How does ghostwriting work?

You have a story to tell. Now that you have hired a ghostwriter, a natural question follows. How do you get my story? How does ghostwriting work?

Before I landed in the ghostwriting game, I worked as a college journalist. One of my favorite aspects of that job was interviewing subjects.

In my career before becoming a ghostwriter, I also served as a social worker. For more than ten years, part of my daily routine would be sitting with clients and asking questions. Some questions were easy and others more difficult. As a result though, we would delve deep and get at the heart of their narrative in order to build a basis of story on which their file will live.

Before I ghostwrite a book, we undergo a similar interview process. I gather up all of the information necessary in order to give that manuscript life.

With modern technology at our disposal, our options on how that information gathering works opens up and the effect is, it breaks down borders. More so now than ever before, long term, intensive interviewing can be done in an economical manner as well.

I have worked with clients face to face in Portland, Oregon, my home town. I have ghostwritten for clients half-way across the world in Kenya, personal manuscripts brought to life by some early morning phone calls on Skype (and a lot of coffee).

As a ghostwriter, I keep every channel open for clients. A few things to consider though:

How often works best for you?

I like to tell new ghostwriting clients that we need to come up with something that we can sustain. Three times a week for three hours sounds great but it rarely works in the long haul.

Ghostwriter and client are in a marathon, not a sprint.

What mode of communication gives your voice life?

Part of ghostwriting is capturing the client’s voice. If you believe your emails are well crafted enough to convey voice, that will work. If you’re a talker, we get on the phone.

Are you comfortable being recorded?

This is a growing necessity for ghostwriters and once again, modern technology plays a role in making it easy. Rather than frantically trying to keep up with interview flow with pencil to paper, I tend to to record my clients. I turn the Garage Band program on my computer on and press record, freeing my attention up to focus on the conversation and ask better questions.

Often a client gets the ball rolling on email. We exchange messages and rough ideas. Being able to work by phone is critical too. Some things are best said rather than written.

In considering the question, how does ghostwriting work, communication is the most critical aspect of getting a project ghostwritten. Most likely, taking a manuscript from concept to completion will require a little bit of everything.

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Working with a ghostwriter

For as many roles as a ghostwriter can fill, there are an equal number of ways that working with a ghostwriter can get from start to finish of your writing project.

One size fits all solutions simply do not work in the creative the arts. Project scopes are unique by nature but there are a few benchmarks that should be a part of every agreement.

A non-disclosure agreement serves to protect a client’s intellectual property.

We’re all familiar with the term, usually reserved for top secret computer code and the development of big inventions. Once you reach out to a ghostwriter to work on your project, your idea, your story becomes intellectual property and it needs protection.

When you begin working with  a ghostwriter, he or she should offer a non-disclosure agreement, even before the contract. This is critical in part because an NDA protects the ghostwriter later on down the line in the rare instance that there is slight project overlap.

A project should line out a clear scope of work. Every ghostwriter that I know would love to work on indefinite retainer but that is not realistic. Draw out the project steps start to finish. Build in the achievable benchmarks that represent progressive steps toward the finish.

A project should also have a timeline (although there is a caveat to this). There is nothing more frustrating for a client than to make their payment, get their chosen writer started and then wonder when the deliverables start rolling in. A client is paying for results and it is always a good idea to show when those results become reality. The caveat is, be flexible and realistic. Look ahead. We can’t predict the future but there are easily recognizable pitfalls.

A timeline is also important for the ghostwriter. Keeping two or three projects in the air can be very stressful as well as unrealistic. A series of well timed benchmarks keeps the project moving but it also ensures you get the best, most focused writer that your money can buy…

Which leads to the most important factor. Money. The subject no one likes talking about is one that must enter the conversation and the earlier the better.

A well thought out payment structure can make or break a project. Too much on the front end reduces incentive and puts the burden of risk squarely on the client’s shoulders. The opposite problem, too much money in the back end, devalues the groundwork.

Don’t think of money in terms of dollars and cents. Think of it in terms of value. A good payment structure fosters value in the work. I prefer to contract as follows: 30% up front with 50% at a major watershed benchmark and 20% to finish.

This type of spread, while it’s not realistic for everyone is effective because it values work’s commencement, which is exciting, and it doesn’t breed contempt in the end.

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What is Ghostwriting?

Among the most frequent questions that I get asked when a prospective client contacts me about a ghostwriting job are: “what is ghostwriting” and “what exactly do you do?”.

These questions are not as silly as they might sound. They come more often than “how much are you going to cost?” The reason that it is so common is because “ghostwriting” is a catch-all term and it gets thrown around without a clearly defined meaning.

Ghostwriting can be broken down in a multitude of ways. In the broadest terms however, ghostwriting is professional writing that is done without credit. So, what is ghostwriting?

If in some manner writing is the job that you need completed, you’ve come to the right place.

Most work scenarios end up very simple. A client tells me what they want out of their manuscript, we decide on a course of action, and I deliver on those needs. When I am finished, they take their book and that constitutes the end of our agreement.

My words. Their name on the cover. When someone buys the book, the client profits.

Ghostwriters are brought in to contribute to a wide variety of projects. Over my many years in this mercurial field, I have been called upon to work on everything from celebrity autobiographies requiring professional touch, to adaptations from screenplay to fiction (or vice versa), all the way down to memoirs meant to tell a family story through generations.

If the job requires a narrative touch, hiring a ghostwriter is definitely an appropriate step.

Beyond the sorts of writing that ends up on the shelf and between the covers, ghostwriters offer their services to a whole host of professional documents. There are ghostwriters who specialize in the specific arena of business writing. If a CEO or account manager is running short on time and needs to complete their training presentation, calling in a ghostwriter can be a very effective use of time and resources. And because ghostwriters work on a flat fee basis, there are no hidden costs to sneak up on you.

More often than not, I am hired as a second set of eyes. I help my client sort out what the next step for their manuscript should be. Call my role, a writing consultant.

Usually my clients are so full up with a story project (or life in general) they are not quite sure what to do. Does what I have look like a memoir? Should I write a novel or a screenplay? I have this ornery first draft but I need someone to come in and help me implement changes.

A ghostwriter can prove valuable, not only because they have experience, but because they are removed enough to make those changes. We are naturally too close to our work to make those necessary improvements. A ghostwriter offers fresh perspectives and new strategies when it feels as though a dead end has been reached.

Anyone seeking a professional’s touch on their manuscript should consider a ghostwriter.

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Ghostwriting and getting your work published

A conversation about what comes after we are done becomes a natural part of getting started. Ghostwriting is a small part of the publishing industry and I like my clients to understand that we are into a business venture together. There is nothing more vulnerable than a client out in the market with a manuscript they cannot maneuver.

One of the realities I try and share with each client as we enter our working agreement is this: the publishing and production worlds are very unpredictable. With a whole slough of new emerging markets each season, the rise of self-publishing as legitimate avenue and the enigmatic realities of authorship in an internet world there is a whole lot to keep track of.

What has happened is quite simple. Our vision of a writer is changing rapidly and a professional ghostwriter needs to keep up. What might pass as the standard approach in March when we begin may very well change by the time we’re done in September.

Processes like agent and publisher submissions and queries, and an overall view at the market’s taste coalesces in a delicate balance. While I can never promise to have all of the answers to how a particular manuscript will get from our desk to the shelf, I can offer advice.

As your ghostwriter, I can also work behind the scenes as your publishing consultant. Your eyes and ears on the mercurial publishing world. Reading trade magazines and going to weekend conferences amounts to a part time job. But that is part of my job.

Sometimes my clients don’t want that advice. A ghostwriter for their purposes is working on assignment. This is a fine arrangement too. I can be the silent partner.

If you’re going into a ghostwriting project though it is critical to understand how a manuscript fits into the puzzle. However much you understand that the market has changed, it still feeds on new material and is ravenous for the next talent and brilliant concept.

Google search and message boards can only get you so far. Your best bet is working side by side with a ghostwriter whose finger remains on the pulse of the business and does not shy away from talking about the collaboration accordingly.

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Tips For Writing Conference Networking

No Matter Your Writer Goals, Behavior Dictates Success

Willamette Writer's ConferenceLast weekend was the 50th Willamette Writer’s Conference in Portland, Oregon. I have attended this particular conference for going on eight years and I am consistently shocked by the way writers behave when they find themselves in confined spaces.

Some people get it. A majority do, actually. Others clearly don’t though. Four days in a hotel with your colleagues can be stressful even terror inducing. Don’t let it get to you.

Here are five tips to keep in mind before you attend your next conference.

Be Friendly

I’m always shocked at how the tried and true axiom “treat others the way you want to be treated” flies out the door in professional scenarios. It absolutely should not. These should be the moments this trait needs to come out to shine.

Talent is great. It’s enviable. People you meet have to want to work with you though. Are you acting like the kind of person who they’re going to want to call?

That impression begins the moment you walk into the conference room.

Don’t Be Over Polite

The flip side? Try and remain genuine. No one likes someone going over the top into phony. Holding doors and other obsequious behavior may get you into trouble.

Brand Yourself as Friendly & Helpful

While attending the Willamette Writer’s Conference I volunteer. Consequently, people associate me with some inner knowledge about the conference’s inner workings.

Even when my shifts are complete and I’m attending classes, people seek me out to ask questions. I don’t have to help but I do. Once again, it goes back to that age old axiom.

Don’t Get Star Struck

My father once said something very important to me when I was young and I keep it close to me now. Everyone you meet is just another person doing their job.

How I translate that in the conference scenario is, treat those agents and producers (and hotel staff pouring your drinks) like you would anyone else you encounter during your day.

That guy might be the perfect agent for your book but you know something? He’s probably thinking about the wife and dog he left at home. Or he’s just struggling to reach five o’clock.

Keep Your Mind Open

Remember your goal is connection. You may have your sights focused on signed with an agent or manager but you never know how that connection will happen.

It may not be during your assigned pitch session. Your long worked for break may come via someone you shared small talk with in a classroom.

Keep yourself open minded.

Subscribe to my blog today for more tips and pointers on the writer’s life.

Get in touch with me today for 20% off of your manuscript consultation. Just let me know how you found me in your first email!

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Erick MertzTips For Writing Conference Networking
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