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Editor's Corner:
Why We Mumble (Plus Tips on Using a Ghostwriter)

by Moira Allen

Return to Editor's Corner · Print/Mobile-Friendly Version

When you're at certain types of gatherings, do you boldly and cheerfully proclaim that you're a freelance writer? Or, when someone asks you what you do, do you tend to avoid eye contact, mumble something about "working at home" and quickly change the subject?

Chances are, you mumble. And with good reason. Many of us have learned that one admits to being a writer at one's peril. To do otherwise is to risk "the pounce."

I learned my lesson at a church luncheon. I was new in the area and wanted to get to know people, so of course I declared that I was a writer. I'll never forget the gleam that came into the eye of the woman sitting opposite me. It wasn't a "Oh, how interesting, you must be a fascinating person!" gleam. It was the sort of gleam you might get if you'd just spotted a winning lottery ticket on the sidewalk, or a particularly lovely bargain at Nordstrom's.

"Oh," she declared, "I have a wonderful idea for a book and I just need someone to write it for me." To which, I'm sure, she thought my answer would be, "Well, sure, I'm not doing anything much this afternoon, let me just whip that off for you..."

The pounce often comes with an offer that is obviously considered too tempting for a poor, starving writer to pass up: "I give you the ideas, you write the book, and we split the profits!!!" Small wonder we mumble...

Pouncing isn't limited to social occasions, however. I regularly receive inquiries from people with a story to tell, a book to write -- but who are experiencing considerable difficulties actually writing it. And so, the inquirer asks, can I recommend someone who can handle that task? My usual response is to point out that what one is looking for in this instance is a "ghostwriter" -- something easily located in a Google search.

However, there is more to the story than that -- and if you are that person with a story to tell, a book to write, and (you perhaps hope) a fortune to be made, there are some things you need to know about the business of having someone else write your book. I recently interviewed several ghostwriters for an article for The Writer (which will be appearing in the November issue, and in these pages sometime thereafter). Because I do receive so many inquiries about "finding someone to write my book," I asked these ghostwriters what would-be authors ought to know about the business. Here are some hard, cold facts:

  1. Ghostwriters do not write your book for a share of your profits. Ghostwriters expect to be paid up front, before your book is published. Generally, payment is expected in installments - perhaps 1/3 when the contract is signed, 1/3 when the book is half-completed, and 1/3 at completion, or else half when the contract is signed and half at completion.

  2. Ghostwriting is expensive. Browsing through a variety of ghostwriters' websites, I found quotes for a full-length book ranging from $15,000 to $25,000 (and more). Keep in mind that a great deal of ghostwriting is done for celebrities, business moguls, notable experts, politicians and others who have (a) a fair amount of money and (b) a book contract in hand for their memoir or expertise. Such services are rarely within the reach of us ordinary folks.

  3. Ghostwriters will not help you obtain a book contract. All of my respondents were very clear about this: Getting published is the author's responsibility. As I said in the previous point, many (if not most) ghostwriting contracts are undertaken for projects for which the author has already found a publisher, usually because the "author" has sufficient fame and "name value" to be assured of publication.

  4. Ghostwriters will not advise you regarding the marketability or publishability of your book. They will help you put your story or information into words, but they won't make a judgment on whether those words have the potential to be published. They won't advise you on how to make your story "more" publishable or marketable, nor will they help you find an agent. (They will, however, do the best job they can in creating a well written work from your words -- which in itself is likely to make it more publishable than if the book were written by an inexperienced author.)

Many would-be writers are daunted by the actual task of writing. Some of the e-mails that I receive mention how difficult it is to actually get that book written. Many of these e-mails also convey the impression that the writer has, in fact, very little writing experience. To these writers or would-be writers, I would add one final bit of advice or, perhaps, comfort: You're right. Writing IS difficult. It's not just you. It's not just your inexperience. Writing a book is a long, difficult, frustrating, difficult, long, tough, difficult (did I mention difficult?) process. Rarely will you encounter a writer who says otherwise, even if that writer has years of experience and dozens of books under his or her belt.

Unfortunately, that's also what makes ghostwriting so expensive: It is difficult. Writers are not people who find writing easy. They are people who have managed to press ahead despite the difficulties of the task.

And sometimes, it's an awareness of those difficulties that make us lose patience, just a bit, with the "pouncers" at a gathering who declare something like "Oh, I have this great idea for a book I'm going to write someday when I have the time," or worse, "Oh, I have a wonderful idea and all I need is someone like you to write it for me!" Forgive us if we are less than enthusiastic... and forgive us if we mumble!

Find Out More...

The Invisible Writer: The Art of Becoming a Ghost - Moira Allen

Column Index

Copyright © 2011 Moira Allen

This article may be reprinted provided that the author's byline, bio, and copyright notice are retained in their entirety. For complete details on reprinting articles by Moira Allen, please click HERE.

Moira Allen is the editor of Writing-World.com, and has written nearly 400 articles, serving as a columnist and regular contributor for such publications as The Writer, Entrepreneur, Writer's Digest, and Byline. An award-winning writer, Allen is the author of eight books, including Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer, The Writer's Guide to Queries, Pitches and Proposals, and Writing to Win: The Colossal Guide to Writing Contests. In addition to Writing-World.com, Allen hosts VictorianVoices.net, a growing archive of articles from Victorian periodicals, and The Pet Loss Support Page, a resource for grieving pet owners. She lives in Maryland with her husband and the obligatory writer's cat. She can be contacted at editors "at" writing-world.com.


Copyright © 2018 by Moira Allen. All rights reserved.
All materials on this site are the property of their authors and may not be reprinted
without the author's written permission, unless otherwise indicated.
For more information please contact Moira Allen, Editor

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