AUTHORS looking for ghostwriters are usually high profile public figures, such as celebrities, but they can also be ordinary people with extraordinary stories to tell or experts in subjects that readers are interested in.

A ghostwriter will have a good idea very early on what structure the telling of their story should take. This should then provide a framework onto which any subsequent information given by the author can easily be grafted, regardless of the sequence in which the information is presented. It is often difficult for people to remember chronologically how things happened and the process will inevitably bring forgotten memories to the surface. Organising events into a timeline within the overall structure can make the ‘sorting’ process so much easier. I like to have the content of my sections and chapters set out in note form before I add any of the ‘meat’ but it takes a lot of sifting to get even this far.

The ghostwriter listens and, in the author’s voice, tells their story on their behalf. No judgement, no attempt to influence or challenge. Naturally, if the ghostwriter doesn’t find the subject matter interesting, then he or she will not be able to make it remotely appealing to the general public. Trust has to be built up in order for both parties, particularly the author, to feel comfortable during the entire process. It is up to the ghostwriter to coax the author into providing all the information necessary for the story to be rendered, completem well-rounded and faithful to itself.

It is not uncommon for the author usually records the basis of a first draft for the ghostwriter to type up. Once this is done, it may be necessary for the ghostwriter to ask the author further questions to fill in gaps or add depth. Intermediate drafts might be required. The author has complete control over the final text – nothing is put out there that is not approved by them.

Stories have a life of their own; they want to be told and a good storyteller or a ghostwriter is like a midwife. They can make all the difference as to whether the story will ever see the light of day …

What’s in it for the ghostwriter?

A more stable and reliable income. The writer gets access to a steady source of ideas and subjects and research time is massively reduced. In the case of high profile projects, the ghostwriter can get on with the next job while the celebrity is engaged in doing the schmoozing.

Getting inside the head of interesting people and incredible stories. Being educated for free.

What’s in it for the author?

In all of these cases, using a ghostwriter can save the author considerable time and effort. Celebrities are busy people and the most extraordinary stories can be quite elaborate if told to best effect, requiring the right skills to get them across.

Once the job is done, the author gets all the glory. For the ghostwriter, any credit is usually a bonus.

What’s in it for the publisher?

Publishers like to use ghost writers because they can be more reliable than dealing directly with an inexperienced, temperamental or just plain busy author.

What about the money?

Where there is no publisher already involved, it would be standard practice to split any proceeds 50/50 between ghostwriter and author. The ghostwriter would make the approach to the publisher.

If the author is a former American president and the resulting book is likely to be a bestseller, the ghostwriter would normally get a percentage that could be much lower than 50% but still be worthwhile.

If the ghostwriter has been approached by a publisher, then a straight fee will most likely be suggested.

last updated 12 February 2021

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