Ghost Writing (December 8, 2015)

by Alison Nissen of 3 Dog Tales Productions

What is a Ghost Writer?
The short answer: a Ghost Writer writes material for someone else. Often times, a Ghost Writer will be hired to finish and edit an unpolished manuscript or write content for corporate clients. Sometimes, the Ghost Writer will work on a project from start to finish. Regardless, the author is the client and the Ghost Writer is somewhere in the background either as an invisible writer or as a co-author.

The most important thing is: There is no ego in Ghost Writing. And you must be okay with that.

How does it work?
After a brief interview between the client and Ghost Writer, both parties mutually agree on the proposed project through a signed contract. Later, through a series of additional interviews, the Ghost Writer gathers the information necessary to complete the project.

What happens once the project is complete?
Either the client or the Ghost Writer can pursue publication. This may require a second contract.

Is it ethical?
Yes. Ghost writing is a collaboration between the Ghost Writer and the author. It is a form of coaching in that the Ghost Writer pieces together what the author wants to say. A Ghost Writer puts her ego aside and allows the credit to be the author’s, much like a private coach who guides someone to victory. (Remember, even Tiger Woods has a coach)

Again, the writer must put their ego aside.

Who needs a Ghost Writer?
Someone trying to craft a memoir.  Someone too busy to construct the content for their professional platform.  Someone who wants to sound more eloquent, professional, personable.

How much does it cost?
The cost is 15¢ per word to co-author a book (adding with –or- and to the credentials) or 25¢ per word to be an invisible author. Established ghost writers earn up to $4.00 a word…according to Wikipedia.

Payment schedule:

$20% with contractual deposit
$25% with outline and first chapter
$30% at the (approximate) halfway mark
$25% with the finished project
Permissible Expenses
The Process
Discuss Main Purpose with the client:
What is the Major Dramatic Question (what is the major takeaway)?
What do they want people to learn from their book?
            Guidance, Inspiration, etc.
What do they want people to know learn from the content of the book?
            Factual Information
What does the author want people to know about him/her? What don’t they want people to know about him/her?
Think about what areas are off-limits.
Think about other people this published story might affect? Does this concern you?
All of these items can be adjusted as time moves along.
Gather All Materials
            Read and Review All Materials
            What written information can the client give you?
            Internet, public records, etc.
            Mine for information
Organize / Outline
            Main Goals:      The most important topics
            Sub Goals:       The highlights of each topic
            Background:    Experiences to share
Spend Time Together Just “Living Life”
To accurately capture the author’s voice; to learn their mannerism; to understand their philosophies
Record All Interviews
            Transcribe all interviews; I use
            Mine for information
Write First Chapter (have it edited first)
            Review and verify direction of the first chapter
            Is the voice captured?
            Is the tone on point?
            Does the story flow?
            Is this the story we want to tell?

Once the contract is signed, the author can cancel at any time but the writer should be paid in full. If the writer decides to cancel, then the contract should terminate where it is.

Important things to remember:

Trust between the author and writer is paramount. During interviews, lots of information may come out that the author has no intention of making public. This must be respected.

Discuss this with the author before the process begins. If something sounds scandalous or illegal, ask if it’s something they want to share. As writers, we understand what we write is public; the author probably doesn’t have that same understanding.

Contact an attorney if anything is hinky or questionable. Put that in the contract so that the author pays for it.

Don’t meet the author alone; always meet somewhere “public.”

Be reliable; it’s commonsense but important. Always dress professionally—it’s common sense but… this is a business and you want to be taken seriously.

At some point, the author will decide he/she is done with interviews, so be prepared to have to “finish” on your own. Then you mine the internet for information. It feels a bit like stalking so be sure to tell the author you will be looking on the internet for supplemental information for background. (It can help with other things like names of people, or establishing a timeline, etc.)

Establishing a professional bond will help connect you to additional clients. There are also companies who offer ghost writing services, they can pass along clients, too.