5 Things I've Learned as a Romance Novel Ghostwriter
When I was a kid, I absolutely loved writing. When I wasn't reading, that's what I was doing, constructing elaborate plots that usually involved intrigue, some sort of fantastical element, and more feelings than can possibly be imagined. My friends in high school would write elaborate and strange "exquisite corpses," each dreaming up some silly character and writing alternative chapters from said characters' point of view. Two novels happened this way, and yet if you were to walk up to my teenage self and tell her that she could make a living out of spinning one fantastical yarn after another, she probably would have laughed in your face. To me writing was a hobby and nothing more.
Yet, here I am. I'm a ghostwriter, which isn't nearly as spooky as it sounds. When I'm not writing for Bustle, I put myself to work ghostwriting romance novel after romance novel for small publishing houses that take my work and publish it under a different name. Unfortunately, I'm legally not allowed to name drop what I've written (non-disclosure agreements are no joke!) but I can comfortably say that I've written everything from military romance, paranormal romance, Scottish highlander romance, and the ever exciting biker romance.
The work is incredibly gratifying, but it is also work. Many people think that having a job writing steamy romance novels is basically like a vacation every day, and in many ways it is, but there were a lot of things I didn't know when I started getting work for it.
If you're addicted to those digital romance novels that you can find on Amazon and other places, or you have aspirations to write a couple of them yourself, I've come up with a list of a few things I have learned as a ghostwriter of romance novels. Whether it's a peek at things behind the scenes for you or some helpful hints for if you decide to do it yourself, these are the five most important things I have learned ghostwriting these novels.
1. It's Not As Hard To Get Into As You Think
My journey into ghostwriting as a living started one day when I decided to Google "fiction ghostwriting." There I found loads of different sites filled with people (usually small companies) who are looking for people to do good work quickly. Having writing samples is a must, but they don't have to be from published works.
The best trick I learned when it came to applying for these positions as a beginner was to look for companies that want to hire more than one writer. That way even if the project is saturated, you'll get a fighting chance. Occasionally I was tapped to write a small sample that was given to me in order to prove that I could write what they requested.
After a couple of smaller jobs, I picked up a little traction and now run about three rotating jobs a month. I've applied to all my jobs through freelance writing websites. (I'm not going to suggest Craigslist because there's very little protection for the writer in case the client decides not to pay.) The process was incredibly simple: explain my background in writing, give a sample, explain what I charge and give an honest assessment of my turnaround time. After a small handful of rejections, I started getting work and the rest has been history!
2. You Won't Always Have to Come Up With Your Own Plot, But Having A Few Ideas Is Helpful
When I scored my first two jobs, they were for projects that were hiring for a specific genre with no plot in mind. Because of this, I was requested to come up with several plots on my own for the client to pick out. Sometimes this rules because you have free rein to write whatever you would like, but there's a couple of drawbacks to that. If you're the kind of plotter that has a hard time deviating from what you're planning, it might be a bit harder to work with the client. I've written both from an outline that was provided to me and from an outlined plot that I had to completely make up myself. Both are incredibly challenging in their own ways, but if you're concerned about hitting your deadline, writing from a provided outline is the way to go. However, if you love the idea of your ideas getting out there, that's a great thing to specify in your proposals.
3. There's A Distinct Difference Between Your Personal Work and Ghostwriting Work
This may seem like a no-brainer, but trust me, it was actually something that took a little bit of getting used to. Writing for me has a lot to do with nurturing the characters that I've invented, helping them grow, setting them off on fun adventures, making them fall in love, and of course sometimes killing them off. When you're writing from an outline (which happens more often than not) there's a certain disconnect between the characters that you create and the characters that are handed to you. I'm often expected to expand on these borrowed characters, fleshing out their backstories, thoughts, and feelings. However, there's always that little bit of disconnect, at least for me, that reminds me that these characters are basically just renting my imagination. While this seems like a little bit of a bummer, it can actually be wonderfully helpful when it comes to letting go of the project. A character that I've created from whole cloth is a heck of a lot harder to let go, no matter what the job is.
4. Romance Has A Lot Of Rules
When getting started, I had no idea that there were so many rules to writing romance. This varies from client to client, but for the most part there are several things that absolutely must happen in order for the book to be categorized as a romance. For the most part, any sex has to happen at least halfway into the book, not before that, and the main characters have to have their happy ending. While those are pretty standard for the romance genre, there are several publishing places that go even deeper than that. I've seen requirements that insist that the main characters can't be morally ambiguous people or that the main characters aren't allowed to have slept with more than a set amount of people before they meet their love interests. While this could potentially be seen as restricting, I find it to be a fun challenge!
5. The Turnaround Time Can Be More Soul-Crushing Than NaNoWriMo
I say this without bragging: In the last three months I've technically won NaNoWriMo three times over, they just happen to all be different books. When hiring freelance, especially on the level in which I write, clients are often looking for someone who can write a good product in an incredibly short amount of time. This has led to me writing upward of three 20,000-word books in the span of a month, usually shorter.
"How is that possible?" you might be asking, having recently just come off of the crazy rollercoaster ride that is NaNoWriMo yourself. The answer to that is relatively easy: It's my job. While I work from home, in order to meet my deadlines writing these novels swiftly becomes a full-time job with all of the hours that a regular office job would require but with none of the co-workers or office breaks. While that may seem ideal for the introvert and isolating for everyone else, it's definitely an endurance run that helps to make me a better writer. I wouldn't have it any other way.
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