Hayley Sherman has been the ghostly presence behind a host of books for the last five years – fiction and non-fiction.
And no, before you ask, she doesn’t mind not getting the credit …
Ghostwriting is such a mysterious profession. How did you get into it?
I’ve always written, and I was working as a freelance fiction editor. After working on a few books with an indie author as her editor, she asked how I would feel about writing the next in the series. I loved the idea. Any excuse to write! I had never thought about ghostwriting before, but it offered new writing challenges, which excited me far more than my editing work. I tentatively put the feelers out for more work after that, and I haven’t looked back.
What books have you written?
Okay, so this is a downside of the job: I can’t tell you what I’ve written. I can tell you that I’ve written thirteen books to date, almost all fiction, but my clients wouldn’t appreciate me telling their secrets.
Doesn’t that make it difficult to get work, in terms of building a portfolio.
Yes and no. It would put authors off if they thought I was going to shout about writing their books, but, of course, it would be easier if I could. I have a portfolio of exerps from the books I have written for authors, and my own creative projects, which helps new clients decide whether I will be a fit for their project.
I can see how you would spend time with an author if you’re working on a memoir. How does it work with fiction? How much input do you have on things like plot and character?
Yes, memoirs are more straightforward in that sense. The simple answer is that it varies from author to author. One of my clients gives me nothing but a brief overview and carte blanche to take it from there. We’ve worked together for a while, though, so I know what will suit her readers. I have also worked on the other end of the spectrum, with writers who have such a clear vision that all I’m doing is bringing it to life and working by very strict guidelines. Both experiences have been rewarding in different ways.
Why do people use ghost writers?
You know that phrase that everyone has at least one book inside them? It’s true, but maybe not everyone has the ability to write it. Some people have endured terrible suffering or achieved amazing feats, but they aren’t natural writers, and their stories wouldn’t get told without a ghost. The same applies for fiction. I often work with authors who have tried to make their novels work, but they can’t get past the first chapter or it just isn’t working. They desperately want to tell their story, but it isn’t going according to plan, so they get help. Sometimes authors (or agents or publishers) call in a ghost to keep a series going or bulk out an established author’s catalogue, or they have an idea for a book and want to put it out quickly. There really are many different circumstances.
Doesn’t doing all the work and getting none of the credit bother you?
I get asked this all the time. And I mean all the time! Sometimes pityingly, which I really don’t like because I’m proud of my work, but the books themselves don’t belong to me. I’m providing a service, using my skills to tell stories that might not otherwise get told. It encourages me to look at the world from different perspectives, to balance my ego against the needs of a book, and I’m learning every day. What’s not to love?
What is the most challenging aspect of your work?
I have been in situations where I haven’t agreed with an author’s choices. Inside I’ve been screaming, ‘I wouldn’t do it like that,’ but that’s the point of my role. These aren’t my books, and I want to deliver the author’s vision, not my own. This has been a challenging and enjoyable learning curve. That said, it’s my job to make sure it’s as readable, dynamic and engaging as possible, so I will always steer authors in the right direction and make my voice heard if something is seriously amiss.
What advice would you give to anyone interested in a ghostwriting career?
If you want to excel in any kind of writing career, the key is to write a lot. And read. This might sound obvious, but it’s the only way to get good. Get feedback on your work and keep yourself in a constant state of learning. The best writers on the planet are those that are open to learning every day.
Interview by Lisa Trivender
Interview by Lisa Trivender
Find out more information about Hayley’s ghostwriting and editing work here.