A quick-witted and talented novelist I know has been lately having great success ghostwriting celebrity books. Trust me: you’ve heard of the books she’s written. She’s collaborated on numerous bestsellers that do not bear her name, and I was wondering how she felt about that and the other issues specific to being a ghost. Being a high-powered secret weapon, she has chosen to remain anonymous.
How did you become a ghostwriter?
I fell into it. It started as a collaboration. A celebrity wanted to do a book about sex and needed help. Having already written an article about her in a magazine, I became the logical choice.
It turns out I liked it. I had written so much under my own name–novels, non-fiction books, hundreds of articles—and I was tapped out. I was sick of myself. Also, I realized collaborative projects took the pressure off the books under my own name doing well.
I was then asked to collaborate on other people’s books. A publisher contacted me for other jobs, and when those books became bestsellers my resume built. The path began with a reality star and led to more prestigious projects.
What’s the procedure?
It’s different every single time. I ghostwrite fiction and non-fiction so the process varies. But some things are the same, beginning with interviews to conceptualize the book. I might have this discussion with the client or their agent.
How is it going to be on brand for the celebrity client? That’s a key discussion: what’s the book’s message?
I research and then write. I might send clients chapter by chapter, or write the whole book and send it.
How do you find your client’s voice?
Advanced listening skills. My job is to really hear them: not just what they say, but what message they are trying to get across. You can’t bring any ego into this, or you’ll miss it.
Because I was a novelist, I’m good with voice and tone and character so I apply my novelistic writing skills to celebrity ghostwriting. I research the person: watching videos, TV shows, noticing verbal tics and phasing. When writing, I always stay on subject, using their cadence and vocabulary. (Do they use big words?)
It helps for me to read the text aloud in their voice.
I’ve had French and English and Czech clients, and have found myself speaking to my husband in their accents. It’s content and personality: for one of my clients who was unfailingly positive, I wouldn’t write anything snarky.
What common problems or challenges do you face?
Just gaining access to the client can be tough: whether that means getting the celebrity on the phone or to read the written pages and receive feedback. Right now, I’m waiting for a response from a client, and it’s taking them twice as long to read the book than I took to write it.
When the editor wants to know what’s up, they sometimes call me and I find myself between the client and editor. Or between the client and their agent. I get the role of peacemaker. I’m in charge of keeping everything on track and smoothing out feathers—no easy task with big egos involved.
Do you care about your name on the book?
Some ghostwriters insist on credit but I’ve never cared. Sometimes clients pay more not to have my name on the book, and I happily take that dough. The only credit I want is with editors and agents who might hire me again. Readers are not going to buy any of these books because of the ghostwriter’s name.
What’s the best part of being a celebrity ghostwriter?
Meeting fascinating people. Because I have a journalism background, I can write a novel, a diet book, a memoir, a fashion guide, a lifestyle book, and so on. With every project, I don’t just learn about the content but about people and how they operate. I’m like a shrink. I must hear what people need.
Who would you love to ghostwrite for?
I’ve always wanted to write for Joan Jett, and she’s never been interested. Also, Mark Hamill. I had a dream about working with him. I’m not even such a huge Star Wars fan. I think I especially love working with famous people from the 80’s, when I grew up.
I also like the whole category of stand-up comedians: the one I worked with was totally fun, and I would like to work with more standups in the future. It’s always great when you can laugh at work.
Readers, who would you love to be a celebrity ghostwriter for? Let us know on Facebook.