Kerry Z., bestselling book ghostwriter at GWI and also a film arranger, asks his readers: are we to become either ghostwriters or collaborative writers?
GHOSTWRITERS or Collaborative Writers?
By Kerry Z., ghostwriter of 40+ books and Book of the Month Club published author
Once upon a time, there were ghostwriters. They were completely hidden and they held their secrets to the grave. Like most things, they most certainly still exist, but time has occasionally altered their form.
Most non-fiction—and even a surprisingly significant amount of fiction—is ghostwritten. This is not new. What is new—or new-ish—is how ghostwriting is perceived or even defined.
Today, many ghostwriters eschew the title and refer to themselves—often erroneously—as “collaborative writers.” Many base this on their getting cover credit on some of the books they write. This mixing of job titles, though, can be rather confusing to the subject matter expert who might be in the market for a ghostwriter to help them create a book.
Differences between a Ghostwriter and a Collaborative Writer
First, let me state that I believe much is required for a writer to regard his or herself as a collaborator. A true collaboration is equal in all regards. This means neither party works for the other. No party pays the other. All decisions are joint. Creative control is utterly equal. All votes are of identical weight.
Cover credit alone is not a definition of true collaboration. Over the passage of time, more and more ghostwriters are asking for or even being offered cover credit. Yet their relationship with the subject matter expert is one of servitude and inequality. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
If the idea of writing a book resides within the heart and mind of the subject matter expert and they merely need a writer because they have neither the time nor the talent to do it themselves, they should look to hiring a ghostwriter. What should be defined from the start is that they are in charge. The book is their baby. They own it and have total creative control and veto power over all. If this is not clear, make it clear. In order to get what they want, no subject matter expert need give away their vision. And by ceding control by taking on a true collaborator, that is exactly what they are doing.
Ghostwriters or Collaborative Writers – Working with the Author Clients
Should a subject matter expert look to a ghostwriter for feedback and creative input? Absolutely. Otherwise, save time and money and hire a court stenographer or purchase a voice-recognition software program. But the larger issue is one of control and chain of command. The expert who hires a ghostwriter must insist—in writing—that they have final say on all decisions. The ghostwriter works for the expert.
But what about issues such as cover credit? Why are more and more ghostwriters finding their name on book covers and thus calling themselves “collaborative writers” when they truly are not? Three answers spring immediately to mind, and all three have potential benefits to the subject matter expert.
One reason is honesty. In these times where privacy is almost nonexistent, many who use ghostwriters face detractors quick to discover, then point out to the world, “Hey, you didn’t write this yourself!” One way of dealing with such a possibility is to get out in front of it. By saying the book is by SUBJECT MATTER EXPERT with (in incredibly small print) Anonymous T. For a ghostwriter, slings and arrows are merely a moot point. “Yes, I used a ghostwriter. I’m so busy being wildly successful at what I do. I could never take time off to write a book all by myself.”
But really, which is best for me? Ghostwriters or Collaborative Writers?
A second consideration is credibility. Some ghostwriters are quite well-known and respected within the literary community. Prominently attaching their name to a book may not sell significantly more copies. But it may attract greater interest from literary agents or publishers. Whenever the author seeks traditional publishing, rather than self-publishing. With their name affixed, a ghostwriter may also be more inclined to use their industry connections to help get the book published, which can only benefit the expert.
Finally, we have the perpetual bottom line of money. In negotiations with ghostwriters, some may agree to work for less in return for cover credit. If the ego of the expert is well-secure and if project cost is of concern, offering a cover credit can be a handy solution.
In the end, the subject matter expert must ask him or herself whether they want a true and equal collaboration—and understand its definitions fully—or a ghostwriter. If their choice is to retain total control, then what they need is a ghostwriter. From there forward, it should be of little concern what the ghostwriter calls him or herself. The only concern should be whether the expert is pleased with the services rendered.