by Gwen Moran
Ghostwriters, on the other hand, seek to be invisible. Our job is to capture and present the voice of the author. We are successful when someone says, “That sounds just like me!” And while that almost never happens in the first draft, there is a process I’ve found very effective when aiming to sound less like Gwen and more like the individual whose book I’m ghosting.
Listen. The way the individual speaks and tells his or her story, whether it’s a memoir or a nonfiction service book, tells you what’s most important. When you discuss the content, what are the areas that the author tells with enthusiasm and detail? What does he or she address more casually? These are important clues to what the author thinks matters. It may be your job to challenge that and get beneath the surface to richer material, but those initial conversations can give you strong insight into the author’s mindset.
Read. If the author has written other material, read it. Memoranda, email messages, newsletter articles, speeches, presentations—it doesn’t matter. Get a good collection of the author’s own written words. Of course, not everyone is a professional writer, and it’s your job to make the work sparkle. But notice the author’s style. Does she favor long, conversational sentences? Is he funny? Does she use numbers or bullet points to break up her correspondence? Are there style clues that you can incorporate into the writing you’ll do on this person’s behalf?
Record. A digital recorder is a ghostwriter’s best friend. I record my sessions with authors and note key sections of the audio file. I listen to the audio file while reviewing the transcription. This helps me relate the words on the page to the author’s voice, so when I’m writing, I can hear in my head the way my author turns a phrase. I’ll ask the author to present the material as if he or she was pitching a client or explaining something to a friend. In those familiar monologues, I look for well-worn terms and favored anecdotes. Words prefaced by “I always say…” or “I usually tell people…” are gold to be woven into the copy, bringing the author’s voice to life.
Revise. In most of my ghostwriting relationships, I manage expectations upfront: It’s very rare that I will nail the author’s voice on the first round. That’s where revisions come in. When we discuss the work, I record those conversations. Often, the author does much of the voice transformation as we talk about changes and additions. When she looks at a passage and tells me, “I like that, but I would say it another way,” the next words give me the infusion of her voice that makes the work uniquely hers. When he shares an additional fact or two he forgot in the first discussion, suddenly I have his voice to insert into the copy. And I know I have done my job well when the client says, “You made me sound like me—only better!”
Gwen Moran is a Jersey Shore–based freelance writer and ghostwriter specializing in business and finance topics. She has collaborated on more than 20 books and ebooks, and is the founder of Biziversity.com, an online information resource for small businesses.
This piece originally appeared on ASJA's The Word.
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