Image source: Flickr/hobvias sudoneighm
Why would you write for someone else? Wouldn’t you want to see your name on the front cover of the book instead of someone else’s? Is it ethical?
These are some of the questions I get asked most often when people discover I am a ghostwriter by profession. And I understand. We all know they exist, but then so too do we know about other types of ‘deceptions’ such as stuntmen who stand in for the real actors or speechwriters who pen speeches for politicians. Even comedians have gag writers and nobody complains about that, unless the gags are poor.
The thing about ghostwriting is that by its very nature it’s a hidden profession, and for good reason. Not that there is anything sinister about it. Getting professionals to do things in exchange for money is something that has been going on for as long as business itself has been in existence. In fact, it’s good business practice, isn’t it? I mean, why would you struggle to fix a leaking tap if you hadn’t the foggiest idea of how to go about it or if you simply didn’t have the time or the tools? You wouldn’t. And if you did, you’d probably be considered an idiot.
Why should the world of writing be any different?
It has long been suspected that William Shakespeare may not have written all his plays himself. And we certainly know that Mozart often ghosted pieces for wealthy patrons.
When you think about it, it’s not just gifted writers who have good stories to tell; sports stars, politicians, surgeons and housewives often have stories that have the potential to be best-sellers. All that’s needed is for them to be properly crafted so they become acceptable to publishers and the reading public.
Enter the ghostwriter.
I have been ghostwriting on a full-time basis now for 13 years and have learnt that my name on a cheque is far sweeter than my name on the cover of a book, and I get to fully enjoy what I like doing best - writing.
When you really think about it, most of us writers are writers because we love to write. In fact, many tell me that they HAVE to write; it’s something they can’t help doing. I agree. I am convinced that writers are born to write. But in this digital age, the publishing world has changed so much that traditionally-published authors are expected to spend a far greater proportion of their time marketing, working on social media networks, doing book launches, travelling for promotional appearances and the like, so there is hardly any time left for writing.
On top of that, it is common now for publishers to favour long-term relationships with their authors, so they issue contracts for follow-up books with fairly short deadlines. This might sound like heaven to an unpublished author, but that’s not what many on the traditional treadmill tell me. They simply want to write.
Another drawback for the modern-day author is that many of them are introverts. Writing is, after all, a very solitary profession. It is the curse of modern-day publishing that, I suspect, relies more heavily on platform building than talent - some international best-sellers aren’t well written at all. Remember, publishing is a business.
This is where the benefits of being a ghostwriter come in. We get to do the writing and nothing more. Everything from the editing, design and layout, dealing with agents and publishers, book signings, promotional work, platform building or waiting for royalty cheques to come in are things the author - our client - has to deal with while we get on with writing our next books. It’s an ideal situation, if all you love doing is the writing.
The other thing I love about writing other people’s stories is that I get to meet such a wide range of interesting people. Not only that, I get to 'live inside their heads’. I need to become them for the duration of the project. I get to live their lives without having their troubles. I get the ups, but not the downs.
There’s another very important consideration that weighs heavily in favour of this specialist area of the writing profession and it’s this: your cash flow isn’t strung out over years. You don’t have to wait for royalty cheques to dribble in every six months. You get your money as and when you want it, usually up front.
There are no hard and fast rules regarding remuneration; that’s entirely up to you. Some ghosts prefer 50% up front with the rest spread out in equal chunks over the estimated duration of the project. Others go for equal monthly installments. But very few will write on the basis of a share of the royalties; that’s simply too risky.
So how much do ghostwriters charge?
Again, this is one of those 'how long is a piece of string’ questions. Most ghosts seem to charge between $15,000 and $30,000 for a book of average length. More if research is required. If a reputable publisher is involved and the ‘author’ is a well-known personality, the fee can be huge. It’s reported that the ghost who wrote Hillary Clinton’s book earned $500,000.
Grant McDuling is a Brisbane-based ghostwriter who is busy with his 46th book at present. He has ghosted for a range of clients and identities from all over the world. Many of the books he has written are now international best sellers with sales in the millions. Visit his blog at http://mcduling.wordpress.com/
Sam van Zweden was Writers Bloc’s Online Editor from 2013 - 2015. A Melbourne-based writer and blogger, her work has appeared in The Big Issue, Voiceworks, Tincture Journal, Page seventeen, and others. She’s passionate about creative nonfiction and cross stitch. She tweets @samvanzweden.