Confessions of a Ghostwriter
What is a Ghostwriter?
A simple meaning of the term "ghostwriter" comes from the Oxford Dictionary:
~ a person whose job it is to write material for someone else who is the named author ~
When people hear the term "ghostwriter" they usually associate it with someone hired to write, edit, or draft a famous person's or celebrity's memoir or autobiography. This is the lucrative end of the spectrum but is only a small example of what ghostwriters are called to do.
In this article, I will endeavour to expand on that and give you more of an idea of what kind of work you are more likely to be given if considering offering your services as a ghostwriter.
Self-publishing Boom = More Ghostwriters Needed
Ghostwriting services have always been in demand but the explosion of the Internet into our lives has also created the e-book phenomena and sites like Amazon Kindle and Lulu have promoted a boom in self-publishing of both hard copy and e-books. People who never considered publishing books before have suddenly jumped on the self-publishing craze.
Many of these people have little or no writing experience but see $$$ signs before their eyes in calling themselves "published authors" and hence the demand for the services of experienced ghostwriters has also skyrocketed. It makes me wonder how many claiming to be authors have never written a book, story, or poem in their life.
"Impossible!" you say, "surely this couldn't be the case?" Well, I assure you it is very possible, and I am speaking of experience here. Let me elaborate.
Why People Hire Ghostwriters
- famous people hire them to write their memoirs or autobiographies
- singers often hire songwriters to pen their hits, and they aren't always acknowledged
- politicians hire them to write their speeches
- they often hired to carry on a series by a popular author who may be deceased e.g. James Bond 007 in lieu of Ian Flemming, or the Jason Bourne series originally by Robert Ludlum (though these are usually attributed)
- to write the text for children's picture books often to be published by the illustrator themselves
- to write personalised verses for greeting cards
- if another writer has more work than they can manage by a deadline they may hire ghostwriters to help them complete it on time
- by people who aren't writers but think that publishing children's books showing them as the author may be lucrative
- The author may not be a native English speaker but wants his/her book written in "proper' English
- to write a love poem/letter to impress another or win their heart
These are just some of the reasons ghostwriters are hired. I am sure there are many more.
The difference between a writer and a ghostwriter is the difference between a mother and a midwife.— Derek Lewis
My Experience as a Ghostwriter
More Than 100 Children's Books
Going through my documents and "Writing Projects" files I was surprised to find that I have written more than 100 prospective children's books. That's right ... and all for other people to claim authorship of. Sometimes I have written four or five stories for a returning client, but not once have I been acknowledged as an author or co-author.
A client may even negotiate a cheaper price by agreeing to attribute you as a co-author (especially if they, themselves are the illustrator) but even if you sign a contract to that effect it is difficult to pursue as you have no idea when/ or if the book will actually be published and, if it is, it could be under a different title.
Don't get me wrong, I am not complaining. It is my choice to be a ghostwriter instead of publishing books for myself, but it does get you thinking. My clients are just a tiny drop in the ocean, but it shows how many people must be out there hiring others to write their books, stories, love poems etc. Yes, I have even been paid to write poems expressing one person's love for another.
Maybe it's worth the cost of hiring a ghostwriter and even an illustrator to do all the work for you rather than spend time writing the book yourself. I guess it is worth it if the book sells, but how often does that happen? Maybe more than I know.
Some Requests I Have Received
I have been asked if I will both write and illustrate a children's book, but relinquish all rights to the client. I respectfully declined that request, as if I were to both write and illustrate a book I would be publishing it under my own name.
Another client wanted to publish a series of books but didn't have the time to write them himself (other than the first.) He wanted me to write one book, and hire a different ghostwriter for each one.
Often, I am hired to write a book because the client doesn't have a good grasp of English (it's their second or third language). A lot of these clients are based in the Philippines, but I am surprised that some are also located in the USA. In fact, one USA based client didn't even know what quotation marks were or why they were used... and this person would be listed as an "author??"
It is quite understandable if I am hired by an artist who has illustrated a children's book himself but requires a writer/poet to add the text (often rhyming verse) to accompany his illustrations. This is common with a number of my clients.
Occasionally, a client will give me a detailed story outline of say 500 words but want to pay me to write the story in 200 words. If this is the case I insist it will have to be written as poetry in order to eliminate excess words.
Some Famous Ghostwriters
It can be shocking and even heartbreaking to find out your favourite author may not have really penned most of the books attributed them on the cover. A bit like having the realization that Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny isn't real.
You may get some comfort, though, to know that a lot of those ghostwriters are, in fact, talented enough writers to be successful under their own names.
Here are a few:
- H.P. Lovecraft: ( The Dunwich Horror, Necronomicon, The Call of Cthulhu) was approached by the editor of the pulp magazine Weird Tales to ghostwrite "true' stories by escape artist Harry Houdini. Lovecraft wrote "Imprisoned With the Pharoahs" in less than a week and earned $100 for his effort as well as Houdini's ongoing ghostwriting opportunities. Later this story was renamed "under the Pyramids" and Lovecraft was given a byline.
- Andrew Neiderman (The Devil's Advocate): was called in to complete the last book in V.C. Andrews Dollanganger series called Garden of Shadows when Andrews passed away from breast cancer before finishing it. Neiderman took over writing under the name V.C Andrews in 1986 and continues to write under that name to this day.
- Raymond Benson (The Black Stiletto, The Pocket Guide to Jethro Tull, and a novelization of the video game Metal Gear Solid): wrote 12 James Bond 007 novels between 1997 and 2002 including Tomorrow Never Dies and The World is Not Enough. He also wrote the first two books in Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell series under the pseudonym David Michaels.
- Auguste Maquet (not exactly famous): but co-wrote The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers with Alexandre Dumas but remained uncredited for them. After a dispute over bylines and money, Dumas and Maquet parted ways — Maquet dying in obscurity 37 years afterwards. Dumas got the fame, but on Maquet’s tombstone in Paris' Père-Lachaise cemetery these words are etched: The Three Musketeers, the Count of Monte Cristo, and La Reine Margot.
(Credits: Reedsy.com - Understanding Publishing: Mentalfloss.com - Your Favorite Authors Are Frauds)
“I wrote this book without the aid of a coauthor or a ghostwriter (which is why it’s a good bet this is going to be my last book; I had no idea it would be so hard to do).”— – IBM CEO Lou Gerstner, Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance?
Conclusion: Why Should I Become a Ghostwriter?
Ghostwriting can be many things: rewarding, frustrating, challenging, even fun. Above all, it should be seen as a learning experience for a writer as you are often called to write things you would never have otherwise considered, and are often required research subjects you previously knew little about. In this way, it expands your writing repertoire and teaches you new skills. It isn't for everyone but certainly has its place in the field of writing.
Hopefully, one day I may take the plunge, stop procrastinating, and get around to publishing my own children's books. But until then, "Who you gonna call?"
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
© 2019 John Hansen