By Sondi Warner
As a ghostwriter for nearly a decade, I’ve worked with major publishing houses, established authors, amateurs and content mills, and along the way I’ve seen the publishing industry from an interesting perspective: The Bottom Up.
Here are the 10 Things You Only Learn by Being a Ghostwriter:
10. You’re a Cheaply Paid Hitman
The job of ghostwriting is mercenary work, and everything happens under the table like hiring a hitman or a prostitute. Often, confidentiality agreements are signed. Think: Christian Grey’s Sex Contract. You’ll agree on the word count, payment and deadlines, but you can’t talk about what you’re doing or for whom, which is totally cool since you often don’t know exactly who’s pulling the purse strings anyway.
You’ll trade services that don’t typically enter polite writer conversation because readers like to believe their favorite authors are truly that prolific; and, frankly, authors aren’t too proud that’s not the case. Book signings, radio and television appearances, promoting, etc. eat up much of their time. So, when schedules conflict with churning out more books, they call in the pinch hitters.
Here’s the catch. Ghostwriters are “overhead.” Businesses, including author-preneurs, like to cut costs. The standard professional ghostwriter rate is roughly ten cents per word, but until you’ve made a name for yourself, you’ll be lucky to get a tenth of that. Despite the wage disparity…
9. Authors Will Want You to Nail Their Style
To keep people from seeing that behind the curtains, The Great Oz is a Regular Joe, you’ll have to familiarize yourself with your client’s preferred style. However, you develop your own unique way of writing after doing this long enough, and your voice can’t overshadow the author’s.
Writing for multiple clients? Imagine mistakenly writing sections of Client A’s tearjerker like you would Client B’s romantic comedy. Hey, mistakes happen. Just know, repeatedly getting pacing, tone and word choice wrong is the quickest way to lose a paying gig. That’s why ghostwriters need to get to know authors on and off the page, or be prepared for terse, but well-written emails like: “I’d never write an alpha male that asks for sex.”
Which brings me to another important note about writing for other people…
8. You May Turn Out to Be the Better Writer
Unfortunately, you’ll meet writers who have no understanding of character development or plot structure, and you’ll be disheartened to note they’re the famous author, though you may actually be the better writer. Remember, you’re a hired gun, and it’s not your job to point out you could write circles around them in your sleep with both hands tied behind your back.
Said client may ask you to create characters duller than matte paint in a story as tacky as white shoes after Labor Day. You’re allowed—I encourage you—to explain better alternatives, but if they demand it, you write it. After all, it won’t have your name attached. Oh, by the way…
7. They’ll Still Have the Better Resume
While you’re ghostwriting, you won’t have much time to establish yourself as a serious writer. You may write dozens of novels, scores of novellas, hundreds of short stories, and not a single one of them will go on your writer resume. If that sounds ironic, it is, according to Alanis Morissette.
I blame it on the almighty dollar, an awesome motivator. You know what doesn’t pay as well as ghostwriting? Getting stories published in magazines and journals. Neither does self-publishing, according to some reports, which estimate indie authors rake in a whopping two to seven thousand dollars a year. I average that amount per story.
At some point, you might try choosing between ghostwriter or writer, but either way, you have to be ready to learn…
6. Editors Are There to Help
A word nixed here, a sentence reworded there, comments in the mark-up field, and voila! A polished product.
Editors are the magic elves who work in the night to make your writing amazing. Or, to put it another way, editors will take your masterpiece, light a match to it, and then make you touch the fire so you learn why you should never, never write like that again.
Eighty thousand words might be culled down to fifty thousand just when you think you’re done with the writing, leaving you to make up the difference. Back to the escritoire you go. There’s no point crying. Sticks and stones, dear. Cut words will never hurt you. Besides…
5. They Don’t Care About Your Feelings
You are expendable. There are millions of other ghostwriters like you, willing to take constructive criticism and churn out better work at a faster rate for cheaper pay, thanks to an influx of fiction mills nosing into the market. Your experience won’t mean jack unless you’re willing to take on more jobs at lower pay.
The alternative is to connect with the right authors and editors and avoid greedy pop-up publishers, which requires professionalism and a willingness to use every writing gig as an opportunity to improve, even if sometimes…
4. You’ll Have to Do the Dirty Work
Who the blazes reads stepbrother romances? Someone does, and I’m not judging, especially since it pays the bills. As a ghostwriter, you’ll have to step out of your comfort zone and create worlds you wouldn’t dream of, scenarios that make you blush, work in genres you’d never look at twice. Yes, the dirty work.
Along the route to high profile clients, you’ll encounter opportunities to expand your writing repertoire with clients of every other variety. You should know these intensely creative individuals are looking for other intensively creative individuals who are up to the challenge of writing out their quirkiest ideas.
Luckily, being a ghostwriter means being your own boss and having the privilege of turning down jobs that make you uncomfortable. But, accepting some odd writing requests when palatable can strengthen your writing ability.
So, if ghostwriting equates to practicing your writing, accepting constructive criticism from editors is honing your writing and working outside of the box is strengthening writing, it’s inevitable that eventually…
3. You’ll Also Write the Good Stuff
Authors, editors and publishers want you to write the good stuff. Although it may sometimes seem you’re invisible, these professionals monitor and note your improvements. I don’t care how moody or demanding the client, or how patient and understanding, the end goal is for you as the ghostwriter to get progressively better at what you do.
From a strictly business standpoint, consistent high-quality work from you helps all the cogs in the writing machine work better, which means money isn’t being flushed down the drain on a story that won’t sell.
You might surprisingly see your writing on a bestseller list, and that will inspire pride and confidence. As you perfect your skills, you’ll be able to broker for more amenable work arrangements by, say, asking for an increase in your pay rate, getting referrals to other high-profile clients and/or convincing them to allow you partial credit on future books.
The biggest drawback to this game is…
2. You Won’t Own Any of Your Work
Many ghostwriters are getting out of the field as indie publishing makes it easier for them to develop their brand as an author and allows them rights and royalties. Now, bear in mind, I stated above a professional ghostwriter will make more from selling the rights to one book than many indies will make selling books all year. Not owning any of your work is more a blow to your ego than your pockets.
And, clients have their hands full trying to explain to ghostwriters the publishing business isn’t as easy as it looks. Before you bemoan how much money is being made off your work, remember after they cut your hefty check for writing, they cut another for professional editing, another for formatting, another for book covers, printing, distribution, marketing, and so on and so forth.
In short, behind the curtains, The Great Oz has feelings, too. This is business. Nothing personal. These under the table dealings can be a blow to an author’s confidence and can mean far more work for editors and publishers than you can imagine…
1. And That’s Okay
When you’ve been in this business as long as I have, you realize we’re all in this together, collaborating in an ever evolving industry where nobody wins without some losses. So, what can we learn from each other? Establishing allies is far more productive than making enemies. Therefore, go easy on one another, stay classy and stay entertained. Happy writing!
Sondi Warner is an indie publisher with nearly a decade of experience ghostwriting. This former Louisiana State University student is author of the newly released ménage a trois thriller, Deserving, dubbed “the year’s most intense romance.” Reviewers are saying, “Holy Hades HOT! […] This is a multi-racial book that doesn’t follow all the traditional stereotypes.”
Sondi has her own blog, Writer People Problems, which covers all things writer-related. Visit www.wroughtironreads.org and discover it, as well as e-books, W.I.R. exclusive Totally Free Click-Reads, quizzes, puzzles and more!
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