Friday, June 28, 2013

What Are the Attractions to Ghostwriting/Collaborating? (Part 1 of 4)

Collaborators can make money—sometimes a lot of money. Some writers agree to a one-time payment. Immediately I think of two collaborators, both of whom wrote for lump sums just below 100,000 dollars. Nice pay.

Others charge a specific amount for a page of finished writing or rack up costs according to the hours they work. These are examples of those who do flat-fee projects. That is, once they finish the book and get paid, they receive no more money, even if the book sells 15 million copies.

The other method, and the only one I now accept, is to work on a split- royalty of 50 percent. That means every time someone buys a copy of the book, I earn money.

One other attraction for collaborators is that it makes some writers feel special to be connected with a famous person. It seems to add to their stature as writers. Because we live in such a celebrity-conscious society, that makes sense.

My remarks aren't to condemn or condone that attitude, but only to say that's a big attraction for some.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Why Do People Need a Ghostwriter/Collaborator? (Part 3 of 3)

5. Some people want to have their book published so they can make money—a lot of money. That doesn't usually happen, but they're convinced they'll sell hundreds of thousands of copies.

More than once, a want-to-be-wealthy author has come to me with a book idea. "I know it will make a million dollars," the person says. "With my brilliant ideas and your writing skills, we can make it happen." He went on to say, "If you write the book, I'll give you half the profit." At least seven times, I've received such offers.

I've never taken on one of those projects.

First, the brilliant idea seems exceptional only to them.

Second, I don't take on writing projects with the attitude of making money. I need to earn a living (and I'll discuss the financial aspects in a later blog), but I've never taken a project only because I expected to make a lot of money.

I have taken several projects and once I got into the book, I knew it would be big. When I wrote Gifted Hands for Dr. Ben Carson, I sensed that it would be a big-selling book. Published in 1990, in hardback, soft cover, and mass paper, the book has never been out of print, and has sold several million copies.

In 2004, Revell Books released 90 Minutes in Heaven. I predicted, "This will become a fantastic seller or a giant flop." That book started the craze for the outpouring of stories about heaven and near-death experiences.

In 2010, the publisher of Gifted Hands issued a 20-year printing; in 2014, there will be a 10-year anniversary edition of 90 Minutes. That means both books are still making money for the publishers—and for the authors and for me.

Money is a factor when I write—
but not a major one.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Why Do People Need a Ghostwriter/Collaborator? (Part 2 of 3)

4. Another reason people hire collaborates is vanity. A mystique surrounds our profession. "He's written a book!" they exclaim with amazement and perhaps envy.

I've also discovered that those individuals usually don't want to tell the downside of their lives. They seem to have a compulsive need to emphasize only their triumphs and achievements. We refer to such projects as puff books.

I wrote one such book many years ago—not aware it would be a puff book when the publishing house hired me. The author never made bad decisions, although other people did. Friends betrayed him and associates lied, but he maintained his integrity.

I finally called the editor and she told me that it was a vanity project and assumed I knew it. (I was glad that happened in the days before my name was put on the cover.)

Shortly after that project, I turned down one man, who was willing to pay me well. "I want to have a book," he said, "because I want to be somebody."

He couldn't seem to grasp that he was already somebody. To hold up a published book wouldn't change him inside. (He finally hired someone else and had the book self-published. He still wants to be somebody.)

Even though I can earn money writing for others,
I turn down the people for whom I don't want to write.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Why Do People Want a Ghostwriter/Collaborator? (Part 1 of 3)

Why do people hire writers to tell their stories or their ideas? That's an easy question to answer.

1. They need writers because they usually can't write the material themselves. Some people hire ghostwriters because they don't have the self-discipline to sit in front of a screen for hours at a time.

2. It's also easier for someone else to write an autobiography because they can write more objectively. The authors are sometimes too close to the subject or may want to include something important to them but not of interest to readers.

3. A few people have approached me to write for them because they are public speakers and they want books to sell at the back of the room. They know their gift is oral presentation; they know they don't have the skills for writing.

That makes sense. Once they've spoken (if they're good), people want to buy their CDs and their books—especially the books.

People need ghostwriters for good reasons.
I want to help them realize their desire for a book.

Friday, June 14, 2013

What Does It Take to Become a Ghostwriter/Collaborator? (Part 3 of 3)

Trust.

I can't overemphasize that word. For collaborators to be effective, authors have to trust them. They don't want their secrets whispered to the media or shouted to their circle of acquaintances.

In my first meeting with authors, I assure them I'll never tell anything without their permission. That's my statement, but it's not enough. My behavior must prove my words.

With almost every book I've ghosted, the author has cried at some point and said, "I've never told anyone before, but . . ."

That's when I know the person trusts me; that's when I feel I'm at my best as a ghostwriter. The author accepts me as a person of integrity and as someone who cares. That's important to me.


When I write for others,
trust is the most important quality involved.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

What Does It Take to Become a Ghostwriter/Collaborator? (Part 2 of 3)

As a collaborator, sometimes I feel as if I'm a therapist. I not only listen, but I probe. I try to get the author to open up and to look inside—not a skill most people have. Many successful people are highly ambitious, goal oriented, and intense about what they do; they don't pause to look deeply inside themselves.

Similar to a therapist, I want to learn about them. I also want to be a gentle voice to help them figure out their issues and gain insight on solving them. That's not part of the job description, but it is a factor of my compassion for them.

As I listen and write what they tell me, I'm frequently amazed to have an author say, "I didn't know that was how I felt until I saw the words you wrote." When I hear such responses, I'm proud to be a ghostwriter.

As a collaborator, I listen, I accept, 
and I also help authors understand themselves.

Friday, June 7, 2013

What Does It Take to Become a Ghostwriter/Collaborator? (Part 1 of 3)

I'm amazed at the people who think they can become ghostwriters. "How hard can it be?" one writer asked. "You just take their words and write them."

"If that's all it was," I said, "they'd hire a transcriptionist."

What does it take to write well for other people? Although I've implied this in previous posts, I have two significant things to point out.

1. Good ghostwriting requires a person who can listen—I mean truly listen. It's more than merely absorbing the words, but sensing what isn't said as well as noticing the inflection of the voice, gestures, and attitudes. Someone said, "It's listening with the third ear."

For example, years ago I wrote the story of Velma Barfield, a woman convicted of murdering one man, and she later confessed to killing three others. Every Friday for seven weeks, I visited her while she was on death row. The fifth week, I asked about the death of her second husband.

"He had been a diabetic for years," Velma said. "He died from complications of the disease."

As I listened, something didn't ring true, but I couldn't figure out what it was. I asked her a second time and she said almost the same thing.

After I returned home, I listened to that portion of the tape four or five times.

Then I knew: Velma had murdered him. The only way I know to explain that moment was that God gave me the insight I needed. Not only did I realize that she had killed him, I also knew why she denied it.

Velma had killed the other three by pouring rat poison (which contained arsenic) into their iced tea. She had been trained as a practical nurse. For her second husband, she put the poison into his medicine. Because of her medical training, Velma was too ashamed to admit it.

The following week I asked Velma again about her second husband and she still denied the murder.

"No, you killed him," I said, "and I know the reason you don't talk about it."

Before I finished my explanation, tears flowed down her cheeks. "It is the only sin I haven't confessed." After more crying, she said, "I've been praying that somehow God would help me tell someone about killing him."

Velma hugged me and smiled before she said, "Now I'm ready to die."

2. Good collaboration also requires a person who can listen uncritically. As a ghostwriter, I don't always agree with the author but that doesn't matter: It's the author's book, not mine. It’s not my job to correct them; I am responsible to understand their meaning.

If I want to write for others,
I need to listen intuitively and uncritically.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

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

One advantage is that collaborating helps to establish a writer's reputation. After I'd written a few books for others, editors knew the quality of my work. These days, when my agent submits a book proposal, most editors know what kind of book to expect.

Another significant factor about reputation is that editors know they can depend on me to get a finished manuscript to them before the deadline. In the publishing business that dependability factor is important. For example, I did 35 books for one publisher. Years later I learned why they turned to me. Their primary ghostwriter—who was a far better writer than I was—never met her deadlines.

Another factor beyond one publishing house: Most editors know what goes on within the industry. And they sometimes complain to each other about bad relationships. They also rave about the exceptional ones.

Even in those instances where the writer's name doesn't appear on the by-line, people inside the publishing industry know. Whether it's ghosting for Joel Osteen or Joyce Meyer, editors and agents know who wrote their books.

I've developed some name recognition and insiders know who actually wrote those books. That's what counts.

Another thing is that even when I didn't get my name on a book's cover, I still listed those titles on my resume, which is one of the things to include when we propose a book to a publisher.

Collaborating builds my reputation as a writer.