So, what is it you do, exactly?
Officially, I’m a UK-based ghostwriter.
I have many bestsellers under my belt.
I can write your book in 12 weeks.
I am professional, approachable, and knowledgeable.
So . . . why do I usually lie about what I do? Depending on the situation, I’m a very-general-writer, I deflect the question, or mutter something extremely vague in the hope that no one will ask for more detail. I have never been in a job that creates so much confusion or misunderstanding – and that’s saying a lot given that I used to be a politics lecturer, and I’ve worked in obs/gyn.
The main problem is that everyone thinks they could write if they had the time, just like they think they could run the world better (not that politics lecturers want to do that), or sort out the NHS (again, not what non-clinical obs/gyn lecturers have on their ‘to-do’ lists).
If someone does get out of me that I’m a writer, they will ALWAYS ask, ‘have you had anything published?’ I now know that they don’t want me to say, ‘yes, everything, because that’s my job.’ They want me to say how terrible publishing is, that JK Rowling gets all the money, and that your Uncle Giles must have his own publishing company for you to get anywhere. None of that is true, but it is part of the false narrative around writing that a huge number of people have.
As a ghostwriter, I’m here to do one thing – help you write your story in your voice. The truth of it is, I really like what I do. I like having different voices, I like hearing different stories. I like creating something out of all the notes and memories and notions that someone carries around with them, and it is something I do very well. However, it still causes too much bother to admit to it on many occasions.
Writing a book is a huge accomplishment and, for many people, there just never seems to be the right time. Work, family, life, and a million other things, all get in the way. It can be extremely frustrating to simply never get around to telling the world who you are. I navigate all of that for you and produce a manuscript to make you feel accomplished, to make you feel proud, but let’s not pretend that there isn’t a skill to it – it really isn’t just a matter of sitting down with a cup of tea for half-an-hour every day during Na-No-Wri-Mo and coming up with something that will soar into the Sunday Times bestseller list.
I specialise in non-fiction projects including memoir, biography, self-help, business, popular psychology, social history, and many more. I know what works. I can offer guidance and support during a process that can be incredibly bewildering. I’ve written bestsellers, collaborated with most major British publishers, sold hundreds of thousands of copies, but I also know that every project is personal and that each one matters. I can transform your ideas and thoughts into a story that works. I can take all those little notes and scraps of paper that you’ve been jotting down for months or years, and find a structure. That structure then becomes your calling card to the world. It says who you are, whether on a personal or business level. It is an investment and it is an achievement. It means you can finally say you did it.
It is a collaboration even although I have no interest in having my name on the cover, or even acknowledged anywhere in your manuscript. But, it Is not the same as learning to replace a washer as opposed to getting a plumber in, as someone said to me last week. Yes, we all rely on professionals to do jobs for us, but I must admit that when prospective clients say things like that, I automatically think they are going to be tricky to work with.
Are there ways to avoid your potential ghostwriter rolling their eyes when they read your email/get your call? Absolutely.
- As previously mentioned, don’t suggest you could do just as good a job if you just had the time; it undermines your project as much as my work.
- Don’t say that you will consider sharing royalties if the book gets a deal – established ghostwriters at the top of their game have a fee structure. We don’t do this for a laugh or to pass the time – it’s our profession, just as much as that plumber changing a washer for you.
- Please don’t think that we take on every project that comes our way – we really don’t. I’m efficient and I’m quick, but I still have a waiting list and I usually have three books waiting to be written.
- All ghostwriters are different, but I am more likely to be lured by a project that has no travelling abroad, no celebrities to negotiate, and a feeling that the person I am working with has a story that genuinely fascinates me. I am lucky enough to be in a position where I can be relatively choosy, so z-listers or Vegas (both of which I’ve turned down in the last two weeks), make me run a mile. I like normal people and I like to be in my pyjamas at home every night with my family and my dogs.
- Don’t tell me that EVERYONE says you should write your book. That automatically makes me think you have unrealistic expectations. Unless all of those people are going to buy it, and you have 10,000 friends, it doesn’t matter. They know you, they like you, of course they’re going to say that. It’s Ms or Mr Smith pushing their trolley round Asda and throwing a paperback in with their shopping that we need to convince, not Great Auntie Agnes or Dave down the pub.
But if Great Auntie Agnes or Dave down the pub has a great story, and they need a ghostwriter, do send them my way . . .
Linda Watson-Brown is the ghostwriter behind many recent titles. Her most recent books are ‘Letters to Sarah’ with Sara Payne, and ‘Please, Let Me Go’ by Caitlin Spencer, both Sunday Times bestsellers.