‘People have always told me I should write a book.’
These are, I’d wager, the ten words a professional ghostwriter most often hears. And that’s fine. It’s what brings clients to our doors. I love the fact that everyone still values the printed word as much as I do too. And long may it continue. But, (and you knew there was a ‘but’ coming, didn’t you?) a ghost will need a lot more information to understand whether or not they are the right person to bring your story to life, whether it is a business book, a life story, or a non-fiction one covering a subject close to your heart.
Ghosting is a collaboration. When you get in touch with a ghost, they will be weighing up you and your story, as much as you are weighing up whether or not they are someone you feel comfortable working with. What is it that both sides are looking for and what is the best way to ensure a perfect (and hopefully bestselling) partnership?
I’ll start with my side of the equation; the ghost’s viewpoint. Whenever a prospective author gets in touch, one of the first things I ask is them to do is to summarise their story in the equivalent of a few paragraphs. (Ideally, this would be via email, but I put all my contact details on my website, because not everyone is confident online). It’s not easy to condense a lifetime into a short story, but I am not looking for detail. Nor do I expect a beautifully finessed narrative: that’s my job. I just need the highlights.
An example of the sort of thing I am looking for might be: ‘I run an online business which has successfully disrupted the world of clothing for cats and dogs, specifically leggings. I was inspired by the last autumn/winter womenswear collection by Prada….’
Now that is intriguing.
Alternatively: ‘After sustaining a life-threatening illness, which changed everything, I have made a full recovery and am now campaigning for the rights of people with my condition. I have discovered that valuable research has been supressed because it is deemed too expensive to follow up on.’
These summaries give a ghostwriter an instant snapshot of who the author is, what is most important to them and what will make their book stand out. All being well, it will immediately engage a ghost by getting their full attention. The ghostwriter will be able to tell the author if they are a keen follower of dog and cat fashion, or certainly interested in developments in that world, or whether the author might be better off elsewhere. Certainly, if I have a clear idea of the subject area of a book and it is not one for me, I will do my best to refer people on to more suitable ghosts.
There are, of course, exceptions. If the subject matter is highly personal, or painful, to relate, it is understandable that would-be authors don’t want to immediately launch into a brief description of the core of the story. Ghosts get that. We’ve all dealt with some painful memories in the course of our work. In this case, it is a good idea to flag this from the off, explain that the subject matter is sensitive and give a very broad explanation of where the story might lead. Expect a ghost to ask a few, gentle and non-intrusive questions which will again help you both judge whether or not you can work together.
If a ghost is interested by the initial story summary, they will probe further. They will ask questions about you and your background and why you feel you are the best person to write the story. If it is a biography and the events happened to the author, that’s straight forward. However, if it is about observed events, or a book explaining how to do x.y and z better, what are their credentials to write a book? Will readers want to pick up a book by this person, or will they be asking why they are the one to tell them this?
From the prospective author’s viewpoint, their research can begin long before they contact a ghost. Professional ghosts have comprehensive websites, which feature potted biographies, details of some of the books we’ve written and, most importantly, extensive guides to how the ghosting process works. I also publish regular blogs on all-things-ghostly. There is really no need for anyone to ask: so how does the process work?
I’d advise any author to look at some of the ghost’s previous work if it is documented on a website (some of mine is). Simply cross reference it to Amazon and use their ‘Look Inside’ feature to read a chapter or two. It’s a great way to see the versatility of styles and voices an individual ghost can achieve. After all, you want the book to sound like it was written by you, not Teena Lyons, or whatever other ghost you choose.
It’s fair to ask a ghost about the type of books they enjoy working on. Please don’t ask which one we liked writing the most though: it is like choosing a favourite child! During the course of the conversation, find out about the ghost’s availability. Books can take up to six months to write. If the ghost you’ve approached has just begun a project, they may not be able to start on your book for a while.
The other obvious question to ask is: how much? Be prepared that, at this exploratory stage, a ghost will not be able to give you an exact quote. Books are priced upon the time it takes a ghost to write them, the level of research and complexity, and the number of interviews required. A ghost will, however, be able to give you a ballpark figure based on a previous project that sounds similar.
If the conversation goes well and both sides feel that there is a good chance the collaboration can work, the next stage is to set up a face-to-face meeting. This is the opportunity to tell your story to your brilliant ghost at length, so now they can see exactly why everyone has always been urging you to write this book.
Teena Lyons publishes a regular blog on ghostwriting on her website www.professionalghost.com