Friday, May 31, 2013

Why Am I a Ghostwriter/Collaborator? (Part 4 of 5)

As I pointed out in a previous blog, one of the things I like about being a collaborator is that I keep learning. And the source of my information usually comes from or through the author.

For example, the first eight ghosted books I did were autobiographies. Most of the celebrities had such a wealth of experience, I hardly knew where to begin. I figured out one thing that helped me get that answer and be a learner at the same time.

When I met with Dr. Ben Carson, I asked him to give me a copy of the major published article he felt provided the most insight about him. He photocopied a feature article from the Sunday section of the Detroit Free Press newspaper. For his book Rebel with a Cause, Franklin Graham handed me an article from Gentlemen's Quarterly. "That writer caught me better than anyone else," Franklin said.

I also do objective research so I can have a broader perspective. When I wrote With Byrd at the Bottom of the World for Norman Vaughan, the last surviving member of Admiral Byrd's historic trip to the South Pole in 1928–1930, I read Byrd's memoir, Alone, as well as three books on Antarctica. Norman supplied me with the May 1930 issue of National Geographic, which was devoted to the white continent.

I could have written Norman's book without those resources, but they enriched my understanding and improved the content. I felt I had been to Antarctica even though a decade passed before I finally visited the country.

I'm a lifetime learner;
I continue to find ways to stretch my understanding.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Why Am I a Ghostwriter/Collaborator? (Part 3 of 5)

I have two more reasons for being a ghostwriter.

6. It's fun. I like people and I enjoy writing for others. In fact, for one ten-year period I didn't do any of my own books. I spent those years peeking inside other people's hearts.

7. My final reason for being a ghostwriter is money. I earn more money as a ghostwriter than I do from my own projects. I'm now well known within the publishing industry. That means I attract authors with higher profiles and our books garner bigger sales.

I enjoy the kind of writing I do. 
The more I enjoy my genre, the more I want to write.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Why Am I a Ghostwriter/Collaborator? (Part 2 of 5)

Here are three more reasons I'm a collaborator.

3. I love the challenge of writing for another person. Almost anyone can get the information; the real work is to get inside another's heart and mind. Part of being a ghostwriter is to be able to think like the author.

The most difficult task is to see the world through another's eyes. We call that empathy; every writer doesn't have that ability.

Here's an example. In the last chapter of a book I wrote for Philadelphia school principal, Salome Thomas-EL (I Choose to Stay), I told the story of an inner-city student named Otis, who was Salome's first former-pupil to graduate from college. Despite Otis's protests that it was a long way to travel to the university, Salome attended the graduation ceremony. When I wrote that story, I tried to write it from the heart and not merely describing the event.

After he read that portion, Salome said, "It's the best part of the book. You brought out feelings I knew were there, but I didn't know how to express them." That's what I work hard to accomplish.

4. I also collaborate to hone my skills. I've learned more about the proper use of words as a ghostwriter than I could have grasped in writing my own material. Someone said it to me this way: "Your skills as a writer get on-the-job fine tuning, while someone else pays for the tune-up."

5. Ghostwriting provides the opportunity to confront or change my thinking. I can promote causes I advocate. Immediately, I think of a series of books I wrote for a pharmacologist during the 1990s. He studied addiction from the perspective of brain chemicals. I learned many things about the brain and addiction that I would never have studied on my own.

I was then able to present material in nonscientific terms to enlighten others or alter their way of thinking.

As a collaborator I learn about others;
in the process, I improve my writing skills.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Why Am I a Ghostwriter/Collaborator? (Part 1 of 5)

I never planned to become a ghostwriter and I had published ten books before I ever ghosted for anyone. My story goes like this. I sent a full manuscript of a novel to the senior editor of a publishing house.

He came to Atlanta (where I live) and took me to lunch. He pitched the manuscript back to me. "I'm not interested in your novel." Before I could react, he said, "But I'd like you to ghostwrite a book for us."

I said yes, even though I didn't know anything about ghostwriting. I decided I could figure it out on my own. And I did.

That's the background and I've ghosted probably 70 books.

So why do I ghostwrite? I can give you several reasons.

1. Ghostwriting is a way to discover more about the world and other people. I'm a curious person and I've learned about a variety of things I would never have investigated on my own. Because of being a ghostwriter, I've written diet books as well as those on the topics of medicine, addiction, physical fitness, and sports.

2. Ghostwriting helps me grow. As I learn about another person, I'm able to understand more about myself. That statement may sound strange, but the more fully I attempt to comprehend how another person feels, the more I figure out my own feelings and my motives. It also seems to help me understand more about God.

As I open myself to other people, 
I also open up to myself.

Friday, May 17, 2013

What Does a Ghostwriter or Collaborator Do?

I want to make one further distinction about being a collaborator. I've written four books for Don Piper. The first one lists Don as the author "with" Cecil Murphey.

The other three are Don Piper and Cecil Murphey. Here's the difference. Collaborating (or ghostwriting) means the author provides the ideas and concepts. The writer does the writing—and meets the requirements of the author.

Starting with book two, I added a great deal of material. Sometimes I'd have Don Piper say, "My co-writer tells a story . . ." or something similar. The word and on the by-line established that I added content to the book.

Thus collaboration can mean simply that the writers' name is on the spine of the book (using with before the writer's name) or it can mean that the writer contributed materials (using and before the writer's name).

Do buyers understand that distinction? Probably not. But I do, and so do most editors. Even if no one else understands, to put my name on the cover of books I write is honorable and honest.

Readers may not know the distinction, but I do. 
Therefore, it's important to me.

* * * * *

Writer to Writer: Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing, Cec's new book for writers, is now available through OakTara, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

My Experience as a Ghostwriter

I became a ghostwriter in 1981 when I wrote the autobiography of a famous country-and-western singer. That was long before our names began to appear with a by-line.

After the editor explained how the system worked, I thought about the project. It was an important question in my growth as a person and as a writer. I finally asked myself, "Can I write a book and not care who gets credit?"

After serious reflection, I decided I could. In retrospect, I believe it was a wise decision. For a decade I wrote a number of books for celebrities without recognition, and I was fine with that.

In 1990, Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story was the first book to carry my by-line as the writer. The font for my name was tiny but it was there. The original publisher, Review & Herald, insisted that it was the honorable and honest thing to do and I didn't object.

Even though my name was there—and it's still on editions published by Zondervan and by HarperCollins—readers often don't notice.

My shift in thinking took place in 1996. I had written a book for a celebrity, who wasn't easy to please. We finally finished the book and in the acknowledgments he credited me with writing a "first draft" of the book. (I also wrote four other full drafts before I satisfied him.)

That book won a number of awards. The author claimed credit and received the awards for my words. That's when I reflected a second time. I had written books for others and didn't mind readers not knowing. But this time, the author received credit he didn't deserve and didn't acknowledge me.

Was I participating in deceit by not having my name on his book? I decided I was. I didn't need the recognition, but I did want honesty. For me, the issue became one of integrity.

That was in 1996, and I changed agents shortly after that. Deidre Knight, my new agent, told me at our first meeting, "You will not write another book for anyone without a by-line." We've held to that.

My integrity is more important than money or name recognition.

Friday, May 10, 2013

What's the Difference Between Ghostwriting and Collaborating?

The question about the difference refers to writing for other people. The term ghostwriting means you write for someone else and you receive no by-line credit.

The first reason is that many years ago, publishers assumed that if readers knew the "author" didn't write the book, they wouldn't buy it. That's proven false and is no longer a valid argument; however, a few publishers still don't give the ghostwriters credit.

The other reason is that some authors don't want anyone to know they didn't write the books with their names on them. (Take it as a given that most celebrities don't write their own books, even if they don't credit the writer.)

Whenever you see a book with the author's name followed by with and another name, that's a collaboration. It means the author lived the experience, and the other person, known as the writer, did the work of interviewing, writing, and editing the material for the author.

Sometimes people ask about, "as told to," which is now an old-fashioned term. I see it mostly in magazines. It does make sense to use the three words where there is more than one author. For example, years ago, several Kentucky coal miners were trapped in an explosion, and only three survived. A book came out shortly afterward and it listed the names of the surviving miners as the authors followed by "as told to."

Ghostwriting or collaborating demand the same amount of work. 
The difference is whether the writer gets credit.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Final Thoughts on Writing Your Story (Part 5 of 5)

If you decide to tell your story, are you the person to write it? Should you hire a collaborator or ghostwriter? A decade ago, I wrote a book for an energetic and talented public school principal in the projects of Philadelphia. We called it I Choose to Stay. The book did well and is still in print. Salome Thomas-EL could have written it himself. That is, he had the talent, but he couldn't do it.

Salome started to write several times, but he kept getting bogged down with other things. It made sense for him to hire a writer.

Another factor is that it's difficult to be objective about ourselves. We tend to be too hard on ourselves or not demanding enough.

I may want to tell my story, 
but first I need to ask, "Am I the best one to write it?"

*****

Writer to Writer: Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing, Cec's new book for writers, is now available.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Getting Permission When We Write Our Stories (Part 4 of 5)

Below is a letter I sent out in Don Piper's name. The people who received a copy had sent Don an email with their experience after they read 90 Minutes in Heaven. We wanted to use the stories in a book, so I revised their accounts to make them more than just a report.

Some publishers will agree to accept an email agreement from the person. The important thing is to receive the permissions and have them on file. A few publishers want them sent with the manuscript and kept by them.

Here is the form letter I sent to 17 people who had stories we wanted to use. All of them agreed to let us. Only two of them asked for minor changes. (The publisher insisted on the legalese.)
I am the author of 90 Minutes in Heaven. My publisher, Baker Publishing Group, wants to put out a special edition with selections from the book and include a section called "Letters from the Gulf." (See below.)
This is to request you to grant permission to me, to Baker Publishing Group, and their licensees, successors and assigns, to include the material indicated below in all editions and derivations of the work in all languages throughout the world and in the advertising and promotion thereof in all media now known or hereafter devised.

Credit will be given in the form you specify below, either on the same page with the photos, on the copyright page, or in a separate section for credits.

In signing below, you represent that you are the sole owner of the rights granted herein, and that the material indicated below does not infringe on the copyright, privacy right, or other rights of anyone.

Please sign a copy of this and send it to my co-author, Cecil Murphey at . . . 
Whenever I use a person's name in my book 
I get signed permission from that person.