Wednesday, September 19, 2012

5 Tips to Keep a Ghostwriter Sane



No. It doesn't refer to an author sitting at a table and waiting for the spirits to make contact. If that were the case, the writer could be waiting a long, long time!


What is ghostwriting? And why would any writer do it?


Ghostwriting refers to the process of one author or person paying another author to write for them. Typically, the ghostwriter signs a contract stating that they give up all rights to the story once it is done. Some contracts do allow for the ghostwriter's name to be listed below the publishing author's name, but generally once the deal is closed, whatever happens to the manuscript is out of the ghostwriter's hands.


This is a common practice and has been around a long, long time. Many celebrities use ghostwriters when it comes to publishing their "tell all" books. People who want to share about their traumatic experiences in life often have someone else do the actual writing. Heck, even established authors like James Patterson, Tom Clancy, and Clive Cussler use them!


I've been ghostwriting quite a bit this past year and a half. I do it because it's been a great way to make decent money quickly doing something that I enjoy--writing. I have several repeat clients, and while I can't tell you who they are due to my contracts, I can say that they are authors in many different genres. I've written a series of short stories, two book series, and several stand-alone novels. They've ranged anywhere from 1600-50,000 words.


And that doesn't include writing my own Bayou Myth series.


Yeah, it's a lot of work, but the money has been good. Some clients are better than others when it comes to financial compensation, but I don't take any jobs that I don't like. I'm careful about my contracts and rarely work without one.


I have a few tips for those of you that are just starting out in the world of ghostwriting. These may seem like no brainers, but it's easy to forget the basics when you're bogged down under a sea of words.


1. Only take work that gets you excited. My parents always told me that sometimes you have to do things you don't like. That's true, but it doesn't apply in ghostwriting. Believe me. I've learned that the hard way. If you don't feel excited about the project, if the thought of it bores you to tears, don't take it. I don't care how good the money is. (Well, okay that's not entirely true) It is not worth the pain, heartache, and time if you can't get motivated.


2. Stick to your deadline, but know when to ask for an extension. Writing is tricky. Sometimes the muse is there and the words flow like sweet honey. Other times, you're wading through a sea of manure with no end in sight. Make sure you are setting aside time to get the work done, but if you are in the manure zone, don't wait till the last minute to ask for more time. Be up front. Pull the "but I’m an artist" card if you have to, but don't sit around twiddling your thumbs. You're being paid to write and your client expects results. However, most people understand that writing is a process and sometimes the process gets delayed by life, family, and…well…manure. Be up front about it.


3. Don't lose sight of your own projects. I like to set aside time that is just for me. Typically on Friday night, I pour a glass of wine and then sit in front of my laptop. Sometimes I work on my projects, but sometimes I just write whatever comes to mind. Take time for yourself!


4. Step away from the project before you hurt someone! You are giving up control when you are a ghostwriter. You don't call every shot. That can be a hard thing to accept. You may write the most fabulous scene ever, but your client thinks it's awful. Deal with it. Don't freak out and send nasty emails or make crazy phone calls. Take a breath, step away, and remember that you are getting paid to do something you love. Not everyone can say that.


5. Read the contract carefully. Know what you are committing to before you sign. Some clients have very particular requests and you need to understand them before you agree to be their ghostwriter. Deadlines, time frames for drafts, payment schedules, anonymity needs, and whether or not your name will be listed on the front cover--a good contract should cover all that!


Any other ghostwriters out there with advice? Drop us a line and share your tips!



  1. Well written, Mary. You bring up some valid points. I would add "Learn how to pace yourself." Ghostwriting a book can feel overwhelming; to avoid this, break up the project into smaller, manageable chunks. Looking at one chapter or ten pages a week, for example, is more manageable than looking at the entire book and wondering where to even begin.

  2. So true, Graciela! I have to do that very thing or I feel like I don't have the control I should.