The Mystery Behind Being a Ghost Writer

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ghost-writerGhost writing isn't even remotely paranormal -- it's more about "ghosting" someone and writing their story in the first person as if you were him or her. When I was growing up, my mom (Nancy Bacon) made a living as a ghost writer. She'd spend hour upon hour with interesting (and often famous) people, recording their every memory, then spend hours more clacking away on her IBM Selectric in that person's "voice". Later on, the confessional article or hardcover book would be released, without even a thank-you notation acknowledging my mom.

But that's the nature of the business: You write something amazing, and someone else gets the credit. It's not unlike what a copywriter does, an advertising whiz tosses out, or a political speechwriter produces. Or a political memoirist, for that matter: 'The Ghost Writer,' a film by Roman Polanski going to DVD this week, is very accurate when it comes down to the job itself. The plot is glamorized, but actor Ewan McGregor is believable as the ghost writer who has been brought to a remote seaside home to jazz up the memoirs of a former prime minister (played by Pierce Brosnan) who isn't being entirely honest in his recollections.

While it's highly doubtful you'll find political intrigue and life-endangering conspiracies in the course of your own ghost-writing gig, it's probable you'll make a few dollars. According to Payscale.com, the average annual income for a ghost writer is $67,000. I seriously doubt it's that high for most; but it you are a good writer, a quick study and don't mind working in anonymity, then ghosting could be a good bet for you.

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • There are lots of people out there with amazing stories to tell but they're not writers -- not just celebrities, but also those who've undergone personal trauma, triumph, or they have expert advice to impart.

  • You can find people who need a ghost writer by signing up with one of the more popular ghost-writing Web-based services.

  • Think outside the box when pursuing work -- ghost writing isn't just about nonfiction first-person accounts. There are also illustrators who'd like to do a graphic novel, and experts in certain fields (such as law enforcement, military, science) with ideas for novels or film scripts but without the creative wherewithal.

  • Not all ghostwriters are independent. Some work for publishers of how-to and "for Dummies" books, manuals, travel guides, and more.

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