YOU CAN'T SEE A GHOST
Ghost writing in fiction is one of those shadow jobs that most writers would never consider. Why would they? You get no credit for writing the book, it is often in another writer's voice, and the pay, while not bad, is not as good as writing your own original novels.
So why am I ghost writing a novel right now, finishing up a manuscript that had been partially finished for a publisher? I suppose because I can. When I see the book on the stands I will know what part I had in that book getting there. And, to be honest, it's fun. I am challenged to write something, in a setting I would never think of, in a voice that is not my own, with characters that are not my construction. And often in another author's voice and style. And if I do my job correctly, no one will notice.
I will be a ghost.
What exactly does a ghost do in fiction? What really is ghost writing?
1 I write with another person, usually famous, who wants to have a novel done for some reason or another. Sometimes with these books, I get credit or even share the cover, so it is no longer a ghost book, but many times it is just the famous person on the cover. I usually never know until the book comes out which way the publisher decided to go.
2 I rescue a book that an author can't finish, or when a deadline looms and something happened to the author, I step in and write the book. I am doing that now. I was also hired last December to write a book when an author had a death in the family and had been silent with his editor. Suddenly the book was way late, too late to move it on the schedule, so I was called. Because I am fast, I've done a bunch of these types of ghost writing.
3 I haven't done any of these, but another major area of ghost writing is when a publisher has a "house name" and hires writers to write under that name. There are a bunch of these in mystery and western, such as Jake Logan. I'd love to write for almost any of those, just haven't had the chance yet. There are a pretty good number of writers who work in this area, all behind the scenes.
There just are not many writers who can do what I am doing at the moment, and that's also fun. I have now ghosted over a dozen novels, and no, I can't tell you which ones. Contract terms, you know. But I can tell you that they have ranged from small science fiction books to a New York Times bestselling author's book. A couple have been media, all have been work-for-hire contracts.
Ghosts are hired guns. We almost never get a share of the pie. We are paid off and sent packing.
So, unlike nonfiction writing, where ghost writers are accepted and normal, in fiction those few of us who do this are not as obvious or as accepted. We are in the "worker bee" category in this business, someone good to have when needed, not thought of much when not needed.
How in the world does a writer get to this crazy spot that I am at? Not easily, that's for sure, and not on purpose. Just as every writer, I started off writing original novels, and I still write original novels in science fiction, romance, and thriller, mostly under other names I do not disclose. (I guess you could call those ghost books as well, since the pen name is not attached to me at all.) But along the way I ended up writing a lot of media books as well, including a bunch of Star Trek, Spider-Man novels, movie novelizations for X-Men and a half dozen other movies, and a bunch of books spun off of television programs.
I am a person who enjoys, almost to a passion, studying the craft of writing. I love to learn and I am challenged by just about everything to do with creating fiction. While doing all the media novels, I practiced character voice, pacing, styles of the different shows, humor, and a ton of other craft skills. I also learned how to write fast and I never, not once, missed a deadline.
Word got around to some editors that I was fast, that I always hit deadlines, and that I could write just about anything in any genre. This was a good thing. And since I know many editors, I passed the word around regularly that I was open to this kind of work.
And sometimes I get the call.
Now, I doubt I could make a complete living at just ghosting other people's novels, and I wouldn't want to, honestly. Ughh. But every so often, on the pace of one or maybe two a year, I like digging into a project that needs to be done quickly and is challenging because I have to write in another author's voice. For me, as a writer, it's sort of like going to the gym every so often to stretch the muscles. It helps my original novels under my many pen names.
So, should you ever ghost a novel for someone? You know, that fan that walks up and has a great idea and will split the money with you if you just write the book for them? No.
Ghost writing assignments come from the publisher and editors.
If a writer asked me what I thought it would take to become a ghost writer of fiction, I would say first off, "No ego." Fiction writers, for the most part, have huge egos and want to see their name on a book. Ghost writers have no ego like this at all, so if you have a problem with wanting your mother to see every book you ever write, don't be a ghost writer. Contracts won't allow you to mention you had anything to do with the book
You have gotten past the ego part of things, now what? Well, keep publishing original novels and never miss a deadline. Write under a bunch of pen names. Write media books when you can get them. Write six or more books a year. Get to the point where you have fifty or sixty novels under your belt, can write in any genre, in any style, and do it quickly (meaning a novel in way under three weeks if you really, really had to), then put the word out to editors that you are interested. You might get a project or two. Maybe.
And you thought selling your first novel was hard...