By Melissa Walsh
“A little talent is a good thing to have if you want to be a writer. But the only real requirement is the ability to remember every scar.”
― Stephen King
So you have a story to tell and you’re confident that you have an audience waiting to hear your tale in the form of a book, essay or script. The problem is that you need help capturing your memories and knowledge into the written word.
You’re considering hiring a ghostwriter (ghost).
In French, “ghostwriter” is translated as écrivain dans l’ombre, literally “writer in the shadows.” A ghost writes a work on another’s behalf, or for another person who is presumed to be the author of the work. The actual writer is a phantom to the readership.
So then, as you enter the shadows of writers to interview candidates for ghosting your story into publication, consider the following essential ghostwriting competencies:
1. Subject-matter Competency
Choose a ghost who has a solid understanding in, or at least a strong aptitude for learning about, the topic or topics that have driven your life’s ambitions and generated your life’s story. For example, if you’re a professional athlete, choose a ghost with interest and knowledge about your sport.
2. Editorial Competency
Publishers and critics expect authors to develop nonfiction prose according to prescribed publishing industry style and format. Your ghostwriter should be proficient in various writing styles and formats and know how to discern specifications for your market.
3. Target Readership Familiarity
Ideally your ghost should be familiar with your audience. Commission a writer who is close to your fanbase or market.
4. Publishing Biz Finesse
Choose a ghost who understands the bottom-line concerns and motivation of publishers. In today’s market, your ghost should also have a working knowledge of writing for the structured-authoring environment, ensuring your manuscript can be published concurrently for print and digital platforms.
5. Listening Power
Employing excellence in listening, a good ghost discovers the client’s story and presents it in the client’s voice. When interviewing writers to ghost your story, dismiss those with alligator qualities: invisible ears, large mouth.
6. Research Integrity
Your ghost must approach research professionally, including focus, commitment and accountability to discovering truth. You want a ghost who is a magnet for truth, an objective, scholarly type who relies on credible sources and who will be able to link every important factual detail in your manuscript to a verifiable source.
7. Sense of Team
The craft of ghostwriting is much more than telling; it’s observing, discovering, documenting and communicating. When the aim is telling someone else’s great story, these activities cannot be done well in isolation. Commission a ghost who works well with others, who is candid but not offensive, friendly but not phoney, polite but not distant.
Find a ghost who not only is adept in writing, but who knows how to ghostwrite. There’s a difference. Ghostwriting is collaborating with you the storyteller, not controlling your story. The ghost is invisible in your story, with no trace of his or her voice, opinions, desires or goals ― only yours.
The ghost does not have the freedom of the writer to create. He or she doesn’t build the story, but carefully packages the story. The ghost gathers the details of the story and projects them in the storyteller’s voice and organizes them properly for the readership to receive the fully projected story. What’s more, the ghost does not market the story, but rather covertly delivers it to the storyteller’s target audience.
10. Time Management
Your ghost must work to a publication schedule. Project your publication date and work backwards, determining when the manuscript must be completed and delivered to the publisher. Work back further to determine deadlines for segmented deliverables beginning with the summary and outline of your story. Though your ghost may take the lead on scheduling deliverables, you must remain at the helm as the storyteller. Together, you and your ghosting partner must adhere to critical time management principles for completing the project.
The ghostwriter is hidden from the work’s publicity and promotion, out of the limelight. The professional writer serving as a ghostwriter knows that it’s not his or her story to tell; it’s not his or her voice the audience wants to hear. It is your, the client’s, story and your voice. The ghostwriter is merely the hidden microphone projecting your story to your audience.
Humility is strength. It is not equal to passivity and not mutually exclusive to assertiveness. Commission a writer with a professional confidence that is neither aggressive nor arrogant, but rather assertive.
Seek a reliable ghost, a writer who consistently delivers quality content and is someone you can trust with projecting your story in your voice. In addition to the interview, thoroughly review the candidate’s portfolio and contact his or her references.
Seek a ghost with some miles on his or her moccasins, so to speak. Commission a writer who has experienced challenges in life. Essentially, you want a ghost who has lived enough to carry patience and wisdom into executing your storytelling project.
15. Interviewing Sharpness
Through a process of interviews, your ghost will need to first discover your story before projecting it into publication. As interviewer, your ghost should be narrowly focused on you and your story. The right ghost to write your story will understand your need to tell it; he or she will zoom in on discovering details that define your story. He or she will be prepared for each interview and ensure that you are also prepared to discuss the particular story subtopic or time frame to be discussed. Your ghost should have done some background research in advance of each interview. And the interview should flow as a conversation, rather than a clinical note-taking session.
Your ghost will have a way of helping you feel comfortable telling your story. Though your ghost should be a well-prepared professional, he or she should not control the process. You must ultimately own your story’s discovery as its genuine author.
© 2014, Powerplay Communications
In French, “ghostwriter” is translated as écrivain dans l’ombre, literally “writer in the shadows." A ghost writes a work on another’s behalf, or for another person who is presumed to be the author of the work. The actual writer is a phantom to the readership.
If you’re a celebrity, own your story. Tell your story via a ghostwriter. Write your autobiography so that the biographer doesn’t tell your story for you.
A celebrity may be able to secure a deal with a publisher by having a professional ghostwriter. The publisher will have the confidence that the ghostwriter is deadline driven as a professional writer. The publisher will also want to work with the ghostwriter as the go-between between the owner of the story and the delivery of the story to market.
Ghostwriting service terms should include agreed upon duties and responsibilities of the ghostwriter, compensation terms, credit annotation and copyright ownership.
― Melissa Walsh
Raised in the Motor City, Melissa Walsh is a content solutions guru with a background in reference publishing, journalism, teaching, and applied engineering. Her identity is shared as a writer, mom, history nerd, and hockey player. She also knows how to turn a wrench and use a scantool.