By Guest Blogger, Lorin Shields-Michel, Author and Ghostwriter
Writing, it’s long been said, is a solitary sport. You sit in your office or your kitchen, maybe the local coffee house, wherever your muse likes to frequent, and you stare at a blank screen. You close your eyes, willing the words to flow from your brain, down your arms and out through your fingers where they appear, miraculously, on that ghostly page. Most people don’t recognize you; you work mostly in anonymity, a ghost amongst fellow humans, observing and recording. Writing. So if you’re a bit of a ghost anyway, why not be a ghostwriter?
The fact is ghostwriting is one of the most interesting aspects of writing. You use all of your skills and talents to string together lyrical sentences – when called for – and a strong, compelling, relentlessly readable story always.
For someone else.
And if you’re lucky enough to work with an “author” who doesn’t have a huge ego, you often get a nice acknowledgement for your time and work. Because as a ghostwriter, you don’t really exist; only your talent exists. As the British craftsman, designer and poet William Morris once intoned: “His claim to his home is deep, but there are too many ghosts. He must absorb without being absorbed.” As a ghostwriter, you must write without being the “author.”
If you write simply for the exquisite pleasure of it, the high you get from those lyrical sentences and the good read, and you honestly don’t mind that your name doesn’t appear on a book’s cover or under an article’s headline, then you can be a ghostwriter.
But if you crave recognition, ghostwriting might be an apparition too frightening to entertain.
According to Writer’s Weekly¹ : “Book industry insiders estimate that 50 percent or more of all traditionally published books in today’s market are worked on by one or more ghost/book doctor/line editors. In the self-publishing world, the percentage is probably even higher – and all indications point to the situation just becoming more and more favorable for the ghost.”
Why? Because of one easy fact: most people are not good writers but most people want to write a book. Everyone learns to write in school and can craft a decent email, a business letter when necessary, but they lack the power of prose. However, if they have an interesting life story to tell, what they don’t lack is material, and so they hire a ghostwriter with the explicit understanding that said writer will not get credit even though he or she will get paid.
As a good ghostwriter, you can excel by developing a strong working relationship with the “author” and working together you can tell his or her story; together you can fly. It will just be his or her name on the plane.
“On any given week, up to half of any nonfiction best-seller list is written by someone other than the name on the book. And those authors feel enough latent uneasiness to bury the writer’s name in the acknowledgements and the percentage, according to one agent, reaches as high as 80. And ghostwriters are increasingly working the other side of the street – on the fiction list.”²
Ghostwriters, like myself, have had great experiences writing for other people. It all depends on the situation, the “author,” the arrangement and the story. And you have to check your ego at the keyboard. If all of those elements are present, then ghostwriting may be a great career or even alternative career.
If those elements don’t exist, you will not enjoy the process. You may even resent it. And that’s not good for anyone.
The Spanish novelist Arturo Perez Reverte said that “we all have ghosts, remorse, dreams, things we love and hate. One day something in life – a word, a phrase, something in a book, a beautiful woman – clicks, and part of that world takes on a special meaning. And you realize you have a story to tell.” With ghostwriting, it’s just that the story… is someone else’s.