In my opinion, you’re much better off writing your own stuff because you know YOU 100% own your story. This becomes important when copyright issues pop up. But, I understand that some people want to use ghostwriters, so I am going to share a cautionary tale about an author and ghostwriters. Then I’ll follow this real life story up with some advice to best protect yourself.
In my last post, I made a reference to not wanting to put pre-orders up anymore on Amazon because I believed the new scam of the day was for scammers to arbitrarily pick authors’ pre-orders, claim infringement on them, and get Amazon to remove the pre-orders. I wouldn’t have been surprised if Amazon allowed scammers to do this because of all the things Amazon has put authors through in the past. I’m not saying other retailers don’t have their share of junk, but Amazon takes the cake when it comes to “anything that can go wrong will go wrong” in an indie’s career. But in this case, I was wrong about what I thought was going on. As long as you have written your book, it should be safe to put it on Amazon as a pre-order. And believe me, that is a huge relief.
But what if you hired a ghostwriter? Can you be confident that Amazon will not remove the pre-order? No, you can’t. Below, I’ll share why.
The incident below that really happened:
Author A made a plot for a story and sent it to Ghostwriter 1 to write out. Ghostwriter 1 sent that plot to Ghostwriter 2. Ghostwriter 2 wrote the story and sent the story to Ghostwriter 1. Ghostwriter 1 never paid Ghostwriter 2. Author A paid Ghostwriter 1. Ghostwriter 2 noticed the book on pre-order on Amazon and filed a copyright infringement complaint. In this case, Ghostwriter 2 has a legitimate case. Ghostwriter 2 was never paid. If Author A had just written the story, there wouldn’t be a problem. But here we are, and there is a problem. Author A is out the money paid to Ghostwriter 1, and Author A cannot publish the story. The most Author A could do against Ghostwriter 1 was to have Ghostwriter 1 removed from the site where Ghostwriter 1 was offering their services. (This won’t stop Ghostwriter 1 from assuming another name and continuing to work.) But that is outside Author A’s control.
Author A has the option of paying Ghostwriter 2 for the story. Yes, it sucks to double pay, but it’s also not Ghostwriter 2’s fault this happened. Ghostwriter 2 was just as scammed as Author A was. If Ghostwriter 2 doesn’t want to take payment, that is Ghostwriter 2’s right. Ghostwriter 2 never made an agreement with Author A. If Ghostwriter 2 refuses to sell the book to Author A, the only option Author A has is to come up with a brand new story. Yes, that also sucks, but I don’t see what else Author A can do at this point.
A side issue with the dangers of ghostwriting:
There are some ghostwriters out there who will take books currently out, copy the content, and sell that content to unsuspecting authors. A couple of years ago, one ghostwriter got caught doing this. Anyone can put a profile on a site and offer their “services” to authors. You need to vet them out before going with them.
Let’s talk about protecting yourself:
The big thing I’d recommend is asking the writing community or your author friends for trustworthy ghostwriters. I know some people are not a fan of Facebook. (I’m not a fan of it, either). But when it comes to the writing communities, Facebook is the best place to be. (Yes, you still want to research outside of Facebook, but Facebook is a great starting place.) I hate to say it, but MeWe isn’t that great for indie authors. Most writers there want a publisher. There’s nothing wrong with wanting a publisher, but if you are an indie author, Facebook still has the best writing groups geared specifically to you. I highly recommend the Wide for the Win group over there. That one is my personal favorite. There is a wealth of information there, and authors are more than happy to pass on recommendations for editors, cover artists, ghostwriters, etc that they have personally used.
Another tip is to do your own outline and give that to the ghostwriter. That way you know the story is your idea. Then be sure to read through the story when it comes back to you. To be safe, I would even go a step further and rewrite the story so that it’s in your voice. The more authentic this story is to you (the author), the better your chances are of buffering yourself from future problems.
If there is a specific ghostwriter you’re thinking about hiring, you could ask for a list of clients they worked for. I understand that some authors don’t want a ghostwriter to disclose this information, but maybe this ghostwriter has worked with some authors who are okay with sharing their names. Maybe this ghostwriter has a list of authors on their site. Check out the authors’ books, and if you feel up to it, contact the authors and ask about their experience. If you want to go a step further, ask the writing community about this particular ghostwriter. Chances are, the community might recognize him/her.
Get a contract if you want to be better protected. I have signed contracts in the past when the other party wanted our agreement in writing. I’ve done this for covers, edits, and for co-authoring books. I see nothing wrong with contracts as long as they protect both parties. This is up to your comfort level.
If you have successfully worked with a ghostwriter and have some ideas I didn’t think of, please share. While I have no intention of hiring a ghostwriter, it’s possible someone reading this post might want to.