What Is Ghostwriting?

June 23, 2017

Do you have a question about writing your story, editing, publishing, anything book-related? I’m an editor on a quest to learn all I can about this industry. And I'd like to share with you! Let's help each other out. If I don’t have the answer, I’ll go find it for you! The more questions I get from you, the more I will learn. I’m featuring your questions weekly on my blog, Instagram (@sophiebthomas), and Facebook. Join my mailing list JUST for an email about when a new post goes out! 




Last week I addressed Bill’s question about how much he should have prepared for an editor as he writes a nonfiction entrepreneur book. He also asked about the ghostwriting process. Fortunately, I have a great contact in Susy Flory, New York Times bestselling author or co-author of 11 books, including The Good, the Bad, and the Grace of God with Jep and Jessica Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame. Her upcoming release is The Sky Below, the story of astronaut and explorer Scott Parazynski. I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Susy through my first writers’ group in California. She has continued to encourage me from across the country and is excited to participate in this blog series. 


I myself attempted my own ghostwriting project a couple of years ago, writing down my husband’s grandmother’s fascinating life story. "How hard could it be?" I thought. She’d tell me her stories, and I’d write them down, maybe hunt down a few details. I was wrong! After the first couple sessions, I found out what a good journalist you have to be to write someone else’s story. You have to be able to pull more information out of them through follow-up questions and general conversation. You can’t just sit down with someone and say, “Tell me your story.” 


Susy has a history of journalism and teaching, making her a great collaborator with authors. She is able to develop their stories and clarify details and channel their voice. I learned a lot from Susy on the topic of working with a ghostwriter, as well as how to more effectively write someone else’s story with them. 


Want to follow up with Susy or myself about ghostwriting? Have another question about story + publishing I could hunt down for you? Use the contact form here or email me at hello@sophiebthomas.com. 


Q: “How much do I write and edit before I hand it over to a ghostwriter to help me organize and truly edit?" -- Bill 


Susy's Answer: There is no right answer to this, since every project is different. I would say, honestly, it depends on how good of a communicator you are, and how much of a control freak you are! 


Let me explain. If you can write and express yourself well, and have fully formed ideas on what you want to say, then by all means write up a rough draft. Or at least, create detailed notes or an outline. The more you can get down on paper (or in an audio recording, if you prefer), the better. That way the book will reflect more of YOU. 


Also, if you're a control freak, you're going to want to do as much as you can before you turn it over so that the book is what YOU want it to be. A good ghostwriter will take it from there and boost the writing, the structure, and the overall reading experience up a level or two (or ten, if needed).


How do you differentiate between the person providing the information, and the person writing the book? What are the expectations of the two roles?


Here's how the industry defines it: The "author" is the one with the original story or material. The "writer" is the hired hand (called a ghostwriter, collaborative writer, or book doctor or book coach, depending on the terms and structure of the deal). The author keeps the copyright. The writer gets paid as work-for-hire. The credit/byline is negotiable (I always request a "with" credit on the cover, but not all collaborative writers do--some are okay with being an anonymous contributor). 


As for expectations, typically the author provides the content in whatever form is most convenient and workable--often this requires interviews--and the writer takes that content and makes it beautiful, engaging, and effective by planning, structuring, writing, and revising it into a book. Some writers also help with the agenting, publishing, and marketing/PR phases of the book, as well, through seasoned advice or actual hands-on help. 


What is your basic process of collaborating with an author? 


First steps for me are spending some time with the client to make sure I understand what sort of book he or she wants to write, why, and who the intended audience is. Then I create a detailed outline, a book proposal if needed, and then start the interview process. I usually interview others besides the client (I specialize in memoir, so I interview family, friends, coworkers, etc to flesh out stories). I also do extensive research to broaden and develop the content or story. 


This process is the same for me whether there is existing written content or not. I generate my own content this way, and then use the existing content as part of that. It makes for a much richer, more developed book. 


Do you hand your work over to an editor/proofreader when you're done, or is that the responsibility of the author?


I often have my own editor (a freelancer) look it over and give me some feedback. I also often use a beta group of readers. But typically editing is the sole responsibility of the author (the person wanting to publish). I do it to improve my writing.


Do you ever work with self-published authors?


Yes--I did a children's book for adults last year (à la Shel Silverstein) for a business person. I found him a great illustrator and the self-published book turned out great. He's using it as a business tool. I'm currently working on a memoir, to be self-published, with a Silicon Valley pioneer--an amazing entrepreneur with some great stories (one of which might become a full fledged traditionally published book at some point). 


Do your clients/authors have book deals before they come to you?


Sometimes. I've done it both ways. If they don't have a book deal yet, I write a book proposal and sample chapters to help them get a book deal. I can also put them in touch with agents and editors I know.




I hope this interview has helped you understand the ghostwriting process a little better. Follow up with us by my contact form or emailing hello@sophiebthomas.com. 

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