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Why would a good writer hire a ghost?

Perhaps the most surprising fact about ghostwriters is that the people who hire them often write beautifully on their own. That's certainly true of my clients. Two of them are former English professors! Every one of them is exceptionally articulate, some commanding high fees on the public speaking circuit. So why would they hire a ghost?
      The answer I hear most often is: "It's cost-effective." Those former English professors, for example, are now earning megabucks doing something else. When they compare what they earn in an hour with what they'd pay a writer per hour, delegating the job makes obvious business sense. Speed is another factor in the business equation. Authors who expect what they publish to generate money-making opportunities need to publish promptly. Books only get finished promptly if someone is working on them full time.
        The difference between professional writers and non-professionals who write well has less to do with talent than with efficiency. Contrary to popular opinion, people who write for a living seldom suffer from writer's block. They can't afford to. "Blocked" means "unable to pay the electric bill." Nor can the professional writer afford to accumulate a drawerful of unsold manuscripts. When a person's livelihood depends on selling words, they learn to identify buyers in advance, figure out what those buyers want, and deliver it reliably. With experience comes the ability to work at a brisk pace and get it right the first try. As the writer's client, you get the benefit of all that experience.
      Other benefits of hiring a ghostwriter are less obvious. Here are a few you might not have thought of:

A published ghostwriter improves your own chances of being published.

From a commercial standpoint, the ideal non-fiction author is not a writer. The author should be recognized authority on the subject matter--if not famous already, at least potentially good at being famous. He or she should be personable, well-spoken and regularly engaged in some activity that attracts an audience. Writing talent is a distant second on the publisher's priority list. Nevertheless, they want the book to be well-written. Unless you're already very famous, they can't invest in fixing a broken manuscript in-house. Knowing you've hired a professional reassures them that you'll deliver an acceptable manuscript on schedule. Though you might be a first-time author, publishers are relieved to know they won't be dealing with a first time writer.

Hiring a writer frees you to concentrate on promotion.

Prior to the release of your book, a publisher would much rather see you engaged in building an advance audience than laboring over a word-processor. That's what you'd rather do, too, if you want to become famous. A collaborator liberates you from the grunt-work, so that you can concentrate on becoming a star.

On paper, a skilled ghost may sound more like you than you do yourself.

Most of my clients are great talkers. As a rule, great talkers dislike their own writing. If they simply write down what they're used to saying, something seems to be missing. And indeed, something is. Words are only a small part of what listeners take in when we speak. Tone, facial expression and gestures all contribute to putting across our message. On paper, though, words are the whole show. A good writer knows how to make the charisma you have in person come across on the page.

Ghostwriters are great listeners.

With the possible exception of your mother, nobody hangs on your every word like a ghost. As your literary alter-ego, the writer attempts to live in your head, thinking your thoughts and seeing the world through your eyes. This empathy gets reflected back to you on the page. If the relationship clicks, you have the rare experience of feeling deeply understood--at least, on the topic of your book. It's very gratifying.

Two heads are better than one.

When you work with a collaborator, don't be surprised if you hear yourself saying things you never knew you thought. The ghostwriter is, in a sense, your first reader, and the representative of all your other readers. It's her job to anticipate the questions and objections that might arise in other readers' minds. You'll be challenged to look at your own ideas from a fresh perspective and to develop them more fully.

A calm collaborator relieves your own angst.

As a first time author, it's normal to freak out about everything from participles to publicists. Experienced writers might still freak out about their own books, but they generally don't freak out about yours. A ghost who knows the publishing ropes can lay many of your anxieties to rest, while at the same time anticipating--and quietly solving--problems that might never have occurred to you. Though ghostwriters can't absolutely guarantee your success, an experienced one can predict and forestall the most common causes of failure.

It's more fun.

Unless you have the temperament of a born writer, the process of writing itself can be pretty unsatisfying. You have to sit alone for hours, sending words into what seems to be a void. Until you have readers, there's no way to know what impact you're having. If you're trying to finish a book in your spare time, that reader response might be delayed for years. It's no wonder so many would-be authors give up in the early chapters. Contrast this with what happens when you work with a collaborator. You talk for a couple of hours and, two or three weeks later, you get a chapter in the mail. As the pages pile up at a steady pace, the project feels more and more real. There's a target date for completion, and you're actually going to meet it! You are not, after all, going to be regretting some unwritten book on your death bed. With the help of your collaborator, you've made a major dream come true.

 

 

Is a literary collaborator the same as a ghostwriter?

Is it cheating to use a ghostwriter?

What sort of material do you write?

How does the collaborative process work?

How long does it take you to write a book?

Will the writing sound like me?

Will others know of my collaborator's involvement?

Does the collaborator's name go on the book jacket?

I want to do the writing myself, but I could use some professional advice.

Who are your clients? What books have you written?

Does the collaborator get a share of royalties?

How do you charge?

I'd like to have my book ghostwritten but I'm not sure I can afford it.

I need to test the waters before I dive in. Any way to do that?

I notice you're located in Chicago. I'm not. Is this a problem?

Is a literary collaborator the same as a ghostwriter?

Ghostwriting is just one of the services that a collaborator can provide. For authors who prefer to do the writing themselves, a collaborator serves as a coach or consultant. A good collaborator can guide you through every step of the writing and publishing process.

Is it cheating to use a ghostwriter?

Many people have the idea that using a ghostwriter is just putting your own name on someone else's work--which strikes most of us as dishonest. That kind of ghostwriting exists, but it's not what I do. My clients participate. I handle the writing, but they do the thinking. They take—and deserve—full credit, because without their brilliant ideas, their books wouldn’t exist.

Consider the relationship between an architect and a builder. You wouldn't expect Frank Lloyd Wright to share credit with the guys who hammered the nails.

 What sort of material do you write?

I specialize in book-length non-fiction about ideas--e.g., business, self-help, personal growth, holistic health, politics, philosophy. I also write articles, speeches and presentations, and design instructional materials for classroom, web or print. Recently I have launched a line of self-published personal memoirs: shorter and more affordable than my standard non-fiction projects. (See Legacy Books.)  

How does the collaborative process work?

So glad you asked! Clients love my process because it's simple, efficient, and even kind of fun. It also leads to great results.

After developing an overall plan for the book, I provide you with a worksheet for each chapter. You write brief answers (a sentence or two) to a series of questions that help you define what you want to say. During a telephone conference, you elaborate on these points and I ask follow-up questions to draw you out further. Then I write the chapter and send it to you for review. After we've completed the first draft of the entire book, you will have several weeks to scrutinize it and list the changes you'd like me to make. I incorporate your revisions into a final draft.

How long does it take you to write a book?

Obviously that depends on length. My shortest book ( 25,000 words) took four months. The longest ( 90,000 words) took a year. Six to eight months is about average.  

How much of my own time will it involve?

Each chapter requires about four hours of the client's time. Add to this roughly eight hours of planning meetings before we start to write, and a long revision session after the first draft is completed. All told, figure on spending an average of two hours per week.

Will the writing sound like me?

The first draft of the first chapter probably won't sound like you at all. (We'll fix this in the final draft.) By the last chapter, though, almost everything will sound like it came from you verbatim. This seems to happen organically in much the same way that married people pick up each other's mannerisms.

Will others know of the collaborator's involvement?

It's a good idea to clue in your agent, if you have one, and your publisher. In fact, when it comes to landing a publisher, working with a ghostwriter is regarded as a plus. A professionally written manuscript is a lot less work and risk for them. Apart from that, no else need ever know. I don't disclose the names of my clients without their permission. When your book becomes a bestseller, I'll be kicking myself over this policy, but there it is.

Doesn't the collaborator's name go on the book jacket?

Nah. I've seen my name on book jackets. I'm over it.

I want to do the writing myself, but I could use some professional advice. Can you help?

Sure. I also offer coaching on a per hour basis. I can help you plan and organize the project and stay on track with it, give you feedback, troubleshoot specific problems, answer your questions about the publishing biz, and generally cheer you on. If you've already written something that doesn't quite satisfy you--or that you're having trouble getting published--I can evaluate the manuscript and give you detailed advice on what it needs.

Who are your clients? What books have you written?

Obviously, I can't publish their names. But I do provide serious prospective clients with references and work samples. I encourage you to check these references, just as I encourage previous clients to be candid with you.

Does the collaborator get a share of the royalties?

No. You pay for my work up front and owe nothing more, no matter how much you earn from the book.

How do you charge?

My fees for coaching and manuscript evaluation are listed on this site. For ghostwriting, I quote a flat fee based on the length of the book.

I’d like to have my book ghostwritten, but I’m not sure I can afford it.

Why not start with a proposal? Most commercial publishers of non-fiction would rather see a proposal than a finished book. When they decide to sign you, they give you an advance on royalties, which should cover part, if not all, of what you'd pay your collaborator. This reduces your risks as well as your up-front costs.

A proposal consists of a brief synopsis, a detailed outline, an author bio, a market overview and marketing plan, and a sample chapter. It usually runs about 15,000 words, and takes know-how. Even if you intend to write your own book, you might prefer to have your proposal written professionally.

I need to test the waters before I dive in. Any way to do that?

Absolutely. Before embarking on a book-length project, we meet to discuss your goals, explore ideas, come up with a marketing and publishing plan, develop a detailed outline and test how the relationship is working. For these meetings, I charge by the hour. Should you decide to move forward with the project, what you’ve already paid for consulting is subtracted from what you owe for the writing. You might also wish to commission a small project--an article, presentation, or web site--before you commit to a book.

I notice you’re located in Chicago. I’m not. Is this a problem?

No. We meet mostly by phone, even if you live nearby. If you want to meet in person, and are willing to pay for the trip, I’ll happily travel anywhere

 

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© Copyright 2008 Catherine MacCoun