Negative, Ghost Writer

Well, the Ohio River Valley tried again to kill me via nasal inflammation and copious mucus production, but again IT FAILED. Now I sound like Kathleen Turner when I talk but there are worse things in life.

I got an email last week from A Dude. He said he had A Friend who asked him to contact Me about ghostwriting a book for the Friend. Dude asked what I charge and would I sign a confidentiality agreement.  I wrote back and said, yes of course, I’ll sign nondisclosures and blah blah blah, here’s how the process works. Hit SEND on the email. I’m pretty sure I’m never going to hear from them again. I WANT to hear from them, but I don’t think I will, sadly.

Here’s a quick and dirty guide to my experiences with ghostwriting:

For those of you who don’t know, people have books ghostwritten for one of two reasons: one,  because they recognize they don’t have the skills to write it themselves. Or, sometimes they ask a ghostwriter to do it because they don’t have time. Sort of like you ask a nanny to take care of your kids or a housekeeper to do your house stuff – it’s an important job and they CAN do it, they just choose not to.

A ghostwriter can either be a “co-author” which means she gets partial billing, part of the royalties (if there are any) and her fees tend to be lower on the outset because if the book sells anything, she’ll get some. Or she can be a non-credited behind-the-scenes ghostwriter who does all the work and gets none of the glory. Her name isn’t on the cover, or anywhere, really. A nice “author” will at least give her a nod in the acknowledgements but it’s not imperative.

I”ve gotten these calls before. People, bless their hearts, with nice stories of their lives or whatever. I talked to a man in California who had been burned over something like 75% of his body and he wanted to write a book about it. I did the proposal and everything and he emailed to tell me that he was going to have a friend from church write it for him. Eh. I could see that coming.

I would really love to ghostwrite a book. I’ve ghostwritten articles and stuff, but it would be a blast to write a book. The problem is….people who want you to ghostwrite books do not (generally) understand how the process works. I’ve been to this rodeo before and it falls apart usually at the money talk. I’ve gone through the initial conversation part, the proposal phase where I draft a proposal that includes a work deadlines, payment schedule, expectations, etc. For instance, they are APPALLED when you ask them to PAY you BEFORE their books hit the NYT bestseller lists (because they WILL, you know, this is going to be BIG). Then some people get all indignant because you are clearly trying to STEAL from them because ANY IDIOT can WRITE. Then they take their toys and go home.

I want to ask them, “When you go to the doctor, you give him money before he does anything, right? Even if all he does is tell you to quit smoking and lose weight. Five minutes, and you have to pony up at least a co-pay. You think I’m any different?” Actually I want to scream, “I AM A PROFESSIONAL! TREAT ME THAT WAY! YOU COULDN’T WRITE YOURSELF OUT OF A PAPER BAG!” but that’s not very professional of me…

If someone engaged my services as a ghostwriter, they could have me sign all manner of nondisclosures and confidentiality agreements. Most likely, that would include my relinquishing claim on any future royaltites of the book or what have you. Don’t worry, if I ever get to this stage, I’m sending any and all contracts to my lawyer (friends).

I wanted to get excited about this most recent requst but I will bet you my bottom doughnut that it won’t happen. In fact, when I told Husband about it, he snorted and shook his head – because this has happened enough that even HE knows that people don’t get it.

So it’s usually a negative, ghostwriter.



  1. Eh, Spideygal, I feel your pain. I wish I had a nickel for everyone who told me we HAD to do a book together! Oh, what a wonderful writer you are, Ellen! Oh the life I’ve had, Ellen! WE OUGHT TO DO A BOOK. Mmm hmm. Yeah. Never gonna happen.

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