Tuesday, February 9, 2010

In the shadows

I have a commission to help someone write a book about their life. Luckily the person is interesting, humorous and a great storyteller, and the people they met and the things they did will have resonance with many people. The story is personal but also a social history of a place and an era as observed by the subject.

I am not intending to use this book as a platform-building exercise for myself as I have worked in journalism and am working on my own fiction titles (which down the track will raise the issue of whether I'll use a pseudonym). The story has definite merit and my primary task is planning what to put in and leave out, and the style of narrative. There are also many good images. Initially I am preparing a synopsis and some chapters to show to publishers, and we have a couple happy to look when we are ready. For now I am considering how best to present the story and playing with a couple of styles - 1) either to ghostwrite (although not entirely, as my name will still figure somewhere) or 2) author the book as narrator including sections of text drawn from the subject's anecdotes which are entertaining and give a real sense of place. I am trying out both styles. The subject sees me as authoring the book; I see it as their story.

What kind of style do you think would hold most appeal in terms of marketing this book? Ghostwritten or authored? What other aspects are there to consider that I've not mentioned here?

Without knowing what manuscript you're writing and who the 'author' is, it's impossible for me to say which style would have more appeal. One general rule, though: if the author is a well-known public figure, then you should ghostwrite, because it's the author's name that will attract readers, not yours. Beyond that, though, all I can say is that you should serve the story. If the story flows better with the author as narrator, write it that way; if it's easier to tell it with a third-person narrator, do that. The second option you mentioned - that you are the first-person narrator - is probably the one I'd be least inclined to recommend unless you have enough authority over the story to carry it off - i.e. that you are involved enough in the story to be a logical narrator.

You mention that your name will have to come up somewhere, even if you ghostwrite, but I'm not sure why that is, unless you're an integral part of the story. Ghostwriters have to subsume themselves to the story - that's just the way it goes. No name, no recognition, but presumably a nice little fee. Ghostwriters do it for the money, for the interest, for the challenge. For lots of reasons other than recognition. So you need to either ghostwrite or be in the story - you can't have both.

1 comment:

Zara Penney said...

This week an author made a comment that she had a book into movie or cartoon or documentary or tele movie - one of these things - but that not one word was mentioned in the credits. She was very angry and told them that she'd not be in a position to promote the work because she didn't get a mention. I don't blame her for being angry, but it's a cruel world.

I know an author ghostwriter. For her it's a job. She earns. The biggest person she ghosted was a swearwordable. He was a monster ego.
And I know other so-called ghosts who have had varying degrees of acknowledgement. Sometimes the author takes the money and runs because not all the people they ghost are necessarily liked. It's a job, it pays nicely. It beats having to go out and mow lawns for a living.