If I asked you about the most important skill for ghostwriters, chances are you’d respond; ‘writing’. The clue is in the title, right? But there is another, equally strong requirement. (And no, it is not being a ‘ghost’). Ghostwriters need to be expert interviewers too. People like me can be the best writers ever, but if we can’t get the story out of the author’s head and onto the page, the collaboration will not be successful. Read more “￼Ghostwriting – What to expect in an interview”
If ‘write a book’ has been high on your to do list for what seems like forever, it may be tempting to tick it off once you sign up a ghost. Don’t do it. While engaging a ghostwriter is an inspired move, it is just the beginning. As the named author, you will need to be fully involved every step of the way. Read more “Working with a ghost: what does the author do?”
Cards on the table. Not all potential author ghostwriting relationships are a match made in heaven. This is why authors are advised to speak with a number of ghosts before they choose their collaborator. It’s also why ghosts don’t agree to take on every project they are offered.
Even if it looks like there might be a possible writing relationship, it is crucial that both sides do some very careful due diligence before signing up to work together. Part of this process is to make very certain that everyone understands their respective roles.
To explain, it may be useful to recount a story where a book project didn’t go the distance, even after initially positive discussions. The author in question is a hugely successful businessperson, in a very specific and complex field. ‘His people’ spoke with me at length about the project and agreed, based on my past work, I’d be perfect for the gig.
The next meeting was with the would-be author himself. Everything seemed to be going well, the chemistry was good and, in a good sign for me, this person had also read and admired some of my previous work from a broadly similar field. Then, out of nowhere, he stopped the flow of conversation and said there needed to be an in-depth, thorough understanding of the field in question. Before I knew it, I was being asked highly complex questions, which I would have needed a PhD in the subject to understand. I half expected to be locked in a room with an exam paper, a pencil and an hour to complete the assignment.
My knowledge of maths, science and other subjects away from the literary world is not bad. I even have a number of formal qualifications. However, my knowhow was not even close to the level this person operated at. (If it was, I would perhaps be a millionaire rival to him!). I very much doubt there is a ghost in the world that operates at this level. The point is, though: there does not need to be. If both parties stick to what they are good at, it is more than likely that they’ll be able to achieve a very readable and successful outcome.
My response was to remind the author that I bring the words, and he brings the expertise. That is how the ghosting/author relationship works. Since he wanted to target a broad business readership, it was up to him to explain his thinking to me in a way that this broad audience would understand. I’ll do the rest.
Needless to say, we needed to agree to disagree.
The experience made me think a lot about what makes for a successful writing collaboration. It is important that both sides are very clear from the outset about what they want to achieve and who brings what to the table. When I work with authors, I always begin the process with a lengthy interview, where the author will lay out the areas/themes they feel should be covered in the book. This is not a one-way process though. Often authors will speed through certain events, or gloss over others, which scream out to be a significant part of the book. This initial stage is an opportunity for a ghost to raise parts of the story which they feel might be more important to the reader and probe them more deeply.
During this same interview, it’s useful for a ghost to set out their expectations in terms of access to the author for interviews. They may need, say, 20 hours of interviews at an hour to two hours at a time. It is up for discussion whether or not this will be on a regular basis, or via a bunch of interviews at the beginning of the process. (And will very much depend on an author’s availability).
Also up for discussion are the main communication channels during the process. While the bulk of the information a ghost uses is gleaned from interviews, I find it really helpful if it is possible to ping over a quick text or WhatsApp to clarify certain points. I always encourage authors to send me any thoughts, or additions, as they come to them. One I worked with, would send me two- or three-liners on an almost daily basis. They all made their way into the text – often in real time. From a ghost’s point of view, there is nothing worse than complete radio silence from an author and it can seriously delay the process. A quick burst of texts can really move the collaboration along. In a similar vein, a ghost will commit to sending over regular drafts once the project really gets going. This is the opportunity for their co-writer to check that the book is going in the right direction and that the ghost has a complete grasp of the brief.
My next step, following the first, wide-ranging interview, is to write a chapter-by-chapter plan. This is very helpful as a guide or road map to follow as the book is written. It is also a useful document because it outlines my understanding of the project, key elements of the agreement, such as expected length of the book and the time earmarked to write it.
With a clear brief and an early discussion about roles and responsibilities, it’s easy to move on to the exciting part: writing the book. After that, keeping things on track is a question of keeping those channels of communication open. Any deviation from the early agreement can be caught early on and an open, honest and respectful discussion will easily get things back on track. No exams required.
Teena Lyons writes regular blogs at www.professionalghost.com
Perhaps you know the feeling. You’ve finished something that you are pretty proud to have written. Trying not to give away just how damn good you feel about your incredible creative powers, you give it to someone else to read. Then, they come back with a suggestion for a small tweak that will improve it many times over.
How infuriating is it not to have thought of it first?
In my case, the small tweak in question was to give the chapters titles. I’d submitted a manuscript to the publisher and that was the immediate response. I went back into the document, crafted some chapter names and, what do you know, he was right. It really did make a big difference.
The experience did make me think. I do sometimes write chapter titles, but not always, as this example shows. What are the pros and cons of including them? Let’s begin with the pros.
In the case of non fiction, in say a self help, or how-to business book, chapter headings are a great way to get the key messages of the book across. It is quite likely the chapters will be broken down into themes, and this is a quick and useful shorthand to say: this chapter is about ‘growth’, or ‘adapting’ or ‘starting a movement’. Chapter names give readers a better understanding of what to expect.
Continuing on a similar theme, these clear signposts may also be a helpful sales tool. We all know how useful book titles and cover images can be in selling to the reader. If someone is curious enough to flick through the book, the chapter titles could be what helps get them over the line. Chapter titles, if you get them right, have the power to elicit feelings of curiosity or excitement.
When it comes to fiction, interesting chapter titles can help readers engage with a book. Each subsequent heading could add suspense, or suggest a change in plot, which draws people in and encourages them to read on. Compare:
Chapter 15 – The Last Stand
This could, of course, backfire if not done well. Which brings me to the cons part. It is possible to be too descriptive. My favourite example of this comes from The Children of Hurin by J.R.R Tolkien, where no less than three chapter titles are ‘The death of (insert name of key character here)’. Spoiler alert!
Another significant con is that writing chapter names is not easy. As everyone involved in book production will attest, just getting the name of the book right is tough. Some people will agonise over what will go on the cover for weeks, if not months. Now, times that process by 12, 15 or more. If you are not sure that you have the creative abilities to name your chapters well, it may be better not to do it all. It will be worse to end up with weak chapter titles, or a combination of some strong, some very weak, or titles that completely give the game away. Likewise, it is a big mistake to write really long chapter titles in a bid to flag what next. If your chapter title becomes a story in its own right that is a bad thing.
Perhaps the final con to consider is: if you are inserting chapter headers to properly explain or clarify what a chapter is about, maybe the content is not quite right.
It won’t always be the right choice to include, or exclude, chapter titles. You will need to take it on a case by case basis. Sometimes they will add something, sometimes not. It is something to consider though. Lesson learned.
Teena Lyons publishes a regular blog at www.professionalghost.com
Many years of journalist training, coupled with a modicum of propriety, make me wary of spelling out the following in full. But when it comes to the purpose of your first chapter, a little emphasis may be required. Here goes then: it is to make the reader give a f*£<.
Even after ghosting 60-plus books, I approach the first chapter of each one with mixed feelings. I am excited, since it generally indicates that I have enough interviews under my belt with the named author to finally get started at doing what I do best: writing. I also feel dread. I’m about to begin the process of agonising over how to get it just right. Oh, and I will also be very tired. Often, when I know I have this auspicious opening event coming up, I will dream opening paragraphs and then wake early in a panic lest I forget this incredible intro. (I always do).Read more “Getting started: The first chapter”