[<--Ghost Rider ... Ghost Writer? Get the pun?!?]

I’m a vain person.

I’m either slowing coming to grips with this reality or am re-discovering the depths of this truth anew. Now, to be straight, part of “living the writer’s life” is an act of ego and vanity. Ego to believe that something we’ve written ought (DEMANDS!) to be read by others and vain enough to want to see our name on our work. How many of us day dream about walking into a library or a book store and seeing our name on the shelves?

This moment of revelation has been brought to you by elance.com. You see, I’ve been on the site grabbing up the occasional bit of freelance work. I’m about to submit a bid on another ghostwriting job. And once again, my mind is calculating how much time and effort I am going to spend, how many (good) words I am going to use … for someone else’s name to go on it. Then Sally reminds me that bills are due and I prepare the proposal.

The name of the game is managing expectations. The client attitudes may vary, but too often there’s this attitude of “anyone can do this” and that we writers are interchangeable commodities/trained monkeys filling in because the client is too busy to do it themselves. Or because writing is boring, tedious work which they don’t enjoy nearly as much as the coming up with ideas part of writing. One reason, as Nick Mamatas pointed out, is “because everyone can write… So what if the sentences are boring or ungrammatical; outside of real spaghetti, most people can pretty much grasp what a sentence is supposed to mean.” They may not know or understand what they want or are asking for. Or, to be more on point, they may not know what they’re doing. But they are the client. Still, it can grate … I’m imagining as much as me self-diagnosing myself via teh interwebz then going to my doctors to tell them their business.

So just like in collaborations, communication is key. The more thorough the communication is up front, the less bumps there are down the road. Not that there won’t be bumps, but it helps. There are a few things that have to clearly spelled out:

-Deadlines. There are benchmarks of progress that have to be spelled out. How much would they like to see by when?
-Target audience. Who and/or at what level am I writing for?
-Creative input. How much does the client want? Do they want to provide the skeleton of the work and you build on it? Do they just have a title/topic and want you to write it?
-Cost. Yes, I can be quite mercenary when it comes to writing (or “Maurice-nary” as Lon Prater calls it). I need folks to clearly understand that I’m a professional, I know what I’m doing, writing doesn’t happen by magic, and my time and effort are worth not only paying for but paying well and on time for.
-Distribution. For my own sake, I like to know where the book will be available.

After that, it’s about getting the story they want out of them. My agent, Robert Fleck, told me that “ghostwriting is a tough gig and the better you do it, the less the person thinks you’re worth. The more you make it sound like them, the better you are, and the less they believe you’ve done.”

Sigh.

I don’t know … if creating a work is like birthing a child, ghostwriting is like giving it up for adoption. Part of you knows it’s still yours and will always be yours, and you may want to occasionally go check up on it. But it’s part of another’s family now to make their own.

So I make sure the check clears.

(And, wow, does that “child” metaphor break down at this point. But nothing soothes my wounded sense of vanity like a check. Or a paypal deposit, because I’m all kinds of convenient.)