Ghost in the Machine: YPG’s May BBL on Ghostwriters & IP Development

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IMG_4585 On Tuesday, May 19th, 2015 during lunchtime, 31 YPG members met at Penguin Random House downtown headquarters for May’s BBL, Guns for Hire: Ghostwriters & IP Developers in a Changing Publishing Landscape. Moderator and YPG Planning Committee member Karl Jones, an associate editor at Grosset & Dunlap/Cartoon Network Books, introduced the four panelists—Wendy Loggia, author and executive editor at Random House Children’s; Lauren Spiegel, senior editor at Touchstone books; Brandon T. Snider, author and work-for-hire contributor to Little, Brown, Penguin Young Readers, and Random House Children’s Publishing; and Madeleine Morel, agent and president of 2M Communications Ltd.

The panelists addressed the differences between being a ghostwriter, an author, and an editor, and how their relationships intersect within the industry. They tackled what it takes to be a ghostwriter and what sort of career path one can expect. And finally, they touched on the dynamics of a work-for-hire writer’s relationship with their editor.

Morel kicked off the panel by explaining that in the ghostwriting world, “Authors are people who don’t write; writers are people who write.” With that confusion out of the way, the panel could take off and explain what ghostwriters really do. It’s not just a matter of writing the story but also of understanding the author. According to Spiegel, the ghostwriter should talk to the author and pull out their stories, their voice. “The best ghostwriters have good personalities,” Spiegel stated.

She went on to say that it’s the editor’s job to say whether it’s a good book, to give feedback to the author, and let them know what material has already been covered, to ask them the tough questions. Where it gets complicated, according to Morel, is when you have multiple layers like an attorney and a manager entering the picture and drawing up a contract that states they don’t want the ghostwriter to have direct contact with the author. However, Spiegel said ghostwriters tend to be multitalented, can deal with difficult personalities, deadlines, and will be able to pull things out of all kinds of people.

If you are thinking about going into ghostwriting, the number one rule, according to Morel, is to throw out your ego. Another great tip for both ghostwriters and work-for-hire writers, all four panelists agreed, is to have great communication skills. If you’re on the publisher side, Snider added, you really need to know what you are asking for. “You can say the word fun 14 times in an email, but also tell me about the whole thing [project].”

IMG_4586If you’re considering ghostwriting as a career path, Morel says she has some writers who do nothing but ghostwrite and she can keep them busy all year, so it is a viable option.

Work-for-hire writers are sometimes given projects where the world and characters have already been established. Jones asked the panelists what they do in order to prep themselves for projects such as these. Snider responded with, “I will do marathon viewing over the weekend.” He went on to explain that he tries to absorb the voice of the characters and get into that world as much as possible by watching any related shows or reading graphic novels and other materials. Loggia agreed, but added that she’s also done projects where there weren’t any other materials like TV shows or comic books. In those instances, she had more freedom to add her own spin to the world.

Work-for-hire writers tend to work with the same editors on multiple books. According to Loggia, if you become an expert at something, then an editor is more likely to seek you out for those specific types of projects. Plus, it’s easier for that editor, who has now worked with you and built a relationship with you, to seek you out rather than find someone new, start all over, and have to re-explain the process all over again. Snider says because he has such a good relationship with his editors, they know what he can handle, what sort of deadlines he can deal with, and his limits. “Know what you are asking of your author,” Snider said. “And maybe give them more money,” he joked. “Always, always give them more money.”

This article was contributed by YPG member Mandy Earles. For more information, visit our Contributing Writers page.

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