Wednesday, January 4, 2012

I Am a Ghost


I am a ghost. I stand in the shadows of celebrities and bestsellers. Ghost. I stand in the obscure corners of the world of time and space and I observe and listen…and I write.

In 2010, the movie, The Ghost Writer, by Oscar-winning director Roman Polanski (The Pianist), starring Ewan McGregor and Pierce Brosnan hit the big screens. I was so excited that there was a movie about someone like me! In the story, Ewan McGregor plays an unnamed ghostwriter who signs on to pen the memoirs of former British prime minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan). The money is good, but there’s a catch: the ghost’s predecessor perished under mysterious circumstances (his body washed up on the shore in an apparent suicide). So, does that mean Ewan McGregor’s character is in danger? I get chills just thinking about this. The movie was great and a fairly good representation of a ghostwriter’s life in many ways. Except we don’t always traverse through danger and deserted islands to get our stories. Not always.

Besides denoting the human spirit or soul, both of the living and the deceased, the Old English word, Ghost, is used as a synonym of Latin spiritus also in the meaning of "breath" or "blast" from the earliest attestations (9th century). For me and my clients, "ghost" means I am their ghostwriter. A hidden spirit no one knows about. I don't go on David Letterman and promote my books. The authors do. Confidentiality clauses prevent me from doing this. And I don't mind. I write clients' stories, their books. I step inside their shoes, their homes, and their hearts, and transform into whoever they want me to be.

I have been writing since I was young and learned how to read and write, and I've been a professional ghostwriter for more than 15 years. In addition to ghostwriting and editing books, I also write, direct and produce videos which include travel videos, music videos, book trailers-videos, inspirational, and marketing. And, I author several online music and pop culture columns for fun, as well as write a movie blog. I have been a professional writer, book doctor and editor for more than 25 years. I have written everything – radio & TV commercials, blogs, online columns, documentaries, websites, podcasts, screenplays, book proposals, personal books, short stories, newsletters, blogs, magazine articles, newspaper articles, songs, poems…you name it, I have written it. But about 15 years ago, I began to mostly ghostwrite books for clients as there became a great demand for this kind of work. I’m not the only one. There are an estimated 4 million listings under the Google search term ghostwriter. It’s a competitive business, but for the adventurous types, it’s perfect.

As a ghostwriter, I have to be an actress, a chameleon. I have to be able to take on the role of my client and write in that person’s voice whether it’s a male or female. I often have to travel the world to meet my clients and tell their stories. I have written books for Muslims who de-program terrorists, Afghanistan folks who escaped the Taliban, businessmen, U.S. soldiers from Iraq, Hollywood celebrities, sports figures, entrepreneurs, celebrities, attorneys, Navy Seal experts, fitness gurus, spiritual leaders, wild west figures, doctors, Mafia leaders, musicians, emerald and drug cartels, prison inmates, and more. You wouldn’t believe the people I have met. Some great and some not-so-great. Some patient and some not-so-patient. But they're all interesting!

I write both fiction and nonfiction books. And what is the process? Varied. Some clients give me notes scribbled on a napkin and others give me a sentence or two and say, “I want you to write a book about so and so…” From one sentence, I have created 600-page novels. Some give me more extensive outlines. And yes, some of the stories have been boring - so boring I could barely stay awake writing them - and others have been "on-the-edge-of-your-seat" exciting. Not all of the books have been bestsellers, but a good portion have and that’s rewarding for me. A wise man once told me that if I make others successful, I will be successful. And that is true.

People always ask me: Why don’t you write your own books? Well, I do. I have. I am. But, while I write my own books, I have to make a living since I'm single, so I serve as a “Ghost for Hire.” In addition to ghosting for clients, I offer marketing, branding, coaching and consulting services to help get their books to market. I coach them on every aspect of the publishing industry as most don’t have a clue. I also work with top New York literary agents and publishers as well as Hollywood film agents, and have helped negotiate six-figure advances for their books. Most people don’t know where to start when they want to write and publish a book. That’s why they need people like me. The Ghosts. I can tell you this: It’s a tough business. But, many businesses are. And it’s one I love very much.

A Few Tips for New, Aspiring Ghostwriters

For all of you who want to become ghostwriters, here are a few tips: First and foremost, do not under-price yourself. Never! You should always get paid in advance of each section of work. No exceptions! (Clients can and do disappear sometimes!) You can structure a payment plan for the client if that helps. And always, always, have the client sign a professional Agreement/Contract that outlines your services and fees, your responsibilities and their responsibilities. (The Author’s Guild has some excellent sample Agreements you can use). Since I also write book proposals and marketing plans, and edit and develop books as well as ghostwrite them, my fees range from $4,000 to $6,000 to $25,000 to $100,000 per book. I also critique books for clients and those fees are generally no more than $200 per 200-page book. Fees are flexible, depending on the project. The fee for ghostwriting a book or writing a book proposal includes finding an agent and publisher for my client. I write a book proposal for nonfiction books which includes sample chapters and a marketing analysis. Most of the time, a client will divide his/her payments into thirds. Sometimes, a client pays one-half the fee up front and the balance when I’m halfway through the project. My fee is flexible and generally depends on the type of book it is, if any of it has been written in rough draft, and the client’s budget. I have learned that the more a client pays, generally, the easier that person is to work with. The ones who pay the lower fees are the ones who will drive you crazy. I don’t know why, but this is true.

Second, it helps if you know the publishing industry inside and out. Learn about agents and publishers and connect with them as much as possible. Learn about Kindle and all the new online opportunities and digital publishing, self-publishing and print-on-demand. Learn about Social Media and creating trailers for the books much like a movie trailer. It’s a new world out there and many people are having a lot of success through these new publishing venues.

Third, invest in a killer website. Promote your site by buying Google Ad Sense ads and through Social Media. You have to market yourself which may include advertising in writers’ magazines and online.

Fourth, establish boundaries with your client up front. You will get to know your client very well though this process and will probably be available for him/her almost 24/7. But, that doesn’t mean that you should sacrifice time with your family and friends. I’ve had clients who clamored for my attention when I was with loved ones who were deathly ill, or even during holidays like Christmas and New Year’s. And they’ve demanded my attention even when I was sick in bed with the flu! It has been a big lesson – and a hard one – for me to learn how to establish boundaries so they don’t invade my privacy. Your client is and should be a priority, but there are limits to what you should do or not do. The client does not own you. Being able to meet a client’s expectations is important, so establish some firm rules and guidelines up front.

Realize that you are going to have to be flexible and this means the client may want to fly you to their location. I’ve traveled all over the world to meet clients and it is fun, but can be draining if you schedule too many trips within one month. With the availability of Skype, you can often “meet” with your clients online and not have to travel. But if you enjoy visiting new countries and cities, then the travel is fun. Never let the client coerce you into paying for your own travel expenses though. He/she should buy your airline ticket, reserve your hotel room, and provide funds for food and incidentals.

Enjoy the writing process. Enjoy learning about something new and becoming that “person” for a while. Take on your role as the actor who lives and breathes the story. Each book you write is “practice” for writing your own novel, your own bestselling book someday. And remember, if you make your client successful, then you’re going to be successful. Happy clients mean good referrals and there’s nothing better than getting a great paying job through word of mouth.

Remember that ghostwriting for clients is a business. Respect that and treat it like a business. That’s the only way you’ll survive. But enjoy every moment of being a Ghost. You never know who you might meet.

If You Would Like to Hire Me

If you would like to hire me as your ghostwriter, give me a call. We will discuss your story, your budget and if I'm the right fit for you. You just never know. Your book might be the next bestseller! And no matter what, I can guarantee you, it will be an exciting, rewarding adventure!

1 comment:

Jonathan B. Williams said...

Great advice. Being a ghostwriter myself, though not with quite the same tier of clients as you, I can second all of your advice. I only wish I had read some of this before I had to find out the hard way!--Jonathan Williams