Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Ghosting, Introduction: What is a Ghostwriter?

When I moved to Geneva a couple of years ago, I went to a few getting-to-know you events in order to avoid becoming a complete social outcast. Because of the corporate-humanitarian focus of this city, I always felt something of a curiosity amongst all the frighteningly ambitious young bankers and jaded UN interns at these drinks, especially when the inevitable question came up again and again: what do you do? And I learnt, after a few evenings of clutching at an overpriced glass of wine and trying to make conversation with - shudder - strangers, I could answer this question in two ways...

Answer One: I'm a Literary Consultant. I work in a Geneva-based publishing house doing editing, proofreading and coordinating the administration.

Answer Two: I'm a ghostwriter.

Both are true. Answer One is my day job, Answer Two is my freelance work. But I'm sure you can imagine which one always provoked the better reaction.

But what is a ghostwriter?* Although it varies from job to job, generally a ghostwriter is hired to write or rewrite a piece of text - whether that be a book, short story, report or article - by somebody who will be credited as the official author.

Going back to those drinks, this explanation has prompted some incredulity in its time: Is that a thing? I've never even heard of that.

By this point, I've found the easiest way forward is to mention the multitude of celebrity autobiographies that grace the bookshop shelves and bestseller lists. Of course, there are a lot of ghostwriters of fiction out there (myself included), but I would imagine the biggest pool of work lies in biographical writing; the self-penned stories of actors, sports stars, businesspeople and so on. In fact, I think most people would be surprised how many books out there are written, at least in part, by someone other than the named author.

And it's not a bad thing. That's another issue that arises from the ghostwriting conversation: there tends to be judgement - not of me, but of the clients - as though it's somehow shameful to have put your name to something you haven't bashed out on a keyboard, word for word. It's not. Plenty of individuals have stories to tell, but not necessarily the time, skills, education or even the confidence to tell them without a little help.

I'm hoping to return to these issues and more in an (occasional) series of posts entitled Ghosting. Firstly because the three and a half years I've spent as a ghostwriter have hugely affected my own creative writing - almost entirely for the better, believe it or not. Given that Writer's Block is intended to track my writing progress, it would be strange not to talk about it.

I also freely admit to not knowing a huge amount about the world of ghostwriting myself because, for obvious reasons, much of it is shrouded in secrecy. In Ghosting, I'll be talking about my experience in general terms, to protect the anonymity of my clients, and I would love it if other ghosties could come forward and do the same, in order that we might learn a little from one another. After all, I suspect there are a number of you out there, haunting the internet, so do give me a wail or rattle your chains in my direction if you feel so inclined.

*Incidentally, many don't need me to explain the concept of ghostwriting to them, because they've seen the Ewan McGregor film The Ghost Writer, or read the Robert Harris novel Ghost on which it's based:

In my experience, the profession is not nearly as exciting or dangerous.

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