I’m a ghost. A ghostwriter, to be specific. In addition to ghosting business books, memoirs, and biographies, I write my own books. These have been published by such houses as Crown, Doubleday, Simon & Schuster, Oxford University Press, Basic, and the University of Michigan Press. They’ve been reviewed with favor in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Esquire, etc. (In short, I am simply fabulous.) But I also enjoy writing books that publish with other people’s names on them rather than my own.
The woods are full of us ghosts these days. Plenty of competition. Or so it seems, until you realize that the bar for entry is pretty low, and the genuine qualified competition pretty scarce. I remember reading a piece of criticism written during the early days of the 1960s folk music revival. The writer noted that all you seemed to need to be a folksinger was a guitar, the ability to play three chords, and some “dirty jeans.” Perhaps that was true, until you began playing and singing. Music is not opaque. It is, rather, quite transparent. One either has the skills or one doesn’t, and one’s talent or lack thereof becomes plainly self-evident after the first few notes. No amount of hype – “they loved me in Pittsburgh,” “I did a sold-out show in Milwaukee” – will rescue you once your simple strumming becomes tiresome and your off-key singing begins to grind on people’s ears. Your listener soon realizes he’d rather be a hostage held by Jihadists, chained to a radiator in some Beirut basement, than listen to you for one more minute.
Wannabe ghostwriters don’t have this problem of transparency. Who’s to dispute the claim that a particular writer has ghosted “dozens” of manuscripts which have gone on to be sold to major publishing houses? Who’s to say that he or she doesn’t have numerous professional contacts in the industry, and is willing to bug the crap out of them until they offer you a million bucks for the manuscript he or she will ghost for you? But on the other hand who’s to say they’ve written anything at all that anyone has ever paid one thin dime for? (This is why a significant publishing record of your own is a handy thing to have. It is also why I put this salient fact in my first paragraph above. That, along with the related fact that I am, as I said, simply fabulous.)
Actually, however, I am probably not all that fabulous. Though every book I’ve ever ghosted has been published, I’ve only ghosted a few. There are three reasons for this. First of all, I only take on one ghosting project at a time, and a project can often take a year or more to accomplish. Perhaps some people can juggle several books at once, but I’m not that good. I have to be working within one primary narrative at a time. That’s simply my process. Secondly, I have to fit ghostwriting in between my own projects that I publish under my own name. Thirdly, unlike many ghostwriters, if you approach me with a book idea that I don’t think will sell, I am definitely going to tell you. I don’t want to take your money under false pretenses. I’ve got plenty of work, and I’d rather feel good about my work than feel like I am wasting someone’s time and money.
Also, I don’t ghostwrite fiction. Others do. But for the life of me, I can’t even imagine how that would work. “So, Mr. Dickens, let me see if I have this right. You want a novel about a kid named Pip of whom some people have great expectations. He finds an escaped convict in a graveyard and helps him elude those who pursue him. Later on he is forced to play regularly with a weird little girl in a spooky mansion owned by an ancient madwoman who, having been stood up at the altar in her youth, wears her ragged wedding dress day-in and day-out and keeps her rotting, sixty-year-old wedding cake on a center table in the dining room. Later on, Pip is made the recipient of a trust fund provided by a mysterious source. Although he suspects the nutty old lady, the source in the end turns out to be the convict he’d helped years before, who has gone on to become rich in New South Wales. The convict eventually returns to England, even though it puts him at risk of arrest, in order to visit Pip. He is discovered and bound over for trial but dies in prison before the trial takes place. In the meantime, Pip has somehow discovered that the weird little girl in the mansion, now grown, is the convict’s illegitimate daughter, and tells the convict of this before the old man dies. Does that about sum it up, Mr. Dickens? And you say you want 150,000 words. I suppose we can have it by Tuesday. Is Tuesday alright with you, Mr. Dickens?”
If you’d like to speak with me about a project, please don’t hesitate to make contact and we’ll set up a time for a telephone or Skype conversation. I promise to be nice. But I’m also going to be honest.