Ghostwriting 101

From Publisher’s Weekly:

I once published an article under my byline that a ghostwriting client read. “I really liked it,” she said, “but it didn’t sound like you at all.” No, I thought. It didn’t sound like you at all!

Because I have collaborated on a dozen books, I carry a lot of voices in my head. Many people believe ghostwriting is stenography. The “author” talks, the ghostwriter types, and voila! A book is born.

. . . .

That’s not how it works. In the best collaborations, the client opens up about failure and answers the most personal and mundane questions, like, “What office equipment did you use in 1973?” They inherently understand that it might take being asked something multiple times to get to the nub.

But a good ghostwriter has to be ready for the unpredictable. Taking on a book project is like buying a house without an inspection: you know you’ll later discover a faulty wire, a leaky pipe, or a damp patch in the basement—you just don’t know which it will be, or at what point.

When I signed on to my most recent ghosting gig, Up Close and All In: Life Lessons from a Wall Street Warrior, a memoir with former Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack, I braced myself for him to be, well, scary. The nickname he earned during 40-plus years on Wall Street was Mack the Knife, and I was the fourth ghostwriter he had hired for this project.

The unexpected element surfaced on the day we began. I suggested a plan of action, and his response caught me off guard. “You’re the expert,” he said in his North Carolina twang that reminds me of a banjo. “I’m in your hands.”

The man who hung up on the U.S. Treasury secretary, the Federal Reserve chief, and the president of the New York Federal Reserve during the 2008 financial crisis clearly knew what he knew—and knew what he didn’t know. Banking was his bailiwick. Writing was mine.

For me, interviewing clients is just the start. I internalize their voice, how they talk, and the words they use. I immersed myself in John’s world to put readers on the trading floor, in board meetings, and at conference tables with powerful clients around the globe. I don’t have a background in finance, and because Up Close and All In was aimed at a general readership, not just at Wall Street veterans, this gave me an edge. I described the financial realm with fascinated eyes. My daily reading became the Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Bloomberg, and I acquired a library of business tomes.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

1 thought on “Ghostwriting 101”

  1. In my experience representing and consulting for authors over the last few… years, no need to get too specific…

    I carry a lot of voices in my head.

    makes me ask “How many is a lot? More than ten?” Six seems to be about average.

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