‘So, what’s it all about, this ghostwriting business, then?’ I was at a party (remember those) when someone asked this, predictably followed by, ‘I suppose you write ghost stories?’ Cue much laughter.
‘Well,’ I smiled sweetly. ‘Actually, sometimes we do.’ I had just written a book for a psychic and there were plenty of ghosts in it. ‘But mostly we don’t.’
Ghostwriting is a much misunderstood and occasionally maligned profession, so perhaps it’s time to explain what it is that we’re actually all about.
We ghostwriters love to immerse ourselves in different worlds, paranormal or otherwise. It’s part of the joy of what we do.
We meet extraordinary people, brave and interesting people, funny and clever people, those who have built businesses, forged amazing careers, broken down barriers and spent their lives helping others. We learn about the heartache of great loss, the courage of those who fight for justice and the extraordinary sacrifices required to achieve greatness – whether in sport, on the stage, in politics or in humanitarian work.
Ours is a genre all of its own in the literary world. It requires the ability to write – of course – but it also requires the ability to listen, to understand, to empathise and to advise. It requires vision, patience, diplomacy and the organisational skills with which to sort a whole collection of ideas, thoughts and themes into a coherent, successful book.
Publishers turn to us to work with their clients who don’t have the time or the inclination to write their own books. And that’s as it should be – why should someone who is an actor, explorer or self-help guru (or psychic) need to be able to write too? A ghostwriter can take their story and turn it into a book that thousands of people will enjoy and everyone wins; the publisher, the author, the ghostwriter and the readers. Scan the non-fiction shelves in your local bookshop (when it opens again) and about a quarter of the books there will have been written with ghostwriters. Plus a fair few on the fiction shelves, too.
Increasingly it’s not just publishers but would-be authors who want the help of a professional in bringing their books to life. Doctors, therapists, entrepreneurs, business leaders and politicians come to us, along with many people who have extraordinary personal stories to tell.
All this, and we get to write, which is, fundamentally, what makes our world go round. Words, the wonder of words, the pleasure of words, excite us. The challenge of finding the right voice, the right phrases, the right path through each individual story so that every author can be justly proud of their book.
We don’t need or want to see our names on the covers of the books we work on. They’re other people’s stories, not ours, and we’re more than happy to have been part of the process and then to step quietly back into the shadows. The job satisfaction we get is from doing what we love.