A few weeks back I opened my copy of The Author, journal of the Society of Authors. For the first time I could remember in over twenty years of membership, the magazine contained not one but two articles on ghostwriting. Talk about waiting for a bus.
Not that I had been, particularly, in that although I have been a published author for three decades, I have only recently become a ghostwriter. Anyway, I read the articles by Tom Henry and Andrew Crofts with interest and much agreement. One stand-out question was: ‘Are ghostwriters real writers?’ The answer was a resounding Yes. But the fact that anyone had posed it struck me as curious, to put it mildly.
Let’s have a brief look at what the two roles have in common and what sets them apart.
When I write a book in my own name, I travel a well-worn path. In the case of a non-fiction book, I am either commissioned by a publisher (rare – but it can happen), or I pitch an idea to a publisher, either directly or through my agent. It’s a painstaking process, requiring a roadmap of the intended book, including a sales pitch, a synopsis, chapter headings and a sample chapter. At the end of which you’re not even guaranteed a deal, let along a reasonable advance. But that’s the way it is these days.
Much more to my liking is waking up one morning with the starting point for another detective story. I have three Inspector Dalliance titles under my belt, all published by Nine Elms Books, and when I get a new idea, I ring my publisher, Anthony Weldon, give him a vague outline – Hangman, the latest, starts with a severed head positioned like a giant egg in a pothole – and he says ‘Sounds great’, and we agree a putative publication date and at some stage sign a contract.
Things can be similar on the ghostwriting front. Famous people often get their memoirs commissioned and a ghostwriter is then drafted in write the text – based on extensive interviews with the star whose name is going to be prominent on the cover of the book when it comes out.
But in many cases, the so-called commercial route is not appropriate. Someone with an interesting life to review or adventure to celebrate realises they need professional help to write their memoir or family history. I always discuss publication in the initial phone conversation, and while I can recommend agents who would certainly advise on possible publishers, I also commend the alternative route of self-publication.
Self-publication has long freed itself from the stigma rightly associated with the vanity press. A great many excellent writers self-publish and make money through Amazon and the like. If the client is happy to put the effort into publicity, getting onto local radio, arranging events in bookshops (lockdowns permitting), and working furiously on social media, there are sales – and reviews – to be had
In terms of actually getting the words onto the page, the big difference is that, as the ghostwriter, I am dependent on the client for the story. As a result of my years in radio, I am an experienced interviewer, and always enjoy engaging one-to-one with those I work with. Then, with the interviews concluded, I am left with my notes and my recordings, facing the same challenges any author has to grapple with: assembling the mass of material into a compelling narrative.
And hopefully one that the client – the ultimate author – will recognise and embrace as their own. Getting that right is another layer of expertise, and one that I’m sure all ghostwriters find most satisfying. It is a huge privilege to be invited into someone else’s life and to tell their story for them. But it is a huge responsibility as well, not to be undertaken lightly. Certainly I make no distinction between writing my own books and ghostwriting. In either case, I am just doing my job: getting the right words in the right order.
So I agree with Tom Henry: ghostwriters are definitely real writers. And the best, like my colleagues in United Ghostwriters, are extremely good ones!