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If offered a large advance by a traditional publishing company and told to produce a series of books in a certain amount of time, that obviously you would have to give up the rights to (maybe they would alter your writing too) and do all your own marketing, would you take them up on the offer?
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Before I respond about ghost writing let me talk about where I stand on publishing in the first place. The best I can characterize my publishing style is non-traditional. While I was published by a real publishing house and not just independently, as I am currently, I would not go back. The experience of both sides of the coin has taught me a great deal about the differences between the two. A lot of what you think you know about publishing is false, and propagated by movies and television, who really don’t have a great window into that world. The worst manifestation of traditional publishing is the ghost writer. That shapes my response on this question.
If you’ll remember, in the past, I wrote on the blog hop and spoke on my YouTube channel extensively about publishing. My opinion is pretty clear on which side I fall. Independent is the way to go, unless you’re a celebrity who already wields a lot of clout and doesn’t have heavy lifting to market their work. For them, publishing is diversifying their already decent income.
Once you have name recognition, it may be of use to you to have a big publisher handle your work, and do all the paperwork. However, unless your name recognition is going to sell thousands of copies (enough to cover into the future, such as your advance and bolstering your notoriety), you won’t get that package deal from a publisher. Rather, they expect you to market your work, whether you are independent or traditionally published. That is the landscape of writing today and it isn’t changing any time soon. Not only does a traditional publisher take the majority of the profits (at an average of 90%), but you will also do the sales for them all on your own. That doesn’t strike me as a fair deal at all. You see, they think you should feel privileged to have caught their attention and use their label. What a racket!
First of all, in response to the question, never give up your rights to your work. Ghost writers do this all the time. I don’t know how they feel okay with it at the end of the day. I’d be a wreck knowing that I could not only NOT take credit for my labor, but also that I could not use any of it to promote the work under my name. When hired to ghost write, they purchase your anonymity along with your skill. Honestly, the pay fails at a fair trade or even good enough to erase your credit.
Second, let me say that I don’t think any creative should operate in someone’s preferences for the creatives products. If they have such high opinions of their own opinions, then they aught to sit down and get typing their self. After all, they believe they know best. Plus, the information and tools available via computers can help them get on their way. Don’t forget, they know their ideas are so much better than the actual writer hired. (And, yes, that was deep, stinging sarcasm.)
The recent writers strike should provide an eye-opening view into the publishing world for newer writers and experienced writers alike. There are still many hold-outs for traditional publishing despite what we see year after year. There are also the many people who think what we do is no big deal and/or contributes little to society. Between the public and the publisher, please realize that there is an agreement to get you to sell yourself cheap. The public would love nearly free books and the publisher loves the idea of reaping all the profits and giving authors very little in return. Know your value.
Too often, the public views writing as a hobby done on the side of a well-paying career, unless one turns out wildly popular. People who perpetuate the myth do not seem to be aware of how much writers do in the world. It would be a fun experiment to snap the magic fingers and disappear writing for a full week or more, just to give them a taste of a world absent writers. Every day job I held, I leaned in heavy on the writing skills, regardless of the enumerated duties. Writing underpins every sector of work. Every. Sector.
Lastly, I’ll remind the reader that advances are advance payments on projected sales. That means, whatever advance you obtain on a book, you must sell enough books to cover the payment it before royalties roll in. More often than not, writers will fail to do this. Their next project will get passed over, and they will struggle to find representation or a publisher to put them forward again (unless, again, they’re celebrities), likely cancelling any books they may have additionally signed. Remember what I said above: you plan and excecute sales pushes.
Let’s break this down. Pretend you present as a new writer with a small platform established on social media. The publisher gives you $10,000, because they think your book can sell if given the proper airing to the public. So, why won’t your advance rise to the occasion of creating a successful marketing campaign AND keep putting dinner on the table. Ten grand might get you a mediocre campaign. Return on that investment (ROI) usually ranges at about 10% per dollar spent. That’s certainly not going to feed you or convince your publisher to keep publishing you. So now you’ve made them 1,000 dollars. Your platform grew by about 3% permanently. Congratulations. Your next book has been cancelled, and you’re back to square one and with a poor performer under your belt.
Newer authors tend to forget that their platform is the first thing they need to build before they release a book. Without that platform, all efforts will be wasted. Publishing today is no harder than it was decades ago, except that a great deal of information around the process was difficult to obtain in the past. Today, you have a means to move in writerly circles and get the read of the room at your fingertips. You have the opportunity to build a readership without having to leave your home base for weeks on end, touring signings. Thankfully, also, it’s a lot of free ad time. Everything you do, when your socials are set up showcasing you as an author, is promoting that work.
Continuing with the platform you’re expected to build, think for a moment of the attempt to grow your readership via ghost writing. Recall that I said you cannot take credit for the work. That is the point of being a ghost. You hide behind the person taking credit. Don’t you think this is now an impossible task?
Unless you breach the contracted silence on your participation, and risk lawsuits that could devastate you financially, you’ll never be able to talk about ghost writing work. So all those great works you did for the benefit of others cannot benefit you further than the small paycheck you collected. Honestly, I cannot see why anyone would use their skill set to solely enrich someone else’s life (when that life is almost always already super enriched). Always watch out for yourself and know that your skills have value. Make sure you get credit! Then you can talk about those works with your readers and build their confidence in you.
In the end, my answer is a big no. I am no ghost writer. My name will appear on my work. They are not pet projects or vanity experiences. I am an artist and writing is my job. I will also take a larger percentage of profits by remaining independent of opportunistic practices, which seek to feed off my intellectual property while starving me out. Otherwise, I may indeed end up a ghost!
It is always up to the writer what they accept for themselves and their labor. Therefore, I take part in breaking the cycle of parasitical business operations. I hope that you will, too. (Keep in mind, that I understand if you need the money, but what a hard road you chose.)
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