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Making the Most of Your Ghost Experience

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When I mention that I ghostwrite, people always have plenty of questions about the process. Ghostwriting is an underreported aspect of publishing, perhaps because of the background role that ghosts play. So here are some basics that you can keep in mind for a time when you might need to hire such a secret partner.


Why Hire a Ghostwriter?

Ghosts who write really do exist and for some important reasons. The main one–a lack of time for writing on the part of an expert or celebrity–has been the impetus for my involvement in all four of my ghostwriting assignments so far. In fact, it’s the reason I got my first ghostwriting break. Three years ago, an author friend who had committed to co-writing a book got sidetracked on another project. I was asked to step in because of the time crunch.

The second reason ghostwriters exist is because an expert or celebrity may lack writing skills. Inthese situations, the ghost may write all or almost all of the manuscript, adjusting it to accommodate notes, edits, or comments from the client. On one of my projects, English was not the main author’s primary language, so he would not have been able to write the book himself.

In addition to writing skills, a good ghostwriter brings experience in publishing to the project. In my case, I have had more than 10 years of book publishing experience, have edited more than a hundred books, and have worked as a journalist off and on since the late 1970s.


How Do I Choose a Ghostwriter

Bottom line: There has to be a match of personalities and talents. If you can’t relate to your ghostwriter during your initial meetings or conversations, this is not a positive signal for moving forward. Also, the ghost should have enthusiasm for your concept or story. Completing your manuscript is going to take a lot of energy and persistence.

Expertise in your subject area is helpful too. I work in alternative health, psychology, and spirituality, and I stay up-to-date by visiting bookstores, reading, attending lectures, staying tuned in to the media, and talking with experts in those fields.

Look at samples of the ghost’s earlier writing, and check to see if it meets the quality and feeling that you’re going for. If you have a true crime story, a ghost like me with a spiritual background probably isn’t a wise choice. However, the ghost may surprise you with other capabilities. After all, a ghost’s job is going to be to capture your voice. For that reason and others, I feel that the most useful sample you can ask for is a sample of work on your particular project, which will let you see what the ghost is most likely to deliver for your book. After the structure for the book is carved out, start by asking your ghost to write just one chapter to see how it goes.

In your initial meetings, your ghost will also be evaluating whether or not to work with you. The ghost should be able to tell you whether there is potential in your idea. An ethical ghost is not going to encourage you to invest in a book that has little promise of success. Skilled ghosts can, however, offer suggestions if they feel a change of approach will improve the book’s chances. Ghosts often will lay out the structure of the book, reflected in the Table of Contents.


What Other Details Should I Be Aware Of?

In some ways, ghostwriting is uncharted territory. Ghostwriters may offer you different views of some of the following details, but here is what I have observed:

Research — In many cases involving experts, most of the background and information comes from them. This is essentially why they are considered the authors. Experts usually have spent a lot of time developing their concept and amassing information and ideas. The ghost is simply the channel, the one who crafts the words that will most effectively convey the message. In my ghost projects so far, I have done supplementary research and further development of the ideas, but some ghosts don’t consider that to be their job. Research is definitely a point to be covered early in your discussions.

Credit —In ghostwriting, the range for the credit on the book goes from no acknowledgment at all (not the way to go, in my opinion), to a “thank you” in the acknowledgments, to a “with” or “as told to” credit on the cover, to a full co-author line on the cover. Some people argue that a writer who receives a co-author line is a co-author, not a ghost. However, if the “co-author” actually wrote the entire book, wasn’t some ghosting involved? You should work out the best arrangement for your particular project.

Money — Here, again, the range is considerable. Some ghosts are willing to postpone payment in exchange for royalties, which may turn out to be minimal. On the other end of the spectrum, in rare situations, writers who ghost celebrity books can make more than $100,000 per book. A ghost may estimate an overall project fee or prefer to work at an hourly rate. In either case, a share of royalties can also be part of the agreement, and reimbursement of the ghost’s expenses for phone, express delivery, etc., is usually covered. Again, you should negotiate for whatever suits a given project best.


“Disappearing” Acts

As with any relationship, a cooperative attitude and shared enthusiasm will help push the project forward to completion. A professional ghost is discrete and does not intrude on the author’s role once the book goes into publication. I am available for questions from my clients, but stay mostly ghostly invisible once the book is in print. In turn, my authors understand the need for referrals and recommendations. On that last note, a good way to track down those phantom ghostwriters with proven skills is by asking your colleagues for recommendations.


Robin Quinn is a ghostwriter and book editor from Los Angeles. Quinn specializes in the topics of alternative health, psychology, and spirituality. Offerings from her Quinn’s Word for Word editorial service range from ghostwriting, to all levels of editing (from developmental to copyediting), to the writing of media kits. E-mail quinnrobin@aol.com, or call 310/838-7098, for more information.

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