Ghost writers are in a unique category when it comes to freelance writers and authors. Instead of taking credit for their own work, they are often paid a premium to remain behind the scene and allow a client to take credit for the finished product. But there’s more to it than that. Ghost writers don’t just write blogs, articles, books, or essays and let someone else take credit. Rather, ghost writers have the tricky task of making their writing sound like their client in tone and vocabulary.
John Perry is a successful ghost writer who was born in Greensburg, Kentucky, and raised in Houston, Texas. He served in the army before attending Vanderbilt University with a degree in English. He has since written biographies of historical figures including Sergeant Alvin York, Booker T. Washington, and Winston Churchill. He also co-authored the novel Letters to God, which debuted at #7 on the New York Times Best Seller list.
As a prolific writer, John Perry knows how important it is to absorb as much of other people’s writing as possible then to develop one’s own voice when it comes to writing your own pieces. But in the case of ghost writing, he says a whole new set of skills comes into play. “Ghost writing is a unique challenge because to do it right, the ghost has to assume the writing persona of the author of record,” he explains.
To do that, John Perry has accompanied some of his most well-known clients to Africa, South America, and elsewhere to learn about their world and see them in action, he says. This allows him to observe their personality, their vocabulary, their way of thinking and communication. He then adapts that knowledge to his writing so that the product sounds as if the client had written it themselves. “One of the best compliments I ever had was when a ghost-writing client showed his wife a chapter I’d submitted and she thought he had written it,” says Perry.
Ghost writing can be a difficult field of writing to break into because of the secrecy surrounding authorship. For Perry, he started writing advertising copy in Houston while also acting as a radio producer. His interest in music took him to Nashville where he began to network with country music stars. One day, a book publisher asked him to write the jacket copy for some books he was helping to promote. The publisher was so impressed with his wordsmithing that he asked him to ghostwrite a foreword as well. Soon his career in ghost writing took off as he leveraged his network and continued to write for others.
The Bottom Line
Being a ghost writer is a lot like being becoming a chameleon of literature. First, it’s important to identify your own voice and develop your skills. Then, as you become a master at manipulating the English language to bring both joy and sadness to your readers, you can start to practice taking on the voices of others. Ghost writing can be an exciting and rewarding career in which you can meet all kinds of VIPs who have a story to tell but perhaps not the time or skill to write it themselves. For author John Perry, helping others share their stories in their own voice is his calling.