For the next few weeks here at Accomplish Press, we are focusing on the topic of Ghostwriting. There is a lot of misunderstanding about what ghostwriting is, what ghostwriters do exactly, how the agreements are drawn up, how to find a ghostwriter, and so on. To help us understand it better, we have four featured Q & A sessions with four different ghostwriters. Every week, we will ask them about their work, and their experiences in this particular writing niche.
This week, we are featuring Emike Oyemade.
What exactly is Ghostwriting? – This is simply writing for someone and taking no credit for it. Your client (author) pays for your time and intellect. It is up to them to add your name in their appreciation page or not but in the true sense of it, it is supposed to just be business. So the book finally appears as if written by the author.
How did you get into this niche? – I have always loved writing and publishing but I started writing stories in secondary school, worked with publishing firms, run my own publishing outfit, authored a few books etc. My first ghostwriting job came about five years go. Then I was working as a writer and editor for a publishing firm and freelancing for a business magazine. A client wanted to publish a book but didn’t have the time to put it together. He scribbled down something and was looking for who could help him flesh it out. I took it up, we discussed, reached an agreement and the book was done just the way he wanted.
What are the skills you need to be a great Ghostwriter? – The truth is, being a ghostwriter is more difficult than doing your own book. It takes some extra effort to be skilled in it, it’s more than just having a writing flair. First, you must be patient, sometimes you are going to meet a client who wants to do a book with all the uncoordinated ideas in their head and you are expected to help them weave this idea together and summarize, present it back to them to be sure you are on same page. Not every writer has this patience. My passion was sustained from wanting to help pastors and Christian leaders publish good books because some religious leaders just PRINT something from a Sunday message they preach and the congregation buys it out of sentiments. My job is to take that same message and repackage in a form that anyone, not just church members can find it appealing to have and read. You also have to be a reader. Read what others are write, read from different fields even if it doesn’t interest you. A ghostwriter also needs to be current, be in the know of what is happening in, around and beyond your surroundings. Should also possessive some ‘investigative skills’. You have only an idea, ‘disjointed’ manuscript, chapter titles, one page summary from the author so besides internet research, you are going to be talking to people if and when necessary, you may look at related works done by others depending on the type of requested book. There were times I had to travel out of Lagos just to go and cross check what I had written. You have to be determined and dedicated, each job has a deadline, you make a promise of when the book will be ready so you are expected to write every day. Unlike if it were your own work, you may or may not write for a day or two if you are busy with other things but not so for ghostwriting, to earn referrals you have to prove you know what you are doing and part of it is keeping to the time promised.
What is the pay structure like? – Payment depends on a lot of factors. For me it depends on the type of work, some books require more work than others. Usually academic books are not as expensive as self-help or fiction work because the academic author gives you a guide or syllabus or an exact sample to use, makes the work easy and straight forward. I first consider all my variables such as traveling expenses, employing external editor if need be, time and resources spent in doing any other research etc. If the author is working on more than a book at a time it also influences the price and if it’s going to be a rush work attracts extra payment. I did a book for two weeks, rush job, not sleeping when others are, and spending time at the library. If you don’t have the energy to do this, don’t try it so you don’t give your client a bad job.
What rights do you have over the work? Is it different from other ‘write-to-hire’ jobs? – I have no rights to such a job, in fact as far as the book is concerned I am not connected to it. It’s like going to buy something from the market, you don’t expect the seller to still be claiming some ownership to it. There have however, being few cases some author have acknowledged me like “Thank you for your valuable contribution to this book”. In ‘hire-to-write, you could have a byline if the article is going to be for the internet or paper publication but the content belongs to the firm who hired the writer. Both are different.
Do you have to sign a confidentiality clause when you take on the work? – I have an agreement document with several confidentiality clauses but even before you put that to most authors they request for it. It contains issues from idea generation to the final book.
Who are the people most likely to be your clients? How do you find them? – I deal with Christian authors mostly, I’ve only done educational books on a few occasions. So far, I haven’t gone to ‘find’ client, jobs done have been referrals. Now that you have mentioned it maybe I should advertise!
Do you need to do a lot of research in your work for other people? – Sure! I start with researching who the author is because I am going to be writing like them, trying to sound like them, I call this ‘entering the author’s brain’. I even spend some time just to familiarize because I don’t want their book to sound like me. Then I do other research depending on the topics I am writing about.
Do you find it easier or harder to write for others as opposed to writing your own work? – It’s easier writing my own work. My fiction for instance, the characters live in my head and have their conversations often. Once I get settled I pour it out, I don’t struggle with them. For a contracted work, it doesn’t come that way because the story is not originally mine, so whatever I build must be in line with what the client wants.
Do you write fiction or non-fiction for your clients? Which do you prefer? – I write both. It’s difficult to say which I prefer but fiction is easier and fun. However, there are more non-fiction clients because it’s common to see younger people write non-fiction, they have the time but my client are mostly older people who are too busy to do it.
Do you find it easier to keep an emotional distance from the work? – It was a struggle when I started, I felt cheated when I saw the book eventually on the internet. In fact, I begged my first client to add my name to his work. There were times I felt I was giving out too much relevant information that I could use for myself. The minute I re-conditioned my mind that this is just business, I felt better. The way God created us humans, you can never run out of ideas. The fact that you have done 20 books doesn’t mean there’s nothing else to write.
How do you feel when the work gets published and becomes successful, but you can’t claim any credit for it? – I don’t feel bad because it is done as strictly business. I hardly attach anything to it I must move on to the next job quickly. Your well of creativity can never run dry so why create attachment to just that one. I move on. I did a book 3 years ago, the author had started it then I completed it, it became a hit among students. Then I sent him a message to recommend me, that’s the most I do.
How do you manage your client’s expectations? – Truthfully, sometimes it gets really difficult because you start working on the brief and the client says that is not what they want to say. Or you are nearly completing the manuscript and the author says, “this doesn’t really sound like me can you re-do it?” Or even an author who pays for a regular book and expecting to get a rush service, but generally, it has been good business.
Any advice for writers who may be considering this niche? – If you have what it takes go for it. If you must venture, be sure you write well, you can build on ideas, you can take a statement and turn it into a book. Test the waters by doing your own writing, run a blog and have regular posts, encourage people to comment, just keep writing. When I was a journalist my editor use to say, “write everyday even if it is something stupid, someday you would make sense out of your stupidity.” It use to offend me but I got the message. The more you write the more you get better. Writing also requires discipline, have a goal. Can your goal be 2000, 5000 or more words a day? Even if you do 1000 words a day at the end on the week you have 7000 words which can make a mini book. If you are consistent in a month you would have written a novella.
Thank you Emike.