Thursday, February 2, 2012

Why Ghosts are Good Guys

So if someone wants to write a book, why don’t they just write it? Why do they need you, the ghostwriter?

Of course, the answer is that not everyone who wants to write a book does need you. They might be able to write their book themselves, thank you very much. But it’s equally true that there are many people who’d love to be an author, but don’t think they can be, because of three main reasons:

1. They’re not a writer, or they lack confidence in their writing skills.
2. They hate to write – some would rather clean the bathroom than write.
3. They don’t have the time.

These are not empty excuses. Writing a book is hard. It does take time. Writing talent and skill do help a great deal. That is exactly why authors are given respect.

Yet just because someone is not a writer or doesn’t have time to write, doesn’t mean that their ideas, methods, systems, tips or tricks, or stories don’t deserve to be in a book.

In my experience, the number one reason people want to hire a ghostwriter is because they think they don’t have the time. Usually they are quite right. Some of them have had the idea for a book in their back of their minds for years, and may even have a couple of unfinished drafts stashed away that they’ve given up on because they found out how hard it was to write a book – and how long it took. They just didn’t have time to maintain the sustained effort it takes.

So that’s the reason most of your prospective clients will give you when they hire you to write their book. No time!

From my perspective, however, the number one reason many people need to hire ghostwriters is because many people do not write well. And although it’s not a good idea to inform your prospective clients that they’re probably a lousy writer, I do suggest that you educate them on the importance of good writing. Because this is the real reason they should hire you.

Some people don’t know that good writing is important. They think that as long as they get “something” out there, that’s what matters. Visibility is it!

Many people also don’t recognize the difference between good writing, bad writing, or ho-hum writing. This is not because they are stupid or badly intentioned. They may care passionately about their topic, and they may be able to move people when they speak because they are powerful verbal communicators, but when it comes to writing, an awful pall falls over them and renders them ineffective.

And yet they may have a wonderful story to tell. One of my personal frustrations is finding a book that has a great concept, a fire-eating story, characters that scream for attention – and a poor writer writing about them. What a waste of an idea or a story.

When an author puts something “out there,” they will be judged on it. Poor writing tells the reader that the author doesn’t know, or doesn’t care, about the quality of their communication. So the visibility the author gains by getting his or her work “out there” actually does him or her more harm than good – all it means is that now many people know they are poor writers.

The written word is one of the most powerful forces in changing the world. It has a long and distinguished history in doing just that. But bad writing never convinced anyone of anything except that the writer didn’t know what he or she was doing – or worse, didn’t care.

If you are interested in learning more about the ins and outs of ghostwriting, my online program “Living as a Ghost” covers everything I’ve learned in the twelve years I’ve been making my living this way – for only $349. Find out more at

Kim Pearson is an author, ghostwriter, and owner of Primary Sources, a writing service that helps others become authors of professional and compelling books and articles. She has authored 6 books of her own, and ghostwritten more than 30 non-fiction books and memoirs. To learn more about her books or services, visit
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  1. Nice portrait of the "anatomy of a ghost," Kim. There are also alternative strategies that can address the three challenges you highlighted. My second professional book languished as an ever growing but never more than half-finished manuscript for years. Then I teamed up with a co-author. The book was cut by half and content doubled, and we had an edition in print within 9 months. "Yourdon and Constantine," as it became known in the computer business, went on to become a much-cited, much-used classic.

    I came to believe in the power of partnership and have parlayed it into award-winning books that I probably could not done or done as well on my own. Not to put talented ghostwriters like you out of business, but straight, level collaboration also works.

    --Larry Constantine, author of The Rosen Singularity

  2. What is so neat about the writing world is that it is not a one-size-fits-all. There are loners, collaborators, and those who hire a ghostwriter. All is good if the final product is good. Same goes for approaches to plotting and outlining. Some do, some don't, and that is okay.

    Thanks for sharing your expertise, Kim, and opening up a discussion.

  3. Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Larry. I agree that collaboration and partnership is a great way of getting a book out there. Ghostwriting too is a collaboration. The books I ghostwrite are based on the author's ideas, not mine, so the author is always involved and integral to the creative process. That's why they get the credit.

  4. You're so right, Maryann, that one size does not fit all. Powerful writing - well done - does, however, fit all. In fact, it's a requirement if a writer is serious about becoming a respected author. Hence, we have a niche for ghostwriters who transform great ideas/information into great books.

    Excellent, thought-provoking post, Kim! Thanks for sharing.

    P.S. to Maryann: Even those writers who choose to be loners need a team somewhere in the background. Without a great editor and a professional publisher (to say nothing of a marketing plan), they will likely fall short of achieving their writing dreams.

  5. There a lot's of things I'd rather do than write ... but I draw the line at cleaning the bathroom.

  6. If I didn't have so much on my plate already, I'd take your class, Kim. At this point, I'd like to eek out enough time to write my own stories, much less write for others! But I always felt ghostwriting had interesting career potential for anyone who wants to write for a living.

  7. Kim:
    How did you learn to estimate your time for a project? I find this hard enough in setting the price for my editing--but time for the writing process must be hard to project, relying as it does on creative impulses that do not punch a clock. If you have another project in your queue, is it just an "I'll get to you when I get there" sort of thing? Or do you juggle--research one while write another? Trying hard to envision your life...

  8. Dani, I'd love for you to take my class! Thanks for your interest.

    Kathryn, good question. I learned about timing my projects through trial and error, still the best way to learn anything, in my opinion. I do write more than one book at a time, so I have learned to juggle voices, by kind of the same process used in writing about more than one fictional character. Figuring out how much time each project will take is dependent on many different factors. That too, I learned through trial and error -- and I'm still learning because I still make errors, darn it. But at least they're not the same errors. Perhaps someday I will be perfect?

  9. Writing is one of the most fulfilling things I can do, and can't imagine putting that chore into another person's hands, but still I can see why others wouldn't want the challenge ;)


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.