Written by Ken Walker
Whether ghostwriting or substantive editing, one of your most essential tools is research. It will enliven stories, correct factual errors, and avoid problems like copyright infringement.
I have discovered this by helping authors with ghostwriting, editing memoirs, and editing teaching material.
Recently, I completed the memoir of a Vietnam War-era veteran who wanted to leave a record of his experiences for future generations. He had a most compelling personal story, but I had to fill in numerous gaps in the historical record.
At first, it seemed like I was spending an inordinate amount of time checking details. But as the project progressed, I became fascinated with facts I uncovered that refined his recollections or added additional information.
In several instances, details I uncovered brought a fuller historical perspective to parts of his life and helped create more than a “just the facts” account.
Another memoir I worked on involved a retired businessman. He had spent years in various aspects of the automotive business.
His was a most colorful story; it included a short-lived stint with a well-established auto dealer in Southern California. The veteran sales staff had numerous repeat customers—meaning a newcomer like the author couldn’t make many sales.
He talked about this dealership being “just down the street” from a well-known racetrack. On race day, the sales crew often took off for the track. The manager went too, tossing the author the shop keys and calling, “You’re in charge.”
The only problem with this story was the author’s description of the track’s location. One day while researching other points, in an automotive archive I came across the address for this defunct dealership.
Curious, I Googled the distance from the address to the racetrack: 6.2 miles. Or, as any long-distance runner knows, the length of a 10-K. A bit further than “down the street.”
When I mentioned this vast difference between what he wrote and the facts, the author chuckled and said, “Oh, that was just off the top of my head.”
“Well, you can’t do that,” I told him, “especially when it involves details that can be easily checked. Get this kind of fact wrong and readers can doubt everything else you write.”
Another time I helped a man who me wanted to revamp a life skills course he had taught at his church for a wider audience. I wound up identifying seventy-five footnotes lacking proper attribution or needing more information to avoid copyright infringement.
The most serious involved him quoting from a best-selling book—one I had read several months earlier. I noted that the author’s characterization of a key point sounded suspiciously like one in the best-seller, although he insisted it was his.
“You may want to rethink that,” I told him. “If you retain what you have in print, you could be looking at a lawsuit.”
So it is with many authors. They don’t know what they don’t know. That’s why they have you.
Ken Walker is an experienced ghostwriter, coauthor, and book editor who has written, edited, or contributed to more than 90 books. They include a number of professionally published books in the fields of health, personal experience, and teaching, and self-published memoirs—the latter a growing niche in the publishing world. Ken is also an experienced freelance writer, having written for a variety of national publications. He is still a regular contributor to websites of two denominations. Ken enjoys using his writing and editing skills to help others relate what God has done in their lives. Samples of his work are available on his website, www.KenWalkerWriter.com, or you can email email@example.com.