A few weeks ago, Writer’s Digest published the online version of a previously in-print feature by our own Dan Gerstein about nightmare ghostwriting clients, complete with insights from several of the writers in our network. Marlayna Glynn, Bronwyn Fryer, Oren Rawls, Louise Bernikow, Justine Duhr, Cliff Carle, and John Kador — all ghosts from our network — all pitched in with their “horror” stories. Read the intro to the article below, and check out the full thing here.
One of the first things fledgling ghostwriters learn about their job is how similar it is to dating. It can get very intimate very quickly—authors often share their deepest secrets with their collaborators within weeks of meeting. It usually involves ongoing negotiation—from deal points through communication styles. And clients will inevitably carry some emotional baggage into the relationship—from deep-seated insecurities, to professional or familial strains, to a scarring experience with a prior partner.
Most engagements are professional and productive. Many turn into lasting relationships, some even lifelong friendships. But much like dating today, almost every ghost pro will have at least one horror story to recount if asked. They come in many scenarios—clients who were emotionally and editorially unavailable, bombarded their ghosts with texts at all hours or ghosted their ghost (typically without pay). Most of these stories have two common threads: They tend to happen early in a ghost’s career, and there were clear red flags about the client that — much like in the early days of a romantic relationship — the ghosts were blind to because of the client’s charm, fame or wallet.
What makes this hazard challenging for new ghosts to navigate is the confidential ethos of the field. As with Fight Club, the rules of Ghost World discourage talking about what happens in Ghost World — even the clients who put a beating on you. This is one big difference between dating and collaborating: there are not dozens of websites like DontDateHimGirl.com that tell you how to spot an asshole client or call them out by name. As a result, this is a rite of passage that too many ghosts have to suffer through on their own.
To help remedy this situation, I asked my agency’s network of 2,400+ ghostwriters to share their ugliest experiences and the lessons learned. Here are the worst hits and best tips in spotting, handling and ideally avoiding difficult clients.
One problematic situation ghosts encounter is the author who insists on bringing other partners into the relationship as a reader and critic. Sometimes it’s a threesome with a spouse. Sometimes it gets truly polyamorous, with multiple friends with too many benefits involved. Most times it leads to a mess.
Marlayna Glynn says that after going through a trying conceptual evolution with a client, the author shared the second version of the manuscript Glynn produced with several friends, including some named in the book. It turns out ‘friends’ don’t always like the way they are portrayed. The client took all their friends’ criticism to heart, regardless of its merit, and cited the friends’ negative feedback in terminating the relationship. …
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