Monday, August 26, 2013

How to Become a Ghostwriter

A friend recently asked me how I got started in ghostwriting. I really had to think about it for a few minutes, because much like Mr. Darcy's self-professed love for Elizabeth, "I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun." 

In keeping with the general tone of my adult life, success as a ghostwriter came to me as a complete surprise. I never intended to do any such thing. 

I figured that if I planned to spend hours feverishly pounding at the keyboard in tragic despair, with my daydreams of dazzling the reading public eventually devolving into a forlorn hope that at the very least I wouldn't produce something completely moronic, then the least I deserved would be some credit for the finished product.


But I also like to eat, so it's nice when I get paid to write. For that reason alone, I've found ghostwriting appealing. Because no matter whose byline my work gets published under, I'm the one throwing fistfuls of bills into the air at the end of the month. 



No... I don't actually do that. 


(Very often.)

But that's not the point of this article. The point at hand is that anybody interested in a glamorous career in ghostwriting need only to adhere to the following simple steps.

How to Become a Ghostwriter: 

1. Assume non-corporeal form. Although this first task may seem more complicated than anything you'd anticipated, remember that if you're still in corporeal form, you are not, by definition, even qualified as a ghostwriter. 

2. Devise a way to consume coffee while in non-corporeal form. Again, this is complicated, but critical. If you fail to master this step, I'm afraid there's just no hope for you. Coffee has long been considered a basic writing fuel, and I'm afraid that without access to it, you may as well just give up.

3. Install speech-to-text software on your computer. On second thought, better take care of this before you assume non-corporeal form. Otherwise you'll just be floating around your apartment drinking coffee all day with nothing else to do. (On second second thought, that actually sounds really cozy.) 

4. Learn to pronounce your words crisply and clearly for the benefit of your new software. Although even if you pronounce your words as carefully as possible, your software is still highly likely to sabotage you. (I suspect it's in league with auto-correct.)

5. Find ghostwriting jobs and start working your non-corporeal magic! Once you've taken care of all the prerequisites, the best ways to get involved in ghostwriting are to make use of your writing connections and to be in the right place to accept a project at the right time. That's all there is to it!

Okay, truth be told, getting started in any writing career requires a witches' brew of skill, supply/demand, connections, and luck. It's almost impossible to predict how, where, or when a writer will gain traction.

For writers just starting out, it wouldn't hurt to get hired by a third-party content provider that matches your skill set, such as Write.com, Blogmutt, or WriterAccess. Though there are some precautions to take when writing in these arenas, proven success in smaller projects could help leverage larger jobs down the road. 

It's true that publishing firms do sometimes contract ghostwriters to help write how-to books and celebrity autobiographies, but they're unlikely to hire unknowns with no experience. These small jobs could provide not only experience but also connections that may one day lead to getting a pen in the door.

* * *

The truth is that my inadvertent foray into ghostwriting reflects nearly a mirror image of my somewhat surprising career as a classroom teacher--a career that began through seeming happenstance and then somehow continued for thirteen years. 

One day I was a college graduate with a degree in ministry, and the next thing I knew, I ruled a few hundred teenagers who rotated in and out of my musty classroom and stared unnervingly at me on a daily basis. 

Panicky backtracks for certification and lesson-planning expertise ensued, but I found in the end that genuine improvement only came through experience. 

Much like what happened with my accidental teaching career, my start in ghostwriting sort of just... happened to me. One connection who knew of my writing skills asked me to ghostwrite something. That went well. Then another opportunity came, then another, then another, then another. 

I didn't advertise or update my resume. One day I just woke up and realized that for now, this was something I was doing. 

The lesson I learned about teaching, I've found to hold true with writing: that nothing beats experience. And while ghostwriting may not win me much glory, it's doing more than just paying my bills. It's giving me daily experience in meeting deadlines, handling reader expectations, and dealing with rejection. 

Best of all, it's getting me that much closer to completing my 10,000 hours. And once I've reached that pinnacle of expertise, nothing will stop me. 

Not even being in non-corporeal form!

______________________

Special thanks to my friend Marie - librarian, bibliotaph, adventurer, and practitioner of joyful living - who not only daily influences my reading and new media choices, but also became the inadvertent inspiration for this post when she posed a serious question to me last week about ghostwriting and then patiently sat through a string of very silly responses. 

This one's for you.

8 comments:

  1. *high five* Back atcha, friend!

    You did forget to mention one thing - a crucial skill of writers of all sorts, including ghostwriters, is the ability to be confronted with editing without tears or hurt feelings. And on that note ... you misspelled "bibliotaph." :)

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    1. I FIXED IT! *sobs uncontrollably*

      I tried to allude to it via "meeting expectations" and "handling rejection" because edit requests deal with both. And you're right - if someone can't handle any mode of critique, even constructive, he shouldn't go anywhere NEAR any type of publication! Because putting your work out there is basically throwing yourself to a bunch of ravening wolves!

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  2. My hubby- the one with the creative writing degree and the non-creative job- has long been interested in ghostwriting. I'll have him give your suggestions a read.

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    1. Hey, Julie - have him message me on FB or send me an e-mail if he wants to talk more about this. :)

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  3. I'm quite curious about WHAT you are ghost-writing. To me, ghost-writing always makes me think of Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books. Please tell me you're writing Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books.

    -Tom

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    1. I WISH! I had such a crush on Frank Hardy! (Joe was too much of a hothead.) I ghostwrite a lot of online content both for corporations and personal clients. If you want more specifics, FB or e-mail me. :)

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    2. I knew I couldn't be the only one! I may need to reread some of those books to see what exactly I found so dreamy about him.

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