Monday, July 17, 2023

The MuseInks Interview with Ghostwriter Anastasia Voll

It is my absolute joy to have you meet ghostwriter and editor Anastasia Voll. They are the founder and owner of VCM, dedicated to helping businesses thrive through compelling content. 


Anastasia is passionate about the power of words. For more than a decade, she has specialized in transforming rough ideas into literary gems. As a professional ghostwriter and editor, they help people take their rough ideas and polish them into nonfiction books that both start conversations and grow brand awareness.
I'm so happy they agreed to talk with me about how words can boost a brand...

Ami: How long have you worked as a ghostwriter?

Anastasia: I’ve worked in communications, editing, and copywriting my entire career, starting as an intern at a Fortune 500 company while in college. I moved around in my career from communications to advertising to project management to marketing. I started freelance ghostwriting blogs, articles, and website copy in 2019 in addition to my day job. I started ghostwriting books in 2020, moving to full-time freelancing in 2022.


Ami: How did you get started ghostwriting books for other people?

Anastasia: I started off working as a contractor through a company that’s since gone under, but that introduced me to an incredible network in the publishing industry. Since then, I’ve mostly gotten clients from word of mouth and through my LinkedIn presence. 

Ami: What exactly is a ghostwriter and what specific skills does one need? 

Anastasia: A ghostwriter is the person who takes your vague book idea, helps you build it out into something that will actually fill a book, organizes it in a way that will resonate with your target audience, gets all of the information out of you, writes it in a way that is both coherent and sounds like YOU, and then revises it with you to ensure everything that sound be included is and everything that distracts is removed.


A ghostwriter needs to be able to interview, organize, write, and edit


That’s very broad, so let me drill down a bit. You need to be able to sit with (or get on a call with) your client and ask them the right questions to get the information you need to write the best possible version of their book. That means keeping them on topic, clarifying where points get vague, confirming when things sound weird, etc. 


You need to be able to take all of that information and organize it in a way that will make sense to the reader. Clients have a tendency to jump around when they’re talking about a topic, and it’s your job to put it in an order that makes sense, both on a chapter level AND an overarching book level. 


Then, you have to do the actual writing part. It’s more than just grammar though. It’s being able to write in a way that the reader can hear the client’s voice in their mind when they’re reading it. It’s a hard thing to explain and harder to teach. 


And of course, you have to be able to edit your writing based on feedback from the client. At each step of the way, you also need to know how to push back when the client is going to make a decision that hurts their book, rather than help it. It’s a fine line to balance. 

Ami: What is your favorite part of the ghostwriting process?

Anastasia: Interviewing my clients! It’s so much fun talking to them about something they’re so passionate about they’re writing a book on it. I love getting to know them on a deeper level in the process. I’ve become great friends with many of my clients. 

Ami: What are some of the ghostwriter’s unique challenges?

Anastasia: The biggest challenge I’ve faced is knowing when and how to push back against an idea that the client thinks is great but that you know through experience is a bad idea. It sucks to burst someone’s happy bubble. I don’t like doing it. But I also want to make sure they get the best possible book out at the end of the process. Usually what I’ll do is try to come up with other options that won’t detract from the book but scratches whatever itch the client has. 


Another challenge is knowing when a client has crossed the line from providing necessary context for their book into trauma dumping/be my therapist space. When you work so closely with someone and connect with them, it’s really easy for that line to blur. 


Every ghost will have their own level of comfort with where this line is, and you probably won’t find it until someone’s crossed it.


Ami: In your experience, what kind of person benefits most from working with a ghost?  

Anastasia: I’ve found that people who do best are people who: 

  • are better verbal processors than writers
  • don’t have time to sit down and write for hours at a time
  • struggle to organize their thoughts in a way that makes sense in a table of contents
  • can talk about a topic well but struggle to make that translate to the page
  • who already know they don’t want to physically do the writing themselves

A Sampling of Anastasia's Titles

Ami: What should a person expect when working with a ghost?

Anastasia: Hiring a ghostwriter does (or it should, if you choose a high-quality, dependable ghostwriter) cost you a good chunk of money. But it’s absolutely worth it. In addition, you should know: 


We can't read your mind. If you don’t tell us all the nuances of your story or every step to take, we can’t write it. This leads us to…


We don't make assumptions on what you mean. If you aren't clear, the writing won't be clear, no matter how talented the writer.


We can’t make you something you aren’t. If you want your book to be funny, you have to make some jokes. Even if we can add some extra oomph, you still want your book to sound like you.


For the best collaboration, be as detailed as possible when talking through content with your ghostwriter, and be yourself. Your ghostwriter will make sure your personality shines through the writing, but only if you're authentically yourself with them. 


A ghostwriter is a partner in the writing process. But there are a few things we are definitely NOT: 

  • Your therapist: It’s fine to tell us about a life event that you want to include in your book, but don’t tell us all about events and situations that aren’t useful for your book OR expect us to talk you through your feelings on a situation (aka trauma dumping).
  • A mind reader: Don’t expect us to read between the lines to know what you really meant but didn’t say. Explain exactly what you mean, or else you won’t be happy with the copy we produce.
  • Your decision-maker: At some point, you’ll have to make final decisions about your book: whether to keep that section or not, whether it’s time to lock the manuscript and send it off to layout, whether you want to put this topic in chapter four or chapter five. We can advise, but in the end, it’s your book and your decision.


You don’t have to tell people you used a ghostwriter! That’s why we’re called ghosts. If you really like your ghost, though, and want to mention them without saying they did the writing part, you can always credit them as an editor, researcher, or coach. 


Writing your book will take some time investment on your part. A lot of ghostwriters use an interview process to get the information out of your head to put on the page, which means you have to show up to the interviews. You’ll need to show up for the revision process too, meaning you’ll need to read the manuscript several times and show up to editing calls. However, that’s a fraction of the time you’d be putting in if you did the writing yourself.

Ami: What are some reasons people write a book in the first place? 

Anastasia: There’s a never ending list, really, but the biggest reasons I’ve heard from clients are: 

  • Establish themselves as a thought leader in their space
  • Use as collateral to get speaking engagements or bring in clients
  • Ego booster: “I’ve written a book.”
  • Genuine desire to share knowledge
  • Inspire readers to take action/improve themselves
  • Leave a legacy


Ami: What subject areas are you most interested in ghostwriting books about? Why?

Anastasia: My favorite subject areas are spirituality (aka "that woo woo shit"), science, history, and productivity books**. They are always so fascinating! I always learn something new that I can apply to my life—and without fail, that thing has always improved it for the better. 


Writing health books taught me about the more subtle ways food intolerances can show up in your body, which led me to find that I have several major food sensitivities. Cutting those foods out has made a DRAMATIC impact on my overall health. 


Writing spirituality books has taught me new ways to show up for my mental and soul health and helped me reconnect with myself, which can be hard to do in our fast-paced world. My stress levels have decreased dramatically since I wrote the last “woo woo” book. 


But my favorite type of book to work on is the one where the author is over-the-top passionate about the subject matter. Passion is infectious! I love working with nerds who are unashamed of their nerdiness. They’re my kindred spirits. 


Ami: What advice would you give to someone who is considering hiring a ghost?

Anastasia: Go in knowing that it’ll cost you quite a bit of money. 

Writing a book is an investment. People tend to get sticker shock if they’ve never talked with book ghostwriters, but it’s definitely one of those things where the adage “you get what you pay for” really is true. If you’re still shocked, think about it in terms of time. How much do you charge your clients (or do you make) per hour? Now think about how many hours you would spend writing your book yourself and do the math. A ghostwriter will get your book done on time and done well. 


** For everyone who wonders why I love to feature other ghostwriters on my blog and asks, "Aren't you afraid they'll take business away from you?" I present THIS answer as Exhibit A. I can conclusively say that woo-woo spirituality topics and productivity tomes are not my cuppa tea, but I'm thrilled to know that Anastasia eats them for breakfast! Ami


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