Secrets of the Invisible Man: A Working Ghostwriter Tells All
September 23, 1997
Richard N. Côté entertained the September gathering of the Bay Area Editors’ Forum with an engaging presentation replete with wit and tips for outlining, writing, and editing. Author of 18 books, Côté has the ability to organize vast amounts of information into marketable works.
He began as a biographer and historian. Ten years ago, he switched to ghost-writing for profit. Later he became a literary collaborator. While a ghostwriter promises not to reveal his contribution, a collaborator receives title page credit. Both may help conceptualize, outline, research, write, rewrite, and edit the final text. The duties of either could include locating a literary or dramatic agent or finding a publisher or producer.
According to copyright law, when a book is ‘made
for hire,’ the person who signs the paycheck is the author.
The ghostwriter agrees to forfeit acclaim. “For many writers,
this proves to be too big a pill to swallow,“ Côté noted. “These
would probably not be happy as ghosts.”
His ticket out of the ‘ghostly ghetto’ came with an invitation to write Safe House, the memoir of Edgar Lee Howard, the first CIA agent to defect to the Soviet Union and betray national secrets. Howard’s version of his own story was ‘dead on arrival’ at the publisher—deemed unusable. Worse, the advance was blown. National Press Books offered Côté a meager $2,000 and an airplane ticket to Moscow to interview Howard and write his story. “It was the best career decision I ever made,” Côté recalled. “The book put me on the map as an international ghost with a trade publishing track record.”
Discipline and organization are Côté’s trademarks. Here are some of his professional secrets: