Saturday, June 14, 2008

Ghostwriting Part III—The Audition

Before I continue with my series on ghostwriting, I’d just like to I apologize for the sudden infrequency of my posts. Family life has been overtaking my writing life in a big way lately, so I’m not posting as often as I’d like. Soon I hope to have a little more time for work, so thanks for your patience.

Now, onto the business at hand…

Trying out for a book series is a lot like auditioning for a role on a television show—even if you’re a terrific writer, you might not be suited for the part. You can, however, increase your odds of getting the job if you do your homework.

While you’re waiting to receive your guidelines from the publisher, it’s critical that you read at least two or three of the most recent books in the series. It won’t be difficult to get caught up in the action—most series are like soap operas, written so that it’s very easy to jump into the story—but what you’re really trying to do is absorb the style and tone of the series. Keep an eye out for key descriptions of places and characters which are often repeated from book to book. Notice how chapters start and end. Really study how the story is constructed, until you feel that you can almost predict how a character will react to a certain situation or person. Read until it becomes second nature to you.

The guidelines sent from the publisher might contain an outline of a book that is currently being written. Depending on what they require, you might be asked to write a chapter from that outline. If you’ve done the reading I’ve mentioned above, the audition chapter will be much easier. If you haven’t, expect to trudge through it, stopping to look up details along the way.

When writing your sample, keep in mind that the goal is to make your work blend in as much as possible with the series. Avoid showing off. Save the verbal acrobatics and large vocabulary for your own personal writing. What’s really going to wow the editors is your knowledge of the series and the smoothness of the storytelling. Dialogue is key; every character should have a different way of speaking. Conversation is often short and snappy and heavy on banter, but always moving forward toward a plot point.

The single most impressive thing you can do when writing an audition sample is to cultivate an air of suspense. Series rely on hooks to keep their readers interested and you should show the editors that you know this. The best ways to build suspense are to reveal information slowly—feeding the reader little bits as you go—and constantly raising questions that must be answered. Ideally, every chapter should end with a question that begs to be answered and so should your writing sample. Keep the editors wanting more and maybe you'll find yourself with a writing gig.

Next: What happens once you land the job.

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