Fame, fortune and acclaim, those are the dreams to lure many people into wanting to write. But how realistic is it? If I had a pound for every time someone said to me: ‘You could be the next JK Rowling’ or ‘This will be a bestseller and you’ll be rich from the royalties!’, I would be made richer than from any of the royalties I’m currently contracted to receive.
One certainty is, writing a book is unlikely to be a get rich quick scheme. B,ut if you still have a desire to write, you are not alone. Becoming an author is what 60% of British people told a YouGov poll they’d like to do for a living. It’s a job where your creativity can come alive and where you can share your experiences and record your thoughts for future generations.
We feel as if we have achieved some kind of perpetuity if we can only leave that damn book we want to write behind!
While all these things can be true, the reality of actually writing it is often a different process from what we’d imagine it would be. The profession is far from the glamorous one you often see portrayed in films and other books. A quick straw poll of our United Ghostwriters members is testament to this. OK, granted, most of us have been lucky enough to have enjoyed a memorable experience or two. One of us landed an interview that involved sipping champagne on a private jet. Another recalls an incredible meal in Paris cooked by renowned chef Hélène Darroze, who now works at the Connaught. Another one of us had lunch in The Ivy with a well known politician, while someone else enjoyed five days in Beverley Hills ( but only managed to get three hours’ interview time!). But if you ask the opposite question — ‘What are the pitfalls of being a writer?’ — there are many more replies.
Long lonely hours. Difficulties with the writing process. Fear of rejection by publishers. Procrastination issues. Briefs that change at the last minute. These are just some of the issues.
Ghostwriters have to confront the same issues that would come up in writing their own books, and often more. We are the ones having a story told to us before we re-tell it back to the person, aiming to capture their own voice. At times it’s a juggling act, keeping both client and publisher happy with the result.
It’s also a myth that the author is necessarily the main contributor to any successful project. For any book to hit the shelves and the bestseller lists, a whole army of people must work tirelessly behind the scenes.
Bestselling author Matt Haig talked about this on his blog.
He said: The myth I am talking about is the myth of the author. The myth of that name under or above the title, staring out at you in bold letters, like Stonehenge in a font, saying ‘I am an island of talent, and everything inside this book is down to me… No. A writer these days is not a solo player (if we ever were). A writer does not create a novel out of a vacuum, but out of interaction – with editors, friends, family and other readers.’
Whether they use ghostwriters or not, authors need to be prepared to advertise their books, often on social media. Some publishers even judge an author’s work on the number of their social media followers before they’ve even read a word written.
But this doesn’t diminish the importance of wanting to write your book. Ultimately it doesn’t matter why you want to tell your story, the more important thing is you HAVE a story to tell and you’re prepared to put in the work to tell it. It was Orwell who wrote this description of the novelist: ‘All writers are vain, selfish and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon which one can neither resist nor understand.’
While writing is not a career to choose for the glitz or the accolades, the end result of a book in your hands often is often worth the labour of love. It might not involve the romantic process you’d imagine it would be, but with passion and determination the hard work does pay off. And as far as becoming the next JK Rowling goes, well, you never ever know, do you?