Tips on working with a ghost

I was recently asked to contribute to a blog on five golden rules for successfully working with a ghostwriter and thought it might be quite helpful to reproduce it here. So, with little fanfare, my top rules would be:

–  Be choosy. Those who are thinking of working with ghosts should think very carefully about the chemistry between them and their co-writer. An 80,000-word relationship can seem like a lifetime if the connection is not there. More importantly, if your ghost doesn’t really buy into what you are saying, the end result probably won’t hold together terribly well either.

–  Plan, plan and plan. I am a great believer in getting a really firm chapter-by-chapter plan in place at the earliest opportunity. Things may change as the process progresses and they usually do, but if there is a plan in place, everyone will know what is expected of them and will arrive at interviews fully primed and prepared.

–  Be sure to commit enough time. As a ghost, I have spent my fair share of time waiting around for delayed interviews, or even climbing straight back onto trains after a last minute cancellation. That’s fine now and again and goes with the territory of working with subjects who are in demand. However, I would always recommend that my co-authors consider very carefully whether they have enough time for a book project. Ideally, I need at least 25 to 30 hours of a subject’s time to get the full story.

–  Face-to-face is best. Secondary to the above point, I much prefer to conduct interviews on a face-to-face basis. I have done some book interviews over the phone, or via Skype, but it is not ideal. Capturing a person’s voice is one of the most important aspects of successful ghosting and interviews via electronic media add an unnecessary layer of detachment.

–       Read it. Ghosting is collaboration and it is really helpful if a co-author reads the copy which his or her ghost will regularly send over for review. It can make for a very messy end to a project if at the 11th hour the named author goes through the book with a fine toothcomb and decides that they don’t really like any of the anecdotes. Often it is simply a case of cold feet at the thought of seeing their confessions in black and white, but it is really helpful if this can be thrashed out earlier.

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