What You Can Learn by Ghostwriting a Book

Robert Harris, whose best-sellers include Fatherland, Enigma, and Imperium, is a Brit, and his book The Ghost is about a writer hired to write the memoirs of a former British prime minister. Some of it is set in England, but a lot of it in Martha’s Vineyard, where the former prime minister is trying to escape a scandal.

The main ghostwriter is the second hired by the prime minister—the first either committed suicide or was murdered. Once the second ghost finds out what kind of trouble he might be in, the novel is less about writing and more about staying alive.

Some of the ghostwriting reflections apply to more general editing and writing. An editor sometimes has to do a lot of rewriting—almost ghosting—to save a story, and the way a ghostwriter tries to open up his subject is much like what writers often do in their reporting.

Here are the lines—Harris borrowed them from another book, Ghostwriting, by Andrew Crofts.
Of all the advantages that ghosting offers, one of the greatest must be the opportunity that you get to meet people of interest.

A ghost who has only a lay knowledge of the subject will be able to keep asking the same questions as the lay reader, and will therefore open up the potential readership of the book.

The ghost will be able under pressure from the publishers to dig up something controversial that they can use to sell serial rights and to generate publicity at the time of publication.

Quite often, particularly if you are helping them write a memoir or autobiography, the author will dissolve into tears when telling the story. . . .Your job under those circumstances is to pass the tissues, keep quiet, and keep recording.

Authors are often busy people and hard to get hold of; sometimes they are temperamental. The publishers consequently rely on the ghosts to make the process of publication as smooth as possible.

What if they lie to you? “Lie” is probably too strong a word. Most of us tend to embroider our memories to suit the picture of ourselves that we would like the world to see.

It is perfectly possible to write a book for someone, having done nothing but listen to their words, but extra research often helps to provide more material and descriptive ideas.

The book is not a platform for the ghost to air their own views on anything at all.

If you are going to be the least bit upset not to see your name credited or not to be invited to the launch party then you are going to have a miserable time ghosting altogether.

A ghost must expect no glory.

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