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How To Be A Ghostwriter...

If you are wondering how easy it is to write on someone else’s behalf as a ghostwriter, well here are some tips for you, if you ever find yourself being asked to do so.

Tip One. Ask the client all about themselves, before you ask about the story or book they have in mind for you to write. It’s very important to get to know the client and find out who their favourite writers are and their favourite genres too, as a reader.

Tip Two. If you are being commissioned via a third party, like an Agency, this next tip might be hard to carry out, but ask to speak to them anyway. The same if you are being hired by the client themselves. It’s very important to hear their voice, to listen to them speak and to ask them questions about what their passions are in life, just what they see happening to the story/book in an ideal world and if they are thinking of this work becoming a series in the future.

Tip Three. Now you are ready to ask your client the all-important questions. Do you have a plot in mind and have you thought about characters? Usually the answer I get is an emphatic YES! The person who is hiring you to write the story or book they have dreamt about for years will have most definitely plotted the work out in their heads and gone over and over the story line. What they won’t have done, if they don’t feel they could actually ever write a book, is to put anything down on paper/computer – and if they have, it might be a jumble of words and thoughts.

Tip Four. Do your research. This is where it’s like being back at school and getting lots of information from your teacher about a certain time in history and making rough notes, but when you get home realising the notes are all in the wrong order and make no sense. It can be like this sometimes when you are taking someone else’s dream and making it into a cohesive and free-flowing work. In order for it all to make sense, you need to get it into a really good order. I saw a documentary once about a famous author who spent nearly a year gathering her research and literally piecing together the ideas and timeline. Research and groundwork is key, whether you are the named author or the ghostwriter. You want the story/book to be perfect, either way. You can write or type out all that they have to say about their plots, characters, story-lines, hooks etc. and then either go about this the old-fashioned way of using a Pritt stick and loads of white paper, sticking everything together in the right order before committing it to Word – or, do it on Word to start with. I actually love doing this stage of the research both ways – it’s so creative and really gets you even further into the heart of the book and what the client wants to say.

Tip Five. They do say that everyone has a book 'in them' - this may be true, and for the likes of Dame Agatha Christie and J.K. Rowling, it has to be said that they had/have more than one book in their repertoire - and yet why can some people write effortlessly and others struggle with the same book for years? It may be the case that the client you are ghostwriting for has attempted to write their book or books before hiring you and had been rejected by Literary Agents, and/or Publishers - and then they simply gave up. This would make them feel like they were a failure at writing. What I would do in this instance is ask to read any of their work that they had written themselves and then (being careful not to give any kind of critique) incorporate some of their written style into the work you are writing for them. I say 'style' in particular, as you would not want to copy their words exactly - even as a ghostwriter, you need to give your client a 'voice' they may have always wanted but never had.

Tip Six. Many of the clients that I ghostwrite for are academics and have not read much fiction, yet they might had had a really good idea for a supernatural book or a work of historical fiction. Without being impolite, I first compile a list of similar fiction for them and ask them to read either the printed books, e-books or even snippets of the books, so that they can come to a conclusion as to whether they have really picked the right genre. It is one thing to watch a good TV series and think you'd like to write a book or screenplay in that style, but then you might realise you don't actually know anything about say, the vampire or orc lore. Most of the clients I ghostwrite for, go on to give interviews about their book at press launches and the like - you have to be assured that they'll be speaking fluidly about their chosen genre and not flounder. It's all part of the service that you as the ghostwriter will provide - it's up to you to make sure you've been given the very best brief for the project.

Tip Seven. This tip relates to the actual writing process. When you've done your research and taken as much back-story and information from the client as you can, it's time to start writing out your plot in as much detail as possible. I normally use paper to do this but you can use any kind of writing tool you like. I literally 'storyboard' each chapter with as many twists and turns as can be fitted into a normal fiction book - I write these out in sentences with hyphens inserted in each twist of the plot. It's really important to pace the story if you are writing a novel, or be succinct for a shorter factual book. So, in this way, it's like writing one of your own books - but the added ingredient is that you'll have to read each chapter you write out loud, imagining that you are the client reading it for the first time. Does the work fit their 'voice' - if not, you'll need to tweak it.

Tip Eight. If you've been commissioned to write an academic type of book or a work that's steeped in history and you really do not feel you have the background knowledge to take the book on, you can always decline politely - or, you can hone up on that knowledge by reading some short e-books on the subject and then make your decision. It might even be that the client has a list of books that you can read or they might have had some other books ghostwritten - now, these you really have to read. You'll need to know how to continue along in that same style. For a commission of a long series of books, I will hire a writer or two to write for my client in my style so that I can hand back the whole series at once. If you are needing to do this, it's best to copy-edit all of the series to make sure you have the same 'voice' written into each book - or that will look/read very odd indeed.

I love being a ghostwriter, but I also love all of the other types of writing that I do. It may be that you decide to stick with ghostwriting alone or add it to your panoply of writing skills - whatever you decide to do, don't forgot to savour every moment. It's a great compliment to be asked to write someone's book for them.


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