January 12, 2011

Six Steps to Successful Ghostwriting

Freelance writing is an adventure. One of the things I love about it is that I never know what my next assignment will be. Recently, a client asked me to ghostwrite a note to parents for the inside covers of a children's history book series. The challenge: to write the note in the scholarly voice of a real Pulitzer-prize-winning historian, and at the same time make it appeal to, what my client called, "the average bear." The name of the historian I can't share with you because I agreed to keep it confidential; however, I shuddered a little when I learned who I would represent and that his name would be at the end of my letter.

So, how does a freelance writer prepare to write in someone else's voice? I use these six steps:

1. Ask your client for input. Some will want you to work directly with the person you are ghosting, and others prefer to act as the middleman between you and their person. Find out if your client has writing samples from the person and also audio recordings of their voice.

2. Read several (at least) books or articles written by the person. Get comfortable with their writing style. Look for the way sentences are formed. Does the person use a lot of fragments? Short sentences? Run-ons? Be aware of vocabulary words that appear often. Decide if the writer's style is formal or conversational.

3. Listen to radio or television interviews the person has done, or tapes of public appearances. If there are none, then ask your client if you may interview the person. Some people speak in the style in which they write, and others do not. As you listen to the person speak, you will become aware of their vocabulary. Do they use idioms? Regional expressions? Listen to the rhythm of their speech; this is another indicator of sentence structure. Is their style scholarly or informal?

4. Compare how the person speaks with the way they write. Often, you will find similarities, and when you do, you're ahead of the game. If the writing and speaking styles are vastly different, then, of course, disregard what you've heard and concentrate just on the writing.

5. Practice writing in the person's voice. Try to capture their personality. The more you practice, the better you will think in the person's style. Then, when you are comfortable enough to slip inside their skin, write, write, write! Don't stop. Let the words flow.

6. Review what you wrote. Most personal computers have a text to speech feature that allows you to listen to what you have written. I use this method to listen for the sentence rhythm. I ask myself, "Does this sound like the person?" If not, I go back to my research, reading and listening, and then I try again.

Successful ghostwriting takes practice. It's all about style. And keep in mind that style is subjective. Be prepared to make revisions, both for your client and the person you represent.


Diane said...

Good list. I've thought about doing this and wondered how it would work. Thanks for the tips. :O)

Jean Fischer said...

You're welcome, Diane, and thanks for stopping by the blog!

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Jean -

Thanks for the tutorial.

Several people have asked me to write their stories. I've actually written an "as told to story" for an anthology, which was accepted.

I guess it wouldn't be classified as ghostwritten because the person's name was a pseudonym, while mine was listed as the author.

Susan :)

Jean Fischer said...

An "as told to" story is somewhat different from ghostwriting, where you write in the words and voice of another person rather than use your words to tell their story.

A reputable publisher will always be up front with a freelancer about how/if they will receive credit for ghostwriting, either on the cover or the title page. Usually, the credit carries the other person's name as author and a subline that says "with" and the ghostwriter's name.