I landed on an idea that I felt would be a financially lucrative novel series. I’d been reading the fiction bestsellers at the time and I realized that they were, to a large degree, formulaic, trite, fast-moving, and written on about a fourth-grade reading level.
I thought I could certainly write that poorly. It would require less revision, fewer edits, and I could pump out the books much faster, probably producing several per year.
All it would require was me being less insanely neurotic about quality. I figured that mediocrity would actually boost my career and help me put away more money for my daughters’ college education one day.
So, I put together a book proposal for the new series and spun out a few sample chapters. My agent sent it out, and it made it to the pub boards of two of the New York publishers.
I admit that I was excited when I flew up to New York City to meet with editors to discuss the book, which we were hoping to put on auction—but in the end it didn’t sell.
Thankfully, oh thankfully, that series didn’t sell.
It would have sent me down a career path that I know, and (if I’m honest with myself), that I knew at the time, wouldn’t have been one I could be proud of.
Not long after that, I had an opportunity to ghostwrite for one of the biggest names in publishing. “You’ll make a lot of money,” my agent told me. “You’ll be a New York Times bestseller.” So, I had to figure out what to do. Write my own stories, even though they didn’t have Mr. Famousguy’s name on the cover, or go ahead and write stories for him, make a ton of money, buy myself some time, and then go write my own books after I’d cashed the check.
It wouldn’t have been immoral. I’m not judging ghostwriters. I have many friends who ghostwrite and I’ve done work for hire myself. In this case, the bigger question was whose stories I was going to spend my life telling. It would have been a lucrative job at a point in my career when I could really have used the money.
At that time, my daughters were young, and one day as we were driving home, I was talking in the front seat with my wife about the possibilities of the ghostwriting.
I guess I didn’t even think they were listening in, but kids have a tendency to do that—especially when we don’t think they are.
When there was finally a pause in our conversation, my youngest daughter asked me, “So what are you going to do, Daddy?” She was maybe five at the time.
I was about to tell her that I was planning to help this other man write his stories, but right before I answered, I felt a nudge deep in my heart to say something different. [Read more…]