For the past few months I have been proud to guest write for the great Phileas Dogg website – it’s all about travelling with your dog in the UK and is written for dogs – by dogs. I guess you could call it a form of ghostwriting. I have to really get into the character of the narrating dog (they are, incidentally, all dogs I know well!) and decide what sort of personality that dog would have were it telling the story. There’s the cheeky terrier cross from Essex, the aloof and beautiful Tibetan Terrier show dog and the patient German Shepherd from Northern Ireland in charge of a home with 12 cats. It’s a great opportunity to combine my two passions – writing and dogs.
I have actually met one of the great contemporary ghostwriters through a friend. A very modest guy, he is responsible for writing many of the official bestselling biographies on footballers, TV personalities, oligarchs and celebrities on the bookshelves today. The chances are, you’ll have read some of his work, yet you will have never heard of him and unlike his famous subjects, you will certainly never recognise him in the street. He’s in the process of writing the biography of an incredibly famous pop star at the moment, but although I’m dying to tell, confidentiality means I can’t breathe a word!
Many writers turn up their nose at ghostwriting. It is definitely not a place for the inflated ego. There is no recognition and little glory: you won’t even be acknowledged for the hard graft that you put into that bestselling celebrity biography that is at number two in the charts. Ghostwriters are the unsung heroes of the writing world, shadowy figures that lurk in the background and take none of the credit for their work. A friend ghostwrites a celebrity column in a women’s magazine. The celeb in question can barely string a sentence together. So why do it?
Ghostwriting takes immense skill. It needs a very special type of writer to get under the skin of a famous person and make them open up about all the intimate and painful details of their lives. You will need to completely gain their trust, before you tell the world their story: in building a close rapport with your subject, you will become their confidante. For those interested in human nature and the psychology of fame, unrestricted access to the private lives of the super famous and wealthy can be fascinating. Of course, confidentiality agreements are always signed so the chances are you can never breathe a word of the really mind-blowing stuff!
Celebrity ghostwriting is, on the whole, very well paid. (The dogs I write for sadly aren’t able to keep me in the manner to which I am accustomed; it’s a labour of love. But it does combine two of my favourite ways to spend my time!) Writing for the rich and famous is excellent bread and butter work which pays the bills and in the writing world, that is an opportunity not to be missed. In my day job I’m a legal proofreader, which enables me to spend the rest of my time pursuing my writing until such time when my writing pays for itself. I read somewhere on Twitter that the average writer’s salary is £11,000, so another form of steady income is needed for those of us without a trust fund or wealthy partner. As well as being lucrative, ghostwriting can also be very interesting, good for your writing portfolio and although you will likely not be acknowledged, your work may be read by millions.
Jane Wenham-Jones’ excellent Wanna Be A Writer series examines ghostwriting and its pros and cons. My advice would be to consider it as an option. The ghostwriter I know is, as I write, likely sitting on a private jet with the pop star, or by the pool at his Caribbean home as they work on the book. Like writing a column, ghostwriting is an avenue every writer would do well to explore.