By Dr. Maxine Thompson
Recently I was interviewed on an Internet radio show regarding my work as a ghostwriter.
Like most serendipitous events in my second career, I accidentally stumbled upon ghostwriting. I had just left my job as a social worker and I had no idea how I would survive financially. But I spiritually knew that the season for making home calls, handling court reports, emergencies, etc. was dead, so I was forced to make a change.
Being as I had retired early, I had to wait four years before I was eligible for any type of retirement benefits, and I had to come up with something fast. What could I do?
I started out as an apprentice in a publishing house and began formatting books (handling the typeset). In spite of a copy edit, I often found so many mistakes in the book, I began rewriting paragraphs. After that, I typeset and story edited an entire book. From there I began to story edit for other writers through the Maxine Thompson Literary Services, which later led to ghostwriting entire novels.
What is a ghostwriter?
A ghostwriter is someone who writes books or other materials for other people. The ghostwriter does the actual writing, but the material is published under your client’s byline, and the client is credited as the author. This is generally the other person’s story idea, but your writing skills bring the story to a marketable state.
Celebrities often work with ghostwriters to get their books written, but usually experienced ghostwriters get those jobs. In this event, often you’ll see the ghostwriter’s byline with the celebrity’s.
To date, I’ve ghostwritten or story edited numerous books, many of which have made bestseller’s list. Usually there is confidentiality, so I never disclose whose books I’ve ghostwritten. However, I look forward to working with a celebrity and getting my byline on the cover.
I am an author of 11 titles myself, so I still consider myself a writer first.
You might say, “That work could have gone into your own writing.”
Maybe so. But these are just some of the benefits I’ve gained.
*. I’ve learned to write in different genres from mystery to suspense thriller to romance to street to urban literature.
* Ghostwriting taught me how to write for a younger audience from the insights gained when working with younger writers.
* Ghostwriting has developed one of my streams of income, therefore, it has paid for 8 years of internet radio shows, I’m currently on Artistfirst.com), which has helped promote other authors.
* Ghostwriting also paid for the first 2 years of my literary agency when I didn’t get a book deal for anyone. As of this writing, I have fifty-plus book deals for other writers. As an agent, being a writer of more than one genre has helped me to recognize good writing from different genres.
* Ghostwriting has helped me to move ego out the way when I write. You must blend into the voice of any writer you work with. This has helped with my own stories as well.
Why do people use ghostwriters, you might say?
* Because the person has a story to tell, but may not be a writer at all, or have the necessary craft.
* A professional writer may be under deadline, have part of the story, and just need a push to the end of the story.
* A person might have a great life story that they want recorded, but they are not a writer. Many famous people have written their memoirs with a ghostwriter.
How can you get into ghostwriting?
Like most things, I do it first, then find out I’m in it. But, seriously, if you’ve written a book of fiction or non-fiction, you already have a sense of structure. Three-act structure. Beginning, middle and end.
Generally, all you need is a computer, (or laptop), a good command of the English language (and, in my case, even slang, Black vernacular or hip hop jargon), and a love of reading and story telling.
According to Eva Shaw in her book Ghostwriting: How to Get Into the Business, (Paragon House, 1991), “All it takes to become a ghostwriter is the ability to put your ego aside while writing for a client, study his or her word patterns, have perfect communication with the client, and be an expert in people skills.”
How does ghostwriting supplement your income as a writer?
Check out the Writer’s Market to get the Industry standard fee. Prices can vary up to $100,000 per book, particularly with Celebrity books. Another way of getting paid, is to get a percentage of the royalty payments.
Who might benefit from working as a ghostwriter? I think both traditionally published and self-published writers might benefit.
If you’re a writer who’s published by a traditional publisher, you get an advance (maybe) and 2 checks a year for royalties—that is, after advances are paid back, and returns and residuals are accounted for.
I’ve seen many writers return to dead end jobs after receiving 6 figure advances and exhausting the money after a year. Money can go fast. If you’re already writing, you can at least be doing something you love to supplement your income as you write your Great American novel.
If you’re self-published, ghostwriting can help keep you remain independent, and support some of your other businesses. (Mail order can be expensive.)
In my case, I limit the number of books I’ll commit to ghostwrite in a year, but I can take in more story editing jobs.
Just know your limitations.