Letting Go, On Both Sides
My latest crop of clients for ghostwriting services have given me a good education into ghostwriting and how I feel about my work. First of all, there were three projects that, once I created them for the client as outlines I really wanted them to reject them all. Hde didn’t nd I am writing one of them for him and I must say, it is getting easier the more I write. Let me explain.
I was so rapt with the story I came up with that I wanted to write it for myself and put my name on the book cover, not his. Yet, that is not what a ghostwriter does. We are writers for hire, literary mercenarys writing for whoever pays us. Hired pens, or keyboards in this case, rather than hired guns. I carried a gun for pay many years ago as a much younger man, first wearing my country’s uniform and later in a suit or the uniform of whoever was paying my wages. Today I write for myself but I also write for pay, yet all of my writing is always, has to be, my very best.
When you are a ghostwriter you might think if you get a job writing fiction you can write any old flannel, after all the client won’t know the difference otherwise they would have written it themselves. Yes, you can do that but I won’t. If you don’t stand for anything then what good are you? Taking someone’s money under false pretenses is no better than holding them up at the muzzle of that gun I used to sling.
It hurt to let my baby go but to be honest, if the client hadn’t asked me to come up with a story I would likely as not have never thought of it, so let’s not get too carried away here. Now I have taken their money (I always get 25-50% up front as a commencement fee because I do a lot of work just to get to the point where I can start typing) they deserve the best I can do. Simple as that. Why? Because that is the right thing to do; the professional thing. It would be easy enough to offer ‘A Dark And Stormy Night’ standard writing, but that’s not how I do things.
Many years ago I was working a job where I came into contact with blokes in the same game, but on the other side, so to speak. One was bragging to his mates how when he had been in his country’s army they once cleared some bad guys out of a strongpoint by walking the ‘baddies’ wives and kids in front of them as they advanced on the strongpoint. His table all found that highly amusing. My table wasn’t so chuffed. One of our lads, a lovely bloke but tough as nails and the real deal, turned around and said; “Hey mate. In our army, we put ourselves in front of the women and children, not the other way around.” They must have got his drift because they shut up, packed up and left the canteen. I have never forgotten that and have always been one to put the women and children behind me, whether I’m soldiering or writing. In other words, do the right thing, the ethical thing.
This doesn’t mean you work for free or give away your capabilities. Another client I was writing a non-fiction book for realised after the first chapter where I had copy edited his original content then, as asked by him, added my own material that this was not how he wanted to proceed. He realise he could write the book, didn’t need a ghostwriter and as much as he liked what I wrote, it wasn’t his book. Fine, no problem. He also wanted a refund of the balance of the commencement fee. Balance? What balance? I had invested several hours reading his two other books he sent to me to get an idea of his style, plus I had spent over an hour on a conference call and several hours producing a scaffold and outline he was able to use to better organize his work. I earned my commencement fee and, once I invoiced work to date he accepted that.
As a writer you spend precious time thinking, creating and developing the material. This needs to be compensated for because it is work and work time. During the time I spent doing work on his book I wasn’t earning money on any other project. In fact I had blocked out several weeks to ensure his job was done to schedule and I stopped looking for other work so that I wouldn’t double book. Now I have a gap in my work schedule I will have to fill by finding other clients and that time is not producing any income as it would have had he not realised, through the work I did with him to that point, that he should write it himself.
The bottom line? Give great value and go your hardest every time but, do not be ashamed to ask for a fair reward. You deserve it and not asking for it insults you and your client, as if you don’t think they are professional enough to accept you have a right to be paid for what you know as much as what you do. What do you think?