Better. Faster. Cheaper?
It’s been axiomatic for something like twoscore and six years that computer technology would grow ever faster, cheaper, and better about every eighteen months. New evidence points up that the rate of innovation is shifting from hardware, which is slowing, and software, which is accelerating. I mention this because it’s easy to think of most human activity as progressive in the same or similar ways.
As a matter of fact, a score of years ago a business writer named Paul Davis wrote about the author-ghostwriter relationship. He remarked to the author: “You can have your project fast, cheap or good. Pick any two! Few clients will choose cheap, given the other two choices.”
Why is that so? As a ghostwriter who has encountered this confusing client conundrum a number of times over the years, I would like to put forth this theory: In the final analysis, it’s not about the money. It’s not a purely financial/economic/business decision. Nope, it’s about the relationship between the author and the ghostwriter. It’s that simple and it’s that self-evident. If the author wants a the ghost to write a great manuscript for a book the author can rightly be proud of, he or she is not going to hire the cheapest writer. They’re more likely to make the choice along the lines of the advice Polonius gives his son Hamlet: “Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy; But not expressed in fancy – rich, not gaudy. For the apparel oft proclaims the man.” Moreover, the author will, upon reflection, realize that beating the ghostwriter down in fee will not invoke the good will essential for the working relationship, nor will it engender the highest motivation to write well.
What about fast? Well, a writer can only write so fast, even though it is a fact that cows leave the barn slowly in the morning but return home much more quickly from the fields in the afternoon. They’re hungry, and so is the ghostwriter, for he or she will be paid according to agreed-upon submission dates, with the final payment due upon completion and acceptance. Therefore, a respectably paid ghost will be properly motivated and will meet deadlines first and foremost because he or she respects the relationship with the author, not just because it is advantageous to do so.
If you buy my argument, then the third option, cheaper, isn’t really an option at all. Of course, there will be instances when the author does not have the financial resources or the degree of confidence or commitment to the project to pay a fair fee. This is a fact of life. In such cases the author may find someone to do the writing on the cheap, but in all likelihood they’ll get exactly what they pay for.
To extend the computer technology analogy, the “hardware” is the same: a brain. It’s the software that’s taught itself to be smarter – in this case the ghost writer/editor who has learned the craft and honed it with the non-artificial intelligence of experience and can deliver high quality writing on a timely basis. It’s not a task suited for cutting corners or trying to get a “good deal.”