Shannon Kyle is one of the founding members of United Ghostwriters. Rather than being a traditional business or agency, United Ghostwriters describes itself as “simply a group of 15 friends and colleagues who’ve come together to offer our tried-and-tested expertise to people who want the best for their writing projects.”
Shannon has been a ghostwriter for over ten years, having previously worked as a journalist for national newspapers and magazines. To date, she has ghosted 19 books including four Sunday Times bestsellers, covering genres including celebrity memoir, social history, sport, and philosophy.
We recently chatted with Shannon to learn more about United Ghostwriters, her hopes for the ghostwriting industry, and more.
How was United Ghostwriters born, and what inspired its creation?
United Ghostwriters was created by accident! It began after a few ghostwriters became friends and met socially for an occasional drink in a pub. Ghostwriting is a unique form of writing in the sense that it’s a profession rather shrouded in mystery. The friends who met realised they missed having a support network, just like any other writing group, and so it grew from there. The quarterly social events evolved into something bigger.
Did you have a specific mission or vision in mind? Has the reality of your work shifted that vision or mission since you started?
We wanted to form a supportive, informative network for ghostwriting and so far it’s worked very successfully. We created a website, developed a criteria for membership, put together a standard contract, and made ourselves into a one-stop-shop to explain and enlighten the world about ghostwriting.
We aim to improve the industry standard. For example, our vision is to make ghostwriting more accessible and understandable for the general public. In our weekly blogs, we reveal all our insider knowledge to take the mystery out of this side of the publishing industry.
We make decisions together as a group; we support each other with our work (always maintaining confidentiality for our clients) but we lean on each other when we need to. It’s a supportive network for writers who truly understand the demands of the ghostwriting profession.
Now we get approached several times a week from potential new members, but we’ve chosen to keep things small and simple. There is a criteria for joining. You must be an experienced ghostwriter and have ghosted at least five books, for example. Most of our writers have written Sunday Times bestsellers and work regularly with major publishers. We’ve decided to go for quality of ghostwriters over quantity.
What is your business model, and how did you develop it?
We do not operate as a literary agency or ‘business’ per se. We are a select group of ghostwriters who are well respected in our field. If anyone needs a ghostwriter, we are a one-stop shop. Our website explains all the need-to- know basics and we cover virtually every genre with our combined experience, from memoir, celebrity, sport, business, self-help, and even pet stories!
What are some lessons you learned early on, and how did you pivot based on your experience?
We think maintaining a small select group is key to our success. Trust is an important issue, so we want to keep our member numbers to around 15. While we sometimes share information, we all broker our own deals with our own contracts. So far, this model has worked and we hope it will continue to do so.
What is the biggest challenge you face in your business?
Over the years, the fees for ghostwriting within the publishing industry have plummeted. There are lesser known ghostwriters who will accept very very low fees, less than the minimum wage in many cases. But we believe quality can only be maintained through proper budgets. We often work with private clients too and explain when it comes to ghostwriting, you always get what you pay for. Our ghosts write bestselling books; they have insider contacts and are able sometimes to help direct authors to publishing deals. If you’re going to work with a ghostwriter for your book, it’s worth working with the best.
What is something you’d like people to better understand about ghostwriting as an industry?
Ghostwriting is writing. It’s not a way of cheating or hoodwinking people; we are writers who collaborate with potential authors to make their dream of a book come alive. As ghostwriters, we are used to leaving our ego at the door. We are the tool with which an author can put a book together. An author’s contribution varies but usually, each book takes around 25 hours of interview time and between 4-6 months to complete.
A huge percentage of books are ghostwritten; almost all celebrity memoirs are, for example. While ghostwriters don’t mind remaining in the shadows, we hope to make it less mysterious. It’s often an important and necessary part of making a book a success. While maintaining all the confidence of our clients, we would also like to shout about it!