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.
About two weeks ago, I participated in a career day for local sixth graders. I spoke about being published and what it was like to have a book signing. I did a fun speed writing exercise which then turned into a lesson about ghostwriting, complete with money exchanging hands and someone else getting credit for the work. And we talked about what an editor does to help a story become the best it can be.
When I taught, I adored this age: old enough to have fresh ideas about the world, young enough to still be this side of sass. Today, “the feels” came in a manilla envelope, packed full of handwritten thank you notes. Each and every one is special, but here are some fun quotes I wanted to share with my peeps:
“The paper I wrote was actually chapter 9 of my up-coming novel. And I’m so glad you came to teach me about things I didn’t know yet.” – LR
“P.S. I’ll never forget, keep writing um..um..um. LOL” – Caitlin
“I didn’t even know ghostwriting was a thing! You have stood out from the others on this career day!” -Maya
“You were fun. I liked the little activity we did and I think your career is cool. “Ghostwriter.” I hope you have a great writers life even though they [the books] might not have your name on it.” (with additional sad face) – Natalya
“At first I didn’t want to be a writter, but you got me a little interested in writing for a living. I probably would be a ghostwriter because it would be easier on me.” – Kaitlyn
“You have inspired me to go the extra mile in my writing. Also, I enjoyed the writing activity very much! I will definately be using that if I have writer’s block.” – FM
“I really enjoyed what you said about ghostwriters. I love writing and ever since you talked to me about ghostwriting, I’m really interested in being a ghostwriter someday.” -Savannah
“I, myself, have considered being a writer and you allowed me to venture into the possibilities of being maybe a ghostwriter. You also inspired me when you told us to “Just write.” That may be my new favorite motto!” -Ellie
“Thank you for being here today. It was a great honor. You expire me to be a writer.” -Catherine
“You have encouraged me to start to write some more in my free time.” – Jessica
“Wright on!” -JB
“I am the bruised bannana. I hope you like my story.” – John
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?
On behalf of L.A. Mitchell’s awesome clients,
thank you for your sacrifice.
Thank you very much for your donation to General Fund Campaign on behalf of L.A. Mitchell’s clients. We are deeply grateful for your generosity and support of our efforts. Your gift has made a difference and enabled us to provide vital services to the community we serve. We count on you and people like you to ensure that we can continue providing these services.
We are deeply grateful for your generosity and support of our efforts.
Thank you for your support.
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?
Okay, so back in the days of heavy blogging (remember those? Before other social media swallowed blogging whole), my blogging friends were like family. We shared poems, triumphant (and not so triumphant) entrances into the publishing world, our lives, our environments, our art. Though I was an early entry into the Twittersphere, I’m just now warming up to the site (I know, right?), and I’m still holding out on not doing Facebook (despite the persistence of some of my marketing guru clients). I have stayed in contact with many Vortexers via Twitter and LinkedIn. Some have stopped blogging altogether. Some have kept the blog fires burning.
When I sit down at my laptop, I’m far, far more likely to be all business. Freelancer girl. This is my chair of productivity, which is why I needed to set up my social interactions through my phone. I downloaded three feed-reading apps, decided on one, and entered all my old blogging friends into it. My hope is that I won’t lose touch when I take down my old Blogger site for good this week.
I don’t blog as much as I used to, but I do recognize the power of a blog – even now. Posts from years ago helped me to secure one of my many awesome clients. He said he felt like he knew me when he hired me. I guess Fabio and Dean Butler jokes will do that. I won’t post as often as those heavy blogging days, but I hope you’ll subscribe or drag me into your reader so that we might keep in touch. Sign up for my newsletter. Find me on Twitter. Leave me a comment every so often. Keep blogging if it still rocks your world. It still rocks a tiny corner of mine.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know how you liked it.
A few Vortex faithful may remember a book experiment I started in August 2009 called A Novel’s Migration. I wanted to harness the power of lending books, track the book’s journey through the eyes of the readers who picked it up and start a dialogue about how the shared story impacted us.
To my knowledge, only one Vortexer returned to make a comment on its thread (Thanks, Todd!). It had been so long, I didn’t even remember the book’s title. However, I hadn’t watched this entire movie trailer before I knew it was the story I adored so much 2009. I can’t say if the movie will do the book justice, but have a looksee.