AS I WRITE THIS, one of our little group of ghosts is boarding a flight to West Africa. Another has just got back from the Middle East. One’s in Scotland, another’s just popping over to work with his business school clients in Switzerland and two are busy interviewing their authors in Central London.
Me, I’m sitting in the sun over a cup of coffee, wondering when the phone’s going to ring, with no idea what direction my next ghostwriting project will take me in.
And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
At an age where less restless souls might be reaching for the slippers and the remote control, I still find the unpredictability and sudden changes of direction as addictive as ever. Ghosting is a drug. Once it’s got its hooks into you, there’s no way you’d be happy to do without it. I can go three or four years without writing a new book in my own name, but ghosting’s not like that.
I love the challenges. We all do. Finding ways to work productively with smart, ornery, opinionated people, immersing yourself for a few weeks or months in some completely unfamiliar area of business or technology or neuroscience, meeting impossible deadlines to coincide with a conference or a TV series or a product launch – it’s all part of what we do. And a lot of it has nothing to do with whether you can tell a story or turn a pretty phrase till it glints in the light.
What makes a top ghostwriter is largely the ability to build a close working relationship with an author, to understand what that person wants his or her book to do and deliver a manuscript that makes that dream come true.
I tend to specialise in business leaders, entrepreneurs and inventors, but even I find myself switching tracks sometimes to tease out the life story of an aristocratic philanthropist or the resilient survivor of appalling acts of child abuse.
The point is that you don’t last long in this game if you aren’t versatile, quick on your feet and good at problem-solving. That’s what all the United Ghostwriters members offer, over and above their writing talent and publishing knowhow. That’s what gets you over the hurdles and gets a book done, and that’s why so many of London’s top agents and publishers, as well as potential authors, have learned to trust us. These industry insiders know that getting in touch with United Ghostwriters is the key to taking the risk out of commissioning a ghosting project.
They’ve seen us in action over the last few years, since a dozen of us first got together in a pub and decided we needed to do something to professionalise the business of ghostwriting. They know our people have produced a string of Sunday Times bestsellers and worked with business authors like Peter Jones and Deborah Meaden and survivors like Sara Payne and Katie Piper. And they know that whatever comes up next, we’ve got the skills and experience to take it in our stride.
For those who can handle it, ghostwriting is simply the best job in town.
Nothing beats the excitement of that first conversation, when you talk with an author for half an hour or so and gradually realise that, yes, there really is a good book waiting to be written here.
There’s no thrill like the challenge of setting out on a new project, delving into unexpected subjects, meeting interesting and dynamic people and helping them tell their stories or get their ideas out to the world.
And there’s no satisfaction like the feeling you get when your author turns to you and says: ‘Thank you. We’ve done it. That’s the book I wanted to write.’
Ian Shircore is the author of John F Kennedy: The Life, The Presidency, The Assassination and Conspiracy: 49 Reasons to Doubt, 50 Reasons to Believe. His latest book, about the poetry of Clive James, will be published in autumn 2018.