Thirty years of writing wrapped up in best sellers I can’t take credit for, and that sucks. But it’s also pretty awesome. When I step away from the pack and look at my own “Ghost Writing” accomplishments, I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotes.
“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” ~Harry S Truman
At the time, because I worked the early part of the year doing tax prep, anything I made the rest of the year was pretty much cream. The bills were paid, and I had kids to raise, so I ‘settled’ for what I could do without leaving my kids.
Looking back, it was a bad choice, but at the time, I thought I was being a good mom by spending the time with my kids, raising them, and being there to home school them. I thought my presence was worth something more… I guess, the reality is… I wouldn’t change that, but I might have made a few different choices along the way, because I never really got credit for what I was doing, and now… Well, I get no credit.
So let me tell you what I learned from Ghost Writing Fiction.
1 – No matter what, you can’t reveal.
In a discussion with the publisher after writing and editing a book for a prominent author, I accidentally mentioned that I’d written the chapter being deleted, so it didn’t matter. Delete away. Oooops… Said publisher searched the meta data for the book to find out how much I’d written. Most of it. The author was unhappy with me, and the publisher was unhappy, too. Big deal gone wrong, we saved the day with a stupendous contract stating that I would NEVER speak of writing that book again. And I haven’t. Not even to the publisher.
In fact, most of the time, I’ve learned not to even mention to the author, how much of their book I’ve written, or rewritten in the process of editing. They refer to me as the ‘editor’ and pay me well to ‘edit’ their writings. So, I edit well.
2 – Write for THEIR Audience.
This was actually a recent lesson. After literally years of ghost writing for authors who had very similar audiences, I picked up a job with a new author. I’d always just concentrated on writing in my Author’s voice – their voice, not mine. And that worked, but recently I took on a new client and writing in his voice was just really not working. I knew in order to sell books, I would have to find a better way to present what he wanted in his book. He had great stories, but his voice wasn’t developed yet.
It came somewhere after rewriting the third chapter when I realized that I’m not even IN his reading audience. I don’t read his style of books. I struggled with that a bit, then in the process of writing, I mentioned to a friend some of the story-markings, and he said, “Who is his audience?”
When you’re a ghost writer and that question knocks you off your rolling chair, you’re in trouble. I found myself sitting on the floor hoping I didn’t break a hip on the way down!
Who is HIS audience?
Previously, I’d been able to imagine one person on the other side of my desk and write for that person. This time, I realized I didn’t even have a person over there, I was writing for HIM. He wasn’t his audience either.
Who will read this book? What keeps them up at night? Who do they watch on television? What do they read? Do they have political views? Are their children in the house? What do they desire in life?
And then I realized I would need to totally refocus the concept of the story, because his moderate genealogical historic writing style didn’t fit the sex-driven, drunk, existence of this guy’s main characters. I looked for reader groups who read his writing style and within a few hours, I had a beta reader. I visited with her for a few hours, and found she was a really nice lady that I could put in the chair across from my desk and write to… Finishing his book edits were much easier.
And I’d located a new beta reader for his books. Yay, audience.
3 – Find the Author’s Real Voice
It’s in there. It will be hidden deep in the trenches of his ‘scripted writing’ and you’ll be able to synchronize it fairly easy once you recognize it. The author’s real voice will be the one you hear as you read (or write) their works.
TIP: IF you hear your own voice, STOP. DELETE. START OVER.
My best tip for finding their voice is to have them read a few paragraphs or more of their book to you. You’ll be able to readily identify their tone and quality, when you read the book yourself.
One particular writer sends me outlines and the final chapter of his book. That’s it. I’ve worked for this guy for almost 15 years now, and he’s an amazing marketer of his books. He even had incredibly great story lines. But he can’t write. His writing is stilted, lost in characterizations, scenes, and idealisms that just don’t belong in the high-adventure mysteries he publishes. Before me, he had another ghost writer, and before that his wife wrote his books.
We often joke that we’re glad he kept his day job all these years, because he really can’t write. And his day job fills the pages with story line and characters. We love his day job!
4 – Hire an Editor
The above writer, hires me to write his books, and hires a second editor to review my work and make sure we get it right. At one public appearance, his editor and I both showed up for a book signing, completely by accident, but we realized the key to hiring both of us wasn’t accidental.
When you hire a ghost writer to write your work, the ghost writer makes similar mistakes to the original writer… Things get left out, left undone, storylines are missing, and the grand finale of the publication doesn’t happen as smoothly as it might with a qualified editor of a book.
5 – Don’t Hold Onto Your Work
A rim-runner once told me that he has to leave a load behind now and then to keep up with the team.
In the heat of the moment, you’re entrenched in the book, and you’ve got the story on your pillow every night, you drink it for coffee every morning, and you’ll be a monkey’s uncle if it isn’t on your plate for dinner every single night while you work on it. LET IT GO.
When you’re writing the book, you eat, drink, and breathe those characters. You’re so totally mesmerized in the scene that if your main character has an orgasm, you get pregnant! The point is, you can’t separate yourself from what you’re writing if you’re filling pages of content with your imagination. Because you’re totally connected, to both the story and the original author. So when you’re done, when you send the file back to your author, to the second editor, or to the publisher, you need to back away and let go of the story. Totally LET GO.
In fact, you should LET GO to the point, that if someone asks you about what you’ve been eating, drinking, and breathing, for the past eight weeks – or so – you have to go read through it to find what they’re talking about. Let it go!
Dislodge. Focus on other writing. Immerse yourself in the Psalms. Or read a totally different genre for a month.
Let it go so completely that if the publisher publishes the work under a pseudonym of the author, you won’t recognize it if you pick it up to read it. Trust me, you can.
6 – Never Name The Characters
If you’ve skipped over everything else I’ve told you above, don’t skip this. It’s really important.
Never name the characters yourself. Always make the original author name the characters, because if you name them, you’ll be creating them. You can’t CREATE your characters, even if you’re writing the book, that’s the author’s job. The author needs to create the characters and generate the story line that drives his story.
In a recent writing, the author had named a character, and throughout the book, the name didn’t fit. But he hadn’t given this character a single name, he’d given her a laundry list of names that she spewed out when someone asked her name. She never settled on just one name… To write the book, her character had to have ONE name. The name I settled on, because my author struggled with her identity too, was a fairly common version of the main name he’d given her.
But as I wrote her story, it changed. Her story changed the entire dynamic of the book.
He was good with the story line change, her name, and her character change, but when he sent me the script for the second title… He changed her story back.
The first book, now published, doesn’t follow the story line he had moving through HIS head, and now, the second book may have to be a stand alone, rather than a part of the trilogy he was planning. And the worst part, in the new book he’s doing, he’s changed her name to be one of the less prominent ones in the original book.
So, I learned my lesson. Even if the author asks you to change the character, name, or story line. DON’T do it. Have them make those changes themselves and send you the new version.
7 – Be sure Ghost Writing is Part of Your Mission in Life
If writing for hire is all you want from your writing, Ghost Writing is a good opportunity. But if you want more from your talent, say to publish your own works, to be recognized for what you do, to be more than the ‘ghost writer’ for other authors, don’t do it.
“For a true writer, each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that is beyond attainment. He should always try for something that has never been done or that others have tried and failed. Then sometimes, with great luck, he will succeed.” ~Ernest Hemingway
The key to ghost writing has been the open ended statement on my contracts that says “My message may or may not be included in your work, and I will not stifle my message to write for you. I will make every effort to create in your work the message you wish to be sent out as well, but I will never apologize for adding my message.”
Occasionally, my message has been in conflict with my author’s message, but in most cases, I have worked for authors who agree with my message. The key has been their willingness to allow my message to be included. I’m not sure I could have written so many works, had the author’s stifled my message.
I do, however, agree with Patty Duke’s message below. Wisdom, self-worth, and the value of knowing who I am has come with years of experience. Age is a part of who I am.
“As much as I loathe this aging thing, I’m beginning to recognize that I am now a healthier person in terms of self-worth and knowing who I am and where I fit in the world. That’s been a good trade-off for the wrinkles.” ~Patty Duke
If you’re interested in ghost writing, and need some solid advice, I offer informative views and in some cases, excellent connections to authors who hire ghost writers.
No, I will not divulge my client list.