Or how to find the ideal partner to write your life story.
It doesn’t have to be Hallowe’en to consider ghosts – of the writing kind, anyway. Maybe you’re considering hiring a ghostwriter for you memoir because you don’t have much time; lack confidence in your own writing ability or prefer to leave the organisation of your random thoughts to an expert? This blog post outlines how to choose a great ghostwriter for your memoir project. It’s a pleasure and a privilege to assist in the creation of a client’s memoir. The relationship between a freelancer and their client is always important but never more so than when that client is sharing their most personal details of their life. There needs to be a business-like arrangement, with contracts and deadlines, but critically the two need to be on the same wavelength.
Here are some pointers:
Ghostwriters should be able to empathise…
It isn’t essential that your ghostwriter has had the same life experiences as you, or shares any of your views. You might be an adrenaline-fuelled action hero and they can be more at home in a library – as long as they’re able to put themselves in your position. Can they imagine how you felt and why you responded the way you did in certain situations? The writer’s personality might be shouty or it might be quiet – as long as they can tap into a reflective mode when required. This will enable them to express your attitudes and emotions, rather than their own, when they write for you.
Have a business-like approach to your memoir project…
Ghostwriting is similar to other business arrangements in that you want a stress-free experience – and so does your ghostwriter. This is likely to be achieved by agreeing milestones, payment points, an outline of the work and what each is expecting of the other at the outset. You want to create a book? Make sure you don’t end up with a pamphlet by thrashing out the details . An experienced writer will have a checklist of points to discuss with you and will be able to guide you through the process, so that nothing is overlooked. Ideally, use a contract and have regular Skype or phone chats as the project progresses, for peace of mind.
To be able to rely on you…
This has never been a problem with my clients but it bears saying: if you’ve agreed to make time for interviews or to provide documents or photos to your ghostwriter, make sure you do it. Usually clients employ someone else to write for them because time is precious but the project can stall if the ghostwriter is waiting for information. Most are very creative and could easily make things up but in order to avoid re-writes or lawsuits, it is usually more effective to stick to the facts! The best clients keep appointments for Skype interviews and send photos and books, ‘just in case they’re useful’. The ghostwriter can make use of your dairies, previously published interviews or publicity materials, family photos and even old video film to conjure the world that you inhabited at different stages of your life and re-create it on the page.
To answer your questions…
The majority of clients are working with ghostwriters for the first time, so it’s fine to ask as many questions as you like. Once the whole process is explained, it seems less daunting to entrust your project to someone you haven’t yet got to know. You need to know:
- Are they just writing the manuscript or can they help with publishing?
- How long will it take to ghostwrite your memoir, autobiography or e-book?
- Have they previously written or ghosted successful work in the same genre?
- Do they have specialist knowledge of the sector you’ve worked in or the hobbies you want to describe?
- How much will the project cost and how should payments be made?
- What will your role be and who gets the credit for the finished book?
If something strikes you half-way through the project, you should still be able to seek reassurance.
And let you change your mind…
Up to a point at least. You might have a good old moan about someone who upset you at some stage in your career, or feel that your book is a good place to get revenge on your former boss who was so mean. It’s seldom a good idea (and might even be defamatory!) Your writer will be able to advise but won’t insist. However, there should be room to have a change of heart and replace or remove a few paragraphs. When you receive the first draft of the manuscript it’s a good opportunity to reflect and revise the content. It’s not a good time to be making radical changes, however.
Or make additions...
Of course the reverse is true. Some clients are adept at hiding their light under a bushel and a skilled ghostwriter will tease out the stories that you are too modest to reveal at first. Most of us have achievements that we’re a little bit proud of and even if they each seem trivial, they add up to make each of us uniquely interesting. This is where a writer with a background as a researcher comes in handy to put the client’s achievements into context and ensure that the writing is technically accurate.
They’ll have high standards…
It’s a good idea to ask about their writing experience and whether they belong to any relevant organisations. They should of course be able to write fluently, but also to proofread and check their own work, or outsource this to a professional editor. After all, the work they produce is representing you – and it should be flawless. They might also appear rather nosey but this is normal. It’s the way that they work to distil the essence of you into an action-packed life story that your readers will enjoy. Each project should be approached as a one-off, whether you’re publishing your memoir as an e-book, paperback or coffee table photobook.
And finally, they’ll remember who is the star of the show
A member of your family should be able to read the finished memoir and ‘hear’ your voice, rather than a character-less account written by a stranger. The ghostwriter is telling your tale for you. They will not expect to be credited as the author of your book (unless you’ve agreed otherwise). Their job is to be nothing more than a shadowy figure in the background – hence the name. They will act as the midwife to assist at the birth of the book that you’re creating. You might want to name your newborn after them, ‘as told to…’ – that’s your decision. A decent ghost has no ego and will consider prompt payment the only compensation they need.
You – the author
Importantly, you don’t have to be a celebrity to write your memoir. Many published authors have written purely to entertain their friends and family – commercial success is a secondary consideration for them. Hiring a ghostwriter can be surprisingly affordable, though each project is discussed individually. My parting thought would be: don’t let that secret desire to get into print remain an unfulfilled ambition. It is easier than you think and for you a great sense of achievement awaits.
I very much enjoyed working with Sue Kelso Ryan while she was writing copy for a new website and I’m delighted with the end result! … I would highly recommend Sue and indeed, I hope to work with her on further projects in the future.Dr Mike Crisp – Jan 2016