August 4, 2016 Amber Hicks

Ghostwriting: Myths and Misconceptions

Ghostwriting can be loosely defined as the process of writing a book on someone else’s behalf. The contribution of a ghostwriter varies from book to book and from writer to writer. A ghostwriter’s task can range from predominantly editing to writing a complete novel or biography based on someone else’s story or idea.

Outside of the publishing world, the ghostwriters existence appears to be just as elusive as their name suggests, with many people being blissfully unaware of the ghostwriters contribution to the trade fiction sector. It seems to be widely accepted that biographies and cookbooks written by, or rather on behalf of, “celebrities” are almost always the work of another writer. So why would said writers limit their skills to just celeb bios? The answer is, they don’t.

It is perhaps less known that even legendary authors including the likes of Tom Clancy, Ian Fleming and even George Lucas have all released work, that on first glance, appear to only have one attribution but are in fact a collaborative effort. One novelisation of Lucas’ infamous Sci-Fi empire, dubbed Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker although credited to Lucas, was actually written by ghostwriter, Alan Dean Foster, who also had a hand in countless other projects of a similar nature. Although, maybe less recognised than writers who publish under their own names this is not to say that a ghostwriters task is an unthankful one. Oh no, quite the opposite in fact.

You could say that ghostwriting as a craft has existed from the birth of literacy itself, where the literate were entrusted with preserving the words of the illiterate through writing. Ghostwriting today however, has evolved into somewhat of a more niche, skilled practice with its own set of criteria beyond being able to put pen to paper.

The unique task of these phantom writers relies on the ability to properly capture the clients voice; a task which is significantly more challenging than one may initially assume. Sourcing the right writer for a client is half the battle of creating a successful collaborative book, and is something companies like Story Terrace pride themselves on. Professional ghostwriter Emma Donnan, believes that the importance of this task can never be underestimated; she proclaims that:

“The ultimate compliment is when the reader just assumes the subject has written the book themselves.”

Misconceptions about Ghostwriting:

It is notable that common misconceptions about ghostwriting primarily stem from issues concerning motivation, attribution and recognition. Therefore, this short list addressing some of the main challenges and assumptions surrounding the practice should help better explain this illusive world whilst simultaneously dispelling any undeserving myths.

1. Ghostwriters are only employed to write celeb bios

As touched upon earlier, it seems that many people are only aware of ghostwriters in relation to celebrity biographies. For example, Katie Price alone has already released five official biographies over the past decade, and it is highly doubtful that she wrote and crafted them solely by herself. Yet, writing about the journey from small town to stardom is not representative of a ghostwriters full repertoire. Not only do ghostwriters have a hand in pretty much every aspect of trade fiction — everything from reference material to children’s comics — they also write on behalf of anyone who’d like a piece written. Yes that’s right, you can have a book written about you without having to be famous first. Plus, lets face it, most good stories start with everyday people; I mean, how many stories do you know that begin with “So I’m kind of a big deal..”?

With the growing popularity in the subject of genealogy, influenced by programmes like the BBC’s Who Do You Think You Are? and sites like Ancestry.com, the natural progression between discovering your heritage to wanting to turn your findings into a book is inevitable. Therefore, the demand for professional ghostwriters is growing, and it is imperative that the correct writer is chosen in order to tell someone’s story in the way it should be told. Which leads us on to the next point.

2. Any writer can ghostwrite

To put it lightly, this is categorically untrue. There are several reasons why some writers cannot ghostwrite, well, successfully anyway. The first big issue being that many people become authors with the sole purpose to tell stories created from their own imagination in order to fulfil that lifelong dream of becoming the next J.K. Rowling. Consequently, the thought of being employed to communicate someone else’s idea would be just, quite frankly, wrong.

The next reason comes under the umbrella of logistics. The process of ghostwriting is one, that by pure nature, is thoroughly different to that of traditional authorship. A ghostwriter, producing a biography for example, would have to devise some form of action plan and possibly a timeline with which to work by, given that there are other people involved. The writer would then have to conduct a series of interviews or discussions in order to fully understand the subject matter and what they have been tasked with communicating. Ghostwriter, Emma Donnan explains her process; she notes:

“I tape all my interviews… Listening back for that second time really helps hammer home the subject’s voice. If they use an interesting turn of phrase or have words they repeatedly use I will note those and use them later to give the copy more authenticity.”

This interview process could be something that is completely unheard of to many authors, with their preparation being limited to perhaps only researching the location they wish to set their novel. However, this interaction between writer and client is imperative to any successful ghostwriter. This leads on to possibly the biggest distinction between a ghostwriter and a traditional writer: the voice.

As has already been mentioned, the ability to capture someone else’s personality is vital, especially when it comes to writing a biography. The whole purpose in having a biography created is to tell your story, so why would you want it to sound like it’s coming from someone else?

Learn more about what it takes to be a ghostwriter (The Recipe for a Good Ghostwriter).

3. Ghostwriters don’t receive the recognition they deserve

This section is definitely important for aspiring writers and those considering getting into the trade of ghostwriting. From an outside perspective, it may not be immediately obvious why a writer would be happy to put time and effort into creating something, for it to then be published under another name. Although there are many who firmly believe that in the age of authorship being anonymous won’t help your career, it is not always that black and white. Ghostwriting is not always necessarily a choice between allowing another author to take credit for your work or having to be entirely anonymous.

In many cases if a writer collaborates with another, they can often claim co-authorship; this means their name will appear alongside the primary author’s. With regard to biographies, in most cases, if the subject is famous and the biography is to be sold commercially, readers will know to look for the writers name. Contrastingly, if the subject is less known, and is having a personal biography written to share with family and friends, the writer will still receive sufficient recognition. Yes, this recognition may come in less obvious forms than people being able to answer with your name at a pub quiz, but this is not to say it is any less rewarding.

In addition, creating a book that successfully portrays the voice of another is a skill that should not be accepted lightly, as it takes a certain kind of writer to achieve this; in itself, this is a rewarding idea. Professional ghostwriter, Philip Williams shares his experience,

“As a ghost writer I bring my whole writers toolbox. Were I creating a fictional character, I would give her a distinctive voice that was not mine. I have discovered the challenge of finding the voice, not of a character of my invention, but of a multidimensional flesh-and-blood living human being. Far more challenging!”

Another aspect of ghostwriting that many authors enjoy is the variety of clients they are able to work with and the array of stories they get to tell. Williams, describes that he sees ghostwriting as a privilege and goes on to explain one of the most rewarding aspects of ghostwriting is:

“discovering a person, in detail, using their memory. This so much more than researching documents or talking to third parties. It is taking a journey with them, finding events that had been lost in the mists of time, rediscovering memories. Yet with all of this the resulting work is still very much mine.”

The fear of ones work becoming too similar or lacking inspiration is a distant memory for these phantom writers, as the stories waiting to be told are endless. 

4. There’s always tension around the writer-client relationship

It is well known that where money is introduced, tension can follow. May this be a result of responsibility, accountability or expectation now being monetarily enforced, it is near impossible to say that it does not alter the relationship in some way. However, this notion that the writer-client relationship may go south and both parties will still have to reluctantly muddle through with the rest of the project, is far from an inevitability. Provided the proper care, preparation and attention is put into finding the correct writer for the client’s story, this will not be the case.

Firstly, the process of choosing the correct ghostwriter is not as simple as the client liking the writer’s style then paying them. The assumption that it is up to the client to pick the writer is also one that is not necessarily correct. Creating a book together is a mutual process, so the writer also has to pick the client. This selection will be based, initially:

  • On whether or not the writer even likes the story
  • If the writer feels they are able to properly tell the story
  • On whether they feel they are able to work well with the client.

These same points then have to also work from a client perspective:

  • Will this writer be able to successfully tell my story in the way I’m happy with?
  • Am I able to have a successful, positive working relationship with this writer?

If these points have all been successfully checked off and the answer to all the questions is yes, the risk of a tense working relationship will be minimised, but obviously anything can happen. Luckily, even this risk can be extinguished if the client goes through a service like Story Terrace, who make this process as simple and easy as possible. They suggest the best writer matches based on all the factors previously discussed, as well as overseeing the project from start to finish. So, if for any reason the relationship does hit a impasse, the project can be reassigned or picked-up by another equally great writer that could be an even better match!

Overall, I hope this article has helped reveal the true nature of ghostwriting; its reach, influence and contribution as well as the unique skills and techniques required to be a truly successful ghostwriter.

For more information on great ghostwriting and how to get in touch with a variety of ghostwriters visit StoryTerrace.com

Written by Amber Hicks

Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,