what's the best way to 'ghost write' a friend's memoir ?

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jayinfrance

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I'm normally a fiction writer, but I build on historical fact in my stories. A friend has asked if I will help him put his life experience into the a readable story, and believe me, he has had a most extraordinary life.

I agreed to help him (after maybe too many glasses of something red and alcoholic) and now he is getting himself geared up for us to get started. Help!!!!

I know I can do the written bit, but I'm wondering how to harness all this information he's going to throw at me. As a writer, like most on here, I work in happy solitude and that suits me fine, and the prospect of having to work with him on a one-to-one basis is a bit daunting.I've been worrying how to approach this and I've come to the conclusion that it might be better to sit down with him for a few hours a week and just chat, whilst recording the conversation. He's a volatile character, bless him, and it might be best to do it this way. I can them go back over the recordings, write them up and proceed as if I was writing a normal novel.

So, have any of you more experienced biographers / ghost writer
any advice on what type of recording app is the best for this type of work ? There must be a better way in the 21st century than the old tape recorder ?
Sorry for the rambling post, but I'm beginning to doubt my ability. Funny how a glass of wine can boost one's confidence. And he's such a nice guy I don't want to let him down
 

cornflake

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Before you figure out how to record stuff I'd make sure you're both on the same page as to expectations and plans, and draw up a contract.

Are you being paid to do this?

Is your friend hoping to have this trade published?

Do you have an agent? Does the agent handle memoirs? Have you run the idea by the agent? If you do have an agent, and the agent isn't interested, then what? Are you expected to query it?

If it's picked up, how would payments work?

If it's not picked up, then what?

Would you be credited?

All this and more should be spelled out in a signed contract before you do anything, imo.
 

Old Hack

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My short advice is DON'T DO IT.

My long advice is DON'T DO IT until you've got a contract in place which specifies who is going to do what, how any earnings will be split, how your expenses will get dealt with, and so on. Who is going to query it? Who gets to decide on its narrative structure, who gets to decide if the two of you reach an impasse over how it should be edited, who gets the final say in which agents or publishers to accept or reject?

This project is full of potential disasters. There's a real risk it will kill your friendship stone dead. If and when the book's finished, and it doesn't sell, how will you feel if you're blamed for its lack of commercial success? Or how will you feel if it's a huge success and you're the unnamed ghostwriter, and you don't get a cut of its earnings?

Just be very very careful, and get everything agreed and contracted before you start writing it.
 

jayinfrance

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Thanks, but there is no question of selling any copies. He would just like help to put his life in a readable form for his family. It's called friendship.:Shrug:

I'm too old to want the bother of finding a publisher etc.... been there and got the T shirt. Guess I'll stick to the old tape recorder routine then... if I can find one(lol).
 

KTC

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With a friend, I too would say DON'T DO IT. But it seems you already agreed to do it. It's just...it's a lot of work. In my eyes, it really does become a translation. And the distilling is tremendous. As he is not going any further than friends and family, you'll really have to negotiate with him what he wants them to know and what he wants them to NOT know. I've used recording devices. There were periods where it was good to have the person in the room...but the lion's share of the work is with you, the recording device, the notes, the screen. I always found my job to be making it sound like it came from them...trade my voice for theirs and try to be as authentically them as I could be. It's tricky. As it's informal publishing, it might be easier for you to negotiate his past with him...he'll probably dictate to you specifically what he wants you to focus on. His lines in the sand will probably be pretty drawn. Just listen and make sure you give him the light he wants.
 

Maryn

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Taking a fresh look at this in light of it not being marketable, and in complete agreement with KTC...

Okay, the skill you bring to the table is that you can write. But to me, the hard part is going to be gathering and organizing the content. I don't see why that part needs to be your job, since you're not being compensated except by continued friendship.

I'd ask him to put together a series of index cards, each one summarizing an event he wants included. At the top he should write a name for the event and when it happened. He can fill the card with the major points he'd want included. Example:

13th Birthday Party--June 10, 1960​
My parents insisted we have the party at home. We borrowed card tables and chairs from our relatives. Naturally it rained. My best friend Nate broke Mom's fancy cake plate horsing around after she'd told him to stop. My dad went ballistic when Larry Pucci, who I didn't even want to invite, got caught making out with my sister Alice in the basement. Nobody knew what to give me--it was dumb presents and gift certificates for stores I never went to. Worst birthday ever--until my 59th.


The basics are laid out by your friend, and you can talk to him about any card when it's convenient, and write up that one event. He would be responsible for deciding whether the organization now jumps to his 59th birthday or to the next chronological event.

IMO, this is a huge undertaking and he's going to owe you something requiring equal effort.
 

Marissa D

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If you and he aren't interested in producing a publishable book, then maybe developing some good, leading interview questions with your friend, recording his answers, then transcribing them and perhaps going back with him to fill in details would be sufficient to record his story for his family and friends?
 

Siri Kirpal

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This would be a minefield if you were doing this for publication. Even if you're not, the big problem is what people say and what they remember. I've talked to people for my books and run into some interesting things. People denying they said any such thing. People who don't like the way it's presented, etc.

On the other hand, some people have been cool with just about anything I said.

I'd definitely get a recorder. And the idea about a prompt sheet is good too.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal
 

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I've ghosted a few "autobiographies" and it's very hard work. First you have to collect the stories: taping them is the way to go here. Then you have to transcribe all those stories, and go back to your subject with questions to clarify all the stuff you were told. Then you have to write a first draft and let your subject read it and suggest changes, and this is where it gets really sticky because if they're not a writer, they'll make all sorts of suggestions which just won't work on the page. It's the negotiation of this period of the work which is difficult; but the rest is time-consuming and detailed work. So none of it's easy.
 

cornflake

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Thanks, but there is no question of selling any copies. He would just like help to put his life in a readable form for his family. It's called friendship.:Shrug:

I'm too old to want the bother of finding a publisher etc.... been there and got the T shirt. Guess I'll stick to the old tape recorder routine then... if I can find one(lol).

He wouldn't have been the first friend to suggest a writer friend write their biography, or a great story idea they've come up with, and then they'll just split the profits! It's very common.

If he just wants stuff for his family, that's likely easier, but I'd still have a comprehensive conversation about exactly what this will be - length, what format he expects it to take, etc.

It doesn't have to be a full-length book, obviously, but check his expectations. Then I'd ask him to say, think about the main events or things he'd want to cover, and make a list, then you can go off that, so it doesn't devolve into just a rambling, tangential thing for ages that you'd have a hard time bringing back around.
 

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If it's just for family, I'd think about whether a book is the way to go. They might be happier with video recordings of your friend telling his own story.
 

jayinfrance

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Thanks so much everyone for your input. Some really good pointers, especially yours KTC. I've written 2 books based on fact (WW2) but as they were fiction I had a free rein , so to speak. I'm sure it's going to be an uphill challenge as he's done so much in his life, even though he's only middle aged, so I do need to herd all these experiences into a cohesive account. Oh well, fore-warned is fore-armed, so here goes!!
 

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