I must become less …, by Ben Jeapes

“Doesn’t it feel odd to see your work come out under someone else’s name?” That is generally the reaction when people learn I’ve been earning a living as a ghostwriter for the last three years - and, for several years before that, earning very nice pocket money in parallel with the day job.

I would love to know if my clients get asked the same question from the other direction: “Doesn’t it feel odd to see someone else’s work come out under your name?”

The answer - to my question; I’ve no idea how they would answer theirs - is: only if I let it.

True, it’s not how I saw my career developing when I first put tentative finger to key as a student. Back then I wanted to be the next Arthur C. Clarke - though sheer honesty told me I probably wouldn’t be. But writing has always been what I do best. I think I’ve proved my own credentials with novels of my own, and I would rather be writing than doing anything else, so doing it for other people and still being paid seems an entirely logical step. So, when the ghostwriting door opened for the first time (an editor I had previously worked with inherited a series needing a writer; she thought of me), it seemed perfectly reasonable to go through it.

Still, we all know the little tingle that you get when something that is unequivocally yours comes out, don’t we? The fact is that to be a ghostwriter, you must have your ego surgically removed.

And this is where the Christian element comes in, because at the risk of sounding like Donald Trump (“I think I am actually humble. I think I’m much more humble than you would understand”) the great virtue of humility is very necessary. As a far better speaker than Trump put it, “He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3.30).

I’ve also been very fortunate that all the people I’ve ghostwritten for have very positive values to share, so my thinking can go something like:
  1. This person has a positive worldview that I can easily get on board with. 
  2. It should be shared. 
  3. They can’t do it on their own. 
 … which has made the humility thing a whole lot easier.

And this is where it gets interesting, because I know that this might not last. I was able to chuck in the day job with a sigh of relief in 2015, on the strength of a year’s contract; that extended to another two years, during which time I was able to do another year’s work in parallel. So, I’ve been busy.

All those contracts are now done. 2019 is the year in which I could really do with more work coming in - or go back to working a real job again, if I can. I’ve been very blessed - very unusually blessed - so far in work just coming to me. Not only that, but it came at exactly the right time to make life a whole lot easier, in terms of a major house rebuild and two house moves, just by letting me be around at home rather than tied to a desk elsewhere on someone else’s timetable. But it also means I’m entirely unused to having to put myself out there and hustle for it. So, interesting times. Will the humility stand the test? I’m looking forward to finding out.

Happy new year, everyone!

[For general info: a vital resource I've found is Ghostwriting, by Andrew Crofts - highly recommended.]

Ben Jeapes took up writing in the mistaken belief that it would be easier than a real job (it isn’t). Hence, as well as being the author of 5 novels and co-author of many more, he has also been a journal editor, book publisher, and technical writer. www.benjeapes.com


  1. Thank you Ben. This is a revealing insight into the mind of a ghost writer. I can see the logic of helping someone say the useful things they have to say. But I still find a problem with the fact that in most areas of creative expression the artist is acknowledged - even if only in small print. For instance, I don't have the art of illustration so, if I wanted illustrations in my text, I would acknowledge the artist somewhere rather than let people think it was my own work. Am I missing something?

  2. You're not missing anything. My publisher and agent know who I am and they boost my signal within the industry. I've found artists are usually acknowledged - maybe because text and images are such distinctly different fields that no one would think the author is such a Renaissance person that they can handle both.

    1. If you're cool with this Ben, then that is great. I guess it's all about doing our bit for God in whatever way we are called.

  3. I'm doing my first piece of writing for someone else. I'm writing up a missionary's life's bible notes. I'm learning more about her and really enjoying it. There is a reward in doing this and yes, Ben, it's not about egos.

  4. Well said, Ben! What you're doing is invaluable in my opinion. But, like Trevor Stubbs above, I don't understand why your name isn't mentioned. James Catford commissioned me to write some books when he was with Hodder & Stoughton. I really enjoyed bringing those stories out, especially as I was sent out to Geneva to research one of them. But far from being invisible, my name was on the front cover of the book.


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