Have you ever asked yourself, “I wonder what’s the best way to torture a ghostwriter?” If so, here are 16 handy ways to drive your ghostwriter stark raving bonkers.
Over the years, I’ve worked with hundreds of clients. Many of them have been for small projects, such as writing or editing a press release. Or writing a best-man, father-of-the-groom or maid-of-honor speech (I love writing those!). But many have been for major projects, and when I say “major”, I generally mean writing a book or occasionally a screenplay.
I have a solid team of writers. They are each different, with a variety of skills and interests, but they all share a few common traits:
- Top quality writers
- Professionals through and through
- They know how to treat the client like royalty
We did not start out this way. When new writers come to us, it is easy to pick the writing superstars from the crowd. But it is not easy to wean the slackers and the tricksters until you actually work with them on a project or two.
In the early days, I had to fire two writers for trying to extort money from clients and one writer for cheating me. This is why I value so much the roster of THGM writers – tried, tested and true. They are writers that both you and I can count on every step of the way.
With clients, it’s another matter. Although some do return for a second or third book (like the exciting juvenile adventure series we are working on right now), most clients come to us to write just a single book. And among the many marvelous people with inspiring ideas, there have been some frustrating slackers and some out-and-out scoundrels.
16 easy tips to drive a ghostwriter crazy
I want to reach out to those slackers and scoundrels and thank them for teaching us 16 valuable lessons on how to wedge a tickle-worm under a ghostwriter’s skin. And here they are.
Start calling your ghostwriter your BFF.
The thing about an author and her ghostwriter is that they build a strong bond. The writer has to get into the client’s head to some extent, if she is to write in the author’s voice. But that does not make her your best friend. That does not mean you should start emailing your writer with all your personal problems. She does not want to know about your challenges with deodorant. She does not want to chat about your son’s wayward lifestyle. She does not want to help you decide whether to apologize to your aunt for telling her to get lost.
This has irked most of our writers at one time or another. In fact, I suspect that a few people hire ghostwriters because it is cheaper than therapy. Just a guess, I could be wrong.
Expect your ghostwriter to go steady with you.
Sorry, but this is not an exclusive relationship. We are allowed to see other people. There is no promissory ring. There is no exchange of bodily fluids. In fact, most ghostwriters have three or four projects going on at a time. Expecting your ghostwriter to go steady with you is a sure fire way to drive him batty.
Sap the ghostwriter’s time with no intention of hiring her.
This is, of course, before you become a client. Yes, you need to ask questions and get to know the ghostwriter a little to make sure you will be compatible. But there are some people who have no intention of hiring the writer, and still sap up their time. That is, in a word, shoplifting. Don’t be a shoplifter.
Demand that your ghostwriter writes a bestseller.
Wait a minute. Is it a bad thing to want your book to be a bestseller? That depends on the book. The problem is that 90 percent of authors want their books to become bestsellers. Given that close to a third of the people who approach us want biographies written and many others want business books and self-help books, often with a limited and identifiable audience, bestseller status is an unrealistic goal.
But what if your book is fiction or something newsworthy that could indeed become a bestseller? Awesome. Think big! And expect your ghostwriter to write something awesome, because that’s what our ghostwriters do best. But don’t expect them to deliver a bestseller. There is so much more than just writing that goes into the bestseller recipe:
- Great writing that captivates and intrigues.
- The right story that people can relate to and lose themselves in.
- Hard work promoting your story, whether that means pitching publishers and agents or advance promotional efforts or blog tours. Sweat fuels success.
- Luck and timing.
- Not being your first book (Yes, you can strike it lucky on your first shot, but it sure helps to have a fan base already waiting for your next book).
Keep demanding that your ghostwriter deliver a bestseller, and you’ll drive him around the bend.
Drift into red-carpet reverie.
This is the screenplay version of the bestseller dream. We have had people ask us to guarantee that a script will attract A-list celebrities. Dream big, plan a storyline and characters that people can relate to, pray for good luck and be prepared to sweat. But your ghostwriter can’t guarantee what kind of success you’ll have, nor does she have Tom Cruise’s phone number. She’ll handle the writing part, but the rest is up to you.
All the world’s your audience.
If you are writing for everybody, you are writing for nobody. Sure, all sorts of people enjoy Harry Potter, but that book was written for boys 8-12 years old. The main character was an 11 year-old boy.
Yes, Harry Potter became famous and, unlike hundreds of similar stories, ended up attracting a wider audience. But most books don’t, and Harry Potter would never have reached beyond the target market if it had not so completely saturated that market. As the parent of two girls, I can tell you that the stories they and all their friends relate to overwhelmingly have female lead characters – almost always young (not adult), and almost always at least their own age.
If you don’t know who your target audience is, if you don’t pick a definable demographic to write to and to market to, you won’t have a bestseller. You might not even have a seller.
Come fully prepared with diddly-squat.
It happens so many times that people bring us a half-baked idea with no focus and no direction. Sometimes, not even that. No research. No notes. No chapter plans. Nothing. In fact, I have had people come to me, more often that you could imagine, and ask us to write them “a book on internet marketing” or “a book on investing.” No angle, no ideas of what to include – just write it.
But what drives a ghostwriter crazy are the clients who assure us that they have all the research and everything is organized and then it turns out, when the time comes to start working, that they really have nothing. At this point, one of the following scenarios will play itself out:
- The book will end up being pretty vague, shallow and pointless without the missing research, input, anecdotes, etc.
- The client will slap himself across the face, wake up, and backfill all the missing information.
- The client will realize that the writer can’t give him what he wants unless he pays the writer extra to find or create the missing information that he had originally promised to supply.
- The writer will volunteer out of the goodness of his heart to do several days of extra work for free as a reward to the client for trying to drive him bonkers.
Blame the writer for your errors.
If coming without information is bad, so is providing the wrong information. No problem, everything can be fact-checked. In fiction, errors can be corrected. But if you blame your writer for mistakes in the information you provided, yes, that will drive him bonkers.
Backtrack on chapters you’ve already approved.
If you really want to drive your writer around the bend, wait until it’s time to review chapter five or six before telling him you want major changes to the first chapter (which, of course, also means rewriting the second, third and fourth chapters).
Or you might redirect the plot, complicating the story, thereby requiring added dimensions to numerous scenes and to various characters.
Not only is it frustrating to make those changes, but it adds a HUGE amount of extra work. So unless you come prepared with an extra roll of $100 bills, your writer might be ready to try squeezing his head into a toaster.
Demand a tight deadline that you can’t keep.
It’s funny, but every now and then we have a client who is all aflutter over a tight deadline that absolutely has to be met. We have to set up a process to follow that will make sure it gets met. The writer has to drop everything and stand at the ready.
That’s not the funny part.
The funny part is that those clients have always been the most unresponsive. In every case, the writer has to wait for the next batch of information that never seems to come. Deadlines creep by and slowly fade into the sunset, and the writer’s beard grows long and white.
Come to think of it, that’s not really a funny part, either. Especially since most of our writers are ladies.
The next time a client comes with a crazy deadline on a big project, I think I’ll include a “timely input” clause, including financial penalties for any client-side delays.
Nominate your writer to be your agent.
Writers write. They don’t represent books, because that is a whole different skill set. And they don’t have an inside track to agents, either, because that’s not how agents work. Our writers can prepare a query letter and a synopsis, but if you want an agent, that’s where the sweat comes in. Those deodorant commercials on TV should feature famous authors with the tag line: “Do you have what it takes?”
Try to reduce your payments by conspiring to cheat the writer’s agency.
“Psst. Wanna do this under the table for a little less. You’ll make more, I’ll pay less. We’ll both be happy.” If think you can convince your writer to cheat and steal, is that really the person you want writing your book?
Be a clone. (plagiarism)
Do you really have your own ideas, or have you swiped them from somewhere else? While plagiarism is, technically, theft of someone else’s words, no writer likes to just reword somebody else’s work. It might pass legally as an “original”, but ethically it stinks. I explain this concept better here.
Offer to pay the writer only if you become a celebrity writer.
Yes, we get this one all the time: “Will you write my entire manuscript for me in exchange for a share of the royalties?”
What royalties? The people who ask this question have no publishing deal lined up. They just have a dream. And they want someone else to gamble that this is the right story, that the author is willing to work his backside off to get it published and then to promote it, and that he will be lucky.
Basically, the author wants to shift the risk of pursuing his dream to somebody else, and that would be the writer. If you had to face that type of attitude over and over again, you’d go batty, too. Read about nine reasons to actually pay your writer here.
Run AWOL when your ghostwriter has questions.
If your ghostwriter has questions, it is to make sure your book is as amazing as possible, and exactly what you want it to be. She is not playing a game of hide-and-seek. If she sends you an email with questions, answer them. When you don’t, it drives her crazy.
Run AWOL when it’s time for the next payment installment.
Nobody likes to pay their bills, but this is your book he’s writing. So when the bill comes, pay it. Unpaid bills make your writer very hungry, and you don’t want to mess with a hungry writer.
Wow! 16 ways to drive ghostwriters crazy.
Isn’t this exciting? We’ve come up with 16 practical ways to fill asylums with ghostwriters. So if your life’s ambition is to convert writers into lunatics, this is your blueprint. On the other hand, if your life’s ambition is to write a book, you might find clues in here on how to harness the amazing power of a ghostwriter to get your book written to your standards…and then some.