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How I Became a Romance Novel Ghostwriter

I often get asked how I got into romance novel ghostwriting. It is, after all, a niche field. Most people who know what ghostwriters are only associate them with celebrity memoirs. They don't realize that behind many a bestselling fiction author—especially romance—is a ghostwriter (or three).

And until six years ago, neither did I.

I was working at a non-fiction publisher and editing romance on the side, wondering if I'd ever get to spend my days spending my days working with the books I love, when a housing crisis forced me to give up my job and go freelance. I scrambled to fill up my hours with more freelancing, and a client I had contacted about editing asked me if I had ever considered writing books for other people.

Like most writers, I had always loved creating stories, but had never finished a manuscript. My laptop was a graveyard of half-finished stories. I thought that because I hadn't found a story idea that filled me with enough inspiration to make it to the final scene, I couldn't write a book. I had no idea that what I really needed was a prompt, a brief—someone telling me what they wanted their romance novel to look like.

As soon as I knew what that first client wanted from their romance novel—friends-to-lovers, love triangle, urban setting—the words flew out of me. I couldn't type fast enough. After that, I looked for other contracts and clients in different sub-genres and found an affinity for paranormal romance and historical romance, which remain two of my favorite sub-genres to write. I explored the Wild West, medieval Scotland, an alternate universe where bear shifters roamed the Pacific Northwest, and a desert replete with reptile shifters battling an ancient curse.

That first year of ghostwriting wasn't all sunshine and roses, though. I burned myself out taking on too many projects, lured by the adrenaline rush of writing happily ever afters. I didn't advocate for inclusive stories because I thought I was too green, and my clients wouldn't listen to my suggestions. I spent more time writing than researching the genre or networking with other writers, sequestering myself in a metaphorical writing cave that often left me feeling lonely and isolated.

But I'm glad I struggled that first year (and second, and third, because as any freelance reading this knows, it's a tough game). I learned so much about my capacity to create. I started to understand which projects left me feeling good about the mark I'd made on the romance genre, and which ones didn't. I understood the power of research not just to make a book historically accurate, but to understand its readers, their expectations, and how those have shifted over time.

After "how did you get into romance novel ghostwriting," the second most-asked question I get is "but how can you sign away your right to your stories?" The answer is two-fold: I love translating a client's vision onto the page. There's no better feeling than someone trusting you with their idea and watching it come to life. The second part of that answer is that it's the story that matters to me, not whether my name is attached to it. I don't write for recognition. I write because I want to put good, inclusive stories out in the world, and ghostwriting allows me to do that far more often and more enjoyably than if I published my own work. And I know that I won't run out of story ideas; each book I write is precious, but I know that the next one will be just as much so. I don't have to worry about using up all my good stories; if anything, sometimes I feel like I have too many good story ideas, and not all of them will make it to print.

Being a romance novel ghostwriter is, for me, the best job in the world. I get to spend my days writing stories for the best readers in the world, and when I'm not writing, I'm reading romance or researching it, diving into topics as disparate as the evolution of the bustle and whether contemporary romance should embrace anal sex (for the record: my opinion on that is "yes"). I'm never bored, my to-be-read pile is always full, and all the romance novels I buy are tax-deductible. I'm very, very happy I took that first contract six years ago, and I can't wait to see what I'm writing six years from now.

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