Thursday, June 19, 2008

Ghostwriting Part IV—Landing the Gig

Finally, after weeks and weeks of waiting, the envelope you’ve been waiting for has arrived. Maybe it’s a rejection letter. Being rejected from a teen series might carry with it an extra bit of sting—you know you’re capable of writing gorgeous prose and meaningful stories, so you might be tempted to throw up your hands in disgust and say, “What do they know? I can write a story a thousand times better than this junk.” Don’t let yourself become bitter. I assure you that the people working on these series are highly educated and are well-acquainted with good literature. What a rejection simply means is that you weren’t right for the part. As I mentioned before, hiring ghostwriters is a lot like finding actors for a movie. If you were a casting director, would you have given the role of Forrest Gump to Al Pacino? Probably not. Several years ago, I tried out for a series (after having thirteen teen novels under my belt, mind you) and was rejected. Even though I had a lot of experience, my writing was deemed not edgy enough. That was fine by me—I have no interest in being edgy.

Instead of a rejection, you might get a personal letter encouraging you to re-submit your sample or even try out for another series. This is what happened to me when I tried out for my first ghosting job. The editor thought I had potential, but my sample wasn’t quite up to par. I wasted no time finding out what my weaknesses were and re-submitted the sample within a week. As soon as she received the revised sample, I was hired on the spot.

Maybe you won’t be rejected at all the first time around and instead you'll get a call from the editor. Congratulations--they’d like to hire you to write for the series. You are thrilled—you’re also scared out of your mind. Take a deep breath, enjoy the moment…and brace yourself because you have a lot of work to do in a short period of time.

Before I get into the writing side of things in my next post, let’s cover the business side first. This will be one of the very few times you’ll hear me say this, but you don’t need an agent. That’s because work-for-hire contracts are pretty much set in stone. The pay scale and royalties (if there are any) are pre-determined. Series are run on tight budgets and there is little room, if any, for negotiation. Newbies are given a set price. If you like ghosting and want to do it regularly, my advice would be to write at least three books before asking for more money. At that point, if you proven yourself to be professional and indispensable, you should have no trouble getting bumped up to a higher advance. Other than that, there’s nothing else to negotiate that you can’t handle on your own. It’s generally a take-it-or-leave-it proposition.

When you accept your first work-for-hire job, you'll probably be offered a one-book contract. This is a good thing. It’s better not to be locked into anything the first time around, just in case you discover that ghosting isn’t right for you. After that, I would recommend not signing up for more than three books at a time, which equals about six months of work. You never know what might crop up in your personal or professional life, and it’s best not to be tied down for too long.

Upon receiving your contract, read it thoroughly. It will be short and straightforward. Pay attention to the word count required and mark the deadlines on your calendar. Series deadlines are critical. Imagine that the series is an escalator and the writers are the passengers. If someone suddenly stops at the bottom, everyone is in trouble. Ghosting is an opportunity to establish your reputation as a professional writer. Act accordingly.

Finally, put your advance check in the bank until your manuscript has been accepted. Work-for-hire agreements—especially your first—are more fickle than the average book deal. It’s better to hold onto the advance until you’re sure it’s going to work out than to scramble to return money you’ve already spent.

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