By Cal Orey
Hello. I am a ghostwriter and co-author of novels. I am often on the job writing books for someone else. For example, writing as a military wife, I dished out heartfelt feelings in a woman’s magazine about my husband’s service in Iraq. I pen prose in the guise of a witty English doctor, I prescribe anti-aging secrets in a self-help book. Writing as my sensitive mixed-breed cat, I dispense advice to pets and humans in a bimonthly horoscope column.
In the past year I've co-authored novels: Romance, True Crime, Sci-Fi, and Historical fiction. Currently, I finished a Carl Sagan type of science book. I wrapped up a 2-in-1 contemporary romance novel. I cried many times during the Romeo and Juliet-ish 21st century era tale. I fell in love with the two characters. Yes, co-author credit (most likely) will be granted to me. Oh, I just finished a comprehensive outline and first chapter for a novella that hits home in the sierras. (Uh, I'm talking mega adventure and suspense.)
Sound like fun? For writers who don’t mind losing a byline, ghostwriting (or getting a credit) is a thrilling and challenging career option. Here are five reasons why you should consider this often-overlooked writing path.
1 Interesting assignmentsEver wish you were someone else? As a ghostwriter, you can live your dream vicariously—without having to get credentials or be reincarnated. Being a “ghost” is like channeling into someone else’s body and mind. For example, I write for my 5-year-old cat, Kerouac, who pens the column “What Do the Stars Hold for Your Pet?” for a pet magazine. Not only is his name on the masthead, each column pays for his premium cat food and toys.
Ghost Tip: “If you enjoy people, ghostwriting is a way to delve into some of the most unusual people on the planet,” says Marc L. Weber, a former ghostwriter.
2 An occasional credit
When I was assigned the Iraq article for Complete Woman, I collected the very personal first-person narratives of two military wives, using their unique voices to put together their heart-warming tales. I received an “as told to” author credit.
Ghost Tip: If you think the book has potential to be a bestseller, request co-author credit. But if the project is an author’s tool (i.e., selling products), credit isn’t a big deal.
3 Appreciative clients
“One of the most surprising facts I have learned about ghostwriting is that there are some extremely intelligent people out there who cannot put anything onto paper,” Habert says. “For some reason, somewhere between the thought process and the actual movements of their pen or fingers on keyboard, they become babbling fools.”
In my ghostwritten book on anti-aging, I noticed while the doctor had good command of the English language, his prose tended to be dry. I was hired to “dumb down” his health advice and product information. And the doctor appreciated my ability to do just that.
Ghost Tip: “You have to check your ego at the door,” cautions Deborah Kotz of Silver Spring, Md., who has worked as a ghostwriter on several health books. “Realize that you are the ‘writer’ and not the ‘author.’ There’s a big difference between the two. You are not the authority. So, you have to convey the message that the author wants to convey.”
4 Big-money potential
Some book advances can make you smile. Case in point: I just signed a book contract for a five-figure deal, travel expenses and bonuses. For the next five months, I will feel financially secure as I ghostwrite about a fascinating and controversial topic. How rich is that?
Ghost Tip: “If you think the book isn’t going to get that six-figure advance, settle on a fee upfront for your services,” Neuhaus says. “If you think it is going to be a blockbuster project, then negotiate a percentage of the advance and royalties.”
5 Unlimited prospects
The best part of ghostwriting is that it’s like a deep well that never goes dry. Habert understands the glory of ghostwriting. “It is a lucrative source of writing, not only in a monetary manner but also in the volume available,” she says. Weber adds that a baby boomers age, “that generation becomes interested in holding on to its memories, so there is more work for ghostwriters to do than ever before.”
Ghost Tip: “Network as much as you can,” Weber says. “Make sure people know you have the talent to help them."
Each in his or her own way, Habert, Weber and Neuhaus have discovered that ghostwriting is a good avenue to a never-ending road of projects. You, too, can arrive at that point. Just put on your mask and go to"No revisions" in the agreement. A dentist to hair stylist may make minor tweaks--but countless changes? Not a chance.
Work It Tips for the Writer (and Client)
Get it in writing: “If you’re going to collaborate, you’re going to need a written contract or agreement that spells out who does what and how much you get—and when,” Neuhaus says.
Develop a specialty: “Whether it’s fitness or fashion, write about what you love and have a passion for,” says New York City ghostwriter Eric Neuhaus.
Network with other ‘ghosts’: Often, ghostwriters will be busy with projects and may refer clients to you for a finder’s fee.
Discuss the editing process: If you want to avoid ghoulish re-dos, talk with the author about edits and ongoing revisions before you begin. Personally, I have incorporated the phrase: No revisions, no refunds. You are free to delete and add details. P.S. Re-dos are offered but they're not for free.
Remember, everyone has at least one book in them: It’s your job to connect mentally and emotionally with someone who wants to hire a ghost—namely, you.
Published in The Writer (since 1933, RIP)
* Today, I Tackle Tasks of Writing Works: Outlines (a must-have blueprint for a project), restructuring and crafting prose, developing characters, writing prologues, epilogues, cliffhanger chapters, and WOW endings, settings, description, dialogue -- and much more! A client may have notes or the entire manuscript written but it still may need SOS!