A few weeks ago, I had the amazing opportunity to attend the book launch for a biography I ghostwrote. The entire project was one of the best experiences of my life — I helped a woman tell the story of her faith-affirming journey as she struggled to care for a husband who’d been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer.
You can find out more about that project by visiting: http://www.pattiepperson.com/
It was a great opportunity, the kind of project that reminds me why I love my job.
But I was surprised to discover that many people had no idea what a ghostwriter was. Even other writers were asking me about what I did as a ghostwriter and how I felt about it. So I’ve decided to give a brief sketch of this corner of the writing profession.
In a nutshell, ghostwriting is just like it sounds. It’s when you do the writing, but someone else puts their name on it. You’re there in spirit only. You’re paid to write what you’re told to write and the employer owns the copyright, has complete creative control, and, if they so desire, can pretend you don’t even exist. *makes vaguely spooky woo sounds*
That may sound terrible but it’s really not. If I poured all my blood, sweat and tears into a book that I created and someone came along and took credit for it, that would suck. But much like you pay a photographer to make you look good in pictures; a ghostwriter can help you look good on paper.
To date, I’ve worked on three books as a ghostwriter. One was for a financial planner who wanted to put his professional knowledge into an easy-to-digest self-help book. Another was for a health advisor who wanted to give his political ideas a proper grounding in book form and the third was the autobiography mentioned above. Each project was unique; and none of the people who hired me were trying to “trick” anyone — as one person asked me. Ghostwriting is a valid editorial option for people who have a great idea for a book — and the knowledge, resources or experience to validate the project — but don’t want to take the time to learn the writing craft to get the work done.
If you’re a writer looking to earn income through different avenues, ghostwriting is an interesting option. You get to live in someone else’s shoes for a bit. You get to open yourself up to a whole new world. And you get paid while doing it! I got a quick education in finances — something people pay good money for. I consider myself much more well-informed about national health care policy and I’ve heard (and then written) some insane horror stories on how the bureaucratic side of things is affecting our country. And walking in the shoes of a woman who had the worst thing she could imagine happen to her has strengthened my faith in ways I never saw coming when I signed on to do the project.
For writers considering a career as a ghostwriter, I’d say the number one quality you need (other than the basic skills any writer must acquire and strengthen) is empathy. If you can fully immerse yourself in another person’s story; if you can lose yourself in someone else’s life and take on their voice like it’s your own; and if you can make yourself curious about pretty much anything, ghostwriting might be an option worth exploring.
Crystal Liechty is the mastermind behind the Educating Mom webtoon, which details the always funny and often inappropriate hijinx involved in homeschooling three mischievous children. If you’ve been to college lately, you might have seen one of her essays in the Elements of Arguments textbook (Macmillan Press). When not homeschooling or torturing college students with argumentative essays, Crystal can be found watching Korean dramas, teaching herself Kpop dances or in general working as an unofficial ambassador for South Korean culture. Find out more about her online comic by visiting pleasedontcallchildservices.com. You can also find it on Facebook.