Behind the book
If you're interested in learning all of the work that goes on in the background to get books published, over the next few newsletters I'm going to be sharing a series of interviews I've done with different people working in publishing. Last time I interviewed my agent, and this time I'm talking to an author who is also represented by Claire, Tom Easton. As well as publishing his own fiction, most recently the award-winning and hilarious Boys Don’t Knit series, Tom works as a ghostwriter – writing novels behind the scenes that are credited to a different person when published.
I’ve been intrigued by ghostwriting ever since it was revealed that Zoella’s first YA novel was written by a ghostwriter. This received a lot of backlash from the publishing community, mainly because it wasn’t stated upfront that the novel was ghostwritten.
Tom was patient enough to answer my many questions about this topic at a party. The discussion was so interesting that I knew immediately when planning this series that I wanted to include him. Luckily he agreed to talk more about his own experiences with ghostwriting in an interview with me.
What does ghostwriting involve?
From my perspective, there are two main types of ghostwriting. The more visible ghosts are those that work closely with a named author to produce a work of non-fiction, often an autobiography or a fact book about the celebrity’s area of expertise. A ghost is often required because the celebrity has neither the time or experience to write a book as well as it needs to be written. These ghosts are often journalists who know the celebrity well in any case and have the contacts, the writing ability and the journalistic know-how to get the job done. Many autobiographies are written in this way and the ghost will need to get the story not only from the ‘author’, but also interview family, friends and colleagues.
The other type are those who write fiction under pseudonyms, or on behalf of a named author. There are a number of popular fiction series ‘written’ by made-up authors. These tend to be written by many different authors, working to a pre-prepared storyline, being careful to follow characterisation and world-building as laid down by the publisher. Some big-name authors also employ ‘studio’ writers to flesh out novels in their trademark style. The amount of input the ghosts get from the named author can vary a great deal. Some named authors form a close relationship with the ghost and are very hands on, in other cases the publisher will come up with the story idea, the ghost will write it and the named author does nothing more than pick up the cheque.
How did you get started in ghostwriting?
An editor asked me to write a book that was part of a series written by a number of different authors but all using the same pseudonym. I’ve have a lot of contacts in the trade and am asked from time to time to submit sample writing for various projects under other people’s names. Some of these I like the sound of, and if I have time I’ll write a couple of chapters and send them along. Sometimes I get the job and sometimes not.
What do you enjoy most about ghostwriting?
It can be quite liberating, not having to be concerned with plotting my own story. That part has already been done and I can concentrate on telling that story in the best way I can. It also forces me to write in a variety of different styles, forms and voices. I have written books for first readers right up to adult fiction which is good practice. Also, the books I’m asked to write tend to be quite short. I can fit the jobs in around my own books and it provides useful income.
How much guidance do you tend to receive on a new project?
It varies, but for the most part I’ll receive a detailed chapter breakdown. Sometimes the length of the breakdown might be as much as half the length of the book. For established series I’ll receive a ‘bible’ telling me what I can and can’t do with the characters and their world.
Has being a ghostwriter had any impact on writing your original fiction?
I’d like to think it’s made me a better writer. I think it’s helped me learn to write from different perspectives and for different audiences. It’s also taught me a lot about keeping the plot tight, something that hasn’t always come naturally to me.
Has being involved in publishing and ghostwriting changed how you read books for pleasure?
When I read YA fiction I tend to have a more critical eye than when I read adult fiction. I also get very jealous when I read authors who do things better than me!
How long does it usually take you to finish writing a first draft? Is this different for original fiction?
Usually much less time. The schedules I’m given are often very tight and because I don’t have to stop to think about plotting I can write very quickly.
After writing the manuscript, do you tend to have any involvement in the project further – editing, sequel, etc?
Like any manuscript, the editor will ask for changes to be made. But I’m unlikely to receive structural edits as I would when writing my own books. Unless I’ve gone wildly off-piste, we’d just go direct to line edits. If I do a good job I’ll likely be asked to write follow up books, but I wouldn’t expect to have any involvement in cover design, sales or marketing.
How do you feel about ghostwriters publicly receiving credit for their work in the finished book?
I wrote a blog post on this subject which you can read here.
What advice do you have for anyone looking to get into ghostwriting?
Ask your agent if he or she knows any editors or publishers looking for ghostwriters. I have had a number of very valuable contacts through my agent. Most agents will receive periodic requests from editors looking for writers interested in this sort of work. Also, check out the websites of Working Partners and Hothouse, two excellent publishers who sometimes use ghostwriters.
Tom Easton is an experienced author of fiction for all ages and has had more than thirty books published. He has written under a number of different pseudonyms in a variety of genres. Subjects include vampires, pirates, pandemics and teenage agony aunts (not all in the same book). He lives in Surrey with his wife, three children and two cats.
In his spare time he works as a Production Manager for a UK publisher. His latest book is An English Boy in New York, the sequel to the award-winning Boys Don’t Knit, published by Hot Key Books. He is currently working on Our House, the first of an MG series to be published by Piccadilly Press in 2016.
You can follow him on twitter at @tomeaston or at his website tomeaston.co.uk