Anonymous wordsmiths

Anonymous wordsmiths

Ghostwriters

Based out of Mumbai, former journalist and freelance editor and writer, Carol Lobo has written two books for a US-based naturopath. Similarly, from his Kolkata home, Pinaki Ghosh has penned stories for writers in North America, Australia, UK, the Middle East, and even India. However, the final story or book does not credit them, and is instead published under the name of the “author” — whose contribution or involvement in the making of the final product ranges from “minimal” to “much more”. Welcome to the world of ghostwriters who work behind the scenes, often in anonymity, while someone else takes the credit and basks in the limelight.

“A ghostwriter is someone who is contracted to write content for someone else, under the client’s identity. I have ghost-written just two books, both for the same client. I was required to familiarise myself with his original work, so that I could get a grip on the material, ‘get inside his head’, and learn his style of writing. I then developed the content mainly from Internet research. The client and I communicated via email and he vetted each chapter after I wrote it,” says Lobo, who has over 20 years’ experience in mainstream media.

Agrees Ghosh, and adds, “Sometimes the client’s involvement is minimum (where he or she just gives a topic or a one-page outline), in other cases it is much more (where the client sends voice recordings and remains involved in the process by giving detailed feedback),” he says.

A common practice across the globe, ghostwriters are generally hired by people who want to get their life’s story written, or by those who have a story but not possess the skill to put it to words. “Apart from not having the skills to write, a client can also be someone who may not have the time. So there are no fixed reasons,” says a ghostwriter, who has also written speeches for a well-known Bollywood personality, on condition of anonymity.

Shobit Arya, founder and publisher, Wisdom Tree, an independent publishing organisation says, “The reasons for hiring ghostwriters are simple. You don’t do something only for two reasons, either you can’t, or you are doing something more important. Writing is an intimate affair. It’s like romancing. If you are outsourcing it to a ghostwriter, you are mostly not capable of doing it yourself.”

But why would someone opt for a profession wherein you do not get any credit or recognition? Answering, Lobo says she has no problem with not getting credit for her work because she has worked behind the scenes all through her career — editing other people’s stories, often completely turning them around. “That is simply the profile of a desk person. But a ghostwriter should make sure the compensation is worth the time and effort put into the book,” she tells Metrolife.

However, Ghosh, who became a ghostwriter in 2004, has also written books and film screenplays for which he got due credit. He says while one gave him a steady earning, the other brought recognition. “Thus, I was able to taste both,” he says.

So does the profession pay a lot? Overseas clients: $20 per page; Indian clients: Rs 800 per page; and one page equates 350 words. So for a 200 page book for an American client, it is $4,000 or Rs 260,000,” shares Ghosh.

Professionals say that apart from having the ability to “write well in various styles”, ghostwriters should be open about writing on almost every topic, stick to deadline, have the ability to do research work, should be quick in responding to enquiries, have power to convince the enquirer, and have the spirit and patience to agree to the client and accept the client’s suggestions.

Lobo adds, “One must be able to adapt to the client’s style and personality for the book to be in sync with their style. One must therefore be able to mould oneself to different kinds of clients, their styles, demands, and also different kinds of content. You need to have a sense of empathy, you need to be versatile, and be able to ‘get inside the client’s head’.”

Nevertheless, ghostwriters have their share of problems, which includes competition from counterparts, unreasonable clients, payment collection and impossible deadline. “Also, Indian ghostwriters often face the challenge of not being able to adapt to the American style of writing when handling an American project because of different styles of writing; resulting in project cancellation,” Ghosh tells Metrolife.

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