It was Agatha Christie who said: ‘People should be interested in books, not their authors.’
And often this is the case. Aside from celebrity writers and a handful of household names, many authors of our favourite books are people we wouldn’t recognise if we bumped shoulders in the street.
Whenever I tell people I’m a ghostwriter, they always ask the same question: ‘Isn’t it annoying your name is not on the cover of the book you’ve written?’
The answer to this question is both simple and complex. The simple answer is no. I am not worried my name isn’t on the book cover because it’s not my story to tell. Without the author’s story, there is no book.
My job is to listen, write the manuscript in the author’s voice and then, poof, disappear. The author is the person who will market the book, be the public face of the book and ultimately own the book. To greater or lesser extents all authors help ‘write’ the book too, even if they don’t jot down a single word.
Ginny Carter agrees a ghost’s job is to stay hidden. ‘I love being behind the scenes,” she says. ‘Which is something people find hard to believe, but each to their own.’ Phil Whiteley and Ben Jeapes agree it’s a consequence of our chosen profession.
I second this. I’d also wager most ghostwriters are introverts, empathetic listeners with a deep love of human stories but who don’t necessarily want to take centre stage.
The complex answer to the question about lack of recognition is yes it does bother me sometimes. Especially when it comes to the acknowledgements section of the book where every ghost appreciates seeing their name and a heartfelt thank you. Often the word ‘ghost writer’ is not used, it’s dressed up in a more creative manner. Caro Handley was once called ‘Queen of her Craft’ ( this one is going up on her wall) in the acknowledgements, while my authors have told me often: ‘This book could not have happened without you,’ in print.
Another ghost from United Ghostwriters agrees any nod of recognition is a bonus, even if it doesn’t always work out this way.
One of our writers said: “I did have one occasion that left me a bit miffed: a famous explorer and I worked on his book intensely, got on well and he seemed pleased with the final manuscript. I saw the copy-edit and the proofs and he’d included a nice ‘thank you’ for helping him make the most of his stories which was a good euphemism. But it was deleted from the final printed book. To this day I don’t know whether he took it out or the publisher did but it felt a little unnecessary.”
Some authors find the idea of using a ghostwriter uncomfortable. Admitting you have used or needed a ghost brings out a feeling of insecurity in some authors. United Ghostwriters have stories of authors giving detailed fantasy accounts of their writing process when everyone knows the author did not write a single word.
Once, an author I’d ghosted for was interviewed on a breakfast radio show about his book. When he waxed lyrical about how he struggled to find the perfect opening words for the first chapter I had to smile.
Susan Feldstein can relate. One of her authors spoke publicly about disappearing to a log cabin in the woods for weeks at a time to write. Well, that was what he told his wife he was doing..
When it comes to recognition in the publishing industry acknowledging the importance of the ghostwriter has a way to go too.
Especially when ‘ghost writing’ is often not viewed with the same level of kudos as ‘writing’ at times. Especially when clients ask ghosts to write their book for free, or for a ‘cut of the profit’. (Let me say, royalties are often minimal, even sometimes with best sellers. Taking on unpaid work to help others make money is not something any professional writer aspires to). Some mainstream publishers offer ghostwriters as little as £1500 to write an entire book, a fee which works out to be far less than the legal minimum wage.
‘Ghost writing’ is the same as ‘writing’ a book. You can’t do it half-heartedly. You can’t put in fewer hours or care less than if you were the author of the book.
In summary, every book usually involves around a minimum of 25 hours of interviews, transcribing, then usually three to six months of full-time writing. Often research around the subject is also necessary.
Every single book presents challenges of a different kind. It could be an author’s first language is not English or their memories are clouded. Or the timeline doesn’t fit. Or they want to omit a key part of the story.
My job, at times, is to make the unworkable work. To smooth things over. To make things easy for my client, the author, and often the publisher. Nobody wants to hear their ghostwriter making excuses about writer’s block or an inability to think of a good ending.
Is a ghostwriter afforded the same hand holding and editing guidance as other writers? Probably not.
Even if we don’t have our names on the book cover, it’s in the public’s interest to know we exist. Our services are vital. They keep the publishing industry ticking over.
Meanwhile, I am, like all the United Ghostwriters, always grateful for a heartfelt thank you, whether face-to-face or in print.
For Teena Lyons, one of her authors went a step further. They sent her a sample copy of the published book, which gained lots of national attention, with their name scribbled out and hers in place. Inside was a touching personal dedication to thank her for the hard work.
In almost all of the 22 books I’ve ghosted, there are touching words of thanks buried deep in the acknowledgements. There for me to see and, importantly, for future clients looking for a ghostwriter to see.
Sometimes the thanks my authors give is so effusive I’ve glowed inside with pride. Ghosted or otherwise, every published book is a major achievement in its own right and to take a moment for everyone to appreciate this makes it worthwhile. Just before I disappear for good.