Monday, March 19, 2012

Even Ghosts Change with the Times

Changes are often scary, but they can also be a good thing. The recent rapid changes in publishing have been a good thing for me, a ghostwriter. Print-on-demand books, e-books and e-readers, the rapid growth of self-publishing, social media marketing – these have enabled more wanna-be authors to get their ideas and stories out into the world.

Why is this good for a ghost? Because what hasn’t changed is that writing itself is still time-consuming, difficult, sometimes infuriating, and requires practice, practice, practice to do it well. Just because it is now easier and cheaper to get your ideas and stories published, doesn’t mean they will be well-received if they’re not compelling to readers. In fact, because there are more books out there means the competition for readers’ attention is even stiffer.

During the past few years my opportunities for ghostwriting have grown primarily in two areas. The first is memoir/personal histories.  Everyone has ancestors and descendants, and many are interested in what we can learn or experience from the past, or leave a legacy for those who come after us. Some of us have stories of triumph or hope that can inspire or encourage others – something that memoirs are uniquely good at; and some of us have stories of pain and despair that can serve as warnings of what can happen when we make bad choices. Not only is it wise to leave a Will that covers our material possessions, it is becoming increasingly popular to leave a written record of our experiences as well. My clients whose memoirs I ghostwrite hope that these will be passed down through generations; the reason they hire me is because they want those memoirs to be beautiful.

The second growth area in my ghostwriting business is books (and blogs, articles, and tweets) for entrepreneurs, freelancers, consultants, and sole-proprietors of service businesses. This area has grown not only because publishing is easier, but also because of the difficult economy. Unemployment went up, and many of those who were laid off and could not find jobs leveraged their knowledge and abilities in their industries to start their own businesses or became freelancers or consultants. Entrepreneurship is hot.

What’s one of the best ways to tout your authority in your field? Become an author, of course. A book is a great marketing tool – much more effective than a brochure or website. However, what’s one of the things entrepreneurs (who are often doing everything from sales to marketing to production to janitorial) lack? Time! How are they going to write a book about their particular skill, product or service when they have no time? Duh – hire a ghostwriter. It’s not only the time they save; they also don’t want a hurriedly written book full of confusing or dull prose that might hurt more than help. They want compelling narratives that highlight their knowledge and passion.

Writing is a skill. It takes talent, time, and practice to do it well. It also helps if you love to write. Not everyone has this skill, talent, time, and not everyone loves to write. But all our stories, histories, triumphs and tragedies, ideas, and methods deserve to be written about. This is why I do what I do, and also why I love it. I get to be a part of so much more than myself.

If any writers or editors reading this think that ghostwriting might be fun for you too, 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 here.
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
Bookmark and Share


  1. I found it fascinating to read about these trends, Elspeth. I suppose it's no different than hiring an artist to paint your portrait, or an architect to design your house, but as a writer, it would never occur to me to hire someone else to write out my advice, or the story of my life. Your awareness of this has turned into a valuable service—good for you!

  2. You're right, Kathryn, a ghostwriter can be somewhat like an architect. Thanks for your comment. -- Kim (not Elspeth)

  3. Unfortunately, everyone I know is as poor as I am ... and I've had a little too much experience trying to market books to do anything on spec.

  4. Got some good insights from your piece, Kim. Thanks for sharing.

    Good point, Christopher. One should never agree to write something for someone else totally on spec. You never know what is going to happen when you have finished your end of the bargain, and you could be left with nothing.

  5. Kim, this is interesting food for thought because I've considered ghostwriting - but with a different twist. I'd do fiction.

    It seems apparent that some very prolific novelists use ghosts - or they've lost their touch. Whether they provide an outline and the ghost fills in the blanks, so to speak, I don't know. However, I have seen obvious changes in style in some authors whose works I used to read, which suggests to me that someone else has a hand or two on the keyboard. If an established author uses a ghost, that ghost should be very careful about emulating the writer's established and recognizable style.

    My brother, an avid Robert Ludlum fan, told me that someone else has been writing the stories that Ludlum didn't complete before his death. My brother also mentioned that the new writer's works are quite lackluster compared to the originals. Why would this happen if that new writer was talented and studied Ludlum's style, structures, and word choices.

    Do you ever venture into fiction, Kim? I have had authors tell me that, when I edit a scene and give them an example of what it could be, they cannot tell my writing from theirs without doing a side-by-side comparison with their originals. Why? I pay attention to how they write, how they develop their characters, how they structure dialogue, etc. This is what fiction ghost writing should be, don't you think? Do you have any advice for a writer who would like to be a fiction ghost?

  6. I agree with you, Christopher, that ghostwriting on spec is usually a very bad idea, unless your prospective client has a great marketing plan and platform, and perhaps some celebrity. I usually ghostwrite on a for-hire basis only.

    Linda, years ago I read a sequel to Gone With the Wind written by someone other than Margaret Mitchell, and I was sorely disappointed. I agree that ghostwriting fiction must depend heavily on style (as does ghostwriting non-fiction), but since I don't ghostwrite fiction I have no tips to share. When I write my own fiction I give my creativity a big range to wander in, and I'm not sure I would enjoy fencing that creativity to conform to another's vision.

  7. Kim, I heard that the sequel to GWTW didn't live up the the original in any area, so I didn't read it. But then I never read the original - it was way too wordy. (Yes, I did try to wade through it, more than once.)

    I agree that ghostwriting for an established ficition writer is fraught with potential problems. I also think it offers some intriguing challenges. Having said that, I'm reluctant at this point in my working career to jump on that bandwagon. I just wondered whether you or any of our editors or visitors had had any experience in this type of fiction writing.

  8. Interesting turn of conversation. I just finished Blaize Clement's latest Dixie Hemingway mystery, which was completed by her son after her death. I'll be interviewing John here in the next few months about ghostwriting his mother's series, since he's renewed the contract with her publisher. I have to say, I was amazed at the latest book. No discernible voice change, so I'm curious as to how much of the book John actually wrote/edited.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice.