Ghostwriting Fiction

My first ghostwriting job was, in fact, for fiction. Strange, I know, but true.

Like most novelists, I had just come to realize that the advance from my first book would not last me a lifetime, nor even a fiscal year. Thus, I was stuck with the typical writer’s dilemma: to day-gig or not to day-gig; that was the question.

A few months prior, I had seen an ad from a ghostwriting agency. I applied and was instantly turned away; no full-length book writing credits to my name. Well, now that had all changed. I reached out, told them about my book deal, and a day later I was given my first ghostwriting gig.

Fiction. At first, it didn’t even register. I was a novelist. They wanted me to write fiction. Perfect.

The oddity of it only hit me once I began working with the client. All he had was an idea; just an idea. His entire novel — all that he had of it — could have been written out on a cocktail napkin while still leaving room for a few random phone numbers. But hey, I was being paid to write. I now had my advance and I had this other paying assignment. I was now a professional writer!

As we went along it became absurder and absurder. He didn’t even have character names. Would I be so kind? Sure, I said. I proceeded to put all of my friends in his book. What a gas! They would never know; he would never know. I kept to my “ghostwriter’s oath;” I would never tell, silence until death. There are simply too many books released each and every year. I’d created my first literary joke.

In the end, I felt used and abused, although I salved my soul with four facts: he never even bothered to try to traditionally publish it, he didn’t work hard at all at selling it via self-publishing and so it languished in his garage, the check cleared, and the experience had made me a better writer.

Since then I have ghosted about 45 other books, mostly non-fiction. But yes, I have done the stray fiction ghosting again since then. Now that the newness of the experience has worn off I am probably more irascible about the entire concept — more resentful, more bitter. But with experience, I am also wealthier for it as well.

None of my fiction ghostings have yet to make millions for anyone, although I pride myself into thinking they could, but alas, the marketing is in the client’s hands, not mine, and bestsellers are made via marketing rather than quality alone.

I truly wish I could get inside the head of someone who would be comfortable signing their name to something someone else wrote. I wonder how they sleep at night, having told all their friends about their muse, their vision, their philosophy of life via words that do not belong to them. But that is their burden to bear, not mine. For me, the check has cleared and that is that. Perhaps someday, if someone whose fiction I wrote appears on Oprah or Letterman, I will wince and I will cry, but I know the percentages; I know the numbers. I also know that we currently live in the age of the sequel and for book two I charge like a bitch.

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