The internet has been blamed for killing off any number of categories of how to categories, but it doesn’t seem to be bothering “authors” like the following.
The Hustle has a piece up today that offers a behind the scenes look at one author’s ghost-writing operation. This unnamed author started out by writing his own nonfiction books, but then hit upon a sure-fire method to write books as quickly and cheaply as possible.
He sells 6,000 books a month, and nets $150,000+ a year, by using a low-rent James Patterson method to out-source the actual writing to someone in the Philippines.
For $150 per book, I send him a 2,000 word outline and 7 days later he sends me a 20,000-word book. I spend about a week editing those 20,000 words It’s that easy.
I make (net) around $1,000 each month per book. Again, I know what you’re thinking…too easy. Plus, having a ghostwriter allows me to publish books on virtually any subject. For example, after noticing a hole in the DIY market, I wrote an outline my ghostwriter turned into a 40-page book on gardening that started selling really well.
At this point I’m an outline creator, cover designer, copywriter, internet marketer, and editor.
Do I know anything about those topics? Hell no — but I make a hell of a lot of money pretending I do. Plus, even the best “authors” use ghostwriters…it’s just one of those dirty little secrets.
I hope this guy isn’t depending on Kindle Unlimited, because he strikes me as exactly the type who will take a hit now that the payment model has shifted from loans to pages read. But that is a post for another day.
The important story today is that what we have here is an entrepreneur who has hit upon a modern-day version of the Stratemeyer syndicate.
While some might be appalled by his gaming the system, I was struck by the similarity to the model that a prolific writer named Edward Stratemeyer pioneered in 1905. Stratemeyer was the founder of the Stratemeyer syndicate, a network of freelance writers and editors which was designed to produce as many books as possible as cheaply as possible.
The Hardy boys, Nancy Drew, and Tom Swift series were all invented by the Stratemeyer syndicate, and all the books were ghost-written (and they still are).
According to The Atlantic, the syndicate used methods very similar to the tricks mentioned in The Hustle excerpt above:
The Stratemeyer Syndicate helped prove that book packaging with ghostwriters could be incredibly profitable—for managers and owners, at least. Writers signed away their rights to royalties and bylines in exchange for a flat fee. (Early on, it was around $100 per book.) … It debuted Tom Swift in 1910, followed by The Hardy Boys in 1927, and Nancy Drew in 1930. That same year, Stratemeyer died in New Jersey, by then not so much a writer as a tycoon.
The Babysitter Club, the Boxcar Children, Sweet Valley High, and many other series are published on this same model today. So while Simon & Schuster may be paying a lot more for each Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew manuscript, the only real difference between S&S and the author mentioned in The Hustle’s excerpt is scale (and also quality).
Far from being appalling, this guy is just one of the crowd.