Monday, February 17, 2014

Writing Without Credit: Getting Started in Ghost-Writing

When most authors first start writing, they dream of entering bookshops and seeing rows of shelves full of books with their names on them. This is all well and good but not everybody is going to be able to get the first manuscript that they submit accepted by a publisher and in the meantime, aspiring authors still have bills to pay. Okay, so J.K. Rowling might have got the first book that she ever sent off picked up by an agent and gone on to become the biggest name in children’s books but stories like hers are few and far between. The reality is that authors often need to earn a living writing books that they get no credit for throughout the early stages of their career, which lots of people don’t particularly like but can mean the difference between biding your time until you can class yourself as a professional writer and making enough to get by whilst waiting for your big break.

Finding Somebody to Write For 
There are two ways that ghost-writers can earn money: they can either charge people for their services or only take on projects that they feel have a strong likelihood of getting published and then take a percentage of the advance and royalties in payment for their work. The second option is a little bit more risky, as it can often be difficult to tell what types of stories publishers are looking for, but can work out favourably if your client is a celebrity or has a particularly fascinating life story. It is advisable not to pick the person who you are going to write for solely based upon the amount of money you think that they are capable of generating though because you also need to consider the practicalities involved in writing for them.

In his book Ghostwriting, Britain’s most successful ghost-writer Andrew Crofts warns that ghost-writers can often find themselves having to dissuade their clients from ringing publishers up and ranting at them when they can’t find their book in the shops. He also says that ghost-writers frequently have to calm their clients down when the front cover of the book is not to their liking. It is therefore important to pick somebody that you think is going to be easy to work with and unlikely to kick up a fuss about every little detail.

The Nitty Gritty
Once you have found a suitable client, the next step is to decide the best method for getting their story out of them. Some ghost-writers prefer to get their clients to write their stories out in a rough form and then merely reword it for them. Others hold the view that the person that they are writing for might not necessarily know which details are important to include. These writers favour interviewing their clients about every aspect of their lives. This is usually done using a Dictaphone, although there are cases when the client might be wary about being recorded, for example if he or she is a retired criminal who is writing a true crime memoir or a celebrity who has been involved in a scandal. In these cases, it may be best to write the answers down.

Once you have conducted all the necessary research, it is finally time to put pen to paper and see what you can come up with. Make sure to use the type of language that you think that your client would use but avoid including colloquialisms or dialect that the public might not be familiar with. It is important to get feedback from your client after every couple of chapters because otherwise you might get all the way to the end of the book only for them to tell you that you have failed to capture the essence of their character. How you write will determine how they are perceived when the book is released, meaning that they will usually have a lot to say about your style. 

What to Do if it All Goes Wrong
One of the pitfalls of ghost-writing is that your client can suddenly decide at any moment that he or she no longer wishes to continue with the book. This can be a source of intense worry if you have nearly finished it but doesn’t necessarily mean that all is lost. In Ghostwriter, Andrew Crofts states that in certain circumstances it can be advisable to release a client’s book even if they have told you that they no longer want to bring it out. He suggests rewording it so that it reads as a biography rather than an autobiography. Another option is to use the material that you have written for a different purpose, for example you could convert a celebrity memoir into a series of articles about the subject’s life. Hopefully the process will run smoothly and there will be no need for these contingencies but it is best to always be prepared for the worst.

written by E. Pearce

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