Over the last twenty years, I have worked as a professional ghostwriter. One of my favorite parts of the job is the people I get the chance to meet. I’ve been fortunate enough to tell everything from the rags to riches stories of business innovators to ordinary people who have lived extraordinary lives. Between screenplays, non-fiction, and screenplays, I’ve had the opportunity to be a celebrity ghostwriter.
Everyone defines celebrity a little differently. In this day and age, with so much ready made media attention out there, anyone can call themselves a celebrity. In my book, however, a celebrity is a person whose name means one of two things: they are either a person who is universally recognized, or someone whose contribution to society is well known.
The recent market research data tells that a strong majority of non-fiction books – for this definition, I’m including memoir, business and biography – are at least partially written by ghostwriters. Those contributions could include everything from outlining the story, re-writing an existing draft, editing before submission. In most cases, it means the full scale outlining and writing of the book.
Writing is a full time job and celebrities are busy people. If they had the time to write a book of their own then they wouldn’t be in the public eye.
Celebrity ghostwriting opportunities have not been frequent, however, they come around often enough that it makes sense to examine the process. What goes into being a celebrity ghostwriter? Is it different from writing any other book?
While similar fundamentals exist when it comes to writing any book, dealing with notable public figures comes with some special consideration.
A Celebrity Ghostwriter & Confidentiality
The market research might tell us that a majority of non-fiction books or memoirs are ghostwritten, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the public understands this. A majority of readers pick a book off of the shelf, not terribly concerned about whether their favorite person actually wrote those words.
They want the splashy insight and stories that their twenty bucks affords them.
A key element of working as a celebrity ghostwriter is maintaining strict confidentiality. The value for that public figure subject are those stories, life experiences and anecdotes. I always ask my clients, whomever they are, to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) that protects their intellectual property (IP). In celebrity ghostwriting situations, however, that NDA is especially important.
The primary reason to sign an NDA is to protect that client’s interests. Once this agreement is signed by both parties, the ghostwriter is not at liberty to disclose their involvement. Talking about the project, in most cases, decreases the overall value of the IP involved. Although it might be an illusion that the book is their original creation, as professional writers, it’s our job to help maintain that idea that the celebrity toiled over the keyboard.
Public Figures Equal More Intense Interviewing
The people will always be my favorite part of the job, that much is the truth. But when it comes to my favorite thing to do as a writer, it’s interviewing.
I love talking to people and learning their stories. More than that though, I love asking the kinds of questions that reveal what makes them tick. When it comes to working as a celebrity ghostwriter, however, client interviewing requires a few added layers of care and attention.
If a client has any public persona whatsoever, it’s good for me to know what that is. Quite often, I do in-depth research on a client, reading their site, social media profiles, etc… It’s a good way to get a baseline on who the client is, what makes them tick, and especially, to see what’s already been said about them. A ghostwriter working with a public figure has to straddle the difficult fence of re-inventing the wheel and regurgitating well known stuff.
But when it comes to a celebrity ghostwriter situation, it’s important to do that research while maintaining an open mind about who they are. A business person’s Linked In profile isn’t sensational; it’s a marketing tool, used by that person to highlight their achievements. A celebrity of any acclaim is very likely to have a lot of sensational material about them out there.
You want to write a strong, impartial story? Then a celebrity ghostwriter has to be aware of what’s been written about someone, but block it out in the interview process. More often than not, the celebrity client is writing a book to combat or confront that public perception.
What Is The Market For A Celebrity Ghostwriter?
Celebrity books are big sellers. Looking at the New York Times Best Sellers list for the week I’m writing this, September 20th 2023, three of the top ten books involved celebrities. Look at the best selling books, you’ll probably see the same thing, especially around the holidays.
As long as our culture continues to cultivate the sort of fame machine as it does, those public figures are going to be of interest. The market is, in a word, robust.
As a celebrity ghostwriter, this reality means that keeping high level client skills sharp is important. But it also drives home the continued importance of knowing the market. If you don’t know how to sell a book then, I’m afraid, you don’t really know how to write it.
A lot of genuine celebrities can sell a book on name value alone. Does that mean that you, as a writer, can rest on your laurels when you’re asked to write it?
I don’t think so.
More big selling celebrity books mean one surefire thing: more competition. In today’s rapidly changing publishing market where thousands of books are published every week, you cannot take anything for granted. No book sells itself. Aside from a chosen few (whose prestige and numbers are dwindling rapidly) no author can simply coast on their name.
Writers need to embrace the reality that they don’t need to start marketing a book from the moment they start writing it; they need to start thinking of selling it beforehand. That goes for everyone from new fiction authors to celebrity tell-alls.