Whose book is it anyway? The ego and the ghost….
Whenever I’m asked what I do for a living, I invariably go through an exchange of dialogue that goes something like this:
“So what do you do?”
“I’m an author.”
“Oooh!! (impressed) What do you write? Anything I might have read?”
“Maybe. It’s non-fiction. Ghostwriting, mainly. Working with people who’ve good stories to tell, but not always the time or ability to do it themselves.”
“Ooh…(less impressed). Like who? Any celebrities?”
At this point I rattle off a few names of ‘celebrities’ who are either a) now dead or b) won’t mind if I name-drop them.
“But mainly,” I add, “I write with people who aren’t at all famous but have amazing stories to tell.”
“Oh…(even less impressed). So whose name goes on the cover?”
At this stage I usually try to steer the conversation away from my wonderful life, and on to theirs. However, a lot of people just won’t let the name thing go.
“I couldn’t cope with that. Not having my name on the front. You’ve written the book, you should have your name on it, not them.”
At which point, I try to explain to my interrogator why I’m really not bothered about my lack of credit. “I get the money instead,” I say. “The name thing isn’t important.”
But they’re adamant. If the writer’s name isn’t on the front cover, something is very wrong with the world. And with me, for my cowardly lack of ego and insistence on my rights.
Honestly, though, I’m really not bothered. Truly, I’m not. Yes, I’ve written the book, most of it, and probably all of it, if I’m honest. But I didn’t make up the story. It’s not mine to claim the credit for. I just helped to deliver it. A midwife who delivers a baby doesn’t have the right to call it hers. She’s intimately involved and she’s paid for her troubles, but she didn’t carry it around inside her. It’s the same with ghostwriters. Or it should be.
I like talking about my work, as I suspect most ghosts do. However, I don’t need galaxies of airtime to validate my chosen career (or my life). I don’t want to be stopped in the street and asked the same sodding questions over and again. Admittedly, it’s always nice to see ‘your’ book by a pool lounger, or in the hands of someone on public transport, or displayed in Waterstones. I don’t even mind seeing my efforts in charity shops or reclaimed telephone kiosks. ‘Once upon a time,’ I think optimistically, ‘at least someone loved the book before they decided to have it adopted.’
My ghostwriter colleague Shannon Kyle puts it this way: “My job is to listen, write the manuscript in the author’s voice and then, poof, disappear.”
I couldn’t agree more.
So if you’re thinking about writing your book and you know you need help but you want it to be your book, worry not. I’m not about to claim your story from you. I don’t need to be credited on the front cover. In fact, I don’t want to be. Your book is your book – your words, your story. You’re the author, I’m the writer. The author gets the credit. And if you really want to credit me, drop a line in the Acknowledgements section. Something like: “Without Tom Henry, this book wouldn’t have been written.” I like that. Nice and simple. And true.