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GHOST WRITING

January 7, 2015

How many of you have ever asked, been asked, or contemplated ghost writing. How many of you even know what it is?

The definition of a ghost writer is when someone writes something in the name of someone else. In other words, you, the writer, may take on a novel for another writer that’s overwhelmed with work and he or she asks you to write a novel for them in their style. They’ll then edit it a bit, tweak it and publish it under their name. You ghost wrote it for them. Then there are say… celebrities who can’t write their own name, let alone a book. They want to write a memoir, so they hire you to write their story based on their ramblings, which you have to turn into something resembling coherence.

Then there’s the pseudonym created by a publishing syndicate. A good example is the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. Franklyn W. Dixon did the Hardy boys and Carolyn Keene did Nancy Drew. Neither person actually existed. The publisher used a stable of writers to create the stories, ghost writers, though each series was created at the core by two people, Dixon was Leslie McFarlane while Keene was Mildred Wirt (Benson).

MORE LOOSELY DEFINED TODAY

The term is more loosely thrown around today, though an apple is still an apple. A lot of times book doctors offer their services to “fix” your manuscript. What they really are is ghost writers. They basically take your story and completely rewrite it, so that the only thing left is your basic idea, but it’s hardly recognizable as your writing style. Of course, if you’re a really bad writer, this may be a big plus!

It can also mean a co-author, where you get a prominent credit as writer. Authors like Clive Cussler and James Patterson use co-authors to do this. Sometimes it’s hard to tell who wrote what, especially when they create a new series. When use a co-author with one of their original series, if the co-author did most of the work and the voice is altered, that can stand out and a dedicated fan will smell it and cry foul. That can hurt sales and sink an author’s reputation.

MY EXPERIENCE

I’ve only done one screenplay in my life. In fact I had to bum the Final Act software just to format it properly. However, what I ended up with was a pretty decent result (I think) that though still needs tweaking, is a great story.

It started as a ghost writing effort for a friend of whom I was a huge musical fan. We became friends, which turned into a partnership. He had the seed of the idea and told me what he wanted to do. Since I had absolutely no idea how to do a screenplay, I stumbled around for a bit, not only developing the first few scenes from scratch, but learning how to use the software and how to structure the scene. From there, the story blossomed.

Before long, my imagination went wild and I found the polka-dot sewer. As I progressed, I sent each part to my friend for his approval and guidance. After the first few scenes, he just said go for it. From there, he and his lady friend simply critiqued and told me yea or nay if I went too far off the rails.

By the time I was done with the initial story, I went on and did a sequel. By that time I was no longer a ghost writer but a partner. However, my name will never be at the top because this was HIS idea. I just provided the details. It was always he that approved every step of the way, even though I filled in the blanks. He made suggestions and I made adjustments and through cooperative effort, we came up with what I think is a pretty cool young-adult screenplay.

RESULTS

We had a lot of hope for that story and even had a Hollywood connection (a celebrity actor) read it. He liked it and had some good feedback on what needed fixing. However, when I tried to pitch it at the next few writers conferences, I came across a huge roadblock I hadn’t anticipated. Unlike book manuscripts, every script agent I ran across wanted money to read it! Say what??? Neither my partner nor I could afford to shop a script around Hollywood and have to pay for it. So, it’s been languishing all these years because neither of us can afford to pay to have it read.

That’s my experience with ghost writing, which actually turned into a partnership. On the other hand, I’ve been asked several times over the years to take on other projects and turned them all down, for various reasons.

WHAT SHOULD YOU DO?

Step very carefully!

Be wary of who you take on. I don’t say no out of the blue. Some I turned down simply because of workload. However, there were a few cases where I looked at the person, felt that vibe. I knew I was looking at trouble and very politely said no to a basket of rattlesnakes.

You should do the same. Before you take on the task of ghost writing, be sure to have your eyes open all the way!

If you don’t think you’re a good enough writer and want someone else to write your story for you, well… why are you even here? The whole point of becoming a writer is to learn the craft, not have someone else do it for you. Also, if you think you’re going to learn to write by having someone else do it for you, and then learn by example, forget it. There are bookstores and libraries full of examples. Not going to happen. YOU have to go through the trials and tribblations yourself. YOU have to do the work, not a ghostwriter. A “someone else” isn’t going to do the work for you and “you” aren’t going to magically learn the ropes. It doesn’t work like that. All you’re going to do is earn someone else money.

Happy (you doing the) writing!

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