We’re living through a time period that our great grandchildren will likely read about in their history books, but for our stories to be told tomorrow, we have to write them down today. However—due to time constraints, a lack of writing prowess and other factors—many are not able to translate their complex thoughts and experiences into a clear, cohesive narrative that will resonate with readers. That’s where ghostwriters come in. Barbara Basbanes Richter, founder of In Ink Ghostwriting, demystifies the ghostwriting process, clears up the misconceptions and shares her personal thoughts on this vital service.
How do you define “ghostwriting?” Is it simply writing someone’s book for them, or is it a lot more complex than that?
A ghostwriter is hired to produce any written material—books, screenplays, blogs—and give authorial credit to the client. The process of ghostwriting—getting to know the clients, learning their voice, understanding their goals—requires patience and active listening, to coax the story out and put it on paper. In Ink Ghostwriting is a full-service firm that is more than just a hired pen; my team and I provide editing and coaching services as well. We also offer in-depth analysis of the publishing marketplace, which can include examining sales figures and trends, drafting book proposals and querying literary agents. The world of publishing can be overwhelming and confusing, so we aim to demystify and clarify the process as much possible.
How do you ease the minds of potential clients who feel that hiring a ghostwriter is, as your website notes, almost like cheating?
Ghostwriting is not cheating, though we do get asked this question from time to time and is why we address this on the website. Here’s why it isn’t: The ghostwriter is not responsible for the original idea, nor the direction of a piece. A ghostwriter takes a concept and brings it to life. For example, experts in their field often want to publish a book demonstrating their knowledge, but simply do not have the time or inclination. Other authors have great ideas but find writing challenging.
Can a client hire a ghostwriter having only come up with a manuscript idea, or should they basically have the whole thing planned out?
Some clients come to us when they have little more than a general concept for a book, others have an outline of what they want to achieve, and still others have a full manuscript that they want proofread. We’ve seen it all and work with clients no matter where they’re starting out and what their goals may be.
What is the most common genre of book (or other manuscript) In Ink Ghostwriting is asked to write, and why do you think that is?
We’ve worked in nearly every genre, from sci-fi/fantasy to heavily researched volumes on psychoanalysis. During the pandemic, we have been especially busy with personal histories and memoirs—family stories set down on paper to be passed from one generation to the next. Given the historical and unprecedented nature of these challenging times, I think people want to ensure that their stories aren’t forgotten. In something of a silver lining to the quarantine orders, people finally have the time to devote to such a project.
What are the challenges and differences when working with a ghostwriter to create a work of nonfiction vs. a work of fiction?
The difference between crafting fiction versus writing nonfiction is merely in the preparation. Fiction, contrary to popular belief, is hardly created on the fly, but is the result of careful planning, execution and revision. Depending on the topic, a nonfiction project may require additional research or interviews, but that scope is always determined by the client.
How important are in-person meetings to the process of fully understanding your client and capturing their narrative voice? And how has the shelter in place shift to phone/video calls affected that process?
We always aim to make the ghostwriting process as unobtrusive on the client’s life as possible. Since we have clients from Montauk to Hong Kong, in-person meetings aren’t always convenient and can be more challenging to coordinate rather than setting up a call. Pre-pandemic, most of our interviews and process meetings were done via phone and video calls. Sometimes, there is no substitution for in-person meetings—some of our clients are artists and musicians and we need to see the material being discussed—but for now, video calls are filling that void.
What goes into prepping for the initial consultation so that you’re not overwhelmed with information and can listen for key details and unexpected tidbits? What should the client do to best prepare?
The initial interview is preceded by a plan drawn up in coordination with the client that outlines the scope of work and what we want to achieve on each call. Then we create a book plan. For example, let’s say that we are working on a memoir and we determine that the book plan calls for twelve chapters. We will draft a detailed table of contents so that we know precisely what each chapter will contain. Let’s assume that each chapter will require interviews of roughly one hour per chapter, so on our first call we will schedule as many interviews as possible, preferably to take place once a week but structured to best fit the client’s schedule. This process ensures that the client’s time is spent wisely. At this rate, a memoir can be completed in as little as three to six months.
Clients can prepare by providing as much as possible ahead of that initial call. If a client is writing a memoir and has kept a running journal of their life, we would want to see that prior to an interview. Some clients worry about inundating us with material, but there is no such a thing as too much!
How much of your own research generally goes into ghostwriting a manuscript? And do you find you’re now doing more research, without in-person meetings possible?
Pandemic or not, the amount of research we put into a project is always determined by the client. Some clients prefer to do the research and hand it to us to weave into the narrative; others ask us to conduct research for them. And the internet has made it possible to share findings rapidly and effectively.
How much back and forth is there between the ghostwriter and the client during the writing process? And have those check-ins increased or decreased in number during shelter in place?
Again, we tailor our projects based on what works best for our clients. Some clients like to speak multiple times a week to discuss a single element of a chapter, while others send us the raw material and only want to see the finished product. However, during the pandemic we have noticed an increase in check-in calls and a greater desire to speak regularly, even to talk about the day-to-day happenings in clients’ lives. Some clients have said that having a standing weekly progress call provides a reassuring predictability to the week.
How do you handle situations where you respectfully disagree with a client’s insistence to include a certain detail or change the tone in a particular spot?
Ultimately, ghostwriters need to remember that this is not our project, that we are here to serve the wants and needs of the client. That said, we don’t serve as echo chambers; we provide our rationale for a particular move and provide suggestions for the element at hand. But the client always has the last say. After many years in this business, we have a solid sense of what works best in a story and we have those conversations regularly and respectfully with each client. For example, we recently had a conversation with a client about possibly reorganizing the opening three chapters of a book since they had the potential to confuse a reader, but as they stood, also served as an interesting literary device. We discussed the pros and cons of each possibility, and ultimately, the client kept the original structure.
Once the writing is complete does the ghostwriter also serve as the editor? How does that process work?
Clients receive what we call “clean copy,” that is, written work that has been proofread and edited by another member of our team. We have multiple editors on staff always at the ready.
What is the most rewarding aspect of ghostwriting?
Seeing a project to completion is a point of pride, as is knowing that my team has helped breathe life into a project that may have otherwise remained unchecked on a client’s bucket list.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
We’ve recently begun researching genealogical histories for clients, in essence taking material culled from sites like Ancestry.com and creating a full narrative of how families made their way to America and got to where they are today. We also offer translation services, audio book recording services and book design consultation.
To learn more about In Ink Ghostwriting, visit ininkghostwriting.com.