Ghostwriting has been a relatively regular occurrence throughout the publishing industry’s history. Alexandre Dumas wrote The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers with Auguste Maquet, Jason Bourne books were being written after Robert Ludlum’s death in 2001 and there’s speculation that R.L. Stine didn’t write the Goosebumps series alone to keep up with the demand of publishing books twice a month. With the somewhat recent trend of celebrities writing books, both non-fiction and fiction, ghostwriting has become slightly more visible, with the vast majority of these books being written by someone other than the celebrity—although the celebrities do have varying levels of involvement.
What is ghostwriting?
Ghostwriting comes, usually, in two different ways. The first is when the ghostwriter completely writes the book: they will get some notes from the author regarding genre, characters, major plot points or a plot outline, and a set of parameters such as word count. The second is where a ghostwriter will work with the author to jointly create a book: the ghostwriter may do the majority of the actual writing but a lot of the work is divided between the two, either through discussions and interviews, or from the ghostwriter drafting and the author providing in-line notes.
What will usually happen, no matter which way the ghostwriting is approached, is when the project is finished, everything gets signed over to the author and that’s the end of the ghostwriter’s involvement. All copyright, royalties and further work now goes to the other person and the publisher. Sometimes the ghostwriter will get their name on the front cover (although this isn’t particularly common unless you write for James Patterson) or on the inside publisher page, but in other cases they only be mentioned in the acknowledgements, or even not at all. None are required unless stipulated in the original contract.
One of the significant benefits of ghostwriting is that it provides a slightly more stable source of income. It’s well established that writers don’t, generally, make minimum wage from their own books so supplementing that income with ghostwriting is not uncommon. Generally, ghostwriters will be paid a flat fee to write the book, and are paid regardless of the book’s success or if it is even released at all.
How to get into ghostwriting
Getting started with ghostwriting is largely the same as getting involved in any other aspect of the writing industry: either you can get a job within the industry—working in-house at a publisher or with an agent and working for a salary—or you can work independently and pursue calls for application until such a time as your reputation brings work to you.
Neither options are particularly easy to do, to be honest. Like any other job, you’re going to need a proven track record of your experiences and your skills so that people are willing to invest in you. It’s also not just about being a good writer; you’ll need to have skills in writing other people’s stories in the way that they want them to be told, which is not something that every writer can do easily. Writing a first-person novel about a single person locked in an empty room for the entirety of the book will be very different from a third-person epic fantasy in a completely new universe and you may be required to be working on both at the same time. I’m not saying that’s not doable, but it is a skill-set that you will need to be able to demonstrate in order to get the work. You also need to be able to work quickly, as you won’t necessarily be given a very long time to write the book, so being able to complete a high-quality piece of writing in a relatively short timescale is a vital skill.
In terms of practical guidance in getting started as a ghostwriter, look to see if any agencies or publishers are hiring, or employing in-house ghostwriters, or set yourself up as a self-employed ghostwriter and offer your services to the public.
Should you do it?
The answer to this is decided by whether you want to. It has benefits to you as a writer, but it isn’t for everyone. I know a few people who have ghostwritten and they’ve largely found it to be a negative experience that they wouldn’t go back to because of how it stifled their creativity. However, others thoroughly enjoy the process, so if it’s something that you think you’d be interested in give it a try.
Ghostwriting can present an interesting challenge to writers as well as a stable source of income, but it isn’t for everyone and isn’t the easiest industry to break into for newer writers.
© 2019 Davina Chime
Available under the Thanet Writers Education Policy
Davina Chime is a Thanet-born hopeless romantic.