How I Approach Ghostwriting a Christian Manuscript
How I Approach Ghostwriting a Christian Manuscript
As a Christian ghostwriter, I first pray over any new enquiry after reading it. I pray for God to keep my will aligned to His will, and for the Holy Spirit’s guidance regarding the new project at hand. Even though my website is specifically referenced as a Christian ghostwriting site, I still occasionally receive enquiries to ghostwrite material that is not Christian based. I am not averse to working with this kind of material if I feel the Holy Spirit’s prompting but as yet I have only ever ghostwritten one such novel. I ghostwrote this novel with a longstanding Christian client who decided, due to the subject matter, he would reach a wider audience if the book was not specifically targeted towards a Christian audience. He is a published author with whom I have collaborated on a number of projects aimed at the Christian market. The truth is, there are more than enough secular ghostwriters and only a limited number of Christian ghostwriters, so I prefer to serve the community to which I belong. Having been raised in a Christian home by parents who travel the world preaching God’s Word, I do prefer writing Christian literature.
Before delving into the details of ghostwriting a Christian manuscript, let’s consider some ethical aspects of the process. Authors rely on ghostwriters for various reasons. Some authors grapple with a concept they know is worth publishing, so they write it down and refine it to the point where other readers grasp the concept. This initial concept usually has a number of related themes that tie in to the overall topic being presented, and the author usually highlights these attendant themes. While most people are fairly skilled at producing good conceptual material, not everyone is a skilled writer, and this is where the ghostwriter comes in. Hiring a ghostwriter can be likened to hiring a builder to build your dream home. The vision you have in your mind about the style and structure of your home has to be translated to an architect, who draws the plan, and then passes it on to a builder of your choice, who builds the physical structure. You will be involved in describing the concept to the architect, making sure his final presentation matches the idea in your mind. You will then govern the building process to ensure the builder does not stray from the plan. Relying on a ghostwriter to facilitate the publishing of your book follows a similar process, except that the ghostwriter usually assumes the dual mantle of architect and master builder.
This process varies between authors, as some have a better understanding of the architectural process, and are therefore able to present the builder with a comprehensive building plan. Some authors are more proficient at both the architectural and building processes, and are able to present a ghostwriter with a complete and comprehensive manuscript—but they know that to ensure their work is accepted by a publisher it needs both architectural and building improvements. The truth of the matter is this: every concept given to a ghostwriter comes from the mind of the author—if the ghostwriter had generated the concept, he or she could just as well write it for personal gain. So, irrespective of how much work a ghostwriter does for an author, the copyright always belongs to the author, because without the concept there can be no book. Most authors present a ghostwriter with a completed manuscript but this can vary. The concept always derives from the author, and at least ten percent of the written material is obtained in written form from the author. This is generally the vital conceptual information which is spread over the chapters. A further ten percent of the material—usually even more—is obtained through weekly interviews with the author. Authors commission ghostwriters for different reasons but perhaps the main reason is that they lack the writing skill to present a polished manuscript to publishing houses.
So, what criteria would a Christian ghostwriter follow when assessing a potential project? One obviously has to assess the material from a range of different aspects to properly envisage the work involved. How many words has the client presented and what is the expected word count when complete? How well has the concept been presented? Is it comprehensive enough for me to grasp the overarching idea or do I need further clarification from the author? How polished is the writing? Is it grammatically and syntactically sound or are there immediately identifiable problems in these areas? Will the subject matter edify the body of Christ? This is perhaps the most important aspect to consider. Most subjects, if carefully considered, will contain elements that can be extracted to uplift and edify fellow Christians, but these elements are not always easily identifiable.
It is a Christian ghostwriter’s job to search out the blessings interwoven into the material presented, and to translate these blessings into consumable bytes of information. Author’s sometimes fixate on a specific aspect of their subject matter, often at the expense of equally—or even more important—aspects. A professional ghostwriter will explore as many angles to a subject as possible, and once he or she has exhausted their own range of fresh perspectives, a search of scripture will certainly open up a number of new ideas. The next step is to do an online search, which usually presents a host of related topics to consider. A good ghostwriter must have the ability to recognise the value they can add to any project without diverting the reader’s attention from the author’s key concepts.
If for any reason the scope of work does not appeal to my ghostwriting sensibility, a decision has to be made—do I accept this project or not? I have never turned a project away because I deem it too research intensive, not exciting enough, or too difficult for my liking. Simply put, the process of writing a book is extremely rewarding, especially because of the knowledge gained. Even if I think I have a pretty good handle on the subject matter, I am always pleasantly surprised at how much more there is to be gained from a more intensive look at what the Bible has to say on the topic. And usually, if I know very little about the topic or it strikes me as a difficult subject to write on, my interest is piqued, knowing I have been presented with an opportunity to increase my knowledge. Of course, if I find the subject matter terribly boring or if I feel there isn’t really any fresh perspective I can add, I pass the project on to another Christian ghostwriter who may well be interested.
Once I have accepted a ghostwriting job, I assess the work from a technical viewpoint, taking into consideration a range of items that ultimately create the foundation of a proposal. Writing a formal proposal is time consuming and it is essentially how I come to grips with the subject matter at hand, so before spending too much time and energy outlining the scope of work, I present the client with an informal proposal. An informal proposal summarises the conceptual framework to show the client I have a comprehensive grasp of the material. It also covers the estimated timeframe for writing and the cost involved. If the client accepts the cost and timeframe, and they are comfortable with my grasp of the material, I start writing a formal proposal. This process takes dedicated effort, as the formal proposal outlines the book’s key concepts and main themes. It also gives the client an idea of how I plan to tell the story. If it’s a non-fiction work, I point to specific scriptures that augment the key concepts, and I reference any research material that will strengthen the idea the author wishes to convey. While I take a similar approach to works of fiction, some added detail is necessary, such as the narrative style I intend to use, as well as any specific literary techniques I plan to apply.
If the author accepts the formal proposal and pays the deposit, I create a structural overview of the book, followed by a chapter outline. The structural overview shows how the action progresses throughout the book, while the chapter outline adds specific detail to the story and delineates the timeline. The chapter outline reveals how the story progresses from the beginning, to the middle, and how it finally culminates in the block of chapters dedicated to the story’s end. This process is vital to constructing a good book, and it involves practical client feedback until we are both satisfied with the shape the book will take. A character sketch is then presented to the client, detailing the physical characteristics of the main characters, and their distinctive personality traits. These include any quirks the characters may have, as well as any annoying or endearing qualities. Secondary and peripheral characters are also outlined but not in as much detail.
This planning stage is critical to the process of crafting a good read. There is nothing more frustrating than realising you have to rewrite a section of a book due to poor planning. Especially because it’s seldom just one section that has to be rewritten. I made this mistake at the start of my ghostwriting career, and the sheer frustration of having to add a month to my timeline has served as excellent insurance against making the same mistake again. A well crafted chapter outline enables you to tackle the writing process with full confidence! It allows you to be more creative during the writing process because you can focus on how to attain your goal rather than wondering what your goal might be.
My clients are updated at the end of each week, and I generally strive to present a complete unit of work, usually a completed chapter. This allows for timely feedback, keeping the client involved in the process. Some clients prefer to be less involved during the writing process, which is fine, as long as they understand the process. Clients have the opportunity to edit a chapter once it is written. These chapter edits are addressed before I continue writing if they involve structural adjustments. If not, I keep writing. Once the first draft of the entire book is written, I attend to the chapter edits. The edited version of the manuscript is then sent to the author, who now has a second opportunity to edit and tweak the manuscript to their satisfaction. After this second client edit I polish the manuscript, and voila—we have a final draft. Despite the meticulous process involved in fine-tuning a manuscript, it is always advisable to have every manuscript externally edited! In fact, it’s crucial. Neglecting to have your manuscript edited can be likened to driving a car from a manufacturing plant without running safety tests. A second set of professional eyes will read the manuscript more objectively, not having been immersed in the creative process. It will undoubtedly increase your book’s chance of being picked up by a publisher.