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Behind Some Authors Lies a Ghost
by Dianne Sagan

I never thought about ghostwriting as a career until opportunity came knocking. I attended a writer’s conference a few years ago where Cecil Murphy spoke about the part that ghostwriting plays in his writing career of several decades. It made sense. I started honing my skills and gaining experience as a ghostwriter while continuing to write under my own byline, and I joined a local professional writers’ group.

First Stop

As an avid researcher and reader, my first stop was the public library. I read every book and magazine article on ghostwriting that I could find. One lesson, “Getting the word out in the right channels,” appeared over and over. Sometime later, while attending a pot luck dinner at a well-known romance writer’s home, I chatted with other writers. Cocktail conversation in a small circle turned to a discussion of agents and recent projects. I joined the thread and asked a few questions. This opportunity introduced me to someone who was doing some ghostwriting, and she told me something about her work. She is now a good friend, professional colleague, project manager, and editor/publisher.

Shortly after this meeting I received an e-mail from the Panhandle Professional Writers group (www.panhandleprowriter.org/) stating that my friend needed people interested in freelancing as ghostwriters and editors. Perfect! I responded immediately, and two weeks later I received my first ghostwriting project – a 200 page, nonfiction work. In the two years since, I have written eight books for authors in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Austria and Australia. It has been well worth the effort both financially and artistically.

Becoming a Ghost

  • Step #1: Build up your writing credits and use articles as clips. Read and write something every day. The more you write, the better you get. Find a group of ghostwriters near you or online. Learn from each other. Go to workshops and subscribe to magazines like The Writer, Writer’s Digest, and By-line, as well as online newsletters.

  • Step #2: Ask yourself this simple question: Am I willing to write a book and have no one else ever know I wrote it? Most ghostwriters work under a contract that includes a non-disclosure clause. Occasionally you may be listed on the cover with the author, but don’t expect it.

  • Step #3: Decide what type of ghostwriting you want to do. It is similar to copy writing. If you write articles, speeches, website copy or business documents then you can write books or short stories with similar themes.

  • Step #4: Find clients. Make a list of every organization of which you are a member or affiliate – non-profit volunteer work, civic organizations, professional groups, alumni organizations, sororities/fraternities, chat and e-mail groups. Contact them and share your ideas for ghostwriting. You may be surprised at how many people want to write a book but can’t write it themselves. Read local and area newspapers and magazines with an eye for interviews or spotlighted personalities. Read job listings for writers on the Internet.

  • Step #5: Set up a website. Give a summary of your services and qualifications. Include other writing services you can provide, such as press kits, speeches, business promotions and back cover blurbs. Promote your site to draw clients. Participate in blogs that interest you.

  • Step #6: Send queries to publishers or book packagers who use ghostwriters – you could become a part of their stable of ghostwriters. Subscribe to WritersMarket.com or do a search on www.google.com/ for information and current addresses of agents and publishers who represent and use ghostwriters.

Something to Always Remember about Ghostwriting: Voice.

Ghostwriters must write in the client’s voice. This can be a challenge. How do you write in someone else’s voice? Spend time reading things he or she has written. When interviewing prospective clients, listen to their speech patterns. Pay attention to their vocabulary. What are the most common phrases they use? Is there a specific vocabulary that is used for the subject? What is the central theme of your client’s writing project, and how does he intend to approach it? For whom is your client writing? What “message” does he want the readers to get? As a writer you probably want everyone who reads your work to understand you. As a ghostwriter you want everyone who reads your work to understand your client.

Tips to Remember

  • Always work with a signed agreement. If you are uncertain or uneasy about drafting such a document yourself then consult an attorney. At a minimum your work agreement should contain a payment schedule, performance milestones, dates, and provisions for negotiating changes.

  • Set realistic timetables. Don’t set a deadline or make a promise that you know you cannot keep.

  • You need to have easy access to the client. If you work with any high profile personalities then special arrangements will probably be required.

  • Maintain contact with your clients at least bi-weekly and preferably weekly, even when nothing is happening. (Every project has dead time associated with it.) Never leave your client wondering if you’re working.

  • Maintain your professionalism. You are the experienced writer. Part of your role as a ghostwriter includes educating your author in what constitutes quality in your craft.

  • Be specific with your clients about what you need from them in order to give them quality products that accurately and effectively state their messages.

  • Have fun! If it isn’t fun then either you or your client will feel dissatisfied with what you produce, and then it’s back to your day job.

© Copyright 2008, Dianne Sagan

Dianne Sagan is a full-time freelance writer, ghostwriter, author, and speaker. She can be reached through her website www.dgsagan.tripod.com.

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