a ghostwriter. How did I begin? I have a confession, I never started out by saying, “Hey, I think I’d like to aspire to ghostwriting as my life goal.” I woke up one day and recognized most of my jobs were fixes for other people. Kind of like when you open your mouth and out comes something you swore you’d never say, a recording of your mother or father, blasting like a megaphone…it just happens. Over the years jobs morphed into repeat work and multiplied. Tenacity, determination and reputation keep me in business. Plus I love the sheer diversity of it; no two projects are alike, ever.
Are you still interested in ghostwriting? IMHO follow your interests. If you’d like to try it, go for it. The years are passing anyway, why not hike up those waders and see if the water’s right for you? Perhaps the question should be, why not?
previous article: Ghostwriting 101: the challenge is in the secret