In almost any bookstore, you’ll see today’s bestsellers front and center. What you won’t see: ghostwriters who make a living writing the books “authored” by celebrities, CEOs, and politicos.
“Invisibility is my superpower,” says Joni Rodgers, who lives 300 steps from the Pacific Ocean on a remote peninsula in Washington State, far from the glamourous worlds she writes about. She’s an EGOT ghostwriter, having worked with Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony winners. She’s also collaborated with a variety of cultural change agents, entrepreneurs, and extraordinary “folks next door.” Now, Rodgers is stepping out of the shadows to release six fresh editions from her own bestselling backlist.
Grit Daily: Tell us about the SixO Collection. What made you decide to bring these books out of the vault?
Joni Rodgers: First, I’m celebrating being 60. When I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma at 32, my prognosis was dismal; I was told I’d probably live less than five years. I had to ask myself: “How do I live a full life by some measure other than longevity?” The answer for me was to leave a handprint of lovingkindness on my kids, who were just 5 and 7 at the time, and I wanted to write one good book and get it published. Reaching this milestone is a thrill, and the #SixObooks are the icing on the birthday cake. I love the hip new cover designs by Kapo Ng!
Second, I’m humbly grateful for the readers who keep telling me these stories are as relevant and entertaining now as they were when they were originally published. Crazy for Trying and Sugarland speak to women’s issues that (frustratingly) still need to be talked about. The romantic suspense in The Hurricane Lover is a vehicle for important discourse about climate change. Bald in the Land of Big Hair is the evergreen memoir of a young family in deep crisis. I want readers to find hope in the fact that we made it through that crucible moment. Twenty-five years later, my husband and I are still together, and our grown-up kids are thriving.
Grit Daily: So you were already a bestselling author on your own. How and why did you get into ghostwriting?
Joni Rodgers: Pure serendipity. A celebrity’s mom read and loved Bald in the Land of Big Hair and asked my agent if I’d help her do a book about her life. I initially said no, because I didn’t really know what a ghostwriter does, but I had lunch with the client, and we clicked. She had a great story to tell, and I’m a storyteller. I loved the collaborative process. There’s real joy in serving someone whose story can make a real difference in the world. And I’m not mad at the money. Ghostwriting pays well, and it’s been a doorway to different worlds, voices, and ideas. I’ve learned something profound from every book I’ve worked on.
Grit Daily: In the movie Ghostwriter, Ewan McGregor says, “I interview you and turn your answers into prose.” Is that all there is to it?
Joni Rodgers: On a mechanical level, every project is different. When I worked with Rue McClanahan on her memoir, My First Five Husbands, she was very hands-on. She handed me 600 pages of material she’d written. I helped her figure out how to structure it and wrote some additional material, and we worked through revisions together. At the other end of the spectrum, some clients have a great story but no interest in writing. We talk once a week so I can get the details and capture the voice. I write the book, and then we get together in person or on zoom for a table read. After we read the whole manuscript out loud, we discuss revisions, and I fine tune before handing off to the publisher. I’m comfortable being co-pilot or chauffeur. Most gigs fall somewhere between. Ghostwriting is a mindset more than a skill set. A good ghostwriter has mad writing skills, obviously, but more important, she’s a good listener, meticulous researcher, and all-purpose book nanny, with the ability to keep the client’s secrets, build a bridge between the client and publisher, and completely set ego aside.
Grit Daily: How much does a ghostwriter get paid?
Joni Rodgers: This is always the big question, and there’s no simple answer. It varies widely and depends on how much experience the ghostwriter has, the length of the manuscript, who the publisher is, how much research is involved, and whether the ghostwriter have cover credit. Demand for ghostwriters has increased dramatically with the rise in self-publishing, the popularity of celebrity books, and the huge platform boost influencers get from publishing their own books.
Anyone looking to hire a ghostwriter should think about it on the same paradigm as purchasing a vehicle. There’s a huge difference between the experience you get from a Kia Telluride for $40K and a Rolls Royce Phantom for $500K. Fifteen years ago, I was a respectable Range Rover; 25 books later, I’m a Bentley. (#grateful!)
Grit Daily: What’s next?
Joni Rodgers: I’m up to my neck in an intense celebrity memoir, and I’m booked to ghostwrite an essay collection after that. I’m excited to do more screenwriting this year. I love adapting screenplays to novels and novels to screenplays.