Ghostwriting someone’s memoir is one of the most rewarding, yet stressful, experiences for a writer. The aim is to get inside the subject’s head and write in their voice. Ideally, you’ll already be – or become – good friends so you can adopt their turns of phrase without too much effort. The trick is to effectively portray their memories on the page and remain authentic to the official author.
I never thought I’d be ghostwriting a book. For the past year or so I’ve been working on my own book – although progress has massively halted because it’s far easier writing blog posts than a bloody manuscript (MS)! It’s been about eight months since x asked if I wanted to ghostwrite her book and I feel we’ve both learnt a lot in the process. As seems to be a common refrain, progress has been slow. There have been health issues on my end, busy periods with work travels and family events on x’s side and a global pandemic.
So what’s happened in the last eight months and what’s it like to write a book that isn’t your own?
What to expect in the early stages:
- Conversations about contracts: NDAs, ghostwriting agreements, including pay, official authorship, acknowledgements, rights, expectations of MS submission and publication dates.
- Plenty of discussions about what needs to be in the book and what should be left out.
In-person interviews are the best way for the ghostwriter to understand the author
- In my experience, it’s best to let the author talk. By all means, jump in and ask questions to elaborate, understand and confirm, but by allowing the author time to just talk, the ghost gains a better understanding of the author’s voice.
- It’s helpful to record the interview sessions (with the permission of the author, of course) and also make your own notes. Listen back to the recordings and add to your notes. And make backups of audio files!
- Interviews are also a very good way for the ghostwriter to develop the structure of the book with the author.
- Saying that – don’t worry about sequencing too much at this stage; focus on gathering information firsthand from the author.
There will be a lot of research
- If you’re not interviewing or writing, you should be reading. Find everything you can on the topic. How do other people write about challenging subjects? Who are the experts in the field and can you read everything they’ve written? Ask the author if they know of any books that they would recommend that would be particularly relevant to the MS. If you’re writing a memoir, read lots of them.
If you have any tips from your experiences ghostwriting, please comment below.
I’ll continue to document my ghostwriting journey as we travel onwards.