Go to any of the numerous freelancer sites and you'll find plenty of jobs advertising 'ghostwriter required'. This service can be quite lucrative and it’s certainly a definite step up from living on a combination of air and hope. That said, ghostwriting jobs are not without their share of 'issues' and I'd like to look at some of those now.
Just to be clear, ghostwriting is the act of turning someone else's ideas (which may be a complete plot, a partially-written book or a simple idea) into a 'finished quality' piece of writing for which the ghostwriter receives no credit or acknowledgement beyond the payment of their agreed fees. From a ghostwriter's perspective, the job is without risk - they get paid even if the book bombs - but, if the book goes on to become a bestseller, there's no kudos either.
Don't consider ghostwriting if you can't accept that because otherwise it will seriously get you down.
The first thing to understand is that it(usually) costs nothing for people to post their jobs. This invariably means that every dreamer who's ever romanticized about being an author will be putting forward their ideas in the hope that they can turn their vision into a bestseller. With so many of these people clogging up the freelance sites, it's easy to waste lots of time putting in bid after bid and then never hearing a word back.
You can, however, save time and give yourself a better chance of being successful by a little judicious screening. Here are some things to look out for.
SpinningThis is the act of turning someone else’s work into another ‘original’ by replacing proper nouns, adverbs and verbs to make the new book seem different. Two things to consider here – can your morals stand the notion that you are plagiarizing another author and, since the client is placing minimal importance on the talent of a writer, can you accept that the remuneration is likely to be very, very low? And I mean LOW.
Incoherent ideasA client needs to have figured out the finished book’s length and its subject matter in order to have arrived at a realistic budget figure. If the project briefing then leaves you in doubt as to what you will be engaged to write about, you will almost certainly end up spending hours on SKYPE attempting fruitlessly (probably) to extract this information from the client. Later, if and when it goes wrong, you’ll be the resident villain of the piece and you may struggle to get paid.
My story needs tellingIt’s fair to say a large number of published autobiographies are only on sale because the ‘author’ is a famous personality, and it’s also true that being famous does not guarantee your story is a ‘good read’. Stories of the famous are, however, definitely commercial since people always want to read about the lives of the stars. In the likely event that your particular customer isn’t one of the glitterati, does their autobiography inspire you? Is there enough material to fill a book? Don’t forget that your work will involve dragging lots of details out of your client – work that they probably won’t expect to be charged for.
I’ve written something which needs polishingThis sort of client probably requires you to act as an editor but you’ll also be expected to fill in the missing pieces, sort out the plot holes, make the dialogue more realistic etc. It’s quite difficult picking up a story like this and it will involve a number of readings through before you start, along with considerable note-taking. You need to allow for this when quoting. Again, it’s quite likely that the client won’t expect to pay.
Obviously there are some people who’ve got a good idea for a story but don’t have the confidence, time or experience to write it themselves. These are the best jobs to go for but, before you put in a bid, look and see what they’ve given as an expected budget (most freelancer sites require clients to have a stab at the final bill figure). A typical novel that has been written by a native English-speaking ghostwriter will cost between $2,000 and $3,000. Thus, if the budget is ‘$500 or under’, there’s a good chance that either they don’t have any idea of final cost (and thus probably won’t go ahead with it) or that they’re only interested in getting the content written at the cheapest price possible and without regard for its quality.
Ghostwriting is an excellent way of making money and keeping your hand in but it’s easy to waste time on bad clients or thankless jobs. As you’ll see in my next blog, you can grapeshot every job you come across or you can ignore the lower grade jobs and concentrate on the better ones.
Clive West is co-owner of indie publisher Any Subject Books and you can see more about them on their website or on Facebook. For details of their book submission criteria, see their writers wanted page.