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I had the honor and pleasure of being interviewed by the Nonfiction Authors Association last week about my career as a ghostwriter.

Ghostwriting as a profession has been getting a lot of attention lately, primarily because celebrities and experts are becoming more comfortable admitting they had help with the writing of their books. However, getting started is the most challenging part for writers who want to enter the profession.

My first ghostwriting project

I was very fortunate to have been handed a ghostwriting gig about 20 years ago, before I even knew what ghostwriting entailed.

My agent at the time, Lisa Swayne, called to ask if I wanted to work with a well-known business expert, to help him “finish” his book. Only it turned out he hadn’t started it — hadn’t written a word.

He had a publisher-approved outline, years of notes and articles he had filed away for this purpose, and a clear vision for what needed to be said. He was the ideal client.

He boxed up his files and shipped them to me via FexEd, so that I could get up to speed on the content.

Over the next six weeks or so, we spoke regularly by phone, talking through what belonged in each chapter, adding stories to make the instruction come alive, and brainstorming charts and illustrations to supplement the writing.

Given the book was several months overdue, we didn’t have a lot of time to debate individual word choices or trivial details and he was happy with what I produced. We submitted it to the publisher, who was also delighted that we had managed to draft the book as quickly as we did.

Once the book was submitted, I called to tell my agent, “I don’t know what that kind of project is called, but it was fantastic!”

Being paid to collaborate with a leader in his field, to learn from him, and to make suggestions for improvement that the author took seriously was a dream come true. The fact that my name wasn’t on the cover didn’t bother me in the slightest.

That,” she told me, “is ghostwriting.”

Ghostwritten books

Since that first project, I’ve worked on a business textbook, a book related to DEI, a guide to investing, a few corporate histories, a bunch of thought leadership titles, several leadership, marketing, and real estate books, and the occasional self-help or professional development book. I look for smart business leaders who want to write a book to promote their company or its products or services, or to position them for new business opportunities, such as speaking or consulting.

But my ghostwriting career started with a publisher who was willing to hand me responsibility for producing a manuscript on behalf of one of their important clients. And I suspect they were willing to do that because I had the experience and the expertise they needed at that moment.