What I Look for in a Biography Client

Recently, a potential ghostwriting client called me and asked what I’m looking for in a client. I thought that was a great question, actually, because I am somewhat choosy in terms of what memoir jobs I take on.

My ideal client is one who has already tried and failed to write the book himself. Having done this, he is acutely aware of the skills I offer and the specialized knowledge needed to write a book, create a voice, build characters, integrate dialogue, and so forth. These clients usually come into the project with a great deal of trust and that certainly makes my job easier. Secondly, I’m looking for a great story.

That doesn’t mean it has to be a worldwide adventure with mystery and intrigue and romance (although none of that would hurt!). It simply means that the story has to have some type of central conflict. Said another way, when I hear you tell the stories of your life, I have to be able to see how all these incidents added up to create your personality, solve some inner dilemma, or give you the courage to do something big.

To be clear: you, the ghostwriting client, don’t actually have to see the central conflict. People usually don’t see the through-lines of their own lives, so it’s my job to see what ties all the short stories and random incidents together. This is usually not difficult for me to do, but sometimes a client can get in the way.

Some clients simply insists there is no central through-line to the events of their lives. Everything happened randomly. This may be true (though it probably isn’t), but it makes it difficult to write a book, as a book has to have a story.

So, it’s important that any ghostwriting client go ahead and tell me all the stories of their lives, but then get out of my way, a little bit. I have some analysis to do that you, the client, might not understand at first, but in the end, you’ll be glad I did it. I have to take a series of what might sound like random anecdotes and turn them into a single, page-turning book. That takes some work on my part. All the client has to do is trust me. So that’s really the main thing: trust.

I also have to trust the client. If I feel like the client is telling me a bunch of lies to “spice up” the book (and yes, that happens), it makes it much harder to write the book. That’s because while books are fun when they have a lot of superficial excitement, the thing that makes a book good is inner conflict and its resolution. Clients who lie make it a lot harder for me to find the real story, which is almost always a much more interesting story than they realize.

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