Becoming a Working Author

Confessions of a Ghost Writer

Ghostwriting is a unique and incredible journey for any writer with some game. If you don’t write, you can’t play, but many ghostwriters find they have the chops to handle projects they would never have attempted on their own. So, confession one is that I’ve accepted writing jobs that I had no business even considering.

I didn’t put every ghostwritten book on a best-seller list. Far from it. But for buyers listed on Amazon, I can say that most had decent sales. One of the authors sent me a sizable check after the book peaked.

And while ghostwriting jobs don’t lend themselves to repeat orders, I have had some.

Then there’s the other side of the coin—the harrowing stories of my failures. The daily money crunch, the self-doubt, the blank stares into a computer screen where a story dances in your mind but can’t find its way to the keyboard. Argg! Self-loathing.

I took creative writing and composition classes in college, wrote three books, and did just enough sales to subsist on ramen noodles and crackers. At times I was a step ahead of the landlord and one behind the power company.

By unbelievable luck, I got a publishing contract, got two books in print, and then lost my contract because I didn’t have enough success building a fan base. In layman’s terms, I didn’t get readers—no readers, no sales, and back to the soup kitchen.

Writing Sucks!

Well, more aptly, my writing sucked. And then came Amazon. A place where authors like Hugh Howey’s WOOL were killing it online and didn’t need $1,000 covers, $2500 editors, or $5,000 marketing budgets. They just needed a story. Any story. And while a wave of hope washed over me, the water never receded, and I nearly drowned in despair. I wasn’t a story guy!

As a friend said, “You had an original idea once, but it died of loneliness, right?” Well, yeah.

I didn’t want a regular job, but I did want to eat, so what to do? Ghostwriting, of course. I’m a natural. I can string a few sentences together, joke occasionally, and pound the keyboards till the cows come home.

So, my next confession is that it’s not that tough to ghostwrite. The buyer (author, wannabe author, business owner) sets the stage and provides cash up front, tells you what they want, and if you listen, it’s easy to make them happy. Honest.

The Big Question – Royalties

So, I took the plunge and prostituted myself for pennies. I wrote for widely discredited websites. I wrote short slick articles. I wrote long schlock articles. I took article jobs for as little as $8. I wrote porn. But I worked fast, and I moved up from noodles to Big Macs.

When I got in a groove, along came some book jobs. I saw my pay rise from a few pennies to 20 cents a word. At that point, I wrote some sparkling words that came together nicely, climbed the best-seller list, and I lived vicariously through the author named on the book cover. And that’s when I got my first bonus.

Since then, I’ve had the luxury of skipping the low-paying jobs and concentrating on great story idea ghostwriting and my books again. I still don’t have a publishing contract, but Amazon is a viable storefront: paperback, hardback, Kindle, and Audible.

I love ghostwriting because buyers supply many ideas, plot twists, character names, idiosyncrasies, and story arcs. Occasionally I get a long synopsis with a five to ten-page outline that I can write from – and fast!

Ghostwriting is comforting; probably the guaranteed payoff that I like so much. I don’t have to fight through a new storyline or endure marketing and social media eating into my time and cash. Still, I wonder if I wouldn’t have made more if I had those long royalty streams rolling in.

I’m sorry if you thought this article would answer your questions about ghostwriting. So did I. Maybe it did, but my biggest confession is that I’m still conflicted about whether it’s the right move when it’s not necessary.

I suppose it’s a decision every writer must make, but you can do a lot worse than taking some paid jobs. Take it from me, a long-time starving author!

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