Ghostwriting tips: Shut up and listen, avoid egotists

Hannah Renier has worked as a best-selling ghostwriter for nearly 30 years. She’s helped everyone - from oil executives to politicians and sports stars - tell their stories. In her own words: “Ghost-writing has given me world travel and insights into human behaviour that I wouldn't otherwise have had. There have been times when, thanks to this career, I thought I understood biochemistry and could pretty well manage an oilfield and run a close protection team. I love my job. And I don't have to agree with my Authors about politics, but we do need to share a sense of humour.”

So what are her top ten tips for a career as a ghostwriter?

1.) Decide what kind of ghost writer you want to be. I advertise [it costs]. The dividing line is - will you look for an agent or work for yourself?

2.) Study the market. Don’t lie to people. Find out what they want. If somebody wants you to write a book about their life as a hooker/abused wife/insurance supremo/chef in the belief that it’ll sell, you need to know whether it’s remotely likely to attract a publisher, or whether they should factor in the costs of effective self-publishing.

3.) Do a test run - ghost a friend of a friend’s 'autobiography' for nothing; make sure it’s book length (70-80,000 words). Time it, and cost your time.

4.) You may have to live in your client’s head for months. Choose your client with care. Avoid narcissists.

5.) Find a lawyer who will draw up a boilerplate contract for you.

6.) Remember that ghostwriting is not the same as journalism. It is not forensic. I would tell Trump’s story as he would tell it, not as Maureen Dowd would in the NY Times.

7.) Go to the Society of Authors website and look for their guides, some of which are available to non-members for a fiver. 8.) Develop a writing routine. Everybody is different but try to work out what your daily word count is and plan accordingly. 9.) Write engagingly. I’ve had clients tell me they couldn’t wait to read the next chapter of their own autobiographies. 10.) Shut up and listen.

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