Ghostwriter or Collaborator?

I keep seeing the same question pop up on message boards and writers’ groups around the web in various forms:

Should I look for a ghostwriter or a collaborator?

Should I work with my clients as a ghostwriter or collaborator?

Is there really any difference between ghostwriting and collaborating?

Oh, my, yes.

Collaborators tend to be accomplished writers and authors. They know how to make nonfiction prose sparkle. They know how to infuse life into characters and drama into a storyline. They know how to make a book saleable.

What they don’t know is how to keep all that out of their clients’ books.

It’s all a matter of investment.

Think about it for a moment. When a writer puts their name on a piece of work, they automatically become invested in that work. It’s unavoidable: no writer willingly attaches their name to something they’re not proud of. To make sure they’re proud of the work, then, a collaborator or co-author must make sure the work meets their personal standards. It has to say what it “should” say the way it “should” be said—especially if the collaborator has worked or written in the given nonfiction field or published their own novel(s).

How then, can a collaborator not become emotionally, psychologically, and, in so many co-author situations, financially invested in the project?

Ah, but it’s the author’s book: the author’s story, the author’s nonfiction research, the author’s concept or political spin or inspirational memoir or biographical exposé. It’s the author’s time to shine, the author’s moment to stand in the spotlight. In many cases, it’s the author’s one and only chance for that fifteen minutes of fame Andy Warhol promised us all.

Authors want their book to be them. All them. They’re entitled, after all, to their own pride of authorship.

And collaborators, experienced or not, want their bylines and the piece of the action they feel they’ve rightfully earned.

Hmmm—do you sense a potential for conflict?

Comparatively, ghostwriting is clean, quarrel-free, and invisible. Regardless of their own personal style, previous knowledge , or perspective on the book, ghostwriters work only with the author’s material. They don’t slant research toward their own agenda. They don’t insist on the book going one way if the author wants it to go another. They remain professionally separate  even while providing the emotional/psychological support aspiring authors need.

Ghostwriters make sure the book says what the author wants it to say, in the author’s voice and style, with the author’s intent and perspective. They are professionals, not partners. They provide editorial services for a negotiated fee on an agreed deadline.

When they don’t put their name on a book, it’s because it isn’t their book.

Ghostwriters invest only their time and expertise in a project no matter how much they like (or dislike) it, not their digestive tracts, their emotional stability, or their financial well being. Ghostwriters accept that their authors are experts in their nonfiction fields just as they are experts in the book business.

They understand that authors want to write the novel that’s been running in the back of their head for years or decades, not a “better” one based on their concept, setting, characters, or circumstances.

But what about all those ghostwriters who do put their names on their clients’ books and do take a percentage of their authors’ advance and royalties?

I cannot speak for them. The thought of taking credit for someone else’s ideas, research, or story is anathema to me. My business is based on fulfilling other people’s literary dreams.

I’m a professional ghostwriter.

 

 

 

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