By Kerry Zukus, reprinted from “Publishing Basics”, June 10, 2011
“I’ve got a book inside me and I can’t get it out!” I hear it all the time. I usually offer the typical solutions: stick two fingers down your throat. If that doesn’t work, hire an exorcist. If neither of these do the trick, there’s the standard third option—the old Nike credo: Just do it! Just sit down and write the darn thing!Ah, but if that was all it took, everyone would be an author. No, sometimes there is a book inside, dying to burst through your chest like that monster in “Alien,” but it just won’t budge. What to do?
There are no reliable statistics on the matter, since it often involves great levels of secrecy, but the clear-cut majority of traditionally-published, non-fiction books are ghostwritten, and the concept is catching on with self-published books as well. Yes, that book you saw on the shelves at Barnes & Noble by your favorite celebrity—she didn’t actually write it. No she did not.
It used to be that this was publishing’s dirty little secret. Today, though, ghostwriting is coming more and more out of the closet. Take a closer look at that memoir by that famous star you love. See the crediting on the cover? It says, “By BIG NAME SUPERSTAR and …” in very, very fine print … some other person you’ve never heard of. That fine-print person is a professional ghostwriter.
Why do they do this? Easy. There are two reasons why people cannot write books: lack of writing talent or lack of time. Or both. There is no shame in either. That celebrity chef you adore is great at what she does. What makes you think she can write as well as she can cook? How talented do we expect people to be?! And time? When you’re heading a food media empire, how can you set it all aside in order to write a full-length book? Book-writing takes time; it’s a full-time endeavor.
But what does this have to do with you, you with your book lodged inside you? You’re not a celebrity.
Would you believe that most non-celebrities also use ghosts for their non-fiction? Some people—celebrity and non-celebrity as well—even use ghostwriters for fiction. I mean, you don’t really believe Snookie wrote her own novel, now do you?
Deciding to write a book is a major decision. It involves an extremely large commitment of time. Maybe you started one but it’s been lingering in the top drawer of your desk for ages. Maybe you’ve shown it to your closest personal friends and even they’ve struggled to tell you it’s a good idea, but the execution is, well … a little amateurish. In other words, don’t quit your day job.
Consider doing what the big shots do. But is such an avenue open to you, a non-celebrity?
Yes. And ghostwriters are everywhere. Most of them are professional authors who have written successful books on their own, but choose to write for others as well in order to continue making writing their full-time profession. Ghosts can be found through referrals, through the Internet, through agencies and publishers, and a hundred other ways, but in the end, they are as easily found as professionals in most every field.
Can you afford one? That depends. A ghostwriter is likely to be the largest single expenditure of your publishing endeavor. Why? Because, as we said, writing an entire book takes a lot of time. But even the most well-paid ghost, when their time is broken down by the hour, is not overly-compensated. The hours are long and arduous. Books are lengthy. But still, people who are determined to get that book written once and for all usually discover a ghostwriter can be found that meets their budget, so long as that budget is serious and realistic.
Are you an expert in your field? Or someone with an amazing story that needs to be told? You can wait forever for the book fairy to place your magnum opus under your pillow while you sleep, or you can do like the rich and famous do—take life by the horns and hire yourself a ghostwriter!