Monday, June 02, 2014

The Care and Feeding of Your Ghostwriter

People sometimes say to me, "It must be SO HARD having someone else get credit for your writing!" But it's not, really. Just about all of my clients have remained my friends, and I'm very happy to see them succeed. And maybe I've just worked with really nice people, but the majority of them not only do give me a shared cover credit (by So and So with Jenna Glatzer), but also make it a point to thank me in the acknowledgments and mention me in interviews when they can. I feel I get plenty of credit most of the time. (If you're wondering who usually doesn't want to acknowledge my role, I'll tell you: doctors. I guess they worry it puts their expertise in question.)

What I usually write are memoirs and true crime stories, and here's what really IS hard: dialogue.

Often, the toughest part of writing someone else's story is trying to come up with dialogue that will help the reader get a sense of everyone's voice and personality. But interviewees rarely want to tell me what a conversation went like because they're worried they're not saying it just right, or misremembering some of it. But listen, if you're working with a ghostwriter, understand this: No one expects the dialogue to be exact. None of us have perfect memories. Readers don't need exact dialogue unless it's some key part of the story where words really count, like a crime confession or someone's last words.

A memoir without dialogue is really boring. Readers need breaks from paragraphs of exposition, and dialogue keeps things lively. So keep that in mind when a ghostwriter interviews you: Try to give more than a few words when the writer asks, "What was that conversation like?" Whatever you remember will be helpful. We don't know these people and their voices; we need you to give us a sense of it.

Here are some other ways you can help your ghostwriter:

-Don't cancel interviews at the last minute. Of course we know that emergencies happen, but understand that most of us plan out our work schedules based around interviews.

-Write out a timeline. If your story is intricate, give the writer a page or two of background showing the important dates and events.

-Don't ask your writer to interview every person you've ever met. I'm not sure why this is, but there is a tendency among people whose books I've written to want me to talk to dozens of people... the book is in your voice. It's your memories. There are often a few key people who the ghostwriter should talk to, to get a fuller picture-- people who may remember things that you've forgotten, or who can put things in context. But keep a limit on this, knowing that the writer is going to spend time interviewing and transcribing each call. She probably doesn't need to talk to your 4th grade softball coach.

-Remember that she doesn't necessarily know your industry/acronyms/slang. I've had clients who've said things like, "So I went to the RBA to get my t-drat from the Magman," and I'm not even sure where to start the question... "Wait, you went to the who-what-where now?" When in doubt, spell it out.

-If you've written diaries, letters, or notes of any kind relating to your story, we want to read them. Don't be afraid to send us things-- we're not going to judge your writing skills. We're pretty glad you're not professional writers... that's why we get to have jobs.

-Don't use speakerphone. One of the most frustating experiences in ghostwriting is when I go to transcribe an interview and can't make out half of what the person said... because the phone connection is bad, the person is using speakerphone or a bad Bluetooth device, or because the person mumbles.

-Slow down. The other difficult thing about transcribing is speed: Whether the writer transcribes with a voice recognition program or by typing, we still need time between phrases. It really helps when interviewees speak clearly and slowly.

-Don't expect us to follow feedback from multiple people. As your writer, I expect to get editing notes from you and your editor (and your agent during the book proposal stage). Anyone beyond that is too many people. I can't be expected to take feedback from your brother, your cousin, your best friend, and your former English teacher. Everyone is going to have an opinion, but you have to trust that your writer and editor are the professionals and that we're going to have your best interest and the book's best interest at heart.

...And that's about it! We ghostwriters aren't that hard to please. Most of us know that we have pretty awesome jobs, after all.


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