A project officially ended today, but not because it was completed. The client’s feedback as to why she decided to discontinue the project brought into focus the limitations of a ghostwriter: I can’t read minds.

My ghostwriting process is collaborative. Sure, it takes longer, but it’s supposed to satisfy the client’s content needs by ensuring that the content delivered is what the client wants. This time the process failed. I may have misunderstood what little feedback I received. Or the client may have failed to deliver the feedback necessary to explain her preferences. That point on that project is moot, but not on other projects.

In the ghostwriting process, the client has the responsibility and obligation to review the content and provide feedback. The ghostwriter can only guess as to what the client really wants. Critical feedback provides necessary direction so the writer can revise accordingly. Feedback that basically goes, “This is good,” doesn’t help if the client wants something different.

I admit to being disappointed, because I thought I’d been doing a good job. I never received word otherwise or that I’d veered down the wrong track with the story. However, I now have a lesson learned to employ with future ghostwriting contracts. I must emphasize with clients that, no, I cannot read their minds and that, yes, I do need their critical feedback. Oddly enough, one client who has been very critical does just that. Sometimes, I find his feedback frustrating and need more explanation. Sometimes, I disagree with his feedback and explain why I disagree with him. In those cases, he will sometimes come around to my way of thinking; other times, I yield and revise accordingly. It is, after all, not my book. He hired me because I’m the writing expert. I work for him because it’s all about his plot and his characters. Just because the client may not have the time or skill to bring the story to life doesn’t make the story mine and doesn’t mean he has no idea of what the finished product should be like. My name won’t go on the manuscript or the book’s cover.

Let’s repeat that: It’s not my story.

Ghostwriting is a weird profession. The writer does his or her level best to produce excellent content to suit the client. Oftentimes, the creativity in the work belongs all or mostly to the writer. Sometimes, the idea, too. But this is work-for-hire. We receive no byline credit or royalties in exchange for payment. The client, who is the author of record on such work, assumes the risk for the work’s success.

No two clients are the same. Any consultant or freelancer will tell you that. Some clients are easier to interpret than others. Some are more easygoing than others. Some need to exert more control than others. Unfortunately, I have little way of determining whether a client’s going to be one of the “easy” ones before we become enmeshed in the project. Writing may be solitary work; ghostwriting can feel like writing by committee. But the ghostwriter must never forget, even in the throes of creation, that the work is not his (or hers).

So… lesson learned. It’s probably one that won’t stick and I’ll have to learn it again. Many lessons are like that, you know.

And to that client who canceled the project: I hope she finds the time to write her story her way or a ghostwriter who can correctly interpret what she has in mind.