My Secret Side Hustle Ghostwriting Romantic Fiction
Over the last few months, I’ve written several short novels/novellas: Scottish historical romances, Victorian orphan dramas, Amish love stories (yes, really)… you name it.
If you’re into any of those genres, you might even have read one of them, in fact. We’ll never know, though, because I’ve written all of these stories as a ghostwriter: i.e. my name doesn’t appear on the cover, and I’ve signed strict non-disclosure agreements which mean I can never tell you which books I’ve written.
Pretty trippy, huh? Like, that book you loved? Could’ve been me. That book you hated, on the other hand? Definitely not me, nuh-uh. But moving on…
Now, trust me when I tell you that this strange and random career change of mine was as much of a surprise to me as it probably is to you. I mean, I’ve never considered myself even remotely talented at fiction writing. Sure, I’ve had a few stabs at it, like most writers probably have: there are a couple of long-forgotten novels buried in the depths of my hard drive, all of them abandoned after just a few chapters, but it’s been a long, long time since I even considered the prospect of trying to write a novel: which is why, when I decided to start looking for some freelance work a few months ago, ghostwriting fiction was the very last thing on my mind.
Actually, I was just looking to make a bit of extra cash.
I’m sure it will come as no surprise to anyone to hear that my blog hasn’t exactly been thriving lately. I published a Patreon-only post earlier this week explaining some of the reasons for that, but the long-story-short of it is that it turns out that parenthood + pandemic + running a blogging business really do not mix. I know, who’da thunk it?)
(Or, at least, they don’t for me, anyway, I should say. I know there are plenty of people out there who seem to be able to effortlessly juggle everything without so much as a hair out of place, but if I have more than one thing on my To Do list I basically just collapse into a puddle of stress, like the Wicked Witch of the West when she finally melts, and that’s what happened here. I finally melted. It’s probably not a great sign that I’m comparing myself to a fictional witch here, but, I dunno, I guess I’m kind of hoping you’ll find it refreshing to see someone admit that they actually CAN’T do it all, just to contrast with all of the people you see on Instagram, say, who can do EVERYTHING. ALL THE TIME. PERFECTLY. So, I fail at life so you don’t have to, in other words. Don’t say I’m not good to you.)
That’s not to say I’m giving up blogging, mind you: that’s not what this post is about. But, a few months ago, it became obvious to me that I was going to have to find some other way to supplement my income, until things start to pick up again – if, indeed, they ever do.
Writing is basically the only thing I know: it’s the only career I’ve ever had (I’m not counting my weekend job in a call centre, or those two weeks in McDonalds as a teenager, here…), so going back to freelancing – which I used to do many years ago, before I took my blog full-time – seemed like the obvious solution. So, I signed up to a few different freelance sites, and started to have a look around.
At the time, I was assuming I’d just go back to the kind of freelance work I used to do: so, mostly blogging, with a bit of copywriting thrown in. I wasn’t exactly enthused at the prospect of this, to be totally honest with you: one of the reasons I love blogging so much is the freedom it gives me to write about whatever takes my fancy, as opposed to whatever takes someone else’s fancy, so I wasn’t particularly looking forward to having to churn out articles on how to prepare your car for winter, or choose the best insurance company, or whatever. I mean, who WOULD, really?
Still, beggars can’t be choosers (I know, it’s amazing I get paid to write anything at all when I come up with cliches like that one, huh?), so, as I said, I started to browse the freelance job listings, and one in particular caught my eye.
This job did not involve writing about insurance, or cryptocurrency, or any of the other topics that make me die a little bit inside every time I try to think about them. No, this employer was looking for someone to ghostwrite Victorian romance novels, and, I don’t know about you, but something about that just instantly captured my imagination.
Instead of seeing myself chained to my desk, writing dull SEO articles about topics I didn’t even understand, I suddenly saw myself sitting in front of a roaring fire (We don’t have a roaring fire, by the way, so I’m not sure where that came from, but let’s just go with it…), tapping away at my laptop, while fully immersed in a world of Lords, Ladies, and cheeky Cockney orphans, narrowly avoiding the workhouse. And, I mean, that just sounds WAY better than writing about car insurance all day, doesn’t it?
(Not the bit about the workhouse, obviously. That just sounds grim.)
There was just one problem with all of this, of course, and it was a pretty big one, really: I had never written Victorian romantic fiction in my life. Or ANY kind of romantic fiction, Victorian or otherwise. Or any kind of FICTION, come to think of it. I had not one single Cockney orphan tale to my name, and this, I suspected, would probably turn out to be an issue if I was going to apply for this job.
(Actually, a quick search reveals that I HAVE mentioned Victorian workhouses more times on this blog than seems reasonable for a lifestyle blogger, really, but… it’s just not the same, is it?)
No, I was not remotely qualified to write a Victorian romance novel: so, naturally, I applied to do it anyway.
I don’t know what came over me. Maybe I just enjoyed the idea of consumptive heiresses and their doomed love affairs a little too much? I dunno. I was totally honest in my application, though: I explained that, although I hadn’t written THIS kind of thing before, I had written plenty of OTHER things, and I was confident (I wasn’t really) that I’d be able to do it. Oh, and I included a link to my blog, because if there’s one thing that’s certain to nail me a freelance job, it would be that post about the Russian Volume Eyelashes, wouldn’t it?
I didn’t expect to get a response. Why would I, after all? Much to my surprise, though, the very next day I got a message from an incredibly lovely editor, who said she’d been intrigued by my application, and wanted to know more. We had a short conversation via email, during which I tried my very best not to say things like, “Cor blimey, guv!” and other things transparently designed to demonstrate my very firm grasp of Cockney orphan lingo. Then she offered me a (paid) trial, and I sat there for a while feeling like a giant fraud, who had just somehow tricked someone into believing she could write a Victorian romance novel, which, LOL. Luv-a-duck!
The next day, I received the plot of the book – which, actually, was just a novella, not a full-length novel. Let’s not get carried away, here.
The thing that had attracted me most to this gig, you see, was the fact that all of the plots and characters etc would be provided for me. The main reason I’ve never been able to write fiction of my own, after all, is purely down to my complete inability to come up with a decent plot. I’ve always said that if you give me a story, I’ll be able to tell it: which is why blogging has been such a perfect fit for me, because the stories I tell here are all ones that have already happened – no plot required.
So, I can write a story – I LOVE writing stories, in fact. I just can’t make one up, out of my own head (Or I didn’t THINK I could, but more on that later…), which is why, any time someone’s told me I should write a book, I’ve just laughed and then instantly forgot about it. Here, however, was an opportunity where I was being given the story: all I had to do was write it.
And so I did. And, you know the weirdest thing about that? I actually found it really easy. And kind of fun, too. What’s more, the editor I was working with liked what I’d written: so much so that she commissioned me to write some more. And then some more after that. I was able to use some of the extracts from those first few pieces as a portfolio which allowed me to apply for other, similar, ghostwriting jobs, and the rest is history. (Well, I mean, it’s not, obviously, it’s just part of this blog post, but hey, why not throw in an another cliche, just in case anyone out there is looking for a ghostwriter? Call me! (Don’t, though.))
In the same way that freelance blogging eventually inspired me to strike out on my own, though, I’ve found that writing fiction for other people has re-ignited my interest in writing fiction for myself. For one thing, this whole experience has taught me a huge amount about writing: for another, though, it’s also sparked my imagination, and while historical romance is not something I see myself doing off my own batt (I’m happy to write it for clients, but, left to my own devices, I’d rather write more contemporary fiction), I’ve started to wonder if some of the ideas I’ve been having might be worth pursuing.
Maybe I CAN come up with a plot, after all? Maybe even more than one? And maybe doing that would be a helluva lot more rewarding than ghostwriting novels about smoulderingly sexy Highland lairds and the wenches who love them?
So, that’s what I’m aiming to do in the new year. As I said back at the start of this post, I’m not quitting blogging – in fact, you can probably expect to see a bit more of me around here, now that I have a shiny new project to talk about – but I will hopefully soon be adding some new, writing-based services to the menu bar: and who knows, maybe even a book or two at some point, too.
For now, though, there’s a Highland laird waiting for me (Don’t tell Terry…), so if anyone needs me, I’ll be sitting by my imaginary fire, typing away…