Since my first ghostwriting project five years ago, I have nurtured a steadily-growing stable of clients who return to me for additional work. A typical year also brings in several new clients. This month, however, marked a first for me: saying no.
Let me clarify by saying that I am extremely selective with the projects I accept. Ghostwriting zaps an enormous amount of creative energy, often to the exclusion of other coaching and editing projects. So by the time we are in serious negotiations, I’m fairly confident that I’ll see the project to completion. Wheelhouse projects like romance and YA and fantasy often seem inevitable. More careful consideration is given to middle-grade and non-fiction.
This project seemed the perfect fit with the ideal client. In time, however, it transitioned out of my comfort zone. My desire to hit a home run for my client wrestled with my muse. Dollar signs faced off against the prospect of seeking out something else to fill the scheduling void. After five years, I know no project will ever fit to perfection, but in those low-lows that are inevitable in every project, would I have regrets about this editing project-turned-ghostwriting?
And that’s when I realized my limits as a ghostwriter. Even if it only begins as a seed, the passion must be present from the project’s inception. I will only ghostwrite what speaks to the reader inside me. I cannot own, even partially and cloaked in anonymity, any project that pushes me past the boundaries I have set for my own writing career. Maybe having a sizable stable of clients affords me that luxury. Maybe if freelancing were my only means of financial support, I would think differently. Saying no was difficult but necessary. My client deserves no less than the best, and anything beyond my comfort limitations wouldn’t have been my best.
On another note, I’m making an effort toward a true social media plan this week: consolidating accounts, starting new accounts, making an effort with some, taking others to the next level, giving thought to consistent branding across all SM. I hope you’ll visit my contact page and link with me on the SM platform you prefer.
The longer I move in romance circles – reading, writing, studying, editing, coaching – the more apparent the phenomenon of every man vs. no man. I suppose this could apply to other genres, as well, but it seems prevalent in our romance heroes.
I finished ghostwriting a romantic novella last week. In it, the hero falls nicely into the brooding/tortured/loner archetype, but every single aspect of this guy is something fresh, something I haven’t read before. Every cliché I thought of, I twisted. I had some freedom with this. It’s a NA take on a modern Gothic. He’s eccentric and complex, as layered as Dante’s Inferno. He hangs the clothes in his cottage on antlers and keeps a yellow matchbox car on his mantle and leaves his house in both a Santa suit and a birthday suit. When a plot twist gives him exactly what he professes to want, he does the exact opposite. The number of actual men who might fit his mold in real life could probably only fit in my backyard. And maybe not even then. He is a “no man,” like no other man.
Simultaneously, I edited a contemporary romantic suspense from a long-standing client. Her hero is everything a romance reader wants: weak-knees kind of handsome, smart, protective, altruistic, rich, great in the love department…did I mention handsome? He rakes his hand though his dreamy hair when he’s upset. He pins the heroine up against walls (in a good way), listens when she has a problem and gets all up in his alpha when she’s in danger. Yet, we don’t witness idiosyncrasies like putting socks on that don’t match or how he walks one block out of his way to avoid a certain storefront or is obsessed with JFK history or that when he picks up a magazine, he leafs through it back to front. At some point in the story, the reader seamlessly superimposes her ideal man on him. He is “every man.”
The thing that baffles me?
They both work. Absolutely and unequivocally, work.
As writers, we’ve always heard that the golden ticket of characterization is uniqueness. But the power of a writer to gift-wrap a hero that will appeal to the greatest number of readers is not only brilliant, but savvy marketing.
Do romance readers want to fall in love with one particular guy or the particular guy they want?
Yesterday, the annual bombardment of perfume and cologne samples clogged my mailbox, slipping from glossy Black Friday ads like seduction bombs delivered by the cosmetic industry. Here’s the thing: as a writer, I save every one of them.
Remember how I always say that music is the short cut to Storyland? If music is the short cut, fragrance samples are the high-octane vehicle that gets me there. Sure, some smell more like the inside of a heiress’s steamy regrets, but sometimes I am able to attach just the right scent to just the right character and magic ensues. One whiff, and I’m right there with that imaginary character.
So in celebration of this olfactory phenomenon of writing (and because some of you may be considering purchasing a fragrance for a loved one – don’t, please don’t – that never works out), I give you the latest four that just tumbled from my mailbox:
Estee Lauder – Modern Muse
Aside from the writerly squees that occurred to me at this perfume’s title and the pitch line: Be an inspiration, this scent is one of your rich characters. Heels most of the time, the target market of every DeBeer’s commercial and just a hint of spice to indicate she moonlighted as a high-priced escort to pay her way through college. No PTA mom here. This chick will cost your hero. And betray him.
Coach – Poppy Wildflower
This character is a kindergarten teacher before she has crayola paint and boogers smeared on her skirt. She’s your little sister, Taylor Swift and Paris in the sunshine all rolled into one. You adore her initial sweetness, but it suffocates after a time. Like headache suffocate.
Ralph Lauren – Romance
Seriously, could this fragrance be any more targeted to my demographic? The ad even portrays a hunky guy and a woman trotting side-by-side on twin white horses. He leans over for a smooch, but kisses her eyeball instead. To so boldly proclaim that these notes of odoriferous emanation will deliver romance is a heady promise. What does it truly deliver? The perfect balance of everything, with not too much of anything but the glue meant to hold the sample closed. It’s like the Switzerland of Romancelandia. Kinda forgettable. Except for the eyeball kiss. And at $91 for 3.4 ounces, I would have expected something more. The UPS guy, for instance, to give an eyeball kiss upon delivery. Something.
Donna Karan – Cashmere Mist
Oh, wow. The name is already trying too hard, right? It’s like someone shoved a Harlequin novel into a phallic bottle. No man on this ad to suggest anything more than a scent, which is a good thing. This one is your futuristic antagonistic heroine who rose to too much power and must now be taken down. She doesn’t live entirely in her steel-and-glass fortress. Every now and then, she ventures out into the cashmere mist to frolic with squirrels.
Bottom line, don’t throw the samples away and don’t sniff them to death. Even if you dislike the scent, you never know when it will be the perfect connection to a character.
What do your favorite (or not-so-favorite) characters smell like?
I’m asked all. the. time. how it feels to gut myself on the page then watch someone else take credit for the work. Truthfully, I didn’t really know at first. The crinkle of cold, hard cash to do what you love tends to deafen for a time. But I’m going on four years as a ghostwriter (I know, right?) and with experience comes a healthier perspective. Many of you out there may be tempted and have questions about how ghostwriting might fit into your self-employed income as a writer. I can’t say my experience is indicative of the sub-closet, hyper-secret part of the publishing industry, but for those who have asked, this is for you. And though I’m a glass-half full person 99 percent of the time, my aim with this post is to shoot straight. Many articles sugarcoat and wax poetic about the freedoms and the cash stream. Ghostwriting is tough in more ways than one. If any of the following indications prove true, ghostwriting may not be for you.
One: You are possessive/defensive about your writing
Once you take on a ghostwriting client, you might very well be at the mercy of someone who knows less about story structure, plotting and character arcs than you. You may make informed suggestions, but there are no guarantees the client will listen. Bottom line: they’re paying you to write it their way, even if that means you know the story may derail down the tracks. Of course, some clients are more hands-on than others. Dream clients tell you their target market and genre and give you the freedom to knock it out of the park, but dream clients are like the Chupacabra – elusive and near-mythical.
Two: You can’t turn off your strong writer’s voice
Partial ghostwriting jobs are all about matching the client’s tone and cadence and style. Ghostwriters must have the ability to dissect the style coming at them and adapt. Early on, this is difficult. For one project, I chose to write in my natural voice then revised to match the client’s voice. While it worked well, it amounted to double the work. Sometimes it feels like you’re “dumbing” down your writing when what you’re really doing is elevating the client’s work. See? I told you I was a glass-half-full girl.
Three: You believe what you’re doing is dishonest
Let’s say you take on a self-help book from a psychologist who believes he has a revolutionary approach to disciplining children. Parents, no doubt, factored in the “author’s” degree when purchasing and buying into the premise, but you wrote from an outline and a mangled attempt at a first chapter. The pillar content the psychologist wished to convey is there, but as the ghostwriter, you weaved the tapestry of background and supporting evidence and anecdotes and trust. So the ultimate question becomes – are the parents leaning on your words or the good doctor’s premise? What happens when parents discover the psychologist didn’t pen the book? Does the implicit trust relationship between author and reader dissolve at this betrayal? The general public has no idea the staggering percentage of books that are ghostwritten – non-fiction and fiction. If they did, perhaps they would stop buying books altogether. If you believe any part of this model is shady, ghostwriting is not for you.
Four: You suspect that ghostwriting = money bags
It can and does, for writers who have been at it for any length of time. For beginners, you might as well be paying the client for the privilege to write his/her book. Until you build up a healthy stable of clients who bring in fresh clients through word of mouth, don’t count on a steady income. Eight out of ten potential clients out there want John Grisham for the price of a bag of Lay’s chips. They have no clue how many hours goes into a project to make it stellar. Factor in self-employment tax when you start pulling in the first year of positive income you may have ever made off this writing gig and you might just view sacking groceries as a promotion. That said, if you write erotica or specialize in business non-fiction, ghostwriting very well may = money bags.
Five: You cannot multitask in your writing
It’s unlikely you will get a lucrative contract when starting out as a ghostwriter. More often than not, ghostwriters have three, four or five projects at various stages going on at any one time. If you need the perfect alignment of the planets, a Starbucks triple espresso and one particular John Mayer song to get into the writing zone, ghostwriting isn’t for you.
Six: You value days off
I haven’t taken a day off in months. It really isn’t in my nature to be a workaholic, but my body is now conditioned to get up before the sun, figure out which pot on the stove needs attention and get to work. Deadline hell becomes a weekly thing to avoid so you ease the workload on any one day by spreading it out each day. That sense of accomplishment and relief at turning in a project is almost always eclipsed by work on the next project. Fires come and we put them out, usually on the client’s timetable.
You might be wondering what’s left. Why ghostwrite? The only thing I can think of that’s more rewarding than making a living doing what I love is making a living doing what I love and helping other people’s dreams come true. There is something mysterious and powerful about being a ghostwriter. Maybe we’re the Chupacabras of the publishing world. Or maybe that’s just my legs on deadline day.
Leave me a comment or contact me privately at la-mitchell (at) la-mitchell (dot) com if you’re thinking about dipping your toes into the ghostwriting pool but aren’t sure. I knew no ghostwriters when I began. I went it alone. You don’t have to.
Don’t judge me too harshly for tuning into the first week of Fox’s new show, Utopia. In my defense, I lasted about twenty minutes. And ABC has yet to cast Dean Butler in the role of old TV star on Dancing With the Stars. The Utopia concept is solid, the behind the scenes production is slick, the host is delightfully quirky in that Boulder/Austin/Johnny Depp/rubber-nose-and-glasses kind of way. What is the problem, you ask?
The casting is abysmal.
No, really. I wouldn’t even sick these people on my backdoor neighbor. I get that Fox wanted conflict. Conflict is the engine that drives stories (even if they are manufactured in the mind of a producer instead of an author). But if you’re going to tout this as some kind of revolutionary social science experiment, lets not scrape the bottom of humanity’s barrel. It’s like Lord of the Flies meets MTV. Where are the engineers? Doctors? Survivalists that might actually teach the audience a thing or two about life beyond a nudist colony?
Sadly, I’ll never get those twenty minutes of my life back. However, it did make me wonder what a writer’s utopia might look like:
Every citizen would have his/her own “retreat,” complete with noise-cancelling headphones, propane-heated stoves and napping space.
Every citizen would be limited to 500 words or less during tribe meetings to keep from composing dissertations and novels on the merits of starting a fire Kerouac-style.
Citizens who write horror are not allowed to give the post-dinner pep talk.
It isn’t enough to sell your work for money. You must also pitch in your soul. No doubt, the soul will generate more income for the tribe.
The babbling brook running through the compound would be brimming with coffee. That Utopia smells like your old high school social studies teacher is an unfortunate side effect.
Once per week, editors and agents would visit the gate, fat contracts in hand. Citizens could then vote them off in a grand “slush pile” ceremony.
What would your Utopia look like?
So the day has come when several things have happened: (1) my site is updated to reflect my freelancing and my writing, (2) my blog is co-located now, (3) the red phone booth is gone. This last item turned out to be a source of sadness for one reader who bought me this only a few months back:
Adorable, no? It’s supposed to house…well, something…but I’m not sure what. No doubt it will become a chocolate receptacle. All I know is it makes me tremendously happy to have it near me when I write. Thank you, dear reader!
So why is the red phone booth gone? Well, I needed something of my own that didn’t borrow a brand from anyone or anything else. I think you get my meaning. The time had come for a change and since freelancing is such a huge part of my writing life now, I had to find the intersection where business met with Vortex fun. I hope you find it’s still a GPS location you might want to visit from time to time.
Now that this site is crossed off my to-do list, I’m happy to usher in the fall season with a gift I haven’t given myself in quite a while – permission to work on my career. As a freelancer, it’s hard to turn away a paying client. I can make money doing what I adore, or I can live in my head for free. As with all things in life, a balance, I’m learning, is best.
The last, biggest change to happen this weekend is that I must say goodbye to my laptop. It has been languishing in computer ICU for a month now. First the screen went (and no, it wasn’t my fault – this Dell has been treated with the respect and honor of David Hasselhoff’s speedo at a nude community pool in Munich), thus the external monitor. Then the fuse for the back light blew when the new screen went in. The fuse is on the motherboard, necessitating a new motherboard. I’ll spare you the rest of the story.
My sparkly new one now sits on my kitchen table. It has no crumbs or white cat hair poking out from under its keys. It’s Windows 8 icons wink at me from across the room, beckoning me closer, but the sadness I feel over replacing my old laptop is profound. Crazy, I know. But as a writer, it is as much of an extension of myself as just about anything I can think of. On it, I wrote six novels, three novellas, countless articles and posts, the eulogy to my grandmother’s funeral, tens of synopses and a hundred queries. It made me forget the mind-to-hand connection in my creativity (not necessarily a good thing). Its keys have absorbed tears and spit-takes of laughter and the satisfying, heart-pounding rhythm of intense action scenes. And when I sat in the coffee shop and words would not come, I blurred myself into thought rubbing away fingerprints from its glossy edges.
Someday, my new laptop will sport similar wear and memories. For now, it feels like I’m pulling life support on an old friend.
I hope you’ll take some time to browse around. Readers and followers from my Vortex days at Blogger will find comfort in many of the same things in the author section of the site. Potential clients will find better access to information regarding my freelancing services. Everyone who visits will find me more accessible via social media.
To celebrate this new era, I’m offering a free download of “The Lost Highway,” a paranormal romantic short first published in the Wild Rose Press Anthology, Love, Texas Style. Send me a message at email@example.com and let me know how you liked it.
There is a team of very tired, very hot (as in Texas summer hot, not Channing Tatum hot) men replacing one section of my fence today. Not even two frosty Gatorade bottles from my fridge can allay my guilt at sitting in air conditioning watching these guys labor.
What fascinates me most about this project is what it revealed about my neighbor. I’ve long held the opinion that we would freak if we knew half of what goes on behind our neighbors’ doors. Ten years of living on this street has uncovered everything from snotty Pottery Barn obsessions and cross collections that would put the Vatican to shame to divorces, extramarital affairs, drug use, emotional and physical abuse, life and death, all hidden behind daisies in Terra cotta pots and lacquered front doors. Behind my neighbor’s brass kick plate, Roman door chimes and manicured lawn, I was certain lay more opulence, more orderliness than Martha Stewart’s jail cell.
Boy was I wrong.
Yesterday, the fence came down. My neighbor’s backyard was a biome unto itself. Grass high enough to brush an NBA player’s fanny. Relics of children long gone. A tangled nest where a garden once stood. Why would someone who mows and trims and edges and pots daisies bother with the front and not the back? Rules, I suppose. But it’s more than that.
Everyone has a pocket of chaos in their life: a junk drawer, the backseat of a car, that closet at the end of the hall. Something they don’t want anyone to see. I once wrote a character obsessed with orderliness. The one exception was her purse. At first, quirky, non-purse items would fall out to reveal character. But as the story progressed, the overstuffed bag became a metaphor for all the things in her life she couldn’t compartmentalize. As her trust in the hero evolved, the degree to which she shared her bag’s contents deepened until dark secrets tumbled out like used tissues.
I suppose my neighbor’s chaos is no more than evidence of a busy man who must have two jobs to support his family. A father who doesn’t want to forget the sound of children’s laughter saturating the yard on a hot summer night. A gardener who gave in to the natural world’s relentless ambush.
The writer in me wishes he was hiding something in the tall blades. The neighbor in me does not.
Where are you hiding your chaos?
In this, week two of beefing up the Vortex’s online presence, I’m tackling Principle 2: Participate in Communities Where Your Audience Already Gathers.
By nature, I’m a wallflower. So this will be a challenge.
First, I Googled keywords: time travel blogs, time travel authors, thriller author blogs, time thriller writers, thriller readers…you get the idea. I picked ten that sounded like something I would be interested in being part of-after all, I write what I love to read. I made an arbitrary list of ten, subscribed or otherwise bookmarked to ensure I would be able to frequent these sites, and tried his step 2 suggestion: expanding my list of ten using web-based tools. Double Click Ad Planner was no help. I’d have rather flossed Abe Vigoda’s teeth during those ten minutes.
Of course, this is only half the plan. I need to sink my toes a bit in each community, make thoughtful comments and find time to participate. Easier said than done, but I did find some fun places I can’t wait to return to, like the t=time blog. Who knew there were other bloggers out there who loved all things time travel?
Are you participating in online communities where your blog audience gathers? Give us your best find so we may share in the awesomesauce.
Have a super weekend, everyone!
One should not let an opportunity slip away to celebrate being number one. Okay, so it’s not the number one Publisher’s Weekly three-book-at-auction deal for the week, but it feels good. Ready? Wait for it…wait for it…
Dean Butler shirtless.
Yep. Test it out. Ga-head, Google it. Number one, baby. Woooooo!
I’m completely distracted today because I didn’t get enough sleep last night. I watched the celebrity-fat cinema experience that was Valentine’s Day then was sad that it was a good two hours of my life I’d never get back. Think of the literary masterpieces I could have consumed in that time. Think of the literary masterpieces I could have generated in that time. Not even a gay Bradley Cooper character was worth that.
Anyone here ever eaten quinoa? These little parasite-wormy-like grains love my keyboard. Normally I don’t eat while I write because I get ocular migraines and have to take screen-time-outs, but remember how awesome edits are going? I wanted to work straight through lunch yesterday and my quinoa wanted to jump ship to beneath my M key. Longest game of Operation with a mechanical pencil lead. Ever. And while we’re on bizarre grains, all this week I’ve been eating from a bread loaf labeled Ancient Grains. Does the mere application of the word ancient make it somehow healthier? What about stoic grains?
Mostly today, though, I’m mourning the departure of my favorite jeans. So instead of working on my gun-chase-through-a-major-urban-area scene, I’m wisely flexing my writing muscle today by writing a missive to the Levi Strauss Company that they will, most likely, never see:
Dear Levi Strauss execs,
I have a been a faithful customer for longer than Madonna has had Devo chest armor. I hung with your brand through years when your designers thought hey, let’s spread those back pockets and make a woman’s ass look larger. I hung with you when your red labels went geriatric large-print and made me look like my backside was part of a presidential motorcade. I hung with you when waistlines plunged lower than The Situation’s IQ because, hey, nothing is sexier than ass-crack-and, well, women don’t need to sit down anyway. But then you stopped making my favorite number and your outlet sales clerk felt my pain about as much as getting her text allowance cut by five. Jeans aren’t just pants for women. They are a full-on relationship. Thus, I am ending ours. Sure, Calvin Klein’s swanky back pockets are so far south it makes me look like I’m packing heat or worse–bad rap tunes on my ipod; and sure, DKNY jeans are sized for DiNKY elf-like creatures, but I shall prevail in my search.
A non-geriatric, non ass-crack consumer
Whew! I feel so much better. Thanks for letting me Ranty McRant. Now I can get back to some heat-packing of the fictional variety.
The Google Brotherhood of All-Up-In-My-Blog is now popping up a Google-Related toolbar at the bottom. Fascinating. Google picks up keywords from the website and suggests other sites or videos with related content. Wouldn’t it be great if it helped with author marketability? Oh, wait…that would be too helpful. For now, I’m getting six pictures of Bill Murray in varying poses of disheveled career-dom and links to bob-mitchell videos that highlight the fulfillment of the end-of-world prophesy. Not quite the demographic I’m writing for, but this is all a work-in-progress, is it not?
Speaking of blogs, I just broke one of the (supposed) cardinal rules of blogging: No more than three lines of text before a paragraph break. Man, are you guys in trouble. This rule would have cramped Faulkner. It cramps me. I have faith in Vortexers that their attention span is longer than my attention span while watching the Grammy’s.
Gotta cut this short today so I can do my part to get on the Valentine-gerbil wheel. You may think that since I sailed from Romancelandia, I am no longer a romantic. Not true. I am just into the quiet, the meaningful, the non-materialistic, the unpredictable, the messy, wonderful everyday parts of love. Here are links backs to two of my favorite valentine Vortex Lists and more, if you’re so inclined:
Next up: My new favorite movie is probably one you’ve never heard of. Looooove it.