“The first draft of Iacocca was rejected for being ‘too well written,’” [ghostwriter] Novak told us. “I had to write like Iacocca was talking to you.”
Lee Iacocca, who turned around Chrysler in the 1980s, was one of the first celebrity CEOs. He wrote an excellent book, Iacocca: An Autobiography, in collaboration with a ghostwriter, the brilliant William Novak. I originally thought Novak had a magical sixth sense that allowed him to capture Iacocca's voice so authentically. But then I discovered the truth: he required a few drafts just like anyone else. In other words, it was a trial and error process.
To work effectively with a celebrity, I believe a writer must completely immerse himself or herself in the world and the thought processes of the other person for a period of time -- and do so in as non-judgemental way as possible. It is similar in many ways to how a good actor prepares for and acts out a leading role. This immersion is not an easy task for an actor or a writer, but true professionals not only learn how to do this through trial and error, they enjoy it.
Ghostwriting isn't all that mysterious if you think of them as the architects of your house. Without them there is no house. With them, there is one. But it's still your house, and always will be. Once they are finished, they go away, but you own it and live in it and should be proud to call it your own. Here are some excerpts from an excellent article on ghostwriting that was published in Priceonomics. The insights and facts apply equally to celebrities and non-celebrities. But beware, actual fees are mentioned, and they may surprise you:
The Ghostwriting Business, December, 2013, an article by Alex Mayyasi
On January 15, 2009, geese struck and disabled the engines of US Airways Flight 1549, forcing captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger to perform an emergency landing on the Hudson River. The smooth landing resulted in no casualties and remarkable pictures of the passengers and crew waiting on the plane’s wings in front of the Manhattan skyline. The “Miracle on the Hudson” received heavy media coverage that lifted Sullenberger to American hero status.
Nine months later, William Morrow published Sullenberger’s memoir Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters. Although one reviewer called the writing style “as methodical as one of Sully's checklists,” the book received high marks. But how did an amateur writer with a full schedule as a pilot, crash investigator, and CEO of a safety management consultancy find time to write a book in under nine months?
Just as he received assistance landing Flight 1549, Sullenberger had a co-pilot working on his book. On the cover of Highest Duty, just below Sullenberger’s name, it reads “With Jeffrey Zaslow.” Zaslow, who passed away in 2012, was a journalist and author whose name also appears on the cover of the memoirs of professor Randy Pausch and US Representative Gabrielle Giffords. He was, in other words, the person who most likely wrote the book: the ghostwriter.
When a nonfiction author decides to write a book, she starts hunting for a story and writes up a book proposal. When a celebrity decides to pen her memoirs, she calls her agent.
The motivations for that call may differ. Many celebrities see dollar signs in book publishing. Authors receive an advance when they sign a book deal - essentially a guarantee on the expected royalties from book sales.1 Hillary Clinton received an $8 million advance for her memoir while Bill Clinton inked $15 million. Agents often auction the right to publish the book or memoir of a major figure to drive up the price. A bidding war between three publishing houses over Angelina Jolie’s memoir is rumored to have driven her advance up to $50 million. To avoid this, publishing houses sometimes make a large “pre-emptive bid” to secure a celebrity’s book without facing an auction.
In the case of politicians and business executives, the primary motivation for writing a book is often to demonstrate expertise [...]
Jerrold Jenkins, president of a publishing services firm that has ghostwriters on staff, describes ghostwriters as falling along four tiers. The lowest tier, which his company rarely hires, are found on massive freelancing websites like Elance and earn $5,000 to $15,000 for a book. Writers at the next level have some book experience that earns them $15,000 to $30,000. These ghostwriters sign nondisclosure agreements promising to never reveal that they worked on a book. Only scrupulously honest clients thank the ghostwriter for his or her “valuable contribution” in the acknowledgements.
Excellent ghostwriters who may have even written a bestseller earn $30,000 to $50,000 per project while a small elite with a track record of handling multi-million dollar memoirs command from $50,000 to more than a million. They may also receive a share of the royalties and writing credit.
William Novak - who launched his career as an elite ghostwriter with perhaps the most commercially successful memoir of all time in Iacocca, the autobiography of American car magnate Lee Iacocca - earns anywhere from 10% to 50% of the advance. Top ghostwriters like Novak are given titles like “co-author” or “collaborator” and have their name on the cover. The publisher of George Stephanopoulos's memoir touted hiring Novak as if hiring an elite ghostwriter were a mark of prestige.
Writing someone’s autobiography is also surprisingly impersonal. When William Novak ghostwrote his first memoir, he assumed that he would be Lee Iacocca's “surrogate son.” He discovered that the norm is less than 50 hours of interviews. The process starts with the author providing relevant written materials. A series of interviews follows. The reticent only do phone calls and email; the feverishly busy fly the ghostwriter around the world to meet in airports and in between board meetings. For a major project, ghostwriters also interview as many as several dozen people who know the author. Once the ghostwriter has a draft, the two make adjustments over email and phone calls.
It’s the ghostwriter’s job to ask probing questions to capture that narrative. For most ghostwriters and publishers, part of the ghostwriter’s professionalism is understanding and accepting that she is writing someone else’s story. As William Novak told us, “It took me awhile to understand that I am writing a book about how [the client] sees him or herself. I represent what they remember, their views.”
"Writing is always a team effort. Jay Leno does not write his own jokes and a team of writers work on sitcom scripts."
... It is also an open question whether ghostwriting denigrates the actual writers or celebrates their skill. Nondisclosure agreements and cryptic mentions in the acknowledgements are not signs of respect. But established ghostwriters are recognized as skilled professionals. And while ghostwriters often get asked to write at below a living wage, ghostwriting can also be one of the few ways to make a good salary writing full-time short of being a perennial bestseller.
It can also be quite enjoyable. William Novak described himself as “spoiled” by all the “wonderful people [he’s] worked with.” Michael D’Orso, who dislikes the term ghostwriter but collaborates with major figures, described in an article how “you can’t be more alive than when you’re climbing into other lives in other worlds.”
Thanks to the lowered costs of book publishing, many of the books produced by these smaller presses do not intend to turn a profit. For some clients, a book is a vanity project. “Books have become a new toy,” we were told. “Instead of buying a Lamborghini, you have a book produced.” Others want private books written for the benefit of friends and family - perhaps about the life of a deceased family member. In business, the book can be a marketing tool. Executives may have a book ghostwritten about their career or business principles in order to be introduced as “the author of…” and boost their professional standing. For companies that commission ghostwritten books, the book is essentially a glossy pamphlet. Jenkins told us:
“One book we did on lean manufacturing was for a $80 million company whose average contract is worth half a million dollars. Our fee was $120,000 and I said that this was large. The client responded that they hold seminars and give the book to everyone there. And if they get two clients as a result… He called it ‘their brochure.’”
The full text of this article can be found at: http://priceonomics.com/the-ghostwriting-business/