Unseen Authors Tell Their Tales
By Tony Burnett
As the edge of night approached our fair city on the Third Thursday of October, passionate souls from across the region converged in the cavernous upper room of BookPeople to share in a long celebrated tradition. Throughout decades of history members and guests of the Writers’ League of Texas gather every Third Thursday of all months not beginning with the letter D to study their craft. This meeting was special. Though every Third Thursday is known for the sharing of means and secrets to strengthen skills, on this night the panel included three editors who have crossed over…. into ghost writing.
We weren’t talking about horror, or even light fantasy. This panel was about secrets, the behind-the-scenes careers of writers who take on a project for others who have a story to tell or an idea to sell but who aren’t interested or capable of producing a tome. Our panelists were: Lari Bishop, an editor for John Wiley & Sons and Greenleaf Books who now owns Draft Lab; Stephanie Land, a former editor for Random House and Penguin’s Portfolio imprint, who has collaborated with a National Book Award winner and a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist; and Joni Rodgers, author of the best-selling memoir, Bald in the Land of Big Hair and who often collaborates with high-profile celebrities, politicos and other extraordinary people. Though these panelists came to ghostwriting from backgrounds as diverse as bluegrass bands, theater and the financial industry, they all established themselves as editors before becoming ghostwriters. All panelists agreed that to make any project successful required that they not only be invested in the concept, but a have passion for the idea. Anything less would result in catastrophe.
Though their stories were fascinating and often complex, the one commonality in the panelists was their unwillingness, for the most part, to share the names of their clients or the works they collaborated on. It turned out there were legal reasons for this. In most cases ghostwriters are contractually bound to secrecy. Though a ghostwriter may be mentioned in the acknowledgments, it is rare that they make it to the cover.
All panelists agreed that working with a celebrity or a business tycoon not only helped the ghostwriter have a greater understanding of their client, but also helped them gain insight into themselves. They all mentioned the necessity of asking the hard questions: Why is this important? Why now? Who is your audience? It’s also important to push the client into a self-examination in order to authenticate the story.
Ghostwriting requires experience, the willingness to see the world from your subject’s point of view and a strong grasp of the market and publishing process. It’s not easy, but it’s not scary.
Join us November 20 at 7 PM for our next panel, Writing About Loved Ones: Telling the Truth Without Losing Your Place at the Holiday Table.
Tony Burnett has been a member of the Writers’ League of Texas since 2010 and currently serves on the Board of Directors. His story collection, Southern Gentlemen, will be released January 10, 2015. He resides with his trophy bride, Robin, deep in the heart of Texas.