Inside the world of the ghostwriter

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Why would you write for someone else? Wouldn’t you want to see your name on the front cover of the book instead of someone else’s? Is it ethical?

These are some of the questions I get asked most often when people discover I am a ghostwriter by profession. And I I understand. We all know they exist, but then so too do we know about other types of ‘deceptions’ such as stuntmen who stand in for the real actors or speech writers who pen speeches for politicians. Even comedians have gag writers and nobody complains about that, unless the gags are poor.

The thing about ghostwriting is that by its very nature it’s a hidden profession, and for good reason. Not that there is anything sinister about it. Getting professionals to do things in exchange for money is something that has been going on for as long as business itself has been in existence. In fact, it’s good business practice, isn’t it? I mean, why would you struggle to fix a leaking tap if you hadn’t the foggiest idea of how to go about it or if you simply didn’t have the time or the tools? You wouldn’t. And if you did, you’d probably be considered an idiot.

Why should the world of writing be any different?

It has long been suspected that William Shakespeare may not have written all his plays himself. And we certainly know that Mozart often ghosted pieces for wealthy patrons.

When you think about it, it’s not just gifted writers who have good stories to tell; sports stars, politicians, surgeons and housewives often have stories that have the potential to be best-sellers. All that’s needed is for them to be properly crafted so they become acceptable to publishers and the reading public.

Enter the ghostwriter.

I have been ghostwriting on a full time basis now for 13 years and have learnt two things: my name on a cheque is far sweeter than my name on the cover of a book, and I get to fully enjoy what I like doing best – writing.

When you really think about it, most of us writers are writers because we love to write. In fact, many tell me that they HAVE to write; it’s something they can’t help doing. I agree. I am convinced that writers are born to write. But in this digital age, the publishing world has changed so much that traditionally-published authors are expected to spend a far greater proportion of their time marketing, working on social media networks, doing book launches, travelling for promotional appearances and the like, so there is hardly any time left for writing.

On top of that, it is common now for publishers to favour long-term relationships with their authors, so they issue contracts for follow-up books with fairly short deadlines. This might sound like heaven to an unpublished author, but that’s not what many on the traditional treadmill tell me. They simply want to write.

Another drawback for the modern-day author is that many of them are introverts. Writing is, after all, a very solitary profession. It is the curse of modern-day publishing that, I suspect, relies more heavily on platform building than talent – some international best sellers aren’t well written at all. Remember, publishing is a business.

This is where the benefits of being a ghostwriter comes in. We get to do the writing and nothing more. Everything from the editing, design and layout, dealing with agents and publishers, book signings, promotional work, platform building or waiting for royalty cheques to come in are things the author – our client – has to deal with while we get on with writing our next books. It’s an ideal situation, if all you love doing is the writing.

The other thing I love about writing other people’s stories is that I get to meet such a wide range of interesting people. Not only that, I get to ‘live inside their heads’. I need to become them for the duration of the project. I get to live their lives without having their troubles. I get the ups, but not the downs.

There’s another very important consideration that weighs heavily in favour of this specialist area of the writing profession and it’s this: your cash flow isn’t strung out over years. You don’t have to wait for royalty cheques to dribble in every six months. You get your money as and when you want it, usually up front.

There are no hard and fast rules regarding remuneration; that’s entirely up to you. Some ghosts prefer 50% up front with the rest spread out in equal chunks over the estimated duration of the project. Others go for equal monthly instalments. But very few will write on the basis of a share of the royalties; that’s simply too risky.

So how much do ghostwriters charge?

Again, this is one of those ‘how long is a piece of string’ questions. Most ghosts seem to charge between $15,000 and $30,000 for a book of average length. More if research is required. If a reputable publisher is involved and the ‘author’ is a well-known personality, the fee can be huge. It’s reported that the ghost who wrote Hillary Clinton’s book earned $500,000.

Completed Draft 1 of Kelpie

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I have now completed the first draft of Kelpie, my new short story about an Australian sheepdog. It was written using the excellent writer’s software called Plume-Creator. This package is tailored for use on Linux operating systems; I use Arch Linux and it worked beautifully.

The story isn’t that long and consists of four chapters. There are 12 scenes, as can be seen from this screenshot:

The user interface of Plume-Creator with the final scene of the story in the working area.

The user interface of Plume-Creator with the final scene of the story in the working area.

The next task is to read through the draft and look for any obvious errors or inconsistencies. I have found many but that’s the object of this task. The end result will be the development of Draft 2.

I chose to work from a hard copy of Draft 1 this time round mainly because of the short length of the story. The complete printout contained only 14 pages.

This is where the fun really starts. I love bringing out the red pen and going through the story with gusto.

This is where the fun really starts. I love bringing out the red pen and going through the story with gusto.

Kelpie, my next novel

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I have just started work on my next novel, tentatively called Kelpie. It’s about a working sheepdog on a large Australian sheep farm.

This story uses animals as an analogy for the human condition. I have chosen this method as it gives me licence to probe topics that might otherwise be taboo.

I use a great program called Plume-Creator for my writing. Here's a screenshot of my computer screen with scene 1 in progress.

I use a great program called Plume-Creator for my writing. Here’s a screenshot of my computer screen with scene 1 in progress.

Writers’ workshop at the Peter Cowan Writers’ Centre in Perth

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It’s always beneficial mixing with other writers. It’s also stimulating and enjoyable. As a result I always remain on the lookout for interesting opportunities to attend workshops or book festivals whenever possible.

An opportunity came up last month to attend a workshop at the Peter Cowan Writers’ Centre in Perth, so I jumped at it.

Situated in the grounds of the very beautiful Edith Cowan University at Joondalup, the centre is housed in the actual house Edith and Peter used to live in many years ago.

Peter Cowan Writers' Centre

Peter Cowan Writers’ Centre

Running the workshop was Matt Buttsworth, a local author who knows his way around computers and digital publishing. The subject matter he presented was on how to format ebooks.

The workshop was attended by six or seven local authors who seemed to have learned a lot and found the afternoon well worthwhile. I certainly did.

Switching genre: the challenges of writing Sci-Fi

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I am busy with my 43rd book at present and have some interesting learnings. Firstly, this is the first time I am writing a Sci-Fi novel. Secondly, I am using new writing software that is still under development.

Here’s what I have found:
1. The basics are the same no matter what genre you choose.
2. Readers are to be treated the same, with respect and dignity.
3. Stories can only be told one word at a time, no matter what the setting or format.

As a writer, I still have to approach my work as I did when writing in other genres. I need to remain disciplined and conscientious. I also need to remain true to my craft. But I can experiment. Indeed, the art of creative writing demands it.

So with this in mind, I have challenged myself by writing a Sci-Fi novel. And I am doing so with the aid of Plume-Creator, an open-source writing package that is being developed with the aid of a small but dedicated group of writers around the world.

My book is called Crossing the Line and it is about an Australian skyship called Southern Cross. It takes place in a time when the navy has been transformed into the sky navy. My main character is Braxton Dunbar. He is a young skysailor who finds his moral code tested when he has to chose between remaining loyal to the sky navy, his family and friends or surrendering secrets about his skyship in order to save his best mate. It’s a developing story; I like to let the characters decide on their own destiny by letting the story take it’s own course.

Here’s what chapter one looks like on my computer:

Chapter 1 on Plume-Creator.

Chapter 1 on Plume-Creator.

If you’d like to follow my progress and receive updates, please let me know and I’ll add your email address to my database.

Are authors selling themselves short?

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With changes happening thick and fast in the publishing industry, where do authors stand? What is the best course of action for them to take?

Should they pursue traditional publishing contracts or go the self-publishing route? Which is more lucrative for them? How can they be certain?

Well, I came across this lengthy but informative report that is based on the latest statistics. It’s well worth reading. Consider the time as an investment in your future.

It’s horse racing season Down Under

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It’s that time of the year again when one horse race literally stops a nation. The Melbourne Cup is one of the world’s great horse races with prize money of $6 million up for grabs. 

Racing isn’t just about one race, though. This week is a racing spectacle in Melbourne, and the whole nation checks in. Australia goes horse mad. 

If horse racing captivates you, have you ever wondered what it’s like to be involved? There’s usually more to horse racing than the glitz and glamour of race day.

The world of horse racing is fertile ground for the novelist too. Some years back I wrote my first novel that was based on the sport of Kings. It is on sale all week. Get your copy from the bar on the left.

Point of View

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Choosing how you are going to tell your story is important. Your choice will make a huge difference to the way your readers interact with it. What I am alluding to here is what is known as point of view.

So what actually is point of view? It’s the way the story is told with respect to the narrator. Who is the narrator of your story? The protagonist, the reader, or someone else?

If you choose First Person, the narrator is the protagonist. You can easily tell because the narrator uses words like I and me.

Second Person isn’t as widely used because the reader becomes a participant in the story. Words like You are used a lot in the narration.

Third Person narration happens outside the action and makes use of words like they, he or she.

As you’d probably have gathered by now, first and third person is used most commonly in fiction. Which you choose is up to you but bear in mind it will affect the way your reader interacts with the story.

Let me give you an example. In my most recent book, The Altar Boy (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00BSIZIZU) I chose to write it in first person.
The Altar Boy cover

First person gives the reader a sense of immediacy, a kind of direct link with the narrator. The downside is that it is fairly limiting in that the reader can only gain information that is available to the narrator. It is therefore rather limited in scope.
What is your preferred modality? First person, second person or third person?

By Unknown Means, a review

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By Unknown MeansBy Unknown Means by Doug Giacobbe
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I enjoyed reading this book. The story is good, so too is the plot. I felt, though that the author could have used an editor. I do understand that editors aren’t cheap and for this reason I didn’t let the odd missing word or typo put me off. The dialogue at times was a little stinted and unrealistic. I don’t feel characters would have reacted (by saying what they did) as they did in certain situations. Being a daily user of Morse Code myself, I also found the time the protagonist sent a long, detailed message by Morse, after not having used that skill for many years, to be unrealistic. Even in real life, operators tend to keep their transmissions short and to the point. Other than these minor criticisms. I found the book an enjoyable read.

I read the Kindle version and believe it important to post reviews. You see, good or bad, a review is an authors best friend. So much depends on receiving reviews these days. It really does.

View all my reviews

Writing for Money: a review

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Here is a 4-Star review of my book, Writing for Money, by Satyabrata Sahu, a writer who is based in Bangalore,  India.

Writing for Money

Writing for Money

SUMMARY REVIEW

Writing a how-to for writers isn’t easy, especially if you’re sharing ‘do’s and ‘don’t’s from what Life’s taught you about the entrepreneurial attitude. But that’s what Grant McDuling’s done in his 100-page Writing for Money.

A short, easy one-sitting read, Writing for Money’s simple, chatty style begs serious study and reflection the next time around – and determined application later. It’s for first-time small-business owners. The book packs wisdom gained from sheer experience.

Writing for Money’s a must-read, especially for writers because their work fuels cerebration rather than the action that is much needed if they would make a living off their talent.

DETAILED REVIEW

Writing for Money begins with an Introduction, halfway through which McDuling’s honest and frank personal narrative of how he broke into the world of writing-as-a-business gets engaging, coming as it does with all the unexpected twists and turns small-business owners face.

The Introduction done, McDuling tells you the story of where he’s coming from. He tells you up front that he’s writing to make it easy for ordinary people to “come to grips with” the entrepreneur’s attitude. He repeats this towards the end (p. 91) of the book: “You are a businessperson whose business happens to be…selling words.” The little book delivers well on its claim.

Chapter Two covers the growing popularity of the field of writing and the difference between writing as a hobby and a profession. It closes by making the reader curious about one “missing ingredient” that the best of independent writers often miss. By then, curious and excited I, for one, found my mindset had begun shifting from writing for writing’s sake to writing for profit.

Chapter Three is the kernel of the book – the “7 Easy Steps,” described in considerable practical detail evidently for those who need the mindset shift I just referred to. The first step talks about how to go about the important task of setting one’s professional goals. McDuling encourages you to take charge of your life, now that (given that you’re reading the book) you’ve decided to acquire a better lifestyle by choosing a new line of work. The second step deals with what to ‘do’ when starting off as a professional writer – inculcating the mental attitudes that are helpful especially for the target reader. Step 3 is about testing the water – the mind games to play (read more mental attitudes and a few other tips) when setting up your business. Step 4 describes how to market and create a brand around one’s work. What impressed me the most about this vast and somewhat nebulous area was that McDuling had written it specifically for the first-time small-business owner. Step 5 is a comprehensive and – justifiably – lengthy section on running your business: drafting formal business plans. Step 6 tells you how to write for media houses – for editors, in particular, who are Publishing’s linchpins. The last step points out common pitfalls that are crucial and fundamental to sidestep.

Chapter Four consists of a crisp, swift conclusion for McDuling’s ideas. In it, he repeats that writing for money must be viewed as a business where one is selling words.

Chapter Five and Chapter Six present the author’s professional profile and list some of his work, respectively.

The current manuscript needs a copyeditor’s and proofreader’s touch. Naming the Introduction as Chapter One, the About the Author as Chapter Five and the Afterword as Chapter Six overdo their importance: they needn’t be called chapters. The first four pages of the Introduction are superfluous; your heart starts beating from p. 5. Renaming Chapter Four more interestingly would tie in the manuscript attractively.

But, as I’ve said before (and I’ll say it again), Writing for Money’s a must-read, especially for writers because their work fuels cerebration rather than the action that is much needed if they would make a living off their talent.

McDuling has a terrific price tag for his not-so-little volume. The book could also easily sell as a pocket-sized paperback, particularly in developing economies.

—–end

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