As a writing career coach, Tiffany Colter knows a thing or two about the publishing business. Tiffany, can you first begin by telling us a little about yourself?
Wow, this could be a long answer. Not because I am bragging, but because the road to being a writer is a rather twisty one, as all of us know. I will just stick to what is most relevant to your readers. I am a ghostwriter and a writing career coach in addition to working as a freelance writer, columnist, speaker and book author. A ghostwriter, as many of your readers know, is someone who writes a book using someone else’s material in that other person’s name. Many times this will be a speaker who will ask the ghostwriter to consolidate their speeches and put them into a book form. Other times a person may be given only the raw information (interviews, stories, articles) and then asked to write the book for the person. This is necessary when someone may be an expert in a certain area, but not particularly good with writing craft.
A writing career coach is someone who works with aspiring writers and helps them improve their craft and develop their platform. There is more to writing than simply creating a story. I go beyond writing coaching, because I talk about platform. I go beyond career coaching, because I teach craft. I am a unique breed called a Writing Career Coach.
And when I’m not a Writing Career Coach, writer or speaker I am a wife and mom. I have an awesome husband, four adorable daughters, and our mini-farm. On a single acre we own 50 laying hens, a rooster, 3 dogs, about a dozen barn cats, and 6 ducks. It’s a good life!
How did you get started as a ghostwriter?
Actually it is a funny story. I was studying writing—I have wanted to be a writer since I was six—and started learning about writing articles. One of the lessons taught how to contact magazines about selling a story idea. I did that and got a regular writing job in exchange for a detailed byline and occasional ad in the paper. That opened up a couple of opportunities to go on assignment for a national magazine. From there, I strengthened my craft. About a year later, my pastor contacted me and asked if I could help on converting a series of messages into a book. That was the beginning. I realized how much fun it was to do that and started to market myself as a ghostwriter. It was hard work, I had to chase jobs when things didn’t “fall in my lap”, but it was that pursuit of projects that led to the birth of Writing Career Coach. For writers out there who are waiting to be discovered, don’t fret. Nothing is wasted!!
I’ve often seen books by celebrities and wondered if the famous person actually wrote the book themselves. Is the ghostwriter’s name ever revealed when in fact the writer has done all the writing behind the scenes?
Sometimes they are. If you look inside of Put Your Dream to the Test, by John Maxwell, you’ll see he has a writer on the acknowledgement page of his book. It says, “Thank you to Charlie Wetzel, my writer, Stephanie Wetzel, who proofed and edited the manuscript, Sue Caldwell, who typed the first draft, and Linda Eggers, my assistant.” [Put your dream to the test, p. ix] John Maxwell is an excellent speaker and presenter, but he wanted excellence in every area so he allowed these others to take the information that he [Maxwell] had learned and put it in book form. This allowed him to maximize his effectiveness and maintain focus in his strongest area: leadership development.
At other times the ghostwriter is truly a phantom known only to the “author” and the publishing house.
How do you as a ghostwriter gather information from the person whose book you’re writing?
I gather information from the person I’m writing for primarily. If that person is a public speaker I’ll get copies of their talks. If they’ve written articles, blogs, or newsletters I’ll take information from there. If they have notes, I ask for those. I also try to talk to the person so I can get a feel for their voice and tone. As a ghostwriter you WANT to be invisible. You want to have people who have heard the speaker not realize the book their buying was written by a ghostwriter. To do that you must take your ego, your goals, and your wants out of it and say “how would XXX say this?”
Since I also write novels this is not particularly hard for me. I simply see it as a character in any of my other books. I learn about the person and write in their POV.
Is it hard being the anonymous writer of a book where someone else is considered the author?
Early on it was. When I was just starting out and was desperate for bylines I cringed when something went out in another person’s name. Now I realize that ghostwriting is a job just like any other job. My mom was an executive secretary for decades and not one thing she did was ever recognized outside of her company. Her job was to make her boss look good. That is my job too. I have become comfortable in my role of providing a service to someone else and a stream of income for my family.
That doesn’t mean I don’t benefit from ghostwriting. I learn so much about various topics, different ways of looking at life, and different styles of writing that all of my writing is richer because I ghost books. From one book I learned of the inner workings of presidential politics, from another I learned a bit about investing, from still others I learned about a set of issues from the perspective of a conservative and a socialist. I was able to explore all of these different topics, and be paid to do it.
If I’m doing a good job as a writer a person shouldn’t read a novel I wrote and think “Tiffany Colter…Tiffany Colter…Tiffany Colter…” the same is true when I am ghostwriting. The reader should be so caught up in what they are learning about that they don’t think about the name on the cover of the book: whether it is mine or someone else’s.
What advice would you give a writer who is considering ghostwriting?
Get good at writing. Learn to market yourself. Talk to people who have done it. Don’t overbid and don’t underbid. Don’t over commit (sure, I can write a 60,000 word book in a month…No, you can’t!!) and don’t assume it is easy.
One last question for you, Tiffany, before you leave us. Since this is a humorous storytelling blog, can you tell us the name of a book that made you laugh out loud?
Hmmm, this isn’t a book I ghosted but one book I read that really made me laugh was by Phil Vischer, Me, Myself, and Bob. It tells of the true story of the dramatic rise and fall of the VeggieTales. There was another I just read this summer that had me laughing so hard I had tears running down my face…but I’ve totally forgotten the name. I read 1-2 books a week, so it is an occupational hazard.
Thank you so much for having me. If any of your readers would like free articles on writing or other information I hope they will come to www.WritingCareerCoach.com Also, if they’d like to meet someone who made a living for a time as a ghostwriter and then became one of the most respected people in publishing, sign up for a Master Seminar (www.TheMasterSeminars.com). Chip MacGregor is an incredible agent who started as an author and ghostwriter for some VERY big names, and then became an editor and now is one of the nation’s top agents.