By Cal Orey
I am a ghostwriter. 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. Writing as 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.
Sound like fun? For writers who don’t mind losing a byline, ghostwriting is an interesting and potentially lucrative career option. Here are five reasons why you should consider this often-overlooked writing path.
1 Interesting assignments
Ever 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.
Eric Neuhaus, a New York ghostwriter, did the writing and more for a book by fitness guru Joe Decker As part of the assignment, Neuhaus and a diet consultant cooked up healthy versions of traditionally unhealthy dishes such and meatloaf and fajitas. “The kitchen in my one-bedroom apartment became the test kitchen,” Neuhaus says. “I bought another book on how to write recipes. All of this was trail by fire. I never thought in m wildest dreams that I’d be testing recipes.”
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.”
You have to check your ego
at the door. Realize that you are
the “writer” and not the “author.”
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 work.
Look close to home: Offer to be the ghostwriter for your family, friends and co-workers. Don’t rule our your kids or pets, either.
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 before you begin. Personally, I have incorporated the phrases "No revisions" in the agreement. A dentist to hair stylist may make minor tweaks--but countless changes? Not a chance.
Get it in writing: “If you’re going to collaborate, you’re going to need a written contract or agreement that spells out show does what and how much you get—and when,” Neuhaus says.
Tackle Tasks: Outlines, restructuring and crafting, developing characters, writing prologues, cliffhanger chapters, and WOW endings, settings, description, dialogue -- and much more!
Remember, everyone has at least one book in them: It’s your job to connect mentally and emotionally with someone who want to hire a ghost—namely, you.
Published in The Writer (since 1933, RIP)