Friday, June 27, 2008

Ghostwriting Part V--Inside a Ghosting Job

We’ve finally reached the last installment of the ghostwriting series. Let’s get this over with so we can move on to something a bit more interesting, shall we?

Once you land a work-for-hire agreement with the series of your choosing, your editor may hand you a packet which contains a series bible, a few story outlines, and a book or two. The series bible tells you everything you need to know about the series thus far; major story arcs, important backstories, physical descriptions and names of all the characters and places, relationship details and personalities. It’s important to know this info inside and out. I would also recommend reading as many books in the series as you can handle so you can thoroughly digest the tone and style. It will make your work much easier.

The outlines you are likely to be given are the outline for the book you've been hired to write, plus the outline of the book that comes before yours in the series and the outline for the book that comes after yours. These outlines can run somewhere around ten or twenty pages and hit the major plot points of the story. They are sometimes written by the creator of the series, and sometimes they are written by an editor, who then shows it to the creator for approval. You are not allowed to deviate from this outline, but luckily there is a lot of wiggle room with settings, transitions, and all the little nuances that take a ho-hum story and make it gripping.

When I was ghosting, I had six weeks to write my first draft. My outlines were around 20 pages or so and I was expected to flesh it out into a 250 page novel. I’m a pretty slow writer, so I found the deadline to be a challenge, but I always found a way to get my work done on time. As I mentioned before, ghosting for a series is a bit like riding an escalator—when one person stops at the bottom, it puts a lot of people in trouble. Be sure to respect your deadlines.

After turning in the first draft, my editor would take about a week or two to look the manuscript over. Then it was returned to me with comments. I would look over her notes and ask questions about anything that needed clarification, then I would have two weeks to make the corrections. Sometimes the changes were substantial; other times, they were minimal. If you do your work correctly, once you turn in the revised draft, that should be the end of it. If not, you might have to do a little more fixing, but this is usually pretty rare. Once the editor approves of the final manuscript, she will submit the approval to the accounting department so that you can receive the final installment of your advance.

That’s basically all there is to it. If you work well under pressure and don’t mind writing for teenagers, then I highly recommend using work-for-hire as a first step to a writing career. If you are professional and reliable, ghosting can open many doors. Over the years, several editors of mine have moved on to bigger and better things—one wrote a best-selling series of her own that became a movie. Developing good relationships, even at this level, can become beneficial later on when you have higher aspirations of your own.

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