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Can a ghost writer make you money?

We all have a book in us - a tale that desires to be told. It is human nature to yearn for stories, whether read at our leisure, overheard at the dinner table, or watched on the silver screen. Books are, after all, the way in which those ideas which define our culture are passed from one mind to another, and from one generation to the next.

So what makes one book spawn a million copies and become a major motion picture, while others gather dust or remain unread within vast digital archives? The answer, whether we are considering a romantic novel, a biography, or a thriller, is that the story is inspirational. It is through their remarkable exploits that our leaders, heroes and entrepreneurs come to pass into legend and ultimately folklore.

How does a well-written book become a runaway success, with countless thousands of readers and companies pursuing the movie rights? The answer lies in ‘The Tipping Point’ by Malcolm Gladwell (which has in its own right seen over two million copies change hands). As Richard Dawkins noted in his theory of the ‘meme’, recommendations are passed on and ideas are emulated simply because they are good. However, unless others get to hear of them, or else stumble across them, then even a work of genius may remain ‘undiscovered’.

Thanks to the medium of Facebook, the power of the Google search algorithm, and the capacity to endorse something that appeals to us within a click of second, it is possible for a work of literature to become an overnight success (although, given the time taken to read a book, wisdom might err on the side of weeks or months…) With a striking cover and a popular theme, we can use social media to create a ‘call to action’ that draws the casual eye to the all-important synopsis which explains, in a nutshell, why something is interesting or will prove a pleasurable and gainful read. Once you have an embryonic readership, then you are already on the way to reaching the ‘tipping point’, although we will cover marketing in more detail in a later entry.

Many leading authors began life as ghost writers before becoming brand names in their own right, and there is no brand quite like that of a J. K. Rowling or a Stephen King. Besides, most successful people are too busy doing what they do to find a year to write their own biography or memoirs, and few would blame them for enlisting the services of a ghost writer. The ideas and inspiration are, after all, their own, even if they can’t find the time to let their fingers dance across the keyboard.

This brings us to the economics of writing a book and whether it makes sense to find someone else to write one for you. According to the Guardian, the top ten books of 2015 alone amassed a total worldwide distribution of 4,532,598 copies, which equates to almost five million a book in the Queen’s coinage. Given that the average royalties, for a non-celebrity author, even out at around 10% per copy, then a bestseller with a distribution of over 100,000 copies might expect to reap a six figure reward. If some 10% of this will cover the services of a ghost writer, then this still represents a very healthy return. It would seem to make sense in terms of time and outlay to build your name as an author by enlisting the creative wind of a silent ghost…

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