Writer/editor Miranda C. Spencer explores the challenge and triumph of ghosting.
People tend to imagine a ghostwriter as an anonymous scribe penning an entire book for a time-pressed CEO or TV star who, after scribbling a check for a chunk of the advance, then slaps his or her name on it and basks in glory. However, hiring a silent collaborator at any point in one’s creative process to serve as manuscript midwife is an appropriate and affordable option for any author.
Whether we labor side by side, or – more typical --via e-mail, phone, and fax, my goal is to form a sort of Vulcan Mind Meld with authors such that I become an extension of their minds and hands. Through my ministrations, they can realize and embody their ideas in a finished work.
My clients are often individuals who are accomplished in their fields, knowledgeable about their topics, and have something intriguing to say-- but who don’t like or haven’t the knack for writing. Or they may simply be paralyzed by the idea of transforming their material into an actual book.
Such was the case of an author I’ll call Sally. For decades, she’d run a successful business and personal training business, and for half that time had been trying to write a book about her techniques. She came to me with about two-thirds of a manuscript –much in decent shape, some stream of consciousness – and a lot of angst. It had a lot of different fingerprints on it -- many friends and associates had critiqued her work along the way, and each time, she’d go back and change it again-- never satisfied, never publishing.
As is often the case, the material needed a single “voice” and a sense of organization, so the first thing we looked at is constructing what I call the skeleton, or logical undergirding structure. For Sally’s book, which was a step-by-step self-help guide, it was pretty clear how to break it down. Once we (re) organized things, the work process defined itself: Each step was a chapter, and the book as a whole was divided into three sections. We proceeded section by section and step by step.
As also often happens, we wound up going back and forth numerous times to craft and hone the text. I’d take the original and reorganize, copy edit, and write in a bit of new material in Sally’s voice (something I get a sense of from reading an author’s drafts and conversing with her, then becomes imprinted on me in a subconscious process even I don’t fully understand). Then Sally would review and revise my changes, ask questions, and make additional suggestions; I’d do another round of editing and rewriting, and so on until we were both satisfied. I made myself available nearly 24/7 so she could contact me when ever an issue arose about matters large (Which case studies are best for which sections?) and small (Do we want to capitalize or lowercase this term throughout?). The final step was both of us doing a full read-through (“cover to cover”) and making further tweaks. In this way, we worked through the entire project, several hours a week, over the course of about six months.
I also advised Sally on various aspects of publishing and marketing. Serving as touchstone and hand-holder, I helped her find a self-publisher (because she wanted to get out there right away); hooked her up with a graphic designer who created the book’s cover; and wrote the jacket copy with her.
Along the way, we got to know a little about each other’s personal lives and backgrounds. For me, that deeper, mutual understanding is part of the job. Ghosting is a unique relationship built on intimacy and trust; you can’t really develop the Vulcan Mind Meld without it.
Sally gave me a thank-you in the published book, and of course I got paid (an hourly rate that wound up in the mid-five figures). But I gained much more than that: the satisfaction of the midwife-- helping someone to achieve a dream and give birth to a creative work that in turn affects readers’ lives.