Byte Experts: So You Want to Be a Ghostwriter by Hannah Renier

Posted by Justine Solomons on July 22, 2019, in Byte Experts, News

Ahead of her 7th October, Byte Breakfast Bookbusting: How Do you Find or Become a Ghostwriter? Hannah Renier, gives us the lowdown on becoming a Ghostwriter.

So You Want to Be a Ghostwriter? Then let’s talk about you.

Maybe you’re already a published writer and your agent has asked you for a celebrity’s ‘autobiography’. If your agent is competent, the publisher’s advance, the royalties and all the legal commitments should be satisfyingly agreeable to you. All you have to worry about is: first, whether or not you feel competent to write this, and second, whether or not you and the celebrity can share space on this earth without fighting like cats in a bag.

Competence isn’t always straightforward. I, for instance, would be wary about writing for a musician. The ghostwriter has to bring a story to life, in part by riffing on whatever she’s told - adding the telling detail which most people don’t notice and therefore won’t share with you. This may come from your own experience, your sense of humour or from research into specifics, but it has to sound authentic and if you can’t relate sufficiently to the subject matter you may be the wrong writer.

Cats in a bag? Every ghostwriter is approached by a manipulative narcissist at some point. Beware. Meet your subject face to face and talk before you commit to anything.

For the semi-published… Many would-be ghostwriters I’ve come across haven’t had a book accepted by a traditional publisher and don’t have an agent; or they have and do, but they want to work on a private project. The advice below is for you if you’re simply considering writing a book for, and about, the experiences of a living person whose celebrity alone won’t dazzle HarperCollins. It’s based on my opinion, which can change, and it’s not comprehensive. But here it is.

As a ghostwriter, you are not a journalist. You are telling the story as your subject/client sees it and in that sense, you’re a cab-for-hire.

Please protect both parties with a legally approved contract. Figure out the payment structure and conditions you want and need, and have a short letter contract drawn up by a specialist media lawyer. (Yes, £££; but it’s imperative.) Figure out how you propose to work with the client, how long the book will be, and when you’ll be free to do so – your start date and deadline for delivery will be in the final contract. Describe, in the contract, the kind of book it’s going to be. Protect yourself against defamation suits. Protect the client by including a confidentiality clause. Decide whether or not you want your name to appear along with your client’s (this has implications for Public Lending Right payments). Undertake to supply work of a publishable standard. Insert something about supplying work in progress at some point, and express a willingness to make changes after the deadline up to an agreed limit and within a certain time. Make it clear whether you want a share of copyright or not – it’s a decision that will make a difference to your fee and should be considered along with tax and overheads when you’re working out what to charge. Define who’s going to pay for any travel costs or research fees and whether the client undertakes to supply you with documents, photographs or any other material.

Make a rough draft of your requirements before you visit a media lawyer and take it to your meeting. (Time is money, and their time can be loads of money.) You’ll receive a draft and if it’s not what you want, discuss alterations with the lawyer. It is important.

Be honourable. People will tell you their secrets and your confidentiality clause should protect all concerned.

Should you be approached by a client with his/her own contract, be careful; it may have been drawn up by a non-specialist. Society of Authors members have access to an experienced team who advise on contracts for free. Conditions of membership are at societyofauthors.org. If you don’t qualify, you can still read their guidelines on ghostwriting - free to members, and cheap for everyone else.

Consider the fate of your work. As a writer you don’t have to get involved in submission of the manuscript or publication, but you do (I hope) undertake to provide work of a publishable standard. If you know you write well but your spelling and punctuation are weak, it’s up to you to hire a proof-reader before the final draft – and to consider that cost as an overhead when setting your fee.

If you cede copyright and waive moral rights, so far as I know (I’m not a lawyer) you can’t stop the ‘Author’ (the person for whom you’ve been writing) from adding, pre-publication, a clichéd paragraph that ruins Chapter 11, a lie based on ignorance, or an Introduction which is three pages of drivel about the meaning of life.

It happens. Comfort yourself, if you’ve written anonymously, that your name won’t be on it. Move on to the next book.

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From her armchair in the middle of London, she's produced action-packed memoirs, one of which is now a Netflix film, plus how-to books, self-help, funny stories and a dog blog. Ghostwriting has also meant travelling – all over the place, from Djakarta to Rochdale via Texas – for stories about real-life dilemmas and conflicts in business, the law, television, popular science and marriage. (And much more. But never music; she's clueless about music.) Right now she's writing a fictionalised account of certain business dealings for a client. 

You can contact her via http://ghost-writer.co.uk, by text at 075 0088 7514. On Twitter she is @nearlyapalindro.

Finally if you are interested in the world of ghostwriting either thinking of working as one who want to employ one, come join us for Byte Breakfast Bookbusting: How Do you Find or Become a Ghostwriter? The event runs from 8:30am to 10:30am on 7th October at the Groucho Club, London. Ticket are £25* for members and £35* for non-members and include a buffet breakfast. All tickets can be booked here.

*Plus VAT and Booking fee.

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