Hire a Ghost, But Don’t Pimp the Process

Trust your ghostwriter

Sometimes author clients are scary

If you  expend energy and money on a talented, professional ghostwriter to make your book shine, you must have a reason. Ghostwriters — good ghosts, skilled ghostwriters, don’t come cheap. Writing a book is never quick or easy.

My company just failed on a ghostwriting project and the moral of the story is, the author pimped herself trying to micromanage. She had no experience. No trust. Here’s a story of Ms. Author and her brilliant book idea, and it is a great idea.

There are several reasons people hire me to ghostwrite their books.

  1. They don’t have time to produce a book.
  2. They have never taken on a large-scale writing project.
  3. No idea how to write.
  4. Brilliant book idea, but afraid to dive in.

Ms. Author? All of the above. She vetted ghosts and contracted me. We talked full-length non-fiction book derived from existing material, interviews, and research. I excel at that.

We worked together for six months to complete a polished manuscript illustrated and ready for prime time. Ms. Author was tickled. She never thought the book could come together and make sense.

Then, she went wonky.

She read a few websites by “gurus,”  self-proclaimed experts in self-publishing and motivation. She paid thousands to attend a seminar guaranteed to make her book a Stephen King best seller in thirty minutes with six 90-second agent interviews.

How Ms. Author Lost Her Way

Ms. Author asked my company to format, digitalize, and print the book. Ok. Additional services. We do that. And we do it well. But there is a division of labor in  getting a manuscript into book form. Someone has to focus on content. Someone has to focus on mechanics (proofreading, etc) and someone has to manage the project with digital publishing entities like Amazon or Smashwords and coordinate the print process.

A lot of skill and experience are needed to avoid serious pitfalls.

Authors, by my contract, are in charge of either finding and paying a proofreader  or directing us to find one. Proofing isn’t the same as editing and it requires a cold eye, someone who has never seen the book. The author must also review proofs, read them word for word, check covers, front material, and back material.

It’s essential, too, that the author communicate efficiently with ghostwriter and project manager or author/mentor. If she hires experts, she must trust those experts to do their jobs. She must also concentrate on defining her goals.

If you hire an electrician, don’t stand behind him and advise him or actually take the screwdriver from him to stick it in the wall outlet because you’re curious.

Ms. Author went down a path that’s easy to get lost on. she didn’t like her part of the job. Too late in the process, she idly surfed for a better deal. She sought more perks, hoped to save a buck here or there, perhaps find the golden egg of self-publishing. She told us, each step of the way, what her Internet gurus said we should be doing.

Her goals changed with the weather, and in Chicago, that’s a lot of change. The book was to be distributed among colleagues as a gift. The next week she decided she rather begin a speaking career and sell the book at gigs. Then suddenly she wanted her book traditionally published in New York.

More than once I day-dreamed of terminating the contract.

But eye on the prize, I knew we were producing a terrific product.  If we didn’t blow-up in conflict, we would make her happy. I’m pretty good at keeping editorial remarks to myself and being calm with clients. I never told Ms. Author how frustrating the process was. She never stopped complaining.

How the Ghostwriter Failed and Ms. Author Pimped Herself and Several Others

Time plodded on and here’s what we encountered.

  1. Our client was more focused on being famous than on creating a great book. She became a guru groupy. A dangerous thing, following too many bits of advice.
  2. She had her mother proof the book. It’s cheaper that way. Her mother is a dental assistant, but has a really good eye.
  3. As we went to press, Ms. Author sent us 25 pages of additions. Must haves that she just thought of after seven months of preparation and writing. A guru’s website said she should include this info.
  4. As the printing company was sending us final proofs, Ms. Author stopped responding — she was busy. I empathize. However, in pre-press production (the print version) you have to stay on top and respond to issues.
  5. She received proofs, eyeballed them, returned them in a couple of hours. One formatting problem concerned her. She called us, left voice mail, “Hey do what you think is best, I gotta run.”  At wits end, I did what I thought best.

She hated it.

I hadn’t done what she would have. Wailing and gnashing of teeth followed.

The book was printed. The book was very attractive, very professional.

This would-be author threw a tantrum, took her book to three other printing companies, one self-publishing/marketing concern, Amazon, and a boatload of online promisers. She hated every one of them and accused each of failing to do as promised. After thousands of dollars and several more months of hysteria, I don’t know if she found satisfaction.

Ms. Author was not ready to commit to producing a book. She had no plan.  She longed for someone to make her a successful famous writer. Glamore and status drew her, but she failed herself.

The poor woman probably never got her book finished. Still tilting at windmills, she even turned down an offer from a traditional small press to evaluated her book. They were interested. They would have published and marketed at their expense. *Sigh*

The Ghostly Moral of this Story

I wrote this post as a therapy for me. I fired the client, not because I don’t like her, don’t think her book is a good idea, or was angry. I fired her because my first rule of ghostwriting is — MAKE THE CLIENT HAPPY. I failed. This is my first dissatisfied client and I should have known when to pull the plug.

Ms. Author still writes to me each time a vendor disappoints her. She tells me what an outstanding writer I am, how creative my partner and associates are. What swell people we are. But I didn’t make her happy and she pimped both of us by her inability to understand what she wanted and needed.

If you see a surgeon to fix your crooked nose, either trust him to  fix it or live with what God gave you. If you contract with a ghostwriter or author/mentor to help you polish your brilliant book idea, be ready to trust.

And me? I need to know when to say “uncle.”

Tell me what you think.




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11 Responses to “Hire a Ghost, But Don’t Pimp the Process”

  1. Sounds like you had a rough go of it. I think most creative people (especially if they work freelance) have a hard time knowing when to let go of clients that we can’t make happy, or at least I do.

  2. Maryan, This is typical of so many I have written for. Once their egos kick in, the game is on. Seems to me that once someone pays you they think they can be rude to you. At least that’s my experience.

  3. Here’s a comment I received via a different address:
    Hello Maryan,

    I support your decision on just firing the author to be – you need to see their true intentions.
    I’ve been writing for years so I know how much work is put into producing just one page
    I love writing – it’s my passion , yet, I’m not ready to give away my projects to the world. They are sitting comfortably in different folders to satisfy my ‘ own writing muses’ rather than the ‘worldwide writing muses’ or ‘writing ghosts’.
    I write because I love to write and create stories.
    All the best to you.
    Anna R

  4. Chris, thanks for reading and for commenting. I quite agree with you, but I am learning to let go. Sometimes I just can’t satisfy.
    Grant – it’s that employee/employer state-of-mind. I try to make it clear I’m not an employee, I provide a professional service, but some people are hard of hearing. 🙂 Thanks for the input!

  5. It’s good to hear about someone deciding to fire a client. If we’re only motivated by money, we’re not being true to our craft. Not all people should be authors and not all people should be clients. 🙂

  6. Great piece. Wish I could say it was all so foreign to me. It wasn’t. I have never fired a client. At least not yet. I rely heavily on my contract. It details time frames, expectations and points of no return (if there really is such a thing). Ego is a hard thing to battle, especially in a client. I have a good “nose” for workable clients. I turn down jobs even though I often would rather jump at the money. Listen to your gut and it won’t ever fail you. Hope you have recuperated from this fiasco. Lesson learned.

  7. I had a similar experience with a design client years ago. A much smaller scale project, to design a set of logos for eight retail shops she owned. I went through weeks of shooting photos, creating pencil sketches and then line art drawings, and finally creating the finished images. She was involved and approved each step of the way. When the day came to deliver the final images, she came to my office and shockingly became hysterical, broke down in tears, and rejected all but one. I was flabberghasted. Never saw it coming. My clue up front, which I didn’t realize until the end, was the huge stack of rejected designs from prior designers she showed me in the beginning, to guide me in what she didn’t want. I was young and new at the job and didn’t have the foresight to have collected a percentage up front. Wound up getting paid for only 1/8th the charge. Live and learn. Some people are their own worst enemies.

  8. Eunice Riemer May 30, 2012 at 8:29 am

    There is more to this story than the tale of the book. This client has serious psychological problems. You are not a psychiatrist and could never have dealt with her needs. You are professional in what you do. The clue to this dilemma is your statement of your goal: “Make the client happy.” I’m sorry, but this is not possible. You should rephrase your purpose in a more professional manner. Something like “provide the best possible presentation of the client’s work,” perhaps. If you become enmeshed with the client’s emotional needs you will not be able to pull the plug when you must. This is one of the most difficult things any person has to do, but it is absolutely necessary.

  9. Hey Laurel – Interestingly, my client had similar history. She had told me about all the providers who just didn’t do well enough to satisfy her needs. That should be a tip off to us – it seems to appeal to our egos, as in, “I can do better!”

    And Eunice – I appreciate your point-of-view but will never adjust my ghostwriting rule that making the client happy is a goal. Sometimes that just involves getting their book written, not even published, just to satisfy a need in them. Sometimes, that’s what my job is.


  10. Maryan,

    I’ve had to fire two clients so far in my career. One was a deeply disturbed woman who, on my first in-person interview, showed all the signs of an uber-perfectionist with no clue about flexibility or insight. Thank goodness for a contract when she took me to court. The other was a man who turned out to be a control freak from hell.
    I have learned to trust my gut when vetting clients. If it walks and talks like a duck, it surely is a quaker!
    You’re the best.


  11. I like the way you think, Jilly. You’re certainly right and I’m glad you stopped by to participate!