Not only do ghostwriters toil alone, they don’t even get to tell people what they’re toiling on. When the book is published, someone else gets the credit, stands up at the bookstore readings, and sits down to sign books for adoring friends and fans.
The only satisfaction for the poor ghostwriter is that ghostwriting makes them a little less poor. It’s a living that definitely has its moments, but attaboys or accolades from readers are not among them. Isolation prevails. Even finding fellow ghostwriters to network with is hard to come by.
Ghostpreneuers help ghostwriters step out of the shadows
Enter “Ghostpreneurs” a support group for ghostwriters that has boosted my professional practice. The group was started three years ago by Derek Lewis, a business ghostwriter based in Baton Rouge, LA. Each month, six highly successful ghosts call in to share tips and leads, describe best practices, and help professionalize the craft. The title of the group is a mashup of “ghostwriter” and “entrepreneur,” a nod to the fact that ghostwriters are, first and foremost, in business for themselves.
What’s a Ghostwriter?
A professional ghostwriter works under the terms of an explicit business agreement to create an editorial “work for hire” for which someone else—the client—takes credit. The ghostwriter gets a fee and the satisfaction of helping someone else realize their goal of publishing a book.
Done well, ghostwriting is a profession with standards and a code of ethics. I long to associate with fellow ghosts who share this viewpoint.
There are a lot of people out there doing uncredited “ghosting” for blogs, fake reviews, academic papers, hip-hop lyrics, and even tweets. Ghostpreneurs is probably not for them.
The practice of ghostwriting is in transition. It’s as old as writing itself but until recently it has been practiced as a dark art, a vaguely dishonorable practice that was practiced in the shadows. More recently, ghostwriting has emerged into the light. More and more, executives and celebrities who write books acknowledge the help of ghostwriters. Exposed to the sun, much of the stigma associated with ghostwriters is fading away.
The six members of Ghostpreneurs meet by teleconference every month for 75 minutes. After everybody checks in with a quick update on the last month, we focus on a theme to improve our game. We usually talk shop. After all, the business of ghostwriting is how we choose to support our families. So there is generally a lot of conversation about setting fees, marketing, structuring contracts, and qualifying prospective clients.
Often we have a guest speaker talk about some aspect of the work of ghosting. In recent months, we heard from an attorney on intellectual property law, a social media expert, a branding expert, and even an accountant on the best way to handle billing and taxes.
When a member is stuck, the group never fails to surface out-of-the-box ideas. For example, one member confided to the group that even with a steady flow of potential clients, the ghost was unable to get prospects to sign. Someone in the group suggested the ghost consider hiring a coach with the narrow task of getting better at closing sales. Within weeks of working with the coach, the ghost had closed three new book projects.
A Ghost Support Group
Sally Collings, a ghostwriter based in Palo Alto, CA, focuses on memoirs and life stories. Sally worked for HarperCollins and was editorial director for Amber Books before going out on her own in 2006 and founding Red Hill Publishing. “Being part of this group has been enormously valuable to me in so many ways,” Sally says. “Over the past couple of years, its members have become my pseudo-colleagues: people I can gripe to, celebrate with, and commiserate with. Our monthly calls are my water-cooler conversations.”
It’s helped me, too. Sometimes, I’m stumped by how to work with a testy client; the group helps me figure out how to stay professional. When I’m looking for a fresh perspective, it seems like someone has a suggestion that helps me.
I met Derek Lewis, the founder of the group, at a rare conference for ghostwriters. It’s so rare, in fact, that the conference has yet to be repeated. Ghostwriters attended from all over the US and England and Australia. As the conference was winding down, Derek suggested a few of us continue the conversation about professional matters and that’s how Ghostpreneurs was born.
“I wanted to set up a monthly conference with some of my fellow ghostwriters for a purely selfish reason,” Derek concedes. “I wanted to learn from the best for free. More than two years later, I’m still learning.”
Most of all, I’m reminded I’m not alone.