Adam Reger | Pittsburgh Writer, Editor, and Teacher

Pittsburgh writer, editor, ghostwriter, and teacher.

Category: Writing

Ghostwriting: How to Know If You Need to Hire a Ghostwriter or Not

Ghost Image

This is the fourth (and, for now, final) installment in a series of blog entries about ghostwriting. I’m attempting to provide practical information for those who may be considering hiring a ghostwriter. The series started with some misconceptions about ghostwriting and continued with a rundown of the different ways you might work with a ghostwriter, followed by some questions to answer before reaching out to a ghostwriter.

Now that I’ve walked through what ghostwriting is, the various logistics of how you might work with a ghostwriter, and some things you can do to prepare yourself for success with a ghostwriter, let’s ask a seemingly dumb question: do you actually need a ghostwriter?

I know, I know—shouldn’t that have been the very first question?

Well, not necessarily. Sometimes it’s only once you’ve done some self-reflection on your needs and, especially, the nature of your project that you get clarity on what you actually need. And sometimes, talking through practical matters such as how you’d like to work with a ghostwriter and what kinds of materials you have available to give to him/her exposes a surprising fact: maybe someone writing this project for you isn’t what you need at all.

As I described in my first post, many will find that they need help from the ground up, from organizing their thoughts to writing the first word. The reasons vary: English may not be your primary language, or you may simply not like writing. If you’re in that boat, a ghostwriter is certainly an excellent and efficient option.

For many others, however, your answers to some of the big getting-started questions I proposed last time might indicate: that you have already begun writing your book, but aren’t quite happy with the pages you have; that you’ve written other pieces—newspaper articles, journal entries, blog posts, white papers and more scholarly articles—that you feel could go into a book, provided they are rewritten or reworked in the right way; or that you’d like to write the book, you feel you’d enjoy it and would do a good job of it, but something is getting in your way. (Usually the obstacle here is time, a sense of not knowing where to begin, or some combination of the two.)

The options I go through below are aimed at the people who fall into this category. Depending on the nature of your project and what kinds of material you’ve already generated, you may find some of the following helpful as alternatives to hiring a ghostwriter.

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Ghostwriting: Questions Before You Get Started

Ghost Image

This is the third installment in a series of blog entries about ghostwriting. I’m attempting to provide practical information for those who may be considering hiring a ghostwriter. The series started with some misconceptions about ghostwriting and continued with a rundown of the different ways you might work with a ghostwriter.

Today I want to cover how to prepare to work with a ghostwriter. I sort of covered this in my last post, on the different ways a ghostwriter might work—it was certainly my hope that looking through that list of methods might spark some readers to say, “Yes, that is definitely how I’d prefer to work with someone.” Figuring that out is a big part of the battle.

But mostly I want to move beyond the question of how you’ll get the ghostwriter the information they need to think about ways to identify what’s important to you and get at least a general picture of your book that you can communicate to the ghostwriter. Below is a list of questions and concerns to think about before you reach out to a ghostwriter. If you have even the beginnings of ideas on these topics, your ghostwriter will definitely appreciate it.

Where will this book go in the bookstore?

For now (and hopefully forever) the metaphor of a brick-and-mortar bookstore is still relevant. As long as it is, I ask clients Where would your book appear in a bookstore?

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On Rejection

For anyone who writes and seeks to publish their work, rejection is just a fact of life. Many times I’ve started entries like this one decrying how hard it is to get anything published, from a short short story to a novel. Thankfully, I’ve deleted most of them.

Being in a sunnier mood at the moment, I thought I’d offer some more positive thoughts on rejection, trying to put it into perspective.

A reality check, though: being “positive” really just means better coming to grips with what is a very grim reality. Two object lessons that will quantify that grimness:

Screen Shot 2018-01-09 at 11.06.26 AM

This is a screen shot from my Duotrope account, which (among other things) tracks submissions. It indicates that of the 31 submissions I’ve sent out over the past 12 months, I have a 4.2% acceptance rate.

Terrible, right? My work must be pretty bad, right? Actually, if you check out the note at the very bottom of this image, you will see that that pathetic 4.2% represents a better than average response rate (from the journals to which I submitted). So much so, Duotrope is congratulating me!

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Ghostwriting: How does it work?

Ghostwriter 2This is the second installment of a brief series of blog posts relating to ghostwriting. In the first installment, I looked at some common misconceptions about ghostwriting.

In today’s post, I want to dive deeper into a question that can be a bit of a sticking point for many people who are thinking of hiring a ghostwriter.

“How does it work?”

Once you’ve found a ghostwriter and you’re ready to get started . . . well, how do you get started?

There are three main ways that a ghostwriter works with his or her clients. In my experience, writing a book for a client is typically a mix of these three methods, and very rarely is just a single method employed.

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Ghostwriting: Some Common Misconceptions

Ghostwriter imageOver the next couple weeks, I’m going to be posting some blog pieces covering a part of my career portfolio that I rarely write about: ghostwriting. I have been working as a ghostwriter for the last seven or so years, but due to the nature of the business I have rarely mentioned it here on my blog.

That’s mainly because by nature it’s a fairly secretive process: A ghostwriter is contracted to write a book for someone else, and that person’s name goes on the cover. That’s the deal, with all that it entails: As a ghostwriter, I don’t share credit, my name is never mentioned, and the “author” (my client) proceeds as if he or she wrote the book, from start to finish.

If you look at my ghostwriting page, there aren’t any titles mentioned or links to books. Part of what my clients purchase is my discretion. This can make it hard to market yourself as a ghostwriter, but what would make it really hard is a reputation of blabbing about writing clients’ books. So I keep my silence.

Common Misconceptions About Ghostwriting

In this installment, I am going to look at some misconceptions and points of confusion that I encounter frequently when I talk to people about ghostwriting. My hope is that this might be read by someone bouncing around the internet, trying to decide whether a ghostwriter is what they need for their project. Clearing up some of these misconceptions would make an excellent starting point regardless of the nature of your project.

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New, tiny fiction

Here is something new for me: I wrote a tweet-length story and it has been published by Tiny Text (@Tiny_Text), a Twitter-based literary magazine that publishes writing of 140 characters or fewer.

My story, “Spoiler Alert,” boils down all stories to a single, tweet-length formula (really).

You can check out the story here, then dive into Tiny Text’s many fine, super-compressed pieces here.

New fiction at Euphony

I am very pleased and proud to have a short story, “Cruelty,” in the Spring 2016 issue of Euphony, out of the University of Chicago. You can read the story online here.

A little background on this piece. This is all that remains of a novel I wrote during graduate school, then drastically rewrote several times after graduation. That novel (working title: “Isolation Drills”), after lots of reworking, featured a narrator who was making an academic study of pornographic films and who met and began to date a woman. It was a classic first attempt at a novel, with lots of stuff pulled from my life (NOT the porn thing!), not much plot, and some not-very-well-drawn scenes and characters. The whole drafting process was an invaluable study in what’s required for a novel and how to write one (plan! Revise!), but I’m grateful I don’t have to look at or think about those pages anymore.

Even so, the central conflict of the novel and the relationship between the two main characters stuck with me, and at some point last summer I had two related thoughts: “Is there any way I can salvage anything from those multiple drafts and hundreds of pages?” and “What if the perspective shifted from his to hers?”

And so “Cruelty” came to be.

Notes for Next Time

(I was tempted to title this something flashy and contemporary-seeming, like “One Weird Trick to Make It Easy to Jump into Writing,” but opted for the more prosaic title you see above.)

Anyway, a note stemming from last night’s meeting of my “Writing Studio” class at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts. (Briefly, this is a class whose purpose is to offer writers of all genres/backgrounds the time to write, with some hopefully-stimulating elements like a weekly craft talk, exercise prompts, discussion time, the option to share pages with me and get feedback. Basically, think of an open studio in pottery or painting—it’s like that, but with writing.) Two meetings in, the class has been great fun and very stimulating—for me but, far more importantly, for the students, a number of whom have told me they’ve been enjoying it and getting lots done.

We had a great discussion regarding writing process, and someone brought up Hemingway’s practice of stopping a day’s writing in the middle of a sentence so that he’d have a natural and easy place to start the following day.

This prompted me to share something I do when I stop writing for the day that has come to seem so natural, I quite forgot that I’d ever not done it. The students seemed interested, so I thought I’d share it here as well.

Going off the Hemingway practice, which was designed so that Papa could stop when there was more to be written and it would be fairly clear, the following day, what should come next, I have gotten into the habit of marking the place where I’m going to pick up tomorrow and then writing a short note about what I think can or will happen next.

For example, here’s what I wrote at the end of today’s work on a piece that I think will eventually add up to a novel:

“echoes of Homewood, someone saw him give Malaki a hug and wants a hug too; asks Pete’s advice on Hilda”

This will of course be complete nonsense to you, but it means something to me and when I begin work on this piece tomorrow I can look at this and remember what I thought might be a good next step.

I have the option to follow those notes as if they were a blueprint, but it’s only an option. What I think is important is that these ideas present suggestions I can consider following (and decide to do something else—for instance, I might decide this bit about the hug is stupid, after all, and ignore it), begin to follow and then change course, or follow to the letter if I’m simply not feeling very original (or if I still agree with these ideas).

As I said, this has become a thing I do unconsciously when writing, as ingrained as having a cup of coffee nearby and my internet connection disabled. But several of the students remarked that picking up the thread of a piece of writing often costs them a bit of time and effort each time they get started back up on something, and I remembered that that used to be an issue for me, too. Hopefully this is an idea that can be beneficial to somebody out there.

Fiction’s power to explain the world, using Frank Herbert’s Dune as an example

Not a new or penetrating insight here, but I recently came across a striking and somewhat unexpected example of the power that good fiction has to show us something of the world we live in.

I recently read Frank Herbert’s Dune. I couldn’t tell you why. I’m not a huge science fiction fan. I just saw it in a bookstore while traveling last month, and thought, “Yes. I am going to read that right now.”

I knew the basics of the story from having seen David Lynch’s film version, and more recently from having seen the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune, which I’d recommend far more than the Lynch film. I knew about sandworms, the spice melange, and a villain so disgustingly fat he had to use little rocket-powered suspensors to keep from smothering in his own girth.

The novel surprised me in a couple ways. First was a massive amount of heavy ecological stuff, featuring a lot of well-developed explanations of the desert landscape and how certain groups were working to cultivate it with the long-term goal of creating a lush, liveable planet, plus lots of great details about the lengths people go to to conserve water (including, most fascinatingly/disgustingly, suits that capture sweat, urine, and feces and wring all the moisture out of them and essentially dumping that moisture into a kind of Camelbak reservoir that allows the wearer to drink it). Second was the heavy, heavy attention to intrapersonal and non-verbal communications in the book.

Item #2 really surprised me because I figured most of the book’s 800 or so pages would be filled with descriptions of sandworm battles, palace intrigues, and so on. That stuff is there, but on nearly every page there is an incisive description of a character using a certain kind of special training—I’ll just call it witchcraft, which is how it’s sometimes referred to in the novel, though it’s (often) less magical than that and more a situation of recognizing intonations of voice, body language, and so on, to read people deeply and accurately—to see through hidden motivations and anticipate another character’s next move.

Here’s a case in point, and the example I wanted so share. It’s a scene where Baron Harkonnen, the fat villain mentioned above, speaks with the Count, an extremely devious court hanger-on, and the Baron’s nephew, Feyd-Rautha, whom the Baron is grooming to eventually take over the desert planet, Dune. The Count has just said something insincere and kind of belittling to the Baron. Feyd-Rautha is standing by, watching and learning. (Note: the weird “mm-m-m” seen below is a quirk of Herbert’s, a verbal filler that a number of characters use for reasons that don’t seem worth the weird typographical experience of reading this stuff.)

“You are too kind,” the Baron said. He bowed, but Feyd-Rautha noted that his uncle’s eyes did not agree with the courtesy.

“When you’re mm-m-m ironic, that ah-h-h suggests you’re hm-mm-m thinking deep thoughts,” the Count said.

There he goes again, Feyd-Rautha thought. It sounds like he’s being insulting, but there’s nothing you can call out for satisfaction.

You can see all this non-verbal communication: Feyd-Rautha reading his uncle’s eyes, and the Count also reading the discrepancy between the Baron’s words and expression, and then responding by saying something kind of catty and ironic about the Baron “thinking deep thoughts.”

But what I really want to point out here is that what Feyd-Rautha notes is basically the very definition of “micro-aggression.” I was immediately struck by a sense of recognition upon first reading this passage. (From looking around for a quick definition, I see that “micro-aggression” is often linked to race and to white privilege, but I’m using it here more broadly, the way Feyd-Rautha defines it: This guy is being passive aggressive, going right up to the line but holding back enough so that if I said something, I’d be the crazy one, and he’d be able to back up and say, “Whoa, buddy, you’re putting words in my mouth.”)

The idea of micro-aggression, so far as I can tell, is relatively recent. Here, Herbert is using Feyd-Rautha to call out something that simply didn’t have a name back in 1965, when Dune was first published. In some ways it’s an incredible insight, and it suggests a remarkable depth of character that Herbert accomplishes in Dune.

I love finding stuff like this, recognizing the real world in fiction and, in doing so, seeing the world a bit more clearly. That’s a trite observation, I know, but it’s such a difficult thing to achieve in fiction that I find these instances worth recording and sharing.

Runner-Up in Nelson Algren Literary Awards

I’m very pleased to announce that a story of mine, “Klamath Falls,” was named a runner-up in the 2016 Nelson Algren Literary Awards, presented by the Chicago Tribune. Here’s the Tribune story on the contest and the grand prize winner, Lee Conell. Congratulations to Lee as well as the four finalists and three other runners-up!

For their sake, not mine—well, also for my sake if we’re being honest—let me say that this is a big deal. The Algren Awards are deluged with submissions every year, and this year the judges received more than 4,200 entries. To make it out of a pool like that, through multiple rounds of judging, is an accomplishment.

The stories will be published in the Tribune‘s “Printers Row” supplement and online via the paper’s Printers Row app. I’ll post a link when “Klamath Falls” is out there, but Conell’s story appeared this past weekend. Go check it out!