From Bestseller to Ghostwriter: An Interview with Nicola Kraus

“It’s the scenario every writer dreams of: #1 New York Times Bestsellers. Movie deals. Book deals for 10 novels, one after the next.

Who could ask for more? Yet in the crazy world of publishing, even this stellar trajectory does not necessarily translate into the professional or financial stability most people need.

That’s why Nicola Kraus, whose novels, co-authored with Emma McLaughlin, include blockbusters such as The Nanny Diaries, So Close, The Real Real and Nanny Returns, turned a page in her own career a few years back to add professional ghostwriting and editing into the mix. Ever fascinated by how writers leverage their unique creative skills into satisfying, sustainable careers, I caught up with Nicola recently to hear about her path. …

Q: There are all sorts of misconceptions about what “ghostwriting” really means, and there seems to be a stereotypical notion that it involves sitting down and writing somebody else’s book from scratch. But I’ve seen all sorts of permutations, from helping authors get their first drafts into final shape to polishing already-solid manuscripts. Tell us how you work.

NK: Lol! No, I don’t put words in anyone’s mouths! I have manifold ways of working with clients. And they all stem from one fact: as publishers merged and were bought out in the oughts, houses started employing fewer and fewer editors, but published more and more titles. Meaning authors now need people like me to help them do what they could once have found within an in-house author/editor relationship. In an ideal world editors make significant changes, improvements and overhauls to manuscripts. Now I do so instead. For fiction clients seeking an, agent I line-edit and make plot suggestions. What separates me from most freelance editors, who are former editors, not authors, is that I don’t just identify what’s not working, I give viable options for how to solve the problem. Nothing makes me happier than editing a manuscript, then watching it get picked up by a major house.

But I’m also used by a lot of established authors whose editors have gone MIA when they need someone to come in and give them notes before they go to print.

For nonfiction clients, I help identify what part of their expertise should be the focus of the book, and teach them how to package it so it can sell. I help them write every part of the proposal, which is the 60 page marketing document editors use to decide to make an offer, and edit them as needed. Primarily I’m inside it with them. They can call me at night, on the weekends, as ideas come to them, and I’ll hash it out with them. And hold them accountable to their deadlines.

I know there are a lot of ghostwriters who turn people’s ideas into books. I’ve been lucky enough to be very choosy about my clients and I prefer to work with people who have the content and could write their non-fiction book if they had time, but they don’t. So they give me their curriculum, their lectures, the essays they’ve published, their blog and I help assemble it. I strongly believe that if an editor or ghostwriter is helping someone beyond that, actually stepping in and doing the bulk of the writing, they should be credited on the cover as a ‘with.'”

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