Thursday, August 06, 2009


I’m an arts critic but in order to keep a decent amount of food on the table, I ghostwrite non-fiction books. So far, I’ve been lucky enough to find clients through referrals and being at the right place at the right time. The problem is, all of these projects (12) have been self-published, which means that although the manuscript is top-drawer, it ends up languishing by the caseload in clients’ sheds while they work out how to market them.

I quite like ghosting and am looking to move onwards and upwards. I’ve been making a few inquiries with publishers and agents about how they source ghostwriters for memoirs or other projects but can’t get a straight answer out of either side. Both say to try the other!

Which party is responsible for arranging the ghostwriter and what is the best way to get my foot in the door? Are there agents that deal specifically with ghosts?

This is an interesting question, and like so many of the questions I receive it doesn’t have an easy answer. In fact, it doesn’t have one answer. Both publishers and agents can use and hire ghostwriters. I know that BookEnds has a number of writers available for ghostwriting projects and have called in those writers more than once to help complete a project an expert writer was struggling with. In all of those situations, however, the ghostwriter came to us from another project. In other words, one writer came with an expert when I took on his book. She did such a great job that I later used her for other projects. Other writers came to us as writers and worked on projects of their own, but we called them in when ghostwriting became available.

I’ve also been in situations where it was the publisher who decided a ghostwriter was needed and suggested someone. I will tell you though that any time that happened the writer was already agented somewhere and the publisher had simply worked with her before on other projects. Typically publishers do not have a list of ghostwriters at hand and a smart ghostwriter is agented anyway.

Unfortunately, I suspect some of what you’re looking for is luck. It seems you’re getting work, which is great, now it’s getting those projects out to agents and finding someone who can get it to publishers. I don’t think you’re going to have any luck approaching publishers, and I think you’re going to have a difficult time finding an agent unless you have a project you can sell. Your best bet is finding that key project, ghostwriting it, and then working with the author to find an agent who would be willing to take you both on.

At this point, since I’ve never sat on your side of the desk, I’m going to turn this over to my readers. They tend to have better advice than I do on subjects like this.



Dan Holloway said...

I may be way off-beam, and speaking from a UK only perspective, but I would think that ghostwriting non-fiction is a prime case of soemthing where you and your subject need to put together a really strong proposal and seek representation before you write - this is about more than your writing skills, so doing the best you can is no guarantee if people don't want the subject. I would have thought, therefore, that it was most prudent to tik this box first.

SM Blooding said...

This is a very interesting post and something that I rarely hear about, have never researched, and have no idea how it would even work. BUT! Now, my interest is peaked.

Hmm...I have been called in to help write manuals and ACE awards propaganda and how-to manuals. It's amazing what happens when people hear that you're a writer. This was a VERY interesting post!

Jennifer Lawler said...

I don't ghostwrite per se -- with most of the co-authoring I do, my name ends up somewhere on the book -- but the process is very similar to what Jessica described. Basically there are three ways I've gotten co-authoring deals:
1. Proposing them to a publisher (usually through an agent) where I find an expert to help me write a book on some interesting topic. I put together a proposal and my agent sells it.
2. Having previously worked with an agent who thinks of me when a new project needs a co-author.
3. Having previously been published by a publishing company with an editor who thinks of me when a new project needs a co-author.

One of the other commmenters suggested shopping a co-authored/ghost-written proposal to agents, and I think that's probably the best plan.

Mira said...

As I've roamed the blogs, I've noticed quite a few people are interested in becoming a ghost writer.

Thanks for addressing this issue; it's an interesting topic. How to break in.....

Richard Mabry said...

I found one phrase to be particularly interesting. "Most ghost-writers are agented anyway." Now that's not something you hear much about. How does one go about querying an agent for representation as a ghost-writer?
And, lest my own agent read this and think I've decided to go in this direction, she can be assured that I'm finding it hard enough to write my own material, much less hire out to write with others. I just thought it was a fascinating subject.

Betsy Ashton said...

I worked with a ghostwriter for a couple of years. He wrote fiction under a variety of names, some familiar, others not. He got burned out on plotlines and characterizations, so I provided blueprints for his stories and developed good characters. It came in very handy when I began writing my own novels. And the money was nice too.

Robena Grant said...

I met author Andrew Neiderman who once upon a time wrote a few romances for Harlequin. He was writing his own stories when Gothic author, V.C. Andrews (Flowers in the Attic) passed away in the mid eighties. The publisher approached him saying the family had many outlines for future stories of Andrews and asked him to ghostwrite. He must have had a similar voice and writing style. He's still ghostwriting today, as well as writing under his own name and it's common knowledge.

With non-fiction, I'm not sure, other than marketing your skills somehow. Perhaps advertising your ghostwriting services in magazines like Variety (to find a celebrity with a platform but no writing skills) or other industry, arts, or sports related magazines, or Writer's Digest, to get the word out could help?

Have a website that shows you've completed projects, and other writing, and perhaps a blog. Get business cards printed and send off letters to everyone in the bizz advertising your skills. Then when you do secure someone with a strong platform, contact an agent with a proposal.

Wendy Qualls said...

I would expect ghostwriting is like writing any other nonfiction - you need a platform. If you don't personally have a dynamite platform that will sell your book, you need to team up with someone who does before you can seek out an agent. You probably ought to have at least some knowledge of the field, but you will be best off finding someone else who is an expert in XYZ but doesn't have the time or inclination to write a book by themselves.