Memoir Ghostwriting – Five Questions to Ask a Reference About Working With a Co-Writer

Working with a ghostwriter can bring you great joy as you collaborate to produce the book you have so long dreamed of. On the other hand, it can be a nightmare. Here are five questions to ask the references your writer has given you about working with him or her.

1. Was the writer able to meet deadlines? Deadlines can be intermediate such as the pace of writing (50 pages a month) or when the draft copy is due or it can be final such when you want to be holding the book in your hands. If the writer did not meet deadlines, was there a good reason-one being that the reference kept changing parameters of the memoir. Was re-negotiating timelines easy? (It is not necessary for you to have deadlines however. Some people want their stories finished “whenever.”)

2. Was the writer reliable about keeping in touch? Did s/he return phone calls and e-mails in a timely fashion? It is unsettling to be left without responses to your questions and concerns. When responses came, did they address your concerns or gloss them over?

3. Is the writer a good, non-judgmental listener? It is imperative that your ghostwriter listen to the story you are telling and neither impose his/her own ideas on the story nor judge it. Listening is a very important skill in a co-writer. While you do not want your writer to be judging you, you do want however to be challenged in your views. Very often, this will consist of responses like,”You say your mother was supportive, but the example you gave does not reflect that. Can you give me another example?”

4. Is the writer curious and knowledgeable about history, geography, politics? A good writer will expand on the setting of your story so as to give it a “bigger picture.” A good writer can set a story in a context that will give it more presence. The story will seem–and be–more substantial

5. Is the ghostwriter a pleasant person to work with? You do not want to be dealing with a moody person who will be rude and absent.

If you have any doubt about the reliability of the reference, ask the co-author for another.

Good luck finding the right ghostwriter!

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About Denis Ledoux

Denis Ledoux began helping people to turn their memories into memoirs in 1988. Denis was named Lifewriting Professional of the Year by the Association of Personal Historians in 1996. Today, Denis is a writer, educator, teacher, autobiography co-author, memoir-writing coach, editor and publisher. He directs The Memoir Network, an international group of memoir professionals who use his method and materials to help people write lifestories. Denis also offers writing tele-classes and leads memoir writing tele-groups.
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2 Responses to Memoir Ghostwriting – Five Questions to Ask a Reference About Working With a Co-Writer

  1. Joyce Fishman says:

    Hi Denis,
    Thanks for the info. on ghostwriting. Would you say it is easier to work from a tape recorder, in an interview type of interaction, or should the ghostwriter just write directly as the client tells their story. I am interested in working this way with my husband. I appreciate your input.
    Joyce Fishman
    believeyoume.express@gmail.com
    fishmanfamily@earthlink.net

    • Joyce,

      It really depends on what you feel comfortable with. Tape recorders are very convenient, and the ability to play back the whole conversation can be very helpful. That being said, I always prefer to take my own notes. When writing out notes I often feel more involved in the process and find myself more attuned to possible gaps in the speakers answers. As a result I am more able to push certain points with follow-up questions. The active process of note taking, as opposed to the passive process of making an audio recording, really suits my style. Ultimately, go with whatever you feel most comfortable with. The focus should be on the conversation between yourself and your interviewee, and not the process of recording that conversation.

      I hope that helps,
      Denis

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