- The Publishing Industryís Best-Kept Secret!
this interview, Derek Daniels has turned the tables on Bob Olson by
interviewing him about his career outside of being editor of OfSpirit.comóGhostwriting!
Since we have a Writing category on Of'Spirit.com, we thought we would
include the transcript of this interview here.
We are so pleased to be talking today with Bob Olson, a
ghostwriter of nonfiction books.
Welcome Bob. Could you tell our audience the answer to
the most basic question, "What is ghostwriting?"
Hi Derek. Ghostwriting is when someone writes something for a
client while the client gets the credit for writing it. It could
be a book, a speech or an article. I specialize in nonfiction
books, so the clients who hire me get credit as the bookís
is when someone writes something for a client
while the client gets the credit for writing it."
Why do you enjoy writing books for other people?
Personally, being an author has been one of the most gratifying
experiences of my life. I later became a ghostwriter to help
people share that same experience. I believe everyone has
an interesting book inside of them, and many people have a book
that could truly benefit others by offering readers knowledge,
hope, understanding or inspiration. Autobiographies are the
perfect medium for this. If the people I help to
become authors gain half the fulfillment I have experienced
as an author, they will forever be grateful that they made the
Is ghostwriting cheating?
No, ghostwriting isnít cheating. However, it is surprising
to many people. The general public just isnít aware of how
many books are actually written by someone other than the
author. Yet ghostwriting has been a common and acceptable
practice in the publishing industry for years. In fact, it is
more popular today than ever, with many of todayís best
selling books having been ghostwritten. I recently heard that
upwards of forty-percent of published books today are
ghostwritten. The reason it isnít cheating is because it is
the authorís ideas, concepts and stories that create the book.
Often, it is their exact words, as told to the ghostwriter via
hours of recorded interviews. The ghostwriter simply puts these
ideas, concepts and stories into words in such a manner that
creates an organized, captivating and marketable book.
reason [ghostwriting] isn't cheating is because
it is the author's ideas, concepts and stories that create the
Why do you think ghostwriting has become more popular than ever?
I think the growing popularity of hiring a ghostwriter is
indicative of todayís lifestyle. Most successful people today
donít work from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. A ten or twelve hour day
is the norm. So lack of time is likely a key factor for the rise
in popularity of ghostwriters.
second factor may be that hiring a ghostwriter has become
trendy. Itís a status symbol to have a ghostwriter writing
your book for you. It means that you have something important to
say, that you are too busy to write it yourself, and that you
have enough money to hire a ghostwriter. Not everybody can
afford to hire a ghostwriter, at least not a talented one. So it
becomes a rich personís luxury, of sorts. Plus, since the top
ghostwriters can only write a few books a year, their talent
becomes a luxury that few are able to obtain.
"... lack of time is likely a key factor
for the rise
in popularity of ghostwriters."
But youíre a published author, a successful public speaker,
and an internationally known magazine editor and article writer.
Why would you write books for other people when you could
continue writing your own books?
Iíve done the author thing with all its prestige and
celebrity. Iíve been interviewed by talk show hosts on
television and radio. Iíve been interviewed by journalists for
magazines and newspapers. Iíve had the photo shoots. Iíve
spoken if front of large audiences. Iíve done the book
signings. Iíve even been asked for my autograph while walking
down the street. And while all of that gave me a rush of
excitement and a temporary ego boost, that isnít what
motivates me to get up in the morning. I have realized that what
I really love about writing books is the writing, not the
promoting. Ghostwriting allows me to do that while leaving the
promoting to the authors who hire me. To put it in one sentence:
Iíve been there and done that and now I do what I love
Doesnít it bother you that other people are getting all the
glory for the product of your talent and hard work?
Oh, no. Thatís what thrills me about it. I love when my
clients get to experience being an author. I love seeing them on
television, hearing them on the radio or reading about them in a
magazine. I fully enjoy seeing their careers take off because of
their new author status. Itís extremely fulfilling to me.
said, books are a collaborative effort. Itís a win-win. While
I do the writing, it is my clientsí stories and knowledge that
make their books possible. I wouldnít have these great books
to write if it were not for them. Together, we teach, inspire
and entertain a lot of readers. While I could be writing my own
books, I only have so many stories and lessons to share. Iíd
be repeating myself an awful lot. Ghostwriting allows me to
write about people, subjects and worlds of which I would never
otherwise have reason to write. I feel grateful to have this job
and to get to know these remarkable people whom I call clients.
The truth is that I get plenty of glory for my talent and hard
work. It may not be what most people would consider glory. But
it is my definition of glory, which is all that really matters.
" Ghostwriting allows me to
write about people, subjects and worlds
of which I would never
otherwise have reason to write."
What kind of books do you write for people?
The possibilities for ghostwriting are endless, from
autobiographies to business books to self-help books. Iíve
done each of those, but I tend to enjoy writing about peopleís
lives the most. Whether it is an autobiography or the story of
some average Joe (or Josephine) who had an extraordinary
experience, thatís where my passion lies. Some people want to
write a biography about their deceased loved one, as a legacy of
sorts, where the family members become the authors. I
particularly enjoy writing peopleís stories that bring hope
and inspiration to readers, books about someone who overcame
illness, poverty, abuse or other hardships, books that show the
power of the human spirit. And Iím absolutely nuts about
celebrity rags-to-riches stories because they inspire young
people to follow their dreams.
are a few of the types of books I would consider ghostwriting:
Other than lack of time, why do most people hire you to
ghostwrite their books for them?
People hire me to write their books for four reasons:
donít have the TIME to write a book
donít have the TALENT to write a book
donít have the DISCIPLINE to finish a book
donít have the KNOW-HOW to properly structure a book.
hire me to ghostwrite their books because they don't have the
time, talent, discipline or know-how. I
really respect my clients because it takes honesty, personal
insight and courage for many people to admit that they donít
have what it takes to finish a book on their own. It also
indicates to me that this person is a doer rather than a
dreamer. Dreamers talk about the book they are writing or are
going to write, but it never gets done. Doers who hire
ghostwriters recognize that their book is not getting written so
they find a way to get it done. That takes enormous strength of
hire me to ghostwrite their books because
they don't have the time, talent, discipline or know-how."
You have become a highly sought-after ghostwriter. What makes your writing different than most
ghostwriters that places your services in high demand?
I can only speculate. I guess itís because I bring more than
just writing talent and book know-how to the table. First, I value
trust and integrity above money. This is especially important
with celebrities who are sharing their intimate stories with me.
They appreciate knowing they can trust me.
Iím more than solely a writer. I also have experience as a
private investigator, a marketing consultant, a magazine editor
and a published author. All of these careers have attributed to
my ghostwriting success in their own unique way.
I donít juggle three or four clients at a time like most
ghostwriters. I generally focus on one book at a time so that I
can put all my energy into it. That only allows me to write
about two books a year, three at the very maximum, which
instantly puts me in high demand.
fourth, I don't rush my writing. Some are in
too big a rush to make their money and get onto the next job. I absolutely love
what I do, so I donít consider it work. I charge what I feel I
am worth, so Iím not rushing to get to the next job, not
juggling three clients at one time, and not resenting my clients
for not valuing me. In the end, my relationship with my clients
is one of mutual respect. And I believe all of this shows in my
hire me for my writing talent, career experience, and the fact
that I don't rush my writing or juggle several clients at a time.
How has your experience as private investigator, a marketing
consultant, a magazine editor and a published author improved
I guess I walked right into this question, didn't I?
Iíll give you a brief answer for each position Iíve held:
experience as a private investigator
taught me my interviewing skills, which is the key to being an
extraordinary ghostwriter. By learning how to interview
efficientlyógetting the maximum amount of useful information
in the minimum amount of timeóIím able to minimize the time
I need from my clients and the time I need to transcribe the
recorded interviews, as well as organize it all. My interviewing
skills have also helped me to better capture my clientsí
voices. I often use many of the exact words of my clients from
these interviews. And it is the interview process that teaches
me the rhythms and patterns of their voices.
also learned the importance of confidentiality as a private
investigator while working for the most prestigious law firms in
Boston. Trust within the author-ghostwriter relationship is just
as important as the trust within the client-attorney
relationship. In fact, itís sacred. My clients are going to
tell me things that I wonít use in their book. It is vital
that they trust me with this information, and trust that I am
able to know what should and should not be included in the book.
My next experience is how I came to know what should or should
not be used.
experience as a marketing consultant
honed my skill in image creation. Whether Iím writing a
business book or an autobiography, Iím creating an image of
that author within the readerís mind. As a result of my work
in marketing, I have an intuitive sense of what to include and
what to leave out. It is a balancing act that requires
psychological insight, which is what marketing is all about.
Each book needs to portray the author as having depth of
character in order to keep the reader captivated. The balancing
act comes in knowing how to attain that depth of character
without revealing anything that will negatively affect the
author. I want to include stories that show the author as human
and flawed so the reader can relate to him/her, yet without
revealing anything that will harm the authorís reputation or
image. On the other side, I want to show the authorís most
appealing qualities without making him/her appear egotistical.
My marketing training has taught me how to achieve this balance
experience as a magazine editor
trained me how to keep readers engaged. There is nothing worse
than a boring book, which is why I interview people before
accepting them as clients. First they need an enthralling story
or something fascinating to teach. Then, from the bookís title
to the chapter titles to the subheadings within each chapter,
there are strategic writing techniques that keep the reader
mesmerized and wanting more. My magazine was online, so I got
instant feedback from both website statistics and emails that
taught me which articles and advertisements were being read the
most. After almost four years of writing articles and
advertising headlines, what I learned about writing spellbinding
copy from this experience is worth its weight in platinum.
experience as a published author
taught me what sells to publishers and what sells to the
publicónot always the same material. I recommend that people
write their books before going to a publisher, because,
otherwise, they may end up with a book that the publisher wanted
to write, which could be nothing like the book the client wants
written. If publishers have control of the bookís direction
before it is written, they will require a book that fits a
marketing formula. But the most successful books are those
written from passion first, then packaged for marketing second.
Authors who are passionate and driven to get their books
published will always succeed, regardless of the formula used in
writing their book. My experience as an author has taught me
what makes a book a best seller and what makes a book a
no-seller. This is one of the strengths I have as a ghostwriter:
I know how to help people write best selling books. My clients
have something important to say. I know how to say it. Voila!
Itís the perfect marriage.
Is it difficult to find a talented ghostwriter?
If youíve ever seen the television show American
Idol, where singers compete on stage for a recording
contract, youíve witnessed the astonishing number of people
who think they are the next pop star yet they canít sing a
single note on key. The same is true for dancers, actors and
writers. Everybody seems to think they are extremely talented.
Only a few truly are.
as long as you have learned how to write, you can, in theory,
write a book. That doesnít mean the book will be written with
any degree of structure, rhythm or appeal. That doesnít mean
the book wonít be dull and difficult to read. It only means
the book will be written. Writing a book and writing a book that
will create word-of-mouth referrals from readers is the
difference between finishing the New York Marathon and finishing
in the top 100.
know three people whose publishers hired their ghostwriter for
them. It sounded like a good deal until the authors actually
read what the ghostwriters had written. In all three cases, the
authors (who are not writers) ended up writing most of the book
themselves and letting their ghostwriter (who still got their
full fee) simply edit it. These authors knew their names were
going to be on these books and they were concerned for their
reputation. They all described their ghostwriting experience as
one of the ghostwriters who turned out to be a nightmare was a
journalist for a major city newspaper. That actually turned out
to be the problem; she wrote like she was writing a newspaper
article, not a book. In another case, a book producer had
assigned her best ghostwriter to the project, but it turned sour
because the ghostwriter was working on three other books at the
same time. She wasnít putting the necessary time into editing
her writing was sloppy and left major gaps in the story and she
wasnít available when the author needed her, so they were
doing interviews on the phone at eleven oíclock at night.
guess the moral of these stories is that YOU need to be in
charge of hiring your ghostwriter, not your publisher. This
isnít really surprising if you take into account a
publisherís biggest concernóprofits. Naturally, if profits
from book sales are the number one priority, publishers are not
going to want to spend much money on a ghostwriter. So while
unsuspecting new authors would expect their publishers to choose
a brilliant ghostwriter, what they are really getting is a cheap
ghostwriter, the lowest bidder.
answer to your question is "Yes." Finding a talented, dependable,
trustworthy ghostwriter is difficult, but not impossible. Just
remember that you often do get what you pay for. It certainly is
true in this business.
know three people whose publishers hired their
them... They all described their
ghostwriting experience as a 'nightmare.'"
What qualities make a great ghostwriter?
You have to be an exceptional writer. You have to understand how
to pace a book to keep it interesting. You need to understand
the sound and rhythm of words. You have know how to surprise
your readers, how to keep them guessing about whatís next. You
donít want to be dull or predictable. You have to know how to
write for two types of readers: the reader who scans and the
reader who reads every word. You have to know how to insert
emotion into your writing, even for self-help and business
books. You have to know how to edit, and when to have someone
else edit your writing. And you need to be able to accept
someone elseís edits without getting all bent out of shape.
as important, to be a successful and talented ghostwriter, you
need to know how to interview properlyóhow to guide the
interview and extract the necessary details that may be
embarrassing, painful or upsetting for the client to recall. And
you need to do this with compassion.
also must have integrity and be exceptionally trustworthy.
Again, confidentiality is vital. And you must never judge your
clients for what they have done or not done. You need not agree
with everything your client has done, but you must never judge
him/her either, knowing that no person can judge another until
you have walked in his/her shoes. Plus, you must remain unbiased
and tell the story your client wants toldónot the story you
want told. If you donít want to write that story, you
shouldnít accept the project.
finally, you must be able to remove yourself from your writing
and become the client. You must be able to capture your
clientís voice and write with the emphasis, rhythms and style
personality, not your own. Like an actor who becomes the
character he plays, the ghostwriter must become the client
during the writing. Very few actors and even less writers are
able to do this effectively, yet it is essential to great
"...you must remain unbiased
and tell the story your
client wants toldónot the story you
How did you get into ghostwriting?
It occurred quite by accident. After my first book was
published, I began meeting lots of other authors. One of those
authors asked if Iíd help him edit his next book. So I did.
Then I did it for another. Then another. One day, through word
of mouth, one author asked me if I would write his next book for
him. At first I was reluctant, but he was encouraging and rather
persistent. So I accepted the project and the book turned out to
be a best seller. It was somewhat frustrating for me because I
couldnít tell anyone about it since I agreed by contract not
to reveal that I had written it. However, I grew to accept it
and this is when I first recognized what it felt to be a
ghostwriter, with all its obscurity.
second ghostwriting job was with a woman who was making a career
change. She had actually hired me as a marketing consultant
(while I was still doing that work) to help her change
professions from corporate consultant to personal coach. I
suggested that she establish herself as an expert in her new
field by writing a book. Authorship is one of the most effective
marketing tools for accomplishing this. When I was unable to
recommend a reputable ghostwriter to her, she asked if I would
write the book for her (knowing I had done it before). I
initially declined the offer because I had another ghostwriting
job being offered. I later decided that her job was more of a
challenge, and therefore, something I needed to do.
My third book was for an up-and-coming
celebrity who wanted me to write her autobiography. She had an
ongoing radio show and had done a television series based on her
work. She had an absolutely intriguing story but wanted the book
done as quickly as possible. So I pared her up with myself as
co-author because I had a story that paralleled hers and had
chapters that were already written. By only having to write her
chapters, the book was completed in half the time. I played our
chapters off one another so that the reader was able to see two
perspectives of similar journeys. It was a contrast that worked
brilliantly for both parties, making our individual stories more
interesting than if standing alone.
was shortly after this last book that I recognized how
fulfilling and rewarding these jobs had been. This is when I
decided to ghostwrite full-time, and I havenít looked back.
Do ghostwriters always remain anonymous? Do they ever get
And how does this relate to the ghostwriting fee?
The credit question depends on the desires of the ghostwriter
and client/author. There are several possibilities. I usually
work by a set fee without any share of the royalties. Itís
simpler that way, cleaner. I donít want to be chasing anyone
down for my share. It makes for better client-ghostwriter
relations, as well. However, the ghostwriting fee can also be
lowered for a share of the royalties. Itís commonly
one-third, but it could be one-fourth to one-half of the
royalties. Iím open to lowering my fee a bit for a share of the
royalties when my client has a name that is guaranteed to sell
hundreds of thousands of books. Otherwise, Iím more of a
ďbird in the hand is worth two in the bushĒ kind of guy. So
if your name isn't Britney Spears, Mel Gibson or Wayne Dyer, I'm
not interested in a share of the royalties.
same is true for the credit given to a ghostwriter. The
writerís name might appear on the cover, usually after the
authorís name (as a co-author). It also might say something
like, ďwith Bob Olson,Ē or ďas told to Bob Olson,Ē or
ďBob Olson, contributor.Ē Sometimes the ghostwriterís name
doesnít appear on the cover but is mentioned on the back
inside-flap, on the spine only or in the acknowledgments.
Because I have generally attracted clients who donít want to
make it known that their books are ghostwritten, this hasnít
been much of an issue for me. Nevertheless, Iím always open to
discussing it. Unfortunately for potential clients who want to
use a cover credit to negotiate my fee, it doesnít hold much
weight. As Iíve mentioned, Iím no longer interested in being
famous. I leave the recognition for my clients.
work by a set fee without any share of the royalties.
simpler that way, cleaner."
What happens once the book is written?
It depends on the client. Most clients obtain a literary agent
or publisher, if they don't have one already. A few authors prefer to
self-publish, especially business owners or people who do a lot
public speaking or seminars. Generally, however, the client does what they
want with their book and Iím off to write my next one.
So how does someone approach you to write his or her book?
The first step is to call or email me. I'm an easy guy to
approach. I keep the first conversation casual to see if Iím
even interested in the book they want written. Thatís why emails work well because the
potential client can tell me what their book is about before we
I'm interested in the book
project, I then want to know if I connect with the client, that
we understand one another. Weíll be working together for up to
six months if I accept the project, and in most situations
Iíll be interviewing them for about thirty hours, so we need
to enjoy each otherís company. But if a person I find interesting
presents me with an intriguing story or concept, chances are
Iíll accept the project. It's at this point where we discuss
can email me at email@example.com
or call me toll-free at 1-888-604-4317 to discuss a book they'd
first step is to call or email me.
I'm an easy guy to approach"
What happens once you accept a book project?
We have a second meeting, either in person or by phone, where we
discuss the book in further detail and determine a projected
schedule. It is at this point that I need to get a handle on the
outline of the book. Then, after the interview, I create
a preliminary outline and timeline that we agree upon. This is
begin the recorded interviews based on that outline. All interviews are recorded and transcribed so
that I can refer to them while writing. The interview process
may take place once a day for two or three hours at a time, or
over the course of a few days all at once (which is my
preference), depending on the clientís availability.
interviews are done, there may be other preparations on my end:
reading articles, interviews and books; watching video footage;
listening to speeches or workshops the client has given;
attending seminars or shows given by the client; interviewing
family members, friends, and colleagues; any preparation
necessary related to the bookís content. When all this is
done, I begin writing, which can take three to four months. I
usually spend another month on final edits. Most projects take
five to six months total depending on the amount of preparation
necessary and the availability of the client.
Itís amazing that ghostwriting continues to be the publishing
industryís best-kept secret.
Yes, I think that authors and publishing executives are afraid
that it might shock or confuse readers to learn that the book
they just read wasnít really written by the author. The result
is that few people talk about ghostwriting unless you are in the
industry and understand it already. A similar secret is that
there are people called ďbook producersĒ who create, edit
and package books for some publishers. This is especially common
with series books, such as The
Complete Idiotís Guides. Most people assume that
the publisher is doing all this work in-house, but itís not
always the case. The truth is that these arenít really
ďsecretsĒ that anyone is keeping from the public.
Ghostwriters and book producers are necessities of the industry.
They are just not widely understood by most people outside the
publishing business, so they appear as secrets.
Thanks so much, Bob. Do you have any final advice for people
considering hiring a ghostwriter?
Youíre welcome, Derek. Itís been my pleasure. I guess my
final advice would be to take this decision seriously. Take your
book seriously. Even more than the clothes you wear, the car you
drive and the house you own, your book is a representation of
you. It conveys an imageóyour image.
is also an incredible opportunity to connect with people,
whether that be your fans, your customers, your students or the
general public. Your book is one of the most intimate
conversations you will have with these people. Essentially, you
are talking to your readers in their bedroom, at their desk, on
the plane or sprawled out on their living room sofa. You need to
take advantage of this rare opportunity to really connect with
your audience. Whether you are teaching them something,
inspiring them with your ďtriumph of the human spiritĒ
story, or simply connecting with your fans through your autobiography,
your book is an extension of you. This is not some ten-minute
television interview. This is a ten- to twenty-hour relationship
with your readers (the average time it takes to read a book).
you realize the importance of this, you realize that you need to
hire a ghostwriter who is going to convey what you want to say
with integrity, passion and attention to detail. Donít accept
just any ghostwriter. This is not the time to be frugal. This is
an investment in your career, your personal fulfillment, maybe
even your lifelong dream. Treat this book like you would any
venture that represents who you are. This is your
book. Keep in mind that long after you leave this world, your
book is going to continue teaching, inspiring or entertaining
future audiences. Recognize the magnitude this book could have
on your life, and make sure you team up with a ghostwriter who
will make you proud to say, ďThis is my book.Ē
book is a representation of you... you need to
hire a ghostwriter who is going to convey what you want to say
with integrity, passion and attention to detail."
contact Bob about ghostwriting your autobiography, self-help book,
business book or how-to book, call (207)967-9892 or visit www.BobOlson.com