When I tell people I’m a ghostwriter (among other things), I usually get the same two questions.

First: “What are you working on?” To which I respond, “I’d tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.”

Second: “Don’t you want credit for your work?”

My answer?  Not especially. I’m performing a service and getting paid. It keeps me in organic produce, which makes me happy. But don’t believe for a minute that equating ghostwriting to a bread-and-butter, background service makes me lackadaisical about what I write. I want to do the best possible job for my clients. It’s their money; they should get the byline or their name on the cover. Any credit on my part is appreciated, although not necessary. If I do a good job, I might be hired again, so I can buy more organic produce, which will make me happier.

In my previous career as a freelance graphic designer, I certainly did not expect a credit to appear on my designs. Again, as an independent contractor, I did a service and got paid. Even the book jacket designs I created did not carry my name. No big deal.

So what makes a good ghostwriter?

Discretion. Nobody wants a ghostwriter who will go around various virtual hot spots blabbing about the potential bestseller he or she is writing for Really Big Celebrity. Or that the President of the Acme Widgets Company does not write the sales letters that go out bearing his name. Keep it to yourself and don’t blow your credibility. I have been in “black ops” with clients so many times I could probably get a security clearance from the CIA.

The ability to mimic somebody else’s voice. I was called in to “ghost edit” a children’s story that a publisher was translating into English. The writer was very well known in his field. My edits had to keep in line with the author’s voice, or else his fans (and the author) would know something strange was going on. Or perhaps you are writing the CEO’s blog for the company website. You’ll need to write in his or her style, comfortably.

The ability to write about different topics with ease. One day you might be ghostwriting a real estate blog. Another day it could be an article for a busy entomologist about the mating habits of the Madagascar hissing cockroach. Although expertise helps, you don’t necessarily need to know everything about everything. That’s what Google is for. You need the patience and curiosity to do the required research, and the mental flexibility that allows you to go back and forth among topics comfortably. Yes, you could specialize, and many writers are very successful at this, but in a tight economy, and especially for a beginning ghostwriter, you may want to be more open-minded.

A collaborative spirit. Sometimes you’ll get a client who is happy to let you write the whole shebang on your own, but most of the time, your ghostwriting assignments will be a collaborative effort. This may mean you’ll review and contribute to a client’s outline, or write a rough draft and submit it for your client’s opinions and suggested revisions. It may take time to develop a collaborative relationship with a client, and this is vital if you hope to turn it into a long-term proposition. If you can’t take constructive criticism or do not play well with others, perhaps ghostwriting is not for you.

Professionalism. This includes all the stuff you’re supposed to do as a professional freelance writer. Work out an agreement. Stick to it. Communicate well. Meet your deadlines. Meet your deadlines. And most importantly, meet your deadlines.

Have you ever done any ghostwriting? Can you share some of your experiences? Without giving away too much, of course. Wouldn’t want you to blow your security clearance.

(Image courtesy of Alexandria Library Incorporated. Copyright 2006)