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.
Working with a ghost is a collaboration and an author has clearly a defined role at every stage of the process. This role begins even before a ghost is commissioned. To get any book-writing project off to a flying start, it is crucial that an author provides a very clear brief on what their book is going to be about. In an ideal world, this would take the form of a few paragraphs outlining the main story, with perhaps some key events that need to be in the narrative. This doesn’t mean a ghost expects to receive a beautifully honed, mini precis of the book, with a beginning, middle and end all nicely mapped out. It’s largely the ghost’s job to recommend the best structure and flow for the book; that’s part of the expertise an author is paying for. However, any details that help a ghost to quickly get up to speed can get a collaboration off to a really good start.
At this early stage, ghosts will also want to fully understand why the author thinks they are the person to tell the story. If it is a biography and the events happened directly to the author, fair enough. But, if they are writing as an observer, or are putting themselves forward as an authority on a subject, what gives them the credibility to write this book? Would a reader be impressed by their background and pick up the book because this author has their name on the cover? Or would their reaction be: who are you to be telling me this? If an author is unable to convince a ghost of their credibility, it will be a tough sell to engage readers further down the line.
Once contracts are signed, if an author can provide as much background information on the subject matter as possible, it will get the writing stage of this process off to a really good start. The information might take the form of emails, links to presentations, YouTube clips, letters, photos or newspaper cuttings. Anything really. Everything handed over to a ghost helps them further immerse themselves into the story and find the author’s voice. Authors shouldn’t be afraid of overwhelming a ghost. They will quickly work out what is useful and what is irrelevant for the time being.
The collaboration will then move into the interview stage. Ghosts will want to spend up to twenty hours or so with an author, depending on the type of book in question. Author availability and preference will largely dictate the length and timing of each interview. In some cases, it may be better to split the process up into a series of one, to two, hour sessions. This is often seen as the optimum time to get the best material before an author gets tired of talking about his or herself and starts drifting off topic. However, some authors will only be available for, say, a solid week of interviewing. Where possible, a ghost will adapt to the situation. What’s most important is that the author makes themselves available for enough hours to relay all the necessary information.
For some types of books, it is quite helpful for a ghost to interview people close to the author. If the book in question is a biography, that might be a spouse, or son or daughter. In a business book, this could be close associates from the past or present. If it is agreed that additional interviewees will definitely add something to the book, it is something that the author should arrange early on. If it is left to the end of the collaboration, it can become a distraction, or may never happen at all. Plus, the purpose of these additional interviews is to elicit further material. To take full advantage of this additional material it then needs to be explored and discussed with the author.
The final important task in a collaboration is regular and prompt feedback. It is usual for ghostwriters to send draft chapters on a regular basis once they have enough material to start writing. It is crucial that authors read and review the material and send back comments. This ensures factual accuracy and also helps build on the collaboration. Once an author sees their story on the page, they can enrich the content by introducing additional material, or redefining the context of certain stories. Similarly, they can advise on changes to some of the language, taking out words and phrases they would never dream of using, which helps to get the voice more accurate. The author will also be required to go over the entire book at the end of the process, for the final edit. Again, carefully considered, prompt feedback is key.
The best collaborations are those where the author is involved all the way through the process. It will really show in the highly readable end product which will be an authentic reflection of the author’s intention when they first engaged a ghost. That’s the time to finally tick off that ‘write a book’ box.
Teena Lyons publishes a regular blog on ghostwriting at www.professionalghost.com