Inside the world of ghostwriting

An impulsive application to a newspaper job ad led Jennifer Upton from working in TV and film to a more specific kind of storytelling, writing the tales of other people's lives.
inside the world of ghostwriting 16x9 hero

Jennifer Upton didn't set out to be a ghostwriter. Originally from New York, she lived in Los Angeles for 15 years, working in various roles in the television and film industry. She then moved to the UK to study for a master's degree, where she saw an ad for a ghostwriter in the paper and decided to apply. 

Her first project was working with a Lebanese refugee on his memoir, which featured some of his poetry. After this, the work started rolling in and, before she knew it, Jennifer found she had a career as an in-demand ghostwriter. 

She works directly with people who want to tell their stories. ‘You have to be a ventriloquist,’ she says. ‘It's not about you, but if you're willing to take a back seat, there's a lot you can learn. Right now I'm working with a director in Hollywood, and he has all kinds of stories. I once worked with a woman who was a temple dancer in India and I had to go away and learn all about it.’ 

Jennifer believes that getting to know her subjects and stepping into their lives is key to being able to write their story in their voice. ‘I like to meet people and learn about historical events from different points of view,’ she says.

Of course, it's not always directors and dancers. A lot of her projects are more mundane, like the memoir of an accountant who wanted to pass his life story on to his grandchildren. ‘In one book, I did a whole chapter on lobster fishing!’ Jennifer says. Some ghostwriting jobs are traumatic, especially when they chronicle someone's experiences of war or abuse. ‘You have to take a break from those kinds of stories,’ she explains, recalling working on back-to-back projects with harrowing themes. 

Her favorite part of the job is learning from older people. ‘I find their worldview to be really interesting – even the idea of life without mobile phones and the internet, just the simplicity of it. How different things were before, for good and bad. I think that having perspective is important,’ she says. Her work looking back on other lives gives her plenty of that.

This article was first published in 100 Ways to Make a Living 2022. To purchase a copy or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.

You might like these, too