The Ghost in GhostWriter

If you are a writer and you want to make money, (whilst you wait for your own work to do its thing) I think ghostwriting is one of those roles you naturally fall into.

A ghostwriter, according to wiki, is a writer hired to author literary or journalistic works, speeches or other texts that are officially credited to another person. In other words, you do all the work and someone else’s name is on the cover of the book. Sounds like madness, doesn’t it? However, the logic behind it, is that the writer is the pen, the real author of the book is the one who formulated the idea and expresses it, so that all the writer is really doing is putting pen to paper; at least in theory.

I began ghostwriting because it pays a hell of a lot more than writing the occasional article for magazines, newspapers etc. I am on my third ghostwriting project this year and I have learned a couple of things that have changed my mindset and my understanding of what being a ghost writer means.

First of all, money. We rarely talk about money in the writing industry and I believe it is because the majority of us do not want to admit how little we are really being paid…Personally, I prefer to start charging from 200k for the ghostwriting service (this is in naira by the way). However, I do know of one or two people who will charge from 500k or a cool mil. Are these prices excessive? No. Outside of Nigeria, and perhaps Africa, the service costs a lot more. Doctorfreelance.com states a project low cost of $5000, which translates to approximately N1.8 mil. And a high of $100,000 (I am not even going to bother to convert that to naira).

The truth is my clients can’t afford to pay a writer that kind of money, but aside from that, the work is not that highly regarded in these parts. Initially, I was very naïve about the cost of my services. But now, I consider how many months it will take before I agree to a price. For example, N300k might sound like good money, but if the book project takes approximately 6 months to complete, then technically, I’m earning 50k a month, which is not so great. Of course, I tend to juggle a couple jobs at once, but still…

So, I’ve learned to treat my pricing model differently. Also, the mode and frequency of payment. There was a time I was foolish enough to wait for a project to be done before sending an invoice. Granted, they were not writing projects, but I learned some lessons in that field and so now, I break up the payments, so the client pays me at the start, in the middle and at the end of the project.

The second thing that I have learned is, my input is usually a lot more than I anticipate. You think ghost and you imagine that you will be like a spirit with a pen. No-one will really be able to see you in the work. You will help the client formulate their thoughts and their ideas and put it on the page. In my experience, what has actually ended up happening, is that I am giving a concept or an idea, and I am expected to run with it. I end up spending a lot of time researching, planning, and plotting. There is nothing wrong with this, in theory, if you were aware that was what you were going to do, and had the opportunity to plan and price accordingly.

Once, I was working with a client, a very nice man, and when we got to the third chapter, he told me the title, flicked his hand and said ‘you’re an intelligent young woman, run with it.’ My eyes widened. But I did it. Yet, this has turned out to be the rule for ghostwriting in these parts, rather than the exception. You are not just the writer, you advise, you plot, you invent. Yes, even in those non-fiction projects, you fabricate.

Thirdly, I have learned that it is important to state and stress the number of revisions you are willing to do beforehand. Because, if you are not careful, revisions can go on for the next year.

Fourthly, I learned that relationships are key. Before you take on a project, ensure that you like the client or can get on with them. Also, make sure the project interests you or challenges you in some way. Money is not enough of a motivation. To do a good job, you must have some interest in the topic. And since you are working closely with the client, it is vital that they like you and you like them. If these pieces are not in place, move along. Other gigs will come.

Is this article meant to put you off ghostwriting? Yes. But if you stick with it, at least you will be well-prepared. It is not for the faint of heart. Writing a book is hard. Writing a book for someone else can be gruelling. But it can be rewarding too. Every project is different, every book teaches you something. To do it successfully, be prepared and manage your time wisely.

If you have got any questions, drop them in the comments below.

Keep writing!

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