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Ghostwriter’s Review: The Inaugural Gathering of the Ghosts



When I heard the first-ever national convention of ghostwriters would be held in New York City in January of this year, I felt called to go immediately. I love this profession, but it’s a largely solitary experience with few IRL opportunities to talk with other ghosties about the industry. Fluffy coat in hand, I flew via JetBlue to snowy NYC to get the scoop on how this mysterious career of mine works out in the wider world.


The inaugural Gathering of the Ghosts, co-hosted by the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) and Gotham Ghostwriters, was held in the New York Academy of Medicine library in Manhattan next to Central Park. Armed with name tags, coffee, and pastries, the other attendees and I chose our seats and the keynote fireside chat began promptly at 9:30 a.m.


Session 1: Keynote Fireside Chat

Moderator

Daniel Paisner - Author, Ghostwriter, and host of As Told To: The Ghostwriting Podcast

Panelists

Jodi Lipper - Ghostwriter

Seth Davis - Sports Writer and Broadcaster, CBS Sports

Holly Gleason - Writer, Critic, and Artist Development Consultant


The first panel discussion opened with acknowledgement of how the ghostwriting industry has evolved over time. Writers like us were largely a dirty secret in the past, but as hiring ghostwriters has become more popular, being open about our existence has also become less taboo. A sea change is occurring among authors as more of them acknowledge their collaborations publicly. 


Now that we ghosts are starting to come out of the shadows, new breeds of authors are popping up as well, often with unique requests and expectations. Recognizing the inherent opportunities for growth in this career, many freelance writers now have their ears to the ground as well, hoping to crack the ghostwriting code and get their foot in the door. The Gathering of the Ghosts was created to acknowledge these shifting demographics and empower ghostwriters, both current and aspiring, to strategize effectively. 


The panelists were asked about their overall experience working as ghostwriters and how the role has changed them. They began by mentioning one of the best parts of this job, which is the empathy and beautiful sense of professional intimacy we form with our clients. Authors who hire us put tremendous trust into our hands, which comes with considerable pressure to do their stories justice. Many feel understandably nervous or even emotional while opening up about certain topics during content interviews. Holding space for those feelings while gently pushing for deeper information—the author’s real, more vulnerable truth—is a crucial part of the job.


At one point, the panelists were asked if there was anyone they wouldn’t be willing to collaborate with. Answers varied on whether emotionally charged political differences, for instance, would be a dealbreaker. One panelist said she wouldn’t feel comfortable writing for anyone intentionally attempting to spread harm, a boundary many of us share. At the end of the day, every ghostwriter must decide where to draw the line for themselves. 


Other tidbits from the fireside chat:

  • While many ghostwriters advertise themselves as niche specialists, some prefer to cast a wider net by remaining open to writing in all genres. 

  • Authors are busy people and ghostwriters have to be pushy at points to track them down. We must learn to “nag gently” to get what we need.

  • Ensuring accuracy of the content shared in an author’s manuscript is incredibly important, as inaccurate information can be reputationally damaging. Fact checking can be performed by a third party or the ghostwriter for an extra fee when necessary.


Session 2: How to Help Clients Choose the Best Publishing Path for Their Book

Moderator

Brooke Warner - Publisher at She Writes Press

Panelists

Naren Aryal - CEO/Publisher at Amplify Publishing Group

Josh Bernoff - President at Wobs, LLC

Regina Brooks - President/CEO at Serendipity Literary Agency 


Authors who are undecided about their publishing path often ask ghostwriters for advice on how to move forward once their manuscript is finished. The three main avenues these days are self-publishing, hybrid publishing, and traditional publishing. All have their pros and cons and being up to speed on what’s out there is a real asset for anyone looking to get their book into the world. While traditional publishing offers the most in terms of impact, self-publishing is faster, cheaper, and keeps all the power in the hands of the author. Hybrid publishers offer a middle ground, giving the author control over their content while taking care of the technical aspects of the process.


All three panelists advised us ghostwriters in the audience to talk with authors about their preferred publishing route as early as possible. Traditional publishers tend to take at least 18 months to get a manuscript to the book launch stage. They also require authors to submit a book proposal, which typically spans 50-75 pages and can cost anywhere from $12k-35k when written by a ghostwriter or publishing professional. This proposal must be sellable as well as descriptive, meaning the writer needs to have an understanding of what traditional publishers are looking for. Literary agencies can guide authors and ghostwriters in this area by keying them in on what kinds of books publishers are currently in the market for. Agents keep a finger on the pulse at all times. 


Money is a huge consideration when it comes to an author’s publishing path. While self-publishing can be done cheaply, hybrid publishers charge anywhere from $10k-150k up front. For traditional publishing, the book proposal alone requires a hefty investment and there’s no guarantee the manuscript will sell or that the author will ever get their ROI. Almost all authors who are successful in getting a publishing deal have the budget to hire a steady team with a firm understanding of the publishing market. 


Regina Brooks shared that literary agents like her are often searching for ghostwriters with specific levels of expertise in various genres. Ghostwriters in search of an agent are welcome to reach out with a cover letter, resume, pricing model, availability, a link to their website, and a list of the genres they prefer to write. An agent can be a major asset for any writer looking to shift lanes in their career or expand their portfolio. They can also help ghostwriters develop the concept for a book they’re writing to increase the author’s chances of getting a traditional publishing deal. Agents don’t get paid until the book sells, so it’s in their interest to help get it across the finish line. 


Ghostwriters should also have a list of contacts with people at hybrid publishing companies in case authors are looking to explore that route. Naran Aryal explained that at Amplify Publishing, his team prefers to be involved in the ghostwriting process as early as possible, with access to the book’s outline and first chapter. Many hybrid publishers offer marketing and distribution services, and having time to sync those processes with the writing and editing stages facilitates a quicker launch date.   


When agents, editors, and publishers are involved, a ghostwriter becomes a project manager, acting as the intermediary between all nodes of a book’s manifestation. It’s a lot to juggle, which is why some ghostwriters prefer only to take on one project at a time. 


Session 3: The Money Dance

Moderator

Kevin Anderson - CEO of Kevin Anderson & Associates

Panelists

Catherine Whitney - Author, Collaborator, and Ghostwriter

Michael Levin - President/CEO at Michael Levin Writing Experiences

Marcia Layton Turner - Founder/Executive Director at the Association of Ghostwriters 


In this session, the panelists addressed a series of questions related to the delicate issue of money, a topic we creative types often squirm over. How much should we charge? How can we improve over time and raise our rates accordingly? How can we financially protect ourselves in our contracts?


For reference, Gotham Ghostwriters has a great post here about what authors can expect to pay while shopping for a ghostwriter. Those working in the industry generally agree a quality manuscript ranges anywhere from $40k-$300k. 


Most ghostwriters, according to the panelists, woefully undercharge for their services due to self-esteem deficits. At one point, Mr. Levin challenged every ghost in the audience to double their current rate and add twenty percent, inspiring gasps, applause, and laughter throughout the room. Only then, he said, can ghostwriters begin to approach what they’re truly worth in a market saturated with low-quality writing. 


It’s also important to establish with authors early on whether we, the ghostwriter, will be credited in their acknowledgments at the back of the book. While we usually don’t expect to be credited on the cover, many of us require a formal shout-out that allows us to list the book in our portfolio. Written credit also gives us the green light to promote the book on social media and make noise about it in our communities. 


When it comes to contracts, the panelists advised all ghostwriters to avoid scope creep by setting parameters around word counts, deadlines, payment schedules, correspondence time, and rounds of edits. It must also be clear that authors are responsible for signing off on all content that ends up in the final version of the manuscript before their final payment is made. Copyright for a manuscript is often transferred to the author after their final payment is received. 


Extra tips for ghostwriters from the panelists in session 3:

  • While some authors try to offer ghostwriters a percentage of future royalties as payment, it’s never a good idea to work under such terms. Few books ever earn enough royalties to make such offers worthwhile. 

  • Charging by the hour as a ghostwriter annoys most authors and literary agents. Straightforward, flat-rate packages work better for everyone. Use hourly rates for work that falls outside of a project's original scope. 


Session 4: Be a Visible Ghost

Moderator

Fran Hauser - Founder at Bookbound

Panelists

Bryna Haynes - Founder/CEO of Worldchangers Media

Pauleanna Reid - Founder of The Writersblok

Alice Sullivan - Alice Sullivan Literary LLC

Carol Tice - Founder of the Freelance Writers Den


Shopping for a ghostwriter can be overwhelming with so many options available online. We must help authors find us by differentiating ourselves based on our areas of expertise, interest, and experience. How can we market our services to attract authors who are a good creative fit?


According to the panelists of this session, the most effective channel for ghostwriters seeking clients is referrals from previous authors. If a project went well, it makes sense to ask the client whether they’re okay with us mentioning we’ve worked with them, and to request a written recommendation, if they’re comfortable writing one. These blurbs are a great asset as we shout, “LOOK AT ME! I WRITE BOOKS!” into the void. 


When marketing to strangers on the World Wide Web, it also helps to showcase our purpose and “heart posture,” as authors want to know what we’re about. Are you a trustworthy person they’ll be safe opening up to? Do you have their best interest at heart? Do you support their mission and purpose? The most important aspect of a ghostwriter-author relationship is chemistry followed closely by trust, so the answers to those questions should be a hearty “Yas!”


Other tips for ghostwriters looking to connect with dream clients:

  • Make the most of your SEO capabilities on your website. Include your location and areas of expertise in your keywords.

  • Put yourself out there on social media with blog posts, memes, and other goodies people can share. Interact with any folks who comment on your posts. Make friends who will rally for you through feast and famine!

  • Emphasize the results you’ve created for your previous authors, when possible. Was their book a bestseller with stellar 5-star reviews? Shout this from the rooftops.

  • Join communities for writers where you can seek out mentorship from more seasoned pros with wisdom to share. You might even consider hiring a business coach to help you tighten up your game as an entrepreneur. 

  • Go to networking events equipped with business cards and a warm smile. Be open and excited about what you do. Tell EVERYONE. 

  • Be willing to sign confidentiality agreements with authors, but avoid signing NDAs. Being prohibited from talking about what you do will end up hurting your business. 


Session 5: AI - Don’t Compete with Robots, Collaborate

Moderator

Gregory Mone - Founder of 509 Press

Panelists

Nathan Baschez - Founder of Lex

Stephen S. Power - Executive Editor at Kevin Anderson & Associates

Scott Sholder - Co-chair-Partner of Litigation Practice Group, Cowan, Debaets Abrahams & Sheppard LLP


Since the advent of Chat GPT, there’s been worry in the writing world that the robots are coming for our jobs. In this session, the panelists unanimously agreed that AI won’t be able to write books of human quality for at least another 20 years, if ever. Rather than worrying about the implications of AI labor, we can use programs like Chat GPT to make our jobs as ghostwriters easier. 


AI programs are limited to producing generic material that’s grammatically correct, but lacking in soul and originality. Ultimately, ghostwriters bring a human touch to the creation process that both challenges and inspires our clients in ways no app can. We work to draw out evocative material many authors would rather gloss over during interviews, as this often leads to the richest and most relatable content. A great book isn’t just a dumbed-down series of facts written in prose, but a compelling narrative that sparks an emotional connection between authors and their readers. A pattern-recognition machine can’t produce this telepathic experience.  


Writing will always matter. Humans want to read words written by other living, breathing human beings who bleed red like they do. "We are the universe experiencing itself,” and all that jazz. Still, there are areas of the writing process where we ghostwriters can make use of programs like Chat GPT.


The panelists recommended using AI for:

  • Writing prompts

  • Outlines

  • Character summaries

  • Brainstorming

  • Finding and eliminating generic ideas

  • Tightening up sloppy or bloated sentences

  • Book summaries


The panelists advised authors seeking a traditional publishing deal not to have Chat GPT write their book proposal for them. While AI apps are great at summarizing material, they’re unlikely to highlight the most marketable aspects of the manuscript. A book’s proposal is akin to a business model for how it should be sold to public audiences, not a neutral report on its contents.


So, how will AI end up changing the publishing industry over the next decade or two? Panelists predicted copyediting would soon become a thing of the past, along with any type of writing that relies on formulaic processes. Creativity, empathy, and other right-brain skills will be increasingly valuable from here on out. 


Town Hall: Addressing the Community’s Needs and Goals

Moderators

Dan Gerstein - CEO at Gotham Ghostwriters

Emily Paulsen - President of the American Society of Journalists and Authors

Panelists

Michael Franklin - Co-founder/Executive Director at Speechwriters of Color

Pauleanna Reid - Founder of The Writersblok


The town hall portion of the conference began with a discussion about the diversity-related challenges at play within our industry. The ghostwriting community is still very White, which is an issue for authors of color who are seeking writers with similar backgrounds and experiences. The publishing industry as a whole should represent the world we live in, but gatekeeping and resistance to change abound. According to one of the speakers, 83% of literary agents are Caucasian. 


The conference wrapped up after a brief closing Q&A session. A few dozen of us then packed ourselves into a tiny nearby pub to drink, network, and schmooze. Overall, the event was a massive success and everyone who attended was left yearning for more (aside from the hardworking organizers, who were understandably ready to go home). 


HUGE thanks to Gotham Ghostwriters and ASJA for putting on this wonderful event and giving me an excuse to frolic through NYC. We’ll all be looking forward to the next Gathering of the Ghosts!

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Peggy Holsclaw is a bestselling ghostwriter and book coach based in the Bay Area. Her company, Bonafide Ink, helps non-fiction authors bring their books to life on their quest to change the world. She has proudly collaborated with entrepreneurs, executives, energy workers, and other inspired creators from around the globe.

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