LT: How does ghostwriting work?
BR: Many people who have great ideas for books just aren’t able to immerse themselves fully in the process of writing. They might be too busy to commit the hundreds of hours of writing time necessary to produce a full-length book. Or, they might find themselves frustrated when the words they put on the page don’t “feel right,” or accurately reflect the message they present in other areas of their work. Still others might find it challenging to organize their ideas in a linear, cohesive manner.
Ghostwriting is a process that pairs an author with a writer. It takes the actual process of writing out of the equation for the author, and gives him or her the “breathing room” to concentrate on his or her broader goals for the book—like sharing vital ideas and information, shedding light on important topics, or helping people heal.
LT: Can you walk us through the process of ghostwriting a book using the example of Secrets of a Metaphysical Flight Attendant?
BR: Every writer, whether she’s ghostwriting or not, works differently. I can only share my own process, which varies depending on the author with whom I’m working!
When Rebecca Tripp and I were working on Secrets of a Metaphysical Flight Attendant, our process developed organically around Rebecca’s personality and preferences. She’s been teaching meditation and metaphysics for more than a decade, and is most comfortable presenting information orally. She’s also a “people person,” and works most effectively when her mind is engaged through conversation and face-to-face interaction. We decided to structure our writing process as a series of interviews. We’d meet at a coffee shop or at her home, and she would talk to me while I took notes. As I wrote, I was able to steer the conversation through questions.
Once the first draft of any section was completed, we re-read the material separately. Rebecca would comment on any areas which seemed unclear, and we’d review facts and events in her personal stories to make sure I’d gotten everything right. Once she was satisfied with the content, I would conduct my own review for style and word choices, and then another for typos, punctuation errors, etc.
LT: What are the biggest challenges in ghostwriting a book?
BR: Many first-time authors don’t realize the sheer volume of information that goes into a full-length book. They have an idea or message that feels powerful—but it’s unrefined, too simplistic, or too generalized. I’ve had people come to me with ten blog articles and say, “Here’s my manuscript.” To which I reply, “We need to keep writing.”
That’s not to say that ten blog articles can’t form the foundation of a wonderful book. But often once we get past the initial Big Idea, authors start to flounder. (There are only so many ways you can say the same thing or support the same argument!) When the flow of information runs out, it becomes my job to help fill in the blanks, construct a solid outline, and ferret out the little ideas that support the Big Idea—the theme. Once I have my laundry pile sorted, I can go back and streamline the information to conform to the outline we developed. As you can imagine, this gets a little sticky—especially when the author is an expert in a subject I know little or nothing about—but ultimately, this learning curve is a positive experience. Over the years, I’ve become educated in subjects ranging from traditional Chinese medicine to astrology to the porn industry!
On the flip side, a few authors have too much information. They want to share everything all at once, not realizing that such overload is confusing for the reader and ultimately lessens the impact of the book. In this situation, I find myself separating out the tangential stuff and saying, “That’s going in your next book.”
LT: In Secrets of a Metaphysical Flight Attendant, the author’s voice comes across very strong. How did you as a ghostwriter capture her voice or help her find her voice?
BR: Writing a book for someone else requires deep, intensive listening. It’s a mindfulness practice like no other, and requires the writer to set a large portion of his or her own personality and preference aside.
When writing for myself, I make choices around style and tone instinctively. I prefer to write formally and correctly, without a lot of slang or jargon. I prefer certain words over others in both conversation and prose. I use semicolons and em-dashes where others would simply end a sentence. These little details are what make my writing unique, and recognizably mine. When writing for someone else, many of those personal writing “tics” must be set aside. I have to listen deeply to the author, and absorb not only the information she’s giving me, but the way in which she presents that information. Does she say “everyone” or “everybody?” Does she say “Hi,” or “Hello,” or “Greetings, Earthling?” Does she use slang—and if so, from what time period and region? In order to capture an author’s message, I must also capture part of her personal essence.
In the grand scheme, working with Rebecca on Secrets of a Metaphysical Flight Attendant was fairly easy. We share similar backgrounds in metaphysical studies, so the “new age” terms that pepper the book weren’t hard for me to assimilate. She also has a very good handle on her message, and uses strong, clear, and most importantly, consistent language when she teaches and talks. Paying attention to her particular word choices and utilizing them in the narrative helped her voice come through loud and clear.
I’ve worked in the past with other authors whose ideas and voices were not as well-developed as Rebecca’s. In those cases, the ghostwriting process requires me to coax details and tone from the author by asking him or her to say the same thing in many different ways. It’s like collecting a big pile of laundry in a basket: once I have all the words and ideas in one place, I can choose which “outfit” is best suited to the occasion. This process does result in a little more of my writing voice coming through in the work, but it can also be extraordinarily helpful to the author in refining his or her message. Sometimes, it’s helped us take a book in an entirely new and unexpected direction.
LT: How did you and the author, Rebecca Tripp, decide to use the format of anecdotes mixed with spiritual lessons (i.e. really spelling out the lesson for the reader?) Was this something that came naturally because the author teaches workshops on the subject?
BR: Rebecca uses teaching stories all the time in her workshops, and so it felt natural to do the same in the book. In some cases, the messages in her stories were immediately clear. At other times, we would be working on a particular “lesson plan” and I would ask her questions like, “Do you have any stories about people freaking out mid-flight?” or “Do you know anyone else who’s manifested X, Y, or Z?” Of course, she always had a story to match the occasion—she’s had quite an adventurous life!
LT: Did you and Rebecca have the same vision from the beginning of the ghostwriting journey of did you need to negotiate that?
BR: Rebecca had never worked with a ghostwriter before, so she was very open to the process. I told her what I needed at each stage of the book’s creation, and she was happy to provide it. She was clear from the beginning that she wanted the book to be a “spiritual memoir,” which is kind of a unique genre in publishing, but she didn’t have a set vision for how much information and teaching would balance the stories. Her open-mindedness allowed the book to evolve as we wrote, and take the shape which best served her larger vision and teaching platform.
LT: Anything you learned from the process of writing Secrets of a Metaphysical Flight Attendant that you would do differently in your next project of ghostwriting a book?
BR: I felt that the writing process went very smoothly. If anything, I would budget more time to complete the manuscript. Sometimes, it’s better for my creative process to let the material percolate for a little while before I delve into it for rewrites; that way, I’m looking at the words with fresh eyes.
LT: It’s an interesting experience to immerse yourself in another person’s story when ghostwriting a book. What are some of the decision you had to make and how did you make them?
BR: In some situations, I found myself “filling in the blanks” when it came to the teaching stories. When I was deep in the writing process, I made a few connections between her life experiences and the lessons she was presenting that she hadn’t previously thought of. When that happened, I had to pull back and be sure that the parallels I was drawing really fit with Rebecca’s message and voice. Sometimes, whole sections had to be rewritten because I jumped the gun when it came to linking stories with messages! Ultimately, though, all decisions about material were made jointly.
LT: This book is wise and joyful. How did writing the book influence your own life and experience?
BR: As I mentioned before, Rebecca and I have studied many of the same philosophies and teachers, so much of the material was familiar to me from the outset. However, being immersed in such positive messages for hours every day made me hyper-aware of how I was integrating these teachings into my daily life. In a way, the book itself became my teacher, and as it evolved, I evolved with it!
LT: What advice do you have for someone looking for a ghostwriter?
BR: Get to know the person you’re considering as your ghostwriter—not just through their previous projects, but on a personal level. A good ghostwriter can set his or her personality and preferences aside while working on a project, but sharing a passion for the subject matter can really help move the project along.
Also, be mindful of just how much work your writer is taking on when he or she agrees to develop your manuscript. A timeline of several months to a year (or more) is pretty standard for me when I’m hired to complete a 250-350 page book. You’ll need to be available to provide information, conduct interviews, and review material on a regular basis during that time—because it is your book, after all—but you’ll also need to be flexible.
Finally, please be patient with your writer’s process. Understand that a first draft is just that: a first draft. Not even the greatest writers can create a perfect chapter in a single sitting! Each part of your book will require two (or three, or more) separate revisions before it’s truly print-ready. Remember that nothing is set in stone.
LT: How do you decide ghostwriting fees?
BR: If I commit to ghostwriting a full-length book, I begin with a flat fee for engaging my services. This fee varies depending on the desired length of the book. Then, I estimate the number of hours that I will need for writing, research, and editing. In general, for a 150-200 page book, I will need to commit at least 10 hours per week for six months to produce a print-ready manuscript. In most cases, I ask for the flat fee plus 1/6 of the 6-month estimate fee up front, with the understanding that the final fee may be substantially more (or less) depending on the author’s readiness and degree of participation. Once we delve into the work, I track my hours using Quickbooks. I feel that this is the fairest practice for both myself and the client. I provide bi-weekly or monthly invoices to the author based on his or her preference.
In general, it’s safe to say that my total ghostwriting fees will end up in the $15,000-$18,000 range for an average-length book with a well-prepared author. If I end up doing a lot of research, if the author needs additional help developing his or her ideas, or if the author is especially picky or indecisive during rewrites, the fee might climb into the $25,000+ range.
LT: Why did you and Rebecca chose Balboa Press to self-publish?
BR: As a ghostwriter, I generally don’t involve myself with the publishing process once the final manuscript has been produced and delivered. All completed book materials belong to the author, and once my fees have been paid, I don’t have any claim to copyright or royalties (unless such claims are written into my contract with the author). I usually include in my contracts that my name will appear on the book as a ghostwriter/co-author (e.g. Dr. Smith with Bryna René) and that I reserve the right to refer to the work in my personal portfolio. (If for any reason the author wishes to keep my involvement in the book private, we will sign a non-disclosure form when my services commence, and my inability to use the book for promotion in my own business will be reflected in my final fee.)
In the case of Secrets of a Metaphysical Flight Attendant, all marketing and publishing decisions were Rebecca’s to make. She chose Balboa Press because she liked the idea of a shorter timeline for publication, and the fact that she didn’t have to search out an agent before submitting the book to a publisher.
LT: Any advice you have for authors about self-publishing?
BR: Whether you self-publish or choose a traditional publishing route, be aware that finishing your book is only the first step to successful authorship. Be prepared to do a lot of work on your own behalf. Just because your book is “out there” doesn’t mean that readers will automatically discover it! You’ll need an internet marketing strategy, a social media platform—and most of all, the willingness to go out there and sell your book in person. A virtual assistant or other marketing professional can be helpful, especially in the setup phase. Pricey publicists are a gamble, especially if you’re an unknown, and they don’t guarantee results, but if your budget allows, it can be a good learning experience to work with someone who knows his or her way around the media. Be patient, and don’t give up.
Also, if aesthetics are very important to you and your brand, hire your own designers and work with them closely. Vanity publishers like Balboa Press sell packages which include design and marketing elements—like interior layout, book covers, a basic book web site, and business cards—but in my experience, their designs are often created from well-used templates and are less than inspiring. It may cost a little more in the short term, but working with your own designers will save you time and frustration in the end, and you’ll end up with a unique product you love.
LT: Any advice for aspiring ghostwriters?
BR: The best skill you can have as a ghostwriter is the ability to listen. Hear what’s not being said. Hear the author’s passions, likes, dislikes, experiences, fears, and strengths, as well as just their words. Realize that your personal filters are going to be different than those of your author/client, and don’t’ let a little thing like “professional expertise” get in the way of understanding and honoring your author.
If your ego acts up and starts wanting to lay claim to the project, kindly tell it to shut the hell up. Then, shove it in a closet, bolt the door, and don’t let her out again until the final manuscript has left your desk. Why? Because this book isn’t yours. Like someone else’s child or beloved pet, it’s been entrusted to your keeping for a little while. Grow it, nurture it, love it—and then, let it go. Trust me, you’ll be happier for it!
Bryna René is an accomplished freelance author, editor, musician, and yoga instructor. She is the editor of the bestselling anthologies, A Juicy Joyful Life and Embracing Your Authentic Self (2010 and 2011, Inspired Living Publishing), as well as numerous other books on conscious entrepreneurship, metaphysics, and self-awakening. She currently lives in Providence, Rhode Island with her gondolier husband, Marcello. Learn more about Bryna at her website.
[…] Good Writing and Ghostwriting: An Interview with Ghostwriter Bryna René [Part 1 of 2] […]