Ghostwriting: A Cautionary Tale

Typewriter_Writing_Writer_238822_lEverything about the potential ghostwriting client sounded great:

  • He came to me through a referral
  • He had a treatment for his book written up
  • He had a book contract ready to go

We emailed back and forth a couple of times and then set up a time to talk.

I was both daunted and excited about the prospect of taking on this writing project.  Daunted because it would be turning a film treatment into a novel, something I've never done before.  Daunted also because the genre was military fiction, not particularly in my comfort zone.

The excitement came because of the challenges of writing fiction in someone else's voice.  I thought it would be good practice for me.  So, too, I decided that writing fiction for someone else would light a fire under my butt seat and reinvigorate my own novel writing.

And so I prepared, pondering potential word counts, toting up figures, and coming up with what I felt was a fair fee.  At the appointed time, I called the potential client for our chat.

I knew two minutes in that we wouldn't be working together.

Why? Because he uttered these words: "I was hoping to find a collaborator who would be willing to split the profits with me."

Split the profits being the tip-off.

Because odds are good there won't not be any.  And then I've worked for months on a project without any pay. 

Why do people so often think that writers are willing to work for no pay?  On the off chance there might someday be some money involved?  Guys, I gotta eat, and I have a mortgage to pay, just like you.

I said all this, albeit a bit more politely, and carried on with the conversation.  I inquired about his book contract and that turned out to be an opportunity to pay a company lots of money to have them publish his book.  Not a scam, but just short of it.

Dreams of glory die hard.  People think its easy to write a book and get it published.  Heavy sigh.  My no-longer-a-potential-client and I had a good talk, with me filling him in on traditional paths to publication versus self-publishing.  I think I was helpful to him.

I hung up the phone disappointed. I generally have a pretty good radar for when this is going to happen, but this one fooled me.  I was enticed by the thought that he already had a contract, and that he came via referral.  Sounded like he was serious to me.

Another day in the life of a ghostwriter.

What about you?  Have you ever had someone expect you to write something for free?

***Don't forget to use this dark time of year to generate lots of new ideas for 2012.  Read more about my class on the subject here.

Photo by kiamedia.


Should You Hire A Ghostwriter or Write It Yourself?

Of all the things that I do, ghostwriting seems to garner the most interest.  Recently, Twitter and blogging buddy Patrick Ross mentioned in a comment that he'd like to hear more about it.  (He also passed along the Stylish Blogger award.  Thanks, Patrick!) So here you go.

In this post, I'm going to look at the difference between hiring a ghostwriter or writing the book yourself, perhaps with some coaching along the way.  In general, I'm a huge fan of writing the book yourself. Dcist_ghost_halloween_391239_l

Why do I believe this?

Because even though it is a ghostwriter's job to enter the head of the client and write like he or she would, the most authentic voices still come from the client himself.   But sometimes writing it yourself just isn't possible.  So let's consider when you might want to hire a ghostwriter:

  • When you don't have time to write it yourself
  • When you don't have the inclination to write it yourself
  • When you know you hate writing
  • When you realize that your time could better be spent on other aspects of your business
  • When the subject you want to write about is way out of your area of expertise

Most political books are ghostwritten.  (Do you really think Sarah Palin or Al Gore has the time to write a book?  I actually have a passing acquaintance with the guy who helped Al with his book, help being a euphenism for doing all the work.) Some self-help books are ghostwritten.  (Again, can you picture Dr. Phil sitting down to write his very own little book?) And even some novels are ghostwritten.  (It was widely rumored that Margaret Truman's mysteries were ghostwritten.  And then you you have authors like what's his name, um….the guy who write the Alex Cross mysteries–Jame Patterson!  He has a whole stable of writers who churn out crap books for him.)

But you, my dear friend or client, are different.  You have a passionate idea inside you that your long to express into the world for a variety of reasons.  Perhaps you have a business you want to promote, or you desire to begin a speaking career.  Perhaps you are looking for a career change, or in loftier ambitions, have an idea that will change the world.  So have a book inside you that needs to come out.

And while it may be tempting to hire a ghostwriter, I believe that you have the chops to do it yourself.  Consider this:

  • Ghostwriting is labor-intensive and so it is expensive. 
  • There is nothing more satisfying than seeing your name on the cover of a book–and knowing you wrote it yourself.
  • Writing a book probably isn't nearly as difficult as you've made it out to be in that fertile brain of yours.

For some lucky reason, I think that book-writing is not only fun, but easy.  I think this harks back to my days in elementary school, when there was nothing I loved better than getting assigned a school report on a country, or a planet, or even something as simple as a bird.  I couldn't wait to find out what topic I'd be assigned, and once I found out, I sprinted to the library to start researching.  Love writing those reports.  And today I love writing books.

But I believe you can write your book yourself.  And that you can actually enjoy doing it.  I know, I know.  But trust me, it is possible.  

Because this post went in a slightly different direction than I first intended, and got long at the same time, I think I'll do another post on the same topic, slightly different focus, looking at ghostwriting more from the writer's side of things.

In the meantime, if I've convinced you to write the book yourself, I am offering a telelclass on Book Proposals That Succeed, and the early-bird pricing ends this Friday.  Check it out here.

 Photograph by katmere from