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Ghostwriter in Disguise

by Floyd Largent, editor and writer
Book Editing Associates

Those of us who advertise ourselves as editors here on the network are almost always writers as well. In fact, I think that’s pretty much a prerequisite of the job. As I’ve discussed in previous blog entries, it takes a lot of writing experience to know good writing when you see it, to internalize the tropes of your field, and to provide more than a simple copyedit covering grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Most of us specialize in a particular type of editing; mine is developmental work, particularly within the fields of science fiction/fantasy, mystery, and history.

cal-0814-va4-medics_08Since most of us are also published writers, ghostwriting is also on the table. Ghostwriting involves creating a manuscript from the ground up, either from notes, long discussions with the client, or general instructions. For example, I recently wrote a heavily illustrated book about the vegan lifestyle for a non-network client. The process began with several long meetings on Skype, followed by an outline I put together and had accepted by the client. The writing and review process that followed took several months, and to my gratification, the client was very satisfied with the results.

Writing books is nothing new to me. In my career, I’ve written several full-length novels, a 450-page master’s thesis, 100+ book-length technical reports in archaeology and telephony, and about half a dozen ghostwritten business books. Sometimes I get credit; sometimes I don’t. It doesn’t much matter to me as long as I get paid.

That’s what ghostwriting is about: hiring someone to put words on paper for you that you can then edit, revise, or rewrite to your specifications.

Depending on your needs, ghostwriting may be your best publication option. For example, if you’re too busy to write but really want to make a contribution to the literary world, you can turn to a ghostwriter. Nearly all celebrity authors use or used ghostwriters to organize their thoughts and present them for public consumption. Interestingly enough, the only celebrity I know of who’s written his own books is Mick Foley, the former professional wrestler better known as Mankind.

Ghostwriters are also advisable for those with a shaky grasp of the English language (especially those for whom English is a second or third language) as well as specialists, like scientists, whose writing ability lies on a different plane than the rest of us. In such cases, we ghostwriters serve as translators as much as writers.

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Expect to pay a significant per-word or per-page fee for ghostwriting. Most ghostwriters won’t even roll out of bed for less than 15 cents a word, and some won’t bother for less than 25 cents or more. Sure, you may find a low-baller here and there, but I guarantee you they’re either (a) new to the job and over their head; (b) new to the job and trying to build their resume; or (c) terrible at it.

Why should you pay so much for ghostwriting? Because you get what you pay for. Five cents per word may be sufficient for most edits, but when you edit, you’re working with what’s already there. The ghostwriter has to start from the beginning and build the story from the ground floor. Look at it like having a home: what costs more, repairing an existing house, or building one from the foundation up? Not only does a ghostwriter have to build the house, he or she also has to design and decorate it to the satisfaction of the client; and sometimes, they have to tear down a piece of it and start over if the client is dissatisfied. In every way, ghostwriting is more expensive than standard editing. Those who can’t see why it should be any longer or harder than normal editing don’t understand the energy and dedication the process takes.

If you want your story ghostwritten, here’s what I recommend. Be realistic about the cost. Put aside enough funding to cover the entire project at a level of at least 15 cents per word, if not twice that. This will insure your chosen ghostwriter will take you seriously. When you meet with him or her, offer an outline that’s at least moderately detailed, or provide your whole story so they can record it, take copious notes, and then give you an outline to consider. Review that outline promptly, making any necessary updates of emphasizing details. Then offer him or her easy access to you while they write, without bothering them while they work—and don’t keep adding more stuff without offering more money.

Before you finalize your project, make sure you’ve clarified the level of credit your ghostwriter gets. Some get a byline. Some get equal billing. But for most of us, ghosting is work by hire. We love the work, and we like getting the occasional acknowledgement, but what we really want is the money. Those of you who haven’t been published before might find it odd that we’re not fighting for a byline, but we have enough of those with our own work; most of us are regularly published anyway.

If a ghostwriter doesn’t come highly recommended and doesn’t quote you a premium per-word rate, avoid them; you won’t get your money’s worth. Be very selective about whom you trust with your story.

Keep writing!

Floyd Largent has written just about everything a writer can.

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