The voicemail message I received was pretty similar to ones most of the ghosts on this site receive fairly regularly.
‘Hello, my name is x, and I am interested in your ghostwriting services. Could you possibly call me back on ….’
Like I say, standard stuff and always welcome. Except this time was a little different. As I continued to listen to the muffled clicks on the line it became apparent that the caller had tried to hang up, but somehow managed to stay on the line. Now, I know I should have hung up myself at this point and left it there. That would have been the polite thing to do. However, I didn’t. The reason why I didn’t was because the man on the other end of the call was clearly talking about me to another person in the room.
‘…I don’t really want a woman,’ he was saying, with a strong degree of conviction I might add. ‘They find out you’ve done time for xx and they get all hysterical…’
Obviously, crime is no laughing matter ever, but it did make me giggle a little. This was certainly not the obvious introduction to a healthy working relationship with a ghost. (And no, for the record, not much makes me hysterical).
The reason for relating this story is to raise the subject of what notto say to a ghost, inadvertently or otherwise. I know I risk coming across as Grumpy Ghost, but I think this might be useful. There are plenty of blogs extolling the things to do to achieve a successful collaboration. Now I want to add a few thoughts on what authors might like to avoid.
Top of any professional ghost writer’s list of no nos is a prospective author who says they have a brilliant idea for a book and could the ghost write it for a split of the profits. Often this idea can be summed up in a little under five minutes which means, in theory, it would be then over to a ghostwriter to flesh out the story, develop the characters, structure the book and secure a publishing deal. This might take as much as six months work. Without getting paid. And with a high likelihood they may not ever get paid. It is not a fair request of anyone.
I always really appreciate it when authors have done at least a little research before they approach me. Signing up to work with a ghost is a big commitment in money, time and emotional buy-in. Therefore, I have made sure that my website, www.professionalghost.com, has a number of articles setting out the full process from start to finish, including exactly what both sides can expect and the various milestones. I also write a weekly blog with loads of background information and advice. So, it is a little frustrating when I receive calls which begin with: can you explain what a ghostwriter does? What exactly is the process? It is there, in black and white. Please do phone this (Grumpy) Ghost but don’t ask me to reinvent the wheel.
Personally, I always feel a little deflated when an author tells me they never, ever read. I don’t just mean websites. I mean when they say they don’t read books. At all. Ever. Writing books is, after all, my living and I am very passionate about it. This statement is akin to walking into a baker and saying you don’t like bread, or telling a teacher you really can’t see the point of learning. It also begs the obvious question: why are they considering getting their own book written if they find no value in the printed page?
Enjoying reading is important when it comes to my next point too. I love feedback and discussion on the draft chapters I send over to authors. It’s always a hugely nerve-wracking moment for a ghost when they send over draft chapters for someone else to read, particularly in the early days of a project. Often, it will be the first time another human being has ever seen the work. It is really helpful if an author reads the chapters and sends back notes or comments. Alternatively, we can go through edits on the phone. While I accept that everyone is busy, protracted silences scare ghosts. I can’t begin to explain how it felt in one project when the author had not read a page of the manuscript until just days before the manuscript was due with the publisher.
Generally ghosts are a pretty thick skinned bunch, even grumpy ones. However, the very best collaborations are based on a mutual passion for the book in question. This entails the author doing their research, fully buying into the process and working closely with the ghost.
Teena Lyons publishes a weekly blog on www.professionalghost.com.