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The Life Of A Ghost Writer

Okay, so by now you’ve probably caught on that I ghostwrite in addition to my own works of literary art. The reason for this is like for just about anyone else that does it: I’m broke and promoting my novels properly costs money. Since this happens to be something I’m really good at, and I promised myself I would never wear a paper hat, then there you go. My day job.

But what exactly does this entail? And how can I explain it and get a few chuckles at the same time? Well, that’s what this article is all about: letting you know what life is like for at least one full-time ghostwriter.

First, ghosting is like Feast or Famine, except that my feast is more like your famine. I could go weeks to a couple of months between clients, which means existing on fumes for a while until something comes along; it’s the sporadic nature of the business. Because of this, once a good job does come along you like to set up a fee for the gig that will not only cover your bills during that time but for a couple of months thereafter as well. Common sense, right?

Apparently not to some people you want to be your clients. Oh, it’s easier once you’ve gotten established and word starts to get around in the right circles, but for a while there… Take the freelancer sites, for instance. They want to get a good writer on the cheap– as in bargain basement dollar-bin cheap. The types of bids that are great for somebody living in Bangladesh to live on for six months but over here in the civilized world we’re talking a month of groceries and that’s it.

Let me give you an example of an actual job posted on one of those sites. The guy said that he wanted to write a novel. So the ghostwriter would have to come up with the idea, then outline it, write it, must be copyscape approved, perfect english from native speakers from the USA, England, or Canada only, and have it all done inside of a month. For that he would pay $500. Now, I don’t know about you, but speaking as a single guy with no dependents that is still not something one can live on, especially since such a project would take up about a hundred percent of one’s time to work on.

So, your average ghostwriter is often broke, frustrated, and under appreciated. Plumbers get more respect.

But hey, it gets worse. By the very nature of the beast, we’re not allowed to tell anybody whose books we’ve written. What types of books, sure, but if one of your clients suddenly hits the best seller list you aren’t allowed to say, “Hey, I did that and I can do the same thing for you!” It’s like Rodney Dangerfield would always say: We don’t get no respect.

But then you finally start getting jobs you like, and good paying ones any that. Enough to finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. Fiction jobs, even. Okay now, something I can finally sink my teeth into! Time to do my thing and impart my literary wisdom unto my client… Except that oftentimes the client, who usually has never written a story in his life, has decided that he knows better on some details of story crafting.

Me: “Here’s my advise on the way I think this story and the characters ought to go.”

Client: “No, it’s okay. I’m going to do it my way and ignore you.”

Me: “But that won’t work. Trust me, I’ve done this sorta thing before.”

Client: “Hey, I know what I’m doing.”

Me: “Then why did you need to hire me?”

Client: “Just do it my way.”

Me: “Okay…” sigh.

Time passes…

Client: “Hey, how come no one likes my story?”

Me (to myself): “Can I say ‘I told you so’ or just slap you?”

That’s when that light at the end of the tunnel looks like it’s from an oncoming train.

Of course that doesn’t always happen; sometimes you get a client that actually realizes that he’s paying you money for a reason, and that’s when you get to actually strut some of your stuff and do the Happy Dance.

There’s two types of projects I get: fiction and nonfiction. Nonfiction stuff is anything from medical to business to relationship stuff. Once in a while the client in this case realizes that as the supposed expert of what he wants to write a book about, that he’s supposed to contribute some raw data for me to work with, because contrary to what great things he may think of my abilities, I am not the expert in his subject. My job is just to put the stuff into a form that normal people can understand. I’m pretty good at acting as a translator but my first conversation with such a client usually involves making sure the guy understands that he’s a part of this process as well.

Yeah, so nonfiction is usually just a paycheck. Educational at times, but a paycheck; done and gone.

Then there’s the fiction projects. Okay, NOW I can get into something. Show the full range of my skills, the poetry I can write, the plots, the characters… Except that this is supposed to be the other guy’s novel. Which means as great as my own personal style might be, I can’t use it for anyone else or it would be very recognizable as mine and not the voice of the client. Sigh, frustration enters once again. Well, at least I’m getting paid to do something I love, even if no one will ever know that I had a hand in it.

Which is another reason why the ghostwriter is in search of more than some clients usually want to pay: because the Ghost knows that he will never get any credit no matter how much of his heart he puts into it. So, keep my garden green; gimme money.

Of course, the big not-so-secret is that all this is simply a means to an end. The ghosting is only to get to the point to be able to afford some self-promotion of one’s own works, with hopes of being able one day to afford leaving off ghostwriting and getting back to doing your own books your own way. The dream that keeps you going. I guess that means that you have to be a bit of a gambler, or at least believe in yourself enough to know that what you have WILL make it some day and make what you’re having to do right now worth the while.

Of course, I’ve never been much in the self-confidence department; just ask all the girls who I never had the nerve to ask out– they’ll tell you they never heard of me before. Well then, if it takes a certain amount of confidence to be able to keep plugging away at this ghosting stuff in order to get to the point of selling my own books, then how am I doing that without said confidence? Well, a funny thing happened on the way to the publisher… First, let me tell you that a lack of confidence can be a great tool for editing; you’re always wanting to check things out one more time and fuss over all the details. But mainly it’s a matter of you write something, it looks good, but you decide it could be a bit better, then finally pass it around a few friends. You know the types of friends, the kind just waiting for something new to ridicule you about, only they start praising what you’ve done. Naw, must be a lie, let me tweak this one more time. But then after about the sixth read-through I start to realize that I’m still enjoying it. ME, the guy that knows every word in this thing and who should be the first to get bored by it. Well, if I can still enjoy reading this, then there must be some merit. And thus begins to come the confidence when you realize that what you’ve written is unlike anything else out there and worth the effort.

It still took me a while for it to sink in deep enough to start getting some professional reviews, but then when even the pros loved it– Okay, so it finally registers what I have, and so I keep up the ghosting until I can figure out a way to let the rest of the world know. It’s sort of like a cause and effect loop.

Do I get frustrated with Ghosting? Of course, because that should be MY stuff I’m working on. Does that mean I’ll slack off on quality when working on someone else? Of course not! I’m great at what I do and the more people that realize that the better. It just gets frustrating. Much like the way that Neil Sedaka wrote songs for all the famous singers all those years until he said heck with it and decided to perform his own songs for himself; he made it really big. Frustrating enough that you want to yell and scream, send up a signal flare, or write articles like this one. Then you sigh, and get back to work hoping that the next leap will finally bring you– oops, wrong show. I mean, hoping that the next project will be the one that pays you enough to get that marketing stuff going to finally make your own books known.

So, what is the life of a ghostwriter like? Well, not for the timid, that’s for sure. Not for those without a dream or a passion. If you’re looking to get rich quick, then become a plumber. But if you get fidgety from being away from the keyboard for too long, or start sweating because you haven’t done anything creative in a week, then maybe writing might be for you. If you have a story to tell and the skills to do it, then do so, and to keep the bill-paying money rolling in and your writing skills honed then consider ghosting. But only if you refuse to get paper-hat jobs, hate working in a row of cubicles, and don’t mind a lack of social interaction.

But don’t think just because you’re self-employed you’ll get to slack off. I’m my own employer, but that means I have a mean taskmaster for a boss.

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