Friday, October 30, 2009

Top Ten Questions I Get When I Tell People I’m A Ghostwriter (And my answers.)

1.Oh, do you know any celebrities?

No, and that’s a big misconception about ghostwriters. We’re not just for celebrities anymore. Sure, celebrities still hire ghostwriters to pen their memoirs. But most ghosts are working for less rarified clientele. I write for business people – CEOs, entrepreneurs, management consultants, managers, etc. Other ghosts I know work with doctors, designers, technologists and Wall Streeters. If it’s a section in Barnes and Noble, the ghostwriters are there.

2.Don’t you want to write your own books?

Yes, and I do.

3.How did you get into that line of work?

I was a freelance magazine writer in 2004 when one of my sources asked me if I would work with her on a book. I did. It was fun. And I also had a very strong sense of what I brought to the process. She had great ideas; I could put them in book form. I thought: Hmmm, maybe I can make this a business.

4.What books have you written? Or is that a secret?

I’ve written 12 books. Some of them are a secret, most are not. All ghost agreements are different, but in most of my work, I ask that the client mention me in the acknowledgements. In fact, if you want to find out if a book had a ghostwriter, read the acknowledgements. Waaaaaay down there, after the author has thanked everybody from the publisher to his favorite Starbucks barista, you may find the ghostwriter. That’s the individual thanked for his or her help in writing/editing/creating the book. Once I was thanked for my “help in preparing the manuscript.” Whatever. Just spell my name right.

5.Can you really make a living doing that?


6.How do you get paid?

That’s the questions I often get next because nobody quite believes me when I say I make a living as a ghostwriter (and I do.) Often, I am paid directly by the author/expert (that would be the person whose name appears in big type on the book cover.) Sometimes, I negotiate for a slice of the royalties, but not always. Generally, the bulk of my payment is made before the book even hits the shelves.

7.How does ghostwriting work, exactly?

Every client is different. Some want to be very involved with every word on the page. Others want to write a check and come back in six months to find their book done.

8.Don’t you feel terrible when a book does well and someone else gets all the credit?

No, I feel great. I know that book would never have happened without me. It would still be a great idea, trapped in the brain of a busy person with too much to do to sit down for six months and write a book. I feel very proud when the books I’ve worked on do well.

9.Do you just ghostwrite books?

Books are the main part of my business, but I also do articles, reports, newsletters, etc. And the world of new media has brought new work for ghostwriters. Twitter, for example. I hear there’s work for ghostwriters “tweeting” for clients. Can’t say that’s my cup of tea, but if it helps a ghost make a living, it’s all good.

10.Will you ghostwrite my novel?

No, sorry. I’m strictly a non-fiction ghost. But I’d be happy to make a recommendation for you.

A Day in the Life of a Ghostwriter

Some of my friends and acquaintances—and possibly even my parents—have no idea what I do for a living. I mean, they know I write stuff, but they don’t know what stuff and how much stuff, and most have no clue that the stuff I write actually earns me a good living.

For instance, I can’t tell you how many people who, when they bump into me while I am getting my morning latte, ask, “Where’s your daughter?” What I assume they really want to know is this, “You don’t really work, so why isn’t your daughter with you every moment of the day?”

I fear that some people think of me as a lay-at-home mom—the type of woman who would put her kid in daycare just so she can watch Oprah and get pedicures.

Despite how much this frustrates me, I can understand why people would think these things. For one, I rarely talk about what I do. Periodically, I’m required by law not to talk about my work because I’ve signed a nondisclosure agreement. Other times I just don’t want to deal with the 600 questions certain people tend to ask when I mention that I’m ghost-writing a book.

So, usually, when people ask me if I’m working on anything interesting, I just reply, “Not really.”

Thus why most people think I don’t truly work at all.

Anyway, I’d like to set the record straight about what really does go on inside my house while I am working and my daughter is at daycare. Here’s a typical day.

6:15 a.m. I wake to my alarm. I try to meditate for 15 minutes before my daughter wakes. It’s my firm belief that meditation builds focus—and writing takes a lot of focus.

6:30 a.m. If my daughter is still sleeping, I check email, Twitter and do all of those other virtual things that people keep telling us we should be doing these days. I also use this time to do obsessive and not-so-good-for-my-state-of-mind things like checking my blog stats.

6:45 a.m. My daughter is usually awake by now. The next hour involves breakfast, dressing, and me trying to do more email while my daughter whines that I am not paying enough attention to her.

8:00 a.m. If the morning is going well, we’re in the car and we’re driving to Kindergarten (which has wrap-around care).

8:30 a.m. I drive to my husband’s coffee shop, where I pick up a latte that he makes for me. One day out of 5, someone will ask me about the whereabouts of my daughter. Now that she’s in kindergarten, this happens somewhat less often than in year’s past.

8:45 a.m. I’m home. Depending on how focused I feel, I might turn on some music. I listen to alternative rock when I need a kick in the pants, classical when I need to focus, and nothing when I really need to crank something out. The coffee hasn’t kicked in yet, so, for the time being, I’m not really trying to focus on anything. It’s just more email and other small, mindless tasks.

9 p.m. If I’m having a productive day, then this is when things get serious. I turn off email. Sometimes I unplug the phone. Occasionally I give myself a “now it’s time to really focus” pep talk. Then I force myself to draft a new book chapter. Starting from scratch is hard for me, which is why I always start the day with the blank screen. If I don’t force myself to get this out of the way first, I’m likely to put it off all day long.

Occasionally my husband will come home during this time. This irritates me because I’m in the zone and even the sound of the door opening will take me out of the zone. In fact, I wish we didn’t have a door at all. It just makes too much noise, in my opinion. Anyway, my husband knows not to talk to me when I am in said zone, and he no longer gets miffed when I don’t bother to greet him. If it’s his day off, he might try to turn on the TV (my office is in a great room that also doubles as the TV room). When he does this, he is met with a hairy eyeball and an, “I don’t think so.”

And, yes, of course I feel terrible and guilty about this, but the zone is the zone. The zone is where money is made.

10:30 a.m. Thank. God. That’s. Over. There are now 1000 to 2000 words on the screen. Most of them are the crappiest words that any writer has ever written, but the screen is no longer blank. I reward myself by walking the dog. You might think that I have the cush life—I get to take a big honking half hour break midmorning. But this dog walking is actually productive time for me. I do my best problem solving during dog walking. I also get my brain warmed up for more writing. And as I walk, I think about whatever book I am working on and various ways I can make it the best book ever published. Usually, by the end of the walk, I’ve come up with a really cool way to distinguish the book from other books in that category.

11 a.m. If I need to do research, I do it. If I’m doing a diet book (I specialize in diet) I’ll go to PubMed and look for studies. Occasionally, I just surf Google, in search of ideas. If I’m really busy, I outsource this part of my day, hiring a researcher to find it all for me.

Noon. Lunch

12:30 p.m. I fill in another chapter for the book. This is usually a chapter that I roughed out a week prior. I already have a couple thousand crappy words to start with and a basic outline, so filling in the rest is a lot like spreading grout. I just look for the missing pieces, find them, and write them.

2 p.m. I’m tapped. Crap, it’s only 2 p.m. though! That sucks. I should really work more, shouldn’t I? But my brain? What happened to it? I have a Puritan work ethic. That’s why I do so well at this work-at-home thing. I’m my own boss from hell. I suck every last bit of creative effort from my brain nearly every day. So now that I’m losing brainpower, I switch to less mentally taxing things. If I’m working on a magazine piece, for instance, I’ll line up interviews during this time slot. If I need to talk with a book author, I’ll give my author a call. I also reserve this time for random book emergencies that tend to pop up—a publisher who has a sudden query very late in the process, an author who is freaked out because her book is about to come out the next day and she’s worried no one will want to read it, that sort of thing. I might handle easy writing tasks at this point too, such as the chapter that just needs a proof read or a little pruning.

3:30 p.m. Okay, now I’m so tapped I don’t even know how to spell my own name. It’s time for a run. Again, sounds cush, but I actually get a lot of thinking done during my runs.

4:15 p.m. What I am about to admit next is nasty and gross, but it’s the honest truth. At this time of day I’m usually still in my running clothes, I’m sweaty and stinky, and I’m at my computer. I’m here and not in the shower because something occurred to me during the run that I realize I need to deal with RIGHT AWAY. It’s possible that, during the run, I came up with an awesome idea for a book and I want to tell my lit agent about it. Or maybe I finally figured out how to solve a problem that has been plaguing me on a book, and I want to execute the solution before I forget about it.

4:40 p.m. I don’t shower now, I’ll miss the chance. In I go. I put off washing my hair for another day. There’s not enough time for that. Usually the phone rings right about now. If I allow myself to answer it, I not only miss my shower, but I also end up racing to daycare to gather my daughter.

5 p.m. or so. I pick up my daughter and do dinner, homework and bedtime.

8 p.m. My daughter is in bed. It’s anyone’s guess whether or not she’ll stay there. I try to write my blog (either on this site or at If I’m wasted from the day, I blow off blog writing and just go to bed.

9 p.m. Assuming I didn’t go to bed and the blog is done, I turn on the TV for THE FIRST TIME ALL DAY LONG (just had to make that clear). I sit with my husband and we watch something incredibly scary and gory like Dexter, Criminal Minds, or CSI.

10 p.m. Now I’m definitely in bed. Night.