Voicing Concerns | Martin Toseland

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Voicing Concerns


This post goes back to a day some time ago when I got on a train and went to a ‘meeting’.

I know. I’ll give you a minute. It’s been a while.

In case you still need help, a ‘meeting’ is a gathering of individuals often in a ‘meeting room’ to talk about a subject in order to agree a way ahead. Or something like that. Like I say, it’s been a while.

Anyway, I was on my way to a meeting with an author and his agent. While I was sitting on the train, the agent called to have a chat pre-meeting to run through a few things.  We talked it all through, the agent mentioned a figure for writing the book which made me happy.

I arrived. We had coffee. Settled down and started to chat. The author and I hit it off and things were going swimmingly. We agreed that we could get the book done in four to six months and discussed a timetable for the first set of interviews.  

I was mentally packing my bag and running for the earlier train.

But then something happened. The agent produced a few books which had been published in the same area. They were ghosted autobiographies – much as this book was going to be – and featured a jacket image of the author smiling at the potential reader.

This author, however, stopped smiling.

His brow creased. His eyes narrowed. He slumped back in his chair.

I’ve been to enough meetings to know that this wasn’t a good thing. In fact, it was most probably a very bad thing.

‘I’m not sure that’s the message I want my book to send.’

There was silence. The agent asked what he meant.

‘It looks arrogant. Presumptuous. Bragging. Couldn’t the book be something other than by me? Do you see what I mean? I feel like I’ll be telling the reader how great I am, but I don’t feel comfortable doing that. I mean, I don’t think I’m that great but a first-person book doesn’t give me much scope …’

The agent leapt in, ‘But commercially a first-person book is much more likely to succeed that a third-person approach. It’s what readers expect – they want to hear about your life directly from you.’

‘But I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that.’ He turned to me. ‘Could you write in the third person?’

‘I could but I don’t think I’m who you need for that. If you want a biography you need someone who brings authority and name recognition to your story. As a ghost I’m here to get your story out in your voice – as if you are directly talking to the reader. My name won’t help a third-person narrative.’ (The extent of my Twitter following will attest to the level of my name recognition.)

The agent looked slightly panicked. ‘Are you sure you don’t want the first-person approach?’

The author blushed slightly and nodded. He looked at me again and said, ‘Sorry.’

I started to put my notebook back in my bag.

‘Really don’t worry. It’s your book and you’ve got to be totally comfortable with every aspect of it. First person or third person is not something you compromise on.’

We all shook hands and I left the room to catch the train.

As I walked to the station, I didn’t feel aggrieved or pissed off. I was a bit miffed that the money wasn’t heading to my bank account but that feeling was offset by a sense of relief. Imagine if we’d got a month or two into the project and the author had had his epiphany then? All of us from author to publisher would have been in a pickle.

The point is, ghost writers, like every other author, have a huge amount invested in every book we write. We don’t take books on just because we get paid. We take books on for any number of reasons but one of the most important is that we genuinely want the book to be the best it can be, even if that sometimes means we’re not the ones writing it.   

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