Recently, I had an opportunity to interview Marcia Turner, founder of the Association Of Ghostwriters. She’s an accomplished ghostwriter, author and editor, giving her a unique vantage point. Several of the Fall Net Minds Select projects seek a ghostwriter and several editors in our network are interested in becoming one, so I was curious about her thoughts on the subject.
Tim: So many authors I know aren’t really sure what a ghostwriter does, exactly. Give me your definition. And what distinguishes a ghostwriter from a development editor?
Marcia: A ghostwriter is a skilled writer who is able to turn a client’s full concept into a completed manuscript, quality manuscript. I would say developmental editing is working with an existing manuscript to improve its quality by restructuring it.
Tim: I’m sure you’ve helped people make this leap before. What key advice would you offer to an aspiring ghostwriter?
Marcia: I think editing is a great way to get a foot in the door with a client. Many clients believe that their writing is fine as is. What they have is a good and that it just needs some polishing, and really all they need is an editor. My advice to developmental and line editors is go after those projects because once you get in there and start doing the work, you’re going to recognize that you’re doing a heck of a lot more than just polishing. You are frequently rewriting and restructuring perhaps and you have an opportunity there to up sell the client on a ghost writing relationship. So once they see the value that you are going to deposit and you’re not just an editor, you’re really doing the writing and I think that’s where you can make the switch.
Tim: What would additional talents are required to become a ghostwriter?
Marcia: First, editors need to sharpen their big picture thinking, what is the book about, who’s the audience and then being able to assess whether the current manuscript meets the criteria that the author has set. Is it doing its job, meaning, is it living up to the promise that the author has made to the reader? If they recognize that it is not, and then it’s a matter of identifying where are the holes? What are the problems here? I think editors, by their nature, are really good at that. They are good at assessing the situation, seeing what needs to be done and making recommendations. That’s a great way to get a foot in the door. You can help the client see where their manuscript doesn’t measure up and then provide a solution. That’s kind of what a ghostwriter ultimately does.
Tim: How can a new ghostwriter market her services?
Marcia: The best way to become known as a ghostwriter is to get that first project, and excel at it. That first project is just critical for establishing your authority and credibility as a ghostwriter. I don’t know that there is a set process for how to do that. Some people who are trying to break into ghost writing might be willing to work on a project for a lower fee, sort of a pro bono project to establish themselves. I think looking for book editing projects, that’s the way in.
Tim: I have talked to a variety of ghostwriters that started out as authors. They realized that ghostwriting was much better suited to their personality because they hated book tours, promotions, checking ranks on Amazon, etc. Do you think that accomplished authors can become ghostwriters?
Marcia: I think many authors are quite capable of becoming ghostwriters because the process of creating manuscripts really is the same. What’s different however is on one hand, your willingness to give up control. When you are ghost writing a project, the project belongs to the client and they really get the final say in what that manuscript looks like. Some authors are not comfortable giving up control. Saying for example, it’s your call, it’s your book; we’ll do it how you want. You need to have that flexibility.
The second thing you have to be able to do is to adopt someone else’s writing voice, which may be different from your own and I think that’s hard for some authors. If you’ve developed your own voice, that’s naturally how you are going to write. If your client’s voice is quite different, could be a problem unless you can adapt. You are being hired to write it the way someone else wants it written. That’s why some authors stick to writing their own books because they can’t adopt someone else’s tone of voice
Tim: Yes, that makes sense. Many self-published authors have told me, “I just need somebody to proofread my manuscript for grammar, punctuation and syntax.” They have an unrealistically high opinion of their manuscript. And usually, they are unreadable, except by their family and friends. I believe every first time author at the very least, needs a development editor. What do you say to those authors who believe that all they need is some light copy editing?
Marcia: I always think that all authors need a skilled editor, whether you’re self-publishing or you are under contract with a major publishing house. You need a fresh pair of eyes can catch problems related to structure, information flow, grammar, spelling, punctuation down the line but at first you need to have someone who can write, who can edit, take a look at it and help you shape it into something that’s going to be of benefit to the reader or interest to the reader. I would be very nervous about allowing a book to be produced, whether you are self-publishing, without an expert. You just need those skilled eyes going through it. The reader deserves this level of care.
Tim is a bestselling author and former Yahoo! executive with a mission to disrupt the traditional publishing and self-publishing industries and share knowledge with authors looking to publish and market high-quality books.Follow @sanderssays