Ghostwriting: More Fun Than It Sounds

MCMSunday, January 12, 2020

I've been doing more ghostwriting over the last few months (or years? maybe years) and it's gone from a nervewracking experience to something akin to a zen state, where I get lost in the story until 4am and have to remind myself to sleep. When I get a fresh outline, it's hard not to get excited about the craziness to come — I'm sorely tempted to turn everything into a #3D1D and just never sleep again.

But I think a lot of people don't really know what ghostwriting is all about. At least not at the leve I'm going it — which is to say, not the elite level, but not the Upwork "I got $10 for this novel!" level either. So here, in as clear a format as I can make it, is what ghostwriting is all about.

What do ghostwriters do?

Ghostwriters do the actual grunt work of creating books. Depending on the gig, we can either create a story from scratch, or adapt notes or an outline into a full story. The description, dialogue and pacing is all us, even if the architecture comes from a specs document. Sometimes we implement notes and feedback, and sometimes we check out after the first draft.

In a nutshell, ghostwriters write books like any other author does.

So what makes you special?

Aw shucks, I'm special? You're too kind!

Not in a good way.

Why am I answering your questions again? But OK: ghostwriters are different because we don't get our names on the cover. Or anywhere else, usually. As far as the end-user is concerned, Robert Writerface authored that novel all by himself, when in fact he outsourced it to someone else.

Isn't that underhanded or something?

I know some people get very upset when they find out that they might be reading books crafted by committee, but generally speaking that's not the case. Robert Writerface may not be putting the actual words together in a per-paragraph level, but it is his story, his characters and his structure being used. You may not like te idea of paying him for work he didn't do himself (someone compared it to handing in someone else's homework) but it's not as if anyone's getting harmed in this scenario. Ghostwriters get paid well for what they do.

Like... like how well?

This is where I should mention that becoming a ghostwriter requires you to be certified by the Ghostwriter Association of America and have a, uh, 400 GPA and stuff.

That's not a thing.

Sigh, OK, it's not a thing No, anyone can be a ghostwriter, and yes, the pay is pretty good. I mean in terms of being a midlist author, anyway. I get paid more to write a romance novel than I would ever get as an advance, and I don't have to worry about my titles earning out.

Ghostwriters are hired for a great many reasons, but the reason I get hired is because I produce quality work on very tight deadlines. If you need a book written in 2 months, and don't want to spend a fortune in rewrites, you want someone who won't mess around — and believe it not, that's me!

So who isn't really writing their own books?

One of the key rules of being a ghostwriter is that you never tell anyone what you've worked on. It's a pretty vital part of the process, because the people who pay you are paying for discretion. You cross that line, and you never work again.

I can say that I've written for authors in such diverse genres as scifi, mystery, thriller, fantasy, historical fiction and romance (so much romance).

How does the process work?

Most of the time, the client hands me a character spec sheet and an outline (or varying levels of detail), and then I get to ask questions before leaping into the fray. Sometimes the outlines need some TLC, but most of the time I treat it like livewriting, and just roll with the punches until the work is done.

I typically have milestones along the way, so the editor in charge of the project doesn't get overwhelmed with 85,000 words all at once. For an 85K novel, I would deliver 20,000 words at the end of week 2; 30,000 at the end of week 4, and the remainder at week 6. Sometimes that schedule is tighter (3 weeks for 90K is my record), but producing 3,000 quality words per day is usually enough to keep things rollin'.

After each milestone, the client and/or editor will have notes, which I integrate as I write the next batch. I usually do only one round of edits per book, especially if the editor is A++ awesome. Once the milestones are done and the editing is wrapped, the text is out of my hands, off into the Wonderful World of Publishing.

Wait, so you don't even get a copy?

Never asked for one, actually. I wonder if that's a thing. Hmm.

So what are you working on now?

Oh, it's a great story about a guy who OH YOU ALMOST TRICKED ME, YOU SNEAKY BASTARD!

I had to try.

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