Let’s re-open that age-old superhero debate that for some reason never grows tired—if you could have the power of invisibility or the power of flight, which would you choose? If you said invisibility (the right answer, by the way), and you are also trying to figure out how to break into the publishing business, then you might want to consider ghostwriting.
I spent most of my 20’s moonlighting as a ghostwriter for a series of popular teen books. The pay was decent (but not enough to live on), the schedule was rigorous, and the glory was minimal. But I learned a hell of a lot about discipline, cultivated relationships with editors, developed a reputation as a professional person, and came to understand quite a bit about the business. After six years of ghosting, I felt as though I had learned just as much about writing as I had in college, and was equipped to develop and sell my own teen series.
In order to be a good ghostwriter, you have to be comfortable with invisibility. Your writing must be seamless, conforming into a pre-determined style to execute a story that someone else created. You have to understand that you are merely fulfilling someone else’s vision and that they will get all of the glory and most of the money. You must love the product as though it were your own, because readers can smell insincerity from a mile away.
Even within the strict framework of ghostwriting, there plenty of opportunities for creativity. As long as the dialogue is consistent with the character, it’s all yours. You may be given major plot points, but there is often a lot of leeway as to how you get from point A to point B.
And even being invisible has its moments of quiet glory. Once I was in a bookstore, loitering in the teen section to see “my” book on the shelves and I saw a girl looking at a copy. She read a little and decided to buy it. A small part of me wanted to tap her on the shoulder and tell her I wrote it (as if she’d believe me) but I didn’t. It was thrilling enough to know someone was about to read my words.
In my next few posts, I’ll talk about what a ghosting job is like and how to go about getting one of your own. It’s easier than you might think.