You walk into the coffee shop, searching intently for the person who matches the emailed description. In the corner, a person sits at a table looking around, fiddling with a bag of sugar. You make eye contact, fashion your facial muscles into a half smile and raise your eyebrows enquiringly. The person nods. You walk over, shake hands, look into their eyes again and ask yourself: is there chemistry? Is this someone I can spend time with, someone who will trust me, someone I can understand? Can we create something together?
No, not a first date but a first meeting between ghostwriter and potential client.
If the initial impression is positive, the next twenty minutes can either seal the deal or nudge one of you to walk away: no hard feelings; it’s not you, it’s me; good luck in the future.
The questions they ask reveal what’s uppermost in their minds. If the client’s focus is ‘How quickly can we get it in the shops?’ or, ‘Can you make it a bestseller?’ my interest starts to waver. Here is someone who likes the idea of having their name on the front of a book rather than someone who is interested in what ends up between the covers; someone who wants to ‘have done a book’ rather than someone interested in telling their story in the way that will appeal to its broadest audience. They want the whole ‘project’ to be over and ticked off their ‘To-Do’ list. These clients can be flaky, badly prepared and impatient. Many years ago, I spent six months with just such a client who was very difficult to pin down and at the end of every tortuously arranged interview, asked, ‘Is that enough?’
On the other hand, if a client talks about what they want to say, about ideas and experiences, or about what they’ve enjoyed reading recently and describes how they like to work, then I start to feel that there really might be something in this; that the initial chemistry could lead to a book that could work, and that we might enjoy working on together.
In the end, a ghost-written book is a collaboration: each side of the partnership has to be in it to produce a book that gets the story to readers in the most interesting, effective and commercial way.
But without that commitment, there probably shouldn’t be a second date.