Want a Free Manuscript Analysis?

No, not from me—Claudia Suzanne’s Ghostwriting Certification class needs manuscripts to work on. If you have a never-published book manuscript that you’d like some feedback on, contact claudia [at] wambtac [dot] com.

And don’t worry, the students who will be working on the manuscript are all aspiring ghostwriters. They won’t take your work and try to pass it off as their own—their job is doing the opposite.

Does Competition for Publishers Make a Good Market for Ghostwriters?

The Business of Art, by Ellen Cushing

A couple of weeks ago I got a call from a reporter for the East Bay Express, a free weekly paper here in the Bay Area. The reporter, a fellow Brown graduate, was writing about careers for creative people.

The Business of Art, by Ellen Cushing
This article appeared in the January 12, 2011 edition of the East Bay Express

The article, titled “The Business of Art”, focuses mainly on how hard it is to make a living as an artist and how little most art schools do to prepare students to find work. I stand by my quote: ghostwriting provides a more reliable income than writing for magazines or pitching your work to agents and publishers. There’s that old joke: “The difference between a full-time writer and a large pizza is that the pizza can feed a family of four.”

I warn my clients that not many authors make a significant income from book sales. That’s not because I want to drive them off, but because I want them to have realistic expectations. There are many ways besides a six-figure advance and getting on the New York Times best-seller list to measure a book’s success. And many non-fiction books bring their authors considerable indirect revenue by boosting their consulting and speaking businesses.

But any book published today is competing for attention with a shockingly large number of other new books. (It’s hard  to be quite sure just how many, but Bowker reported 764,448 self-published books and 288,355 traditionally published books in 2009.) Though most of these books are not real competition—they are in the wrong genre, or of laughably poor quality, or only produced for family  members—the sheer number of them creates a lot of noise against which you have to make your book marketing signal stand out.

So will all that competition drive hordes of young to become ghostwriters instead of novelists? My guess is, “probably not.” Ghostwriting is definitely more popular as a career than it used to be, but it requires one skill that’s exactly the opposite of the one aspiring Hemingways and Byatts are trying to develop. You have to subsume your own style and personality into that of your client. It’s a better job for a beat reporter than for a columnist. While it’s a highly creative activity, it’s more like translation than like original writing.

Young artists, as I remember from being one, are often taught (by peers, movies, literature, and probably something hormonal) that being an artist involves certain behaviors and personality traits, most of them highly irritating to other people, and all of them egocentric. None of these are useful to a career as a ghostwriter. (They probably aren’t useful to any career, which may be why there’s a stereotype of a starving artist.) Ghostwriters are often legally constrained from walking around saying “Look at me! I’m so talented! See what I did!”

However, if you do have the temperament to become a ghostwriter, and an interest in it, I highly recommend you sign up for Claudia Suzanne’s Ghostwriter Certification Classes. Claudia has ghostwritten more than 100 books and has been teaching others to do so for years, and she’s brilliant. (And no, I don’t get any kickbacks for saying that.)

For many artists, it’s likely to be easier to find an ordinary day job than to retool as a commercial whatever. But don’t rule it out entirely—you might find you enjoy it if you try.

Finding Your Client’s Voice

A few days ago on LinkedIn, I came across someone who was trying his hand at ghostwriting for the first time. He had jumped in at the deep end and was writing from recorded interviews rather than a draft, and the client objected that what the writer produced wasn’t in his voice. According to the aggrieved novice ghost, his client’s voice “is pretty much gibberish.”

Some clients do, alas, suffer from a certain lack of coherence, particularly during interviews, where they may be hunting for the best way to express something, or even formulating their ideas on the fly. A straight transcription of such a conversation reads like a fox backtracking through a stream to throw the hounds off its trail. But correcting grammar, eliminating redundancy, and getting to the point fast enough to keep the reader from falling asleep don’t have to neuter your prose. Even if you have no actual writing samples from which to deduce a style (or the writing is as hopeless as the conversation), your client still has a voice.

Everyone uses characteristic expressions when speaking and writing. Some of these are regional; some are generational; some passed down in a family; and some may be unique creations of the user. Chances are you can easily list several such expressions used by your close friends and family members. My mother always used to say “destructions” for “instructions.” (Sometimes I do, too, as a result.) I had a high school friend who would say “Damn skippy!” where others said “Damn straight.” My housemate says “Meanwhile, back at the ranch” when she wants to contrast two situations. Neville Hobson’s predilection for the word “kerfuffle” has become an inside joke on the For Immediate Release podcast, as has his co-host Shel Holtz’ classic consultant’s answer, “It depends.”

Famous ghostwriter Claudia Suzanne includes such expressions among what she calls an author’s “tells,” along with characteristic sentence structure and perspective or intent. Everyone, no matter how poor a writer, has these “tells,” and part of what distinguishes you as a ghostwriter from other writers is your ability to discover and preserve your client’s “tells”—and to be aware of and eliminate your own.

If your client is not a native English speaker, and you are not fluent in your client’s first language, it’s much harder to identify these “tells,” but not impossible. Vocabulary is the biggest challenge, unless your client is very fluent, because you don’t know whether word choice is dictated by a limited phrase book or is actually meaningful. In most cases, you’re going to want to correct any misused words, however charming the error.

But even when you can’t get a direct experience of your client’s natural writing and speaking style, you can certainly get an impression of his or her personality. Sometimes it’s more illuminating to ask the client’s friends or colleagues than to rely on your own impression, because s/he may be more reserved or formal with strangers or people from another culture. Is this a person of few words or many? One whose natural style is academic, learned, even a little dry, or passionate and energetic? A big-picture person or a detail person? Does s/he care about being approachable, or respected? All of these things can help you choose an appropriate writing style.

In the case of the client who has long, rambling telephone conversations, it may be necessary to preserve a rolling style, with multiple clauses per sentence, rather than writing the short sentences you think are better suited to the reader’s short attention span. A client who wants to be approachable wouldn’t write with intimidating vocabulary words or lots of jargon, but one who wants to impress people might.

Unless you know your client very well, you’re unlikely to get the voice perfect in the first draft. Ghostwriting is a collaborative process. It’s your client’s job to go over what you’ve written and make corrections for voice as well as for facts, then give the draft back to you for revisions. As you make the corrections and discuss the manuscript with your client, you’ll develop a better feel for the best way to convey someone else’s identity in writing.

Sign Up Now for Claudia Suzanne’s Spring Ghostwriter Certification Course

Claudia Suzanne is that contradiction in terms, a famous ghostwriter. After ghostwriting more than 100 titles, both fiction and non-fiction, she knows her stuff. If you want to know it, too, you can sign up for one of her semester-long Ghostwriter Certification courses. She teaches them in-person down in San Diego, and over the phone for everyone else. The cost is $930 plus an $89 materials fee; there’s a payment plan option.

Here’s a list of topics covered:

    • How to do an A&R
    • How to find the “gold” in any manuscript
    • How to determine BISAC selection
    • How to advise the three types of authors on publishing options
    • The scope of responsibility for the various ESPs
    • The variances between the author’s writing process and the ghostwriting process
    • How to chart nonfiction
    • How to apply a content template (not MS Word formatting)
    • How to maintain the author’s voice
    • How to do multiple “spins” (while maintaining the author’s voice)
    • The variances between passive, static, and active voice; when and how to convert; and when to not
    • The variances between and basic principles of line and copy editing
    • How to build a nonfiction proposal and query letter and research a submission list
    • The variances between plot and character driven novels
    • PMA+A
    • The elements of fiction writing
    • The parameters of fiction A&Rs
    • How to map a plot w/characters
    • Meet-in-the-Middle
    • How to ghostwrite supplemental scenes while maintaining the author’s voice
    • How to ghostwrite full novels while maintaining the author’s story, characters, vision, premise, theme, intent and “tells”
    • The variances between “show” and “tell”; when and how to convert; and when to not
    • How to create a compelling submission synopsis and query letter and research a submission list
    • How to create a personal resume and credit list while maintaining client confidentiality
    • How to find clients and how to get clients to find you
    • How to set reasonable fees, bid projects, and write equitable contracts
    • How to assess clients and control the initial contact to land the gig
    • How to establish and maintain authority and avoid or handle problems as they arise

I would love to take this course, but haven’t had a chance yet. I do know the classes fill up quickly, so if you’re an aspiring ghostwriter, you should head to Claudia’s website to register. (And don’t mind the painful collision of font colors—she’s a writer, not a web designer.)