All about ghostwriting
April 25, 2019
Everything you always wanted to know about ghostwriting, but were afraid to ask:
The History of Ghostwriting:
I know, I know. You don’t need a history lesson. Well, maybe you do, but perhaps you’re impatient to get answers more relevant to your immediate circumstance.
If that’s the case, here’s a word of advice: Scroll.
You know how to scroll, don’t you? Just put your fingers together and go.*
*parody of one of the most famous ghostwritten lines in history, from the classic film “To Have and Have Not,” starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, seen here.
Speaking of our subject, that famous line wasn’t in Hemingway’s novel on which the film was based, nor was it written by the screenwriters Jules Furthman or William Faulkner (yes, that William Faulkner).
It was written specifically for Lauren Bacall’s screen test, which got her the part, which was then added to the screenplay, which then became one of the most iconic scenes in film history.
All because of that one great line.
Which was ghostwritten by the director, Howard Hawkes. Although when film directors ghostwrite for their screenwriters, it’s called script doctoring, which you might say, in the film business, is a necessary evil. Sometimes it goes smoothly and sometimes it can be a circuitous process. As the great novelist Phillip Roth once wrote, “The road to hell is paved with works-in-progress.”
But, as in all art, there are no rules and exceptions to all of them.
In other words, whatever works, works.
As one of the greatest screenwriters who ever lived, William Goldman, who wrote The Princess Bride, Marathon Man, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and allegedly Good Will Hunting, once said, “Nobody knows anything.”
Whatever works, works.
Goldman was also one of Hollywood’s most sought after script doctors. Or when he wasn’t credited, a great ghostwriter.
The point of this little history lesson is that ghostwriting is everywhere. Howard Hawkes was not credited as the screenwriter of the classic Bogey and Bacall film, but he added something brilliant to the script.
That’s the nature of art. It evolves. It emerges. And it’s all borrowed, stolen, or improved as it becomes whatever it’s meant to be.
As Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes, “There’s nothing new under the sun.”
But that line was probably ghostwritten.
Speaking of which, a few famous ghostwritten works:
The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas (and Auguste Maquet)
Profiles in Courage by John F. Kennedy (and Ted Sorenson)
The Autobiography of General Ulysses S Grant by himself (and Mark Twain)
Getting’ Jiggy With It by Will Smith (and Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones)
Requiem Mass by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (and Franz Xaver Sussmayr)
That’s all well and good, but…
What is ghostwriting?
Basically, ghostwriting is storytelling, credited to someone else. But that’s just scratching the surface in terms of a definition.
Like defining a novel as “a story.” There’s much more to it than that.
There are literally millions of novels out there, all unique in their own way, although there are theories that propose all of them are based on six basic narratives, or shapes, as the late, great Kurt Vonnegut lectured here.
Or perhaps there are seven plots, as the author Christopher Booker proposed in his famous book, discussed here.
Booker, by the way, worked on his tome for 34 years. Perhaps he should have called The Best Ghostwriters for a little help moving things along.
Which is another form of ghostwriting: Moving things along. Because just as there are millions of books out there telling millions of stories, every author who needs help needs it in their own specific way, which means there are many forms of ghostwriting.
Ghostwriting for some might mean they already have a completed book, but it needs developmental editing, which is basically adding what’s needed and removing what’s not. Art is subjective, of course, so deciding what you need and what you don’t will vary on a case-by-case basis.
Which is why, if you need a ghostwriter, make sure you find a good one.
As Michelangelo once said, when asked how he sculpted such a beautiful form, replied, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”
In other words, he knew what to chip away and what to leave.
This is what a good ghostwriter does with existing material, whether it’s written or whether it’s in the mind of another.
Everyone has a story; it’s just a matter of setting the angel free.
A ghostwriter will set your story free.
Sometimes there is no written material, just a client who wants to tell their story, whether it’s a memoir or a novel or an idea for a screenplay. In that case, the ghostwriter interviews the subject until the story emerges. The client tells their story, and the ghostwriter listens, makes notes, and when the story is complete, begins to sculpt it into an angel. (Or a demon, or a cyborg, or whatever the client wants it to be)
The job of the ghostwriter is to create the finished product that most resembles what the client imagined it would be.
Therefore, a ghostwriter’s job is to make dreams come true.
What about ghostwritten memoirs?
In the case of a memoir, the interview process is key. Because no one knows your story better than you. Of course, your mother always told you that she knew you better than you knew yourself, but that was mainly because you were being disciplined, and they all say it, and your mother’s not writing her memoir, you’re writing yours, so she can just wait until you and your ghostwriter are finished and then you’ll show her because there will be all kinds of things in there she never knew about and won’t she be shocked and…let’s think about whether or not she should read it at all, come to think about it.
But I digress.
The interview process when ghostwriting a memoir is important because it works wonders for both the client and the ghostwriter.
Over many years of ghostwriting, I’ve found the optimal schedule for interviews is something like Monday through Friday, for about an hour each day.
What this does for you, the client, is it puts you in what I call “memory mode.” No one should ever try to tell their life story over the course of a weekend because you will leave things out, and your recollections will be too influenced by your mood.
Your story is best told over the course of time.
I have never had a memoir client who did not, at some point, say something like, “You know what we talked about yesterday? I thought of something else…”
That’s memory mode. If you share your life over the course of many days, on a regular schedule, things will come back to you. Because the story is on your mind. Like if you have a big project at work. You may leave it at your office, but it’s still on your mind until it’s finished. You can’t help but think about it. You may even dream about it. It weighs on you until it’s done.
What such a schedule does for me, the ghostwriter, is it helps me get your voice. Over the course of the interviews, I get to know you. How you communicate, how you think, how you tell your story.
Because at the end of the process, we want the book to read like you’ve imagined it. We want it to sound like you. Your book, written by you.
After all, it’s your story. And nobody needs to know you used a ghostwriter unless you decide to tell them.
A brief word about confidentiality:
Some ghostwriting services publicize their clients on their websites. The Best Ghostwriters do not, unless requested to do so by the client. Generally speaking, if you’ve paid for the work, it belongs to you.
You own 100% of the finished product. No one knows you hired a ghostwriter unless you decide to tell them.
How about ghostwriting a novel?
With novels, the interview process is typically the same, only different.
Sometimes a client may only have an idea for a book, or even just a genre, such as a mystery or thriller, and may want the ghostwriter to just go and write it.
Other times, the client may have a minutely detailed synopsis.
Or it may be something in between, like a general story and genre with an ending.
Whatever your story, we can help you tell it.
The point is, ghostwriting is the art of storytelling, the same as, well, writing. The difference is whose name is credited.
There’s nothing wrong with hiring a ghostwriter if the end result is the story told as you imagined it. Sometimes, it’s even better.
Ghostwriting is even addressed in federal law in the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976.
Ghostwriting is work-made-for-hire.
Can I hire a ghostwriter for my screenplay?
As stated above, screenplays can sometimes be a little different. A script doctor basically “doctors,” or fixes a screenplay, which can involve anything from punching up dialogue to adding or rewriting scenes. In Hollywood, nearly every screenwriter has seen their work given to another writer to improve the finished product. Even Oscar-winning screenwriters will see their script changed by subsequent writers.
If you’re an aspiring screenwriter or just a film fan who has a great idea for a movie, you can hire a ghostwriter to pen your script much like you would a novel. Or if you’ve written a screenplay, completed or not, and you want it improved, you can hire a ghostwriter to analyze it, complete it, rewrite it, or otherwise improve it.
Give us your idea for a movie and let us go to work.
Who hires a ghostwriter?
Lots of people. First time authors and experienced writers alike. Sometimes an aspiring author just doesn’t have the skills or know-how. Sometimes a successful author just doesn’t have the time or inclination.
Why would a successful writer hire a ghostwriter?
In the case of Robert Ludlum, one of the most successful novelists of all time and the creator of Jason Bourne, he died. But there are still Robert Ludlum novels coming out and films based on his characters.
Or in the case of James Patterson, one of the biggest selling authors in history, there’s just not enough time in the day to write all his books – so he uses ghostwriters who carefully follow his best-selling formula.
Do successful authors also ghostwrite?
The prolific horror author H.P. Lovecraft ghostwrote for Harry Houdini.
Sinclair Lewis ghostwrote a book on tennis before winning the Nobel Prize for literature.
So, yes. Ghostwriters and ghostwriting are everywhere. And I’ll bet there are a lot of examples we don’t know about, too!
How much does ghostwriting cost?
Every project is different, so it depends on what you need. If you want The Best Ghostwriters to ghostwrite your massive sci-fi novel, creating new worlds and designed to attract the attention of Hollywood, it will cost more that if you need a speech for your cousin Joe-Bob's wedding. And hopefully Joe Bob isn't marrying your cousin Sue-Ann, although that might make an interesting plot point in your memoir.
And a short screenplay will likely cost less than that memoir, although either could feature Joe-Bob and Sue-Ann.
The cost depends on what you need.
How long does ghostwriting take?
Some projects make take a week, some might take several months.
What about self-publishing?
See our other blog post that goes into more detail about self publishing versus traditional publishing here. But I will say it boils down to time and money. If you need to get your book out there right away, self-publishing allows you to do that. Traditional publishing typically takes longer. Sometimes much longer.
As for money, you will almost always sell more books with a traditional publisher, but you will make more per book sold if you self-publish.
Sell fewer books and receive a larger percentage of sales, or sell more books and receive less per book sold.
With self-publishing, you are in charge of promoting and publicizing your book. Which is great if you're a marketing whiz with thousands of followers on social media. Not so easy if you're not.
Since a traditional publisher assumes all upfront costs of publication and only makes money if your book sells, they will promote and place your book where it will recoup their costs and hopefully earn them a nice profit on their investment.
You can hire a company to set up your book for self-publishing, or do it yourself through Amazon and other companies.
There are a lot of things to consider, but one thing to think about above all others:
Until your manuscript is completed, you don't have to decide how to get it published. Which is why I would avoid those sales pitches from big companies that offer to both ghostwrite your book and publish it.
Until you have a completed manuscript, there's nothing to publish. So don't let anyone talk you into paying for something that may not happen.
Once it's finished, you might change your mind about self-publishing and decide to pitch your book to literary agents or traditional publishers, in which case whatever you already paid to the self-publishing company would be lost. Keep your options open and don't let anyone pressure you into signing a contract to publish your book before it's complete.
Big companies also may subcontract your project to inferior writers, which means they take the lion’s share of the fee, leaving little to pay the actual ghostwriter. Why would you want to pay most of the money to a middleman when you could hire a better writer on your own?
Keep in mind that writing well isn't easy. If it was, everybody would be a best-selling author or award-winning screenwriter.
Lastly, ghostwriting is art. Publishing is commerce. Ghostwriting is heart. Publishing is business.
Maybe you'll find one company that can do both well, but I doubt it.
Hire an individual to ghostwrite your book.
Then decide how to release your baby into the world.
Good writing takes time and skill.
If you hire a plumber for $15, chances are your money is just going down the drain. Which will still be clogged. Because you hired an inferior plumber.
So shop around, speak to several ghostwriters and see who seems like a good fit. Your book is your baby, so make sure you trust the sitter.
A good ghostwriter doesn’t have to break the bank, but if their fee sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
The Best Ghostwriters are reasonably priced for good ghostwriters, we accept payments to help make things affordable, and best of all, we are all independent ghostwriters.
Which means you work directly with your ghostwriter. There is no middleman. 100% of the fee goes into the work.
We put our heart and soul into your project because we know you do, too.
If you have any other questions, call us at 323-539-7635 or drop us an email.
Consultations are always free.