Thursday, June 04, 2009

Ghostwriting: A Behind-the-scenes Job

Like the man behind the curtain in the Wizard of Oz, a freelance ghostwriter works behind the scenes to create books, articles, bios, résumés, book reviews, media releases, Web content, and provide editing for authors and business people. I am a multi-tasker who switches hats like a milliner. I am a published author, writing instructor, newsletter publisher, podcast host, and a public speaker, but today I want to talk about what it’s like being a ghostwriter.

One thing we have to do as ghostwriters is put our ego aside. We may do all the grunt work and create a fantastic book that goes to market and hits number one—I've had that happen. A book I ghostwrote made Amazon’s bestseller list a few weeks after it was published. I even helped the author find a publisher, but I can’t even tell you the title of the book because I worked under a non-disclosure agreement. I wrote the book, but my name is nowhere to be found between the covers. A ghostwriter is invisible, behind the scenes. You won’t be given credit for any material you create as a work-for-hire writer. The copyright is turned over to the author of record as soon as payment is made to the ghostwriter. That's one of the challenges of the business, and a reason why my company is called Writers in the Sky (WITS).

The name of my company reflects the mystical notion of ghostwriting and offering spiritual help. Like book angels, Writers in the Sky is hidden in the clouds, helping, encouraging, and cheering authors on, but we're really not out to get our name on the front cover of your book. We do get a perk every now and then because the clients we work with are very appreciative. Some clients will give us an acknowledgment in their book as a developmental or copy editor. We appreciate it, but we know better than to expect it.

Ghostwriting is a collaborative process. We may go back and forth emailing a chapter at a time, sometimes section by section, to really home in on developing a book that has the author's imprint, voice, and style. When I say “style,” I don't mean style guides because we use Chicago Manual of Style and any book we write or edit is going to be aligned with those standards. But, every author has a unique writing style or “voice” and we don't want to get rid of that. We do want to improve it where necessary. So, what we are doing is not only improving the book, we are also improving the writer because he or she is learning from the process. We act as book shepherds or mentors so the next book that author brings to us is even better.

Another challenge is the condition in which some manuscripts come to us. We’ve written books from a jumbled mess of handwritten memos on sticky notes, menus, napkins, church bulletins, or whatever scrap paper was handy when the idea occurred on the spur of the moment. A client may leave it up to us to create the entire book from such contents. Some authors have a great outline or a rough draft with their research well documented who want us to write the book from a particular point of view. We take their manuscript and produce a book that has their style and voice. When writing about someone's life, we have to get to know that person in order to assume that person's voice. That may require several phone or in-person interviews.

We develop relationships with our clients and they become our friends. Even after their book is on the market, we're still in touch with the authors because of the bond we made during our collaboration. I regularly hear from some clients I worked with years ago. I may email them to ask, “How's our baby (book) coming along?” or “What can I do to help you with the marketing?” They may call to wish me a happy holiday or just say hello.

If you've got to have your name in lights and have everyone know you wrote a book, then being a ghostwriter is probably not your calling. If you enjoy helping other writers improve their writing, you may enjoy ghostwriting.

If you need help with the development of your book, please contact Yvonne Perry or see our Web site for pricing and more information on ghostwriting and editing.

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Photo credit: Ariel Parrish

1 comment:

bks2plz said...

I am a writer who loves to write; however, I prefer to be behind the scenes. I would like to be a ghostwriter for a well-known author in order to get my stories out to readers everywhere.

How would I go about contacting authors to present my manuscripts?

I have just released my new fantasy novel, "Gateway to DreamWorld." I invite you to read it and offer your review. It is available at

I appreciate any advise you can offer