Something that’s remained constant throughout my career in publishing is the unrealistic, often ludicrous, deadlines editors and publishers have asked me to meet. Case in point: My agent sold a book of mine to a publisher, who then took seven months to get contracts in the mail. As I read the submission schedule, I realized the publisher was giving me and my co-author four months to write the complete 125,000-word manuscript. Well, of course, the publisher had a schedule to keep: getting the book into production, into the fall catalog, ready for a spring publication date. We were a little late, but not much; and of course the publisher had built a little slop into our schedule because they knew the deadline was tight.
Any writer, ghost or otherwise, worth his or her salt will tell you the best writing is in rewriting. With ultra-tight schedules and unrealistic deadlines, the writer has about enough time to write a first draft and spell-check their work. A right and proper revision (and there should be at least two) requires letting the manuscript sit for a while, letting the writer come up for air, shift attention away from the manuscript for at least a few days – a week or two is better – then attack the revision. Non-writers may not understand this, but would be surprised how much better a revised manuscript can be, not just in terms of correcting obvious errors but wordsmithing, seeing a good place to add (or delete) content or provide an example, noting where a sentence is out of place or a paragraph has more than one topic and could be improved upon.
In the past year, we have been approached by three different author prospects who wanted us to write a book for them in four months. Yes, all three. Yes, four months. Could we do it? Maybe, if we had absolutely no life and nothing else in the world to do. Did we do it? No, because we hold ourselves to a higher standard. We could not have been proud of the delivered manuscript. What happened? One prospect never wrote the book. One found someone to do it, then came back to us because they were dissatisfied with what they got. The third we never heard back from.
The Takeaway? Be realistic in your expectations of your ghostwriter. Writing is both an art and a craft, and it requires care and attention if it’s done right. Orson Welles used to do a wine commercial on TV that went something like “We shall sell no wine before its time.” That’s how we feel about our ghostwriting. We want to be as proud of our work as you are of your book.