Hey, How'd You Turn Ghostwriters Into Bestsellers, Agent Madeleine Morel?
This agent knows the secret to sussing out the best behind-the-scenes writers

By Andy Heidel – July 15, 2008

MTV recently reported that "Pierce Brosnan and Nicolas Cage will star in Roman Polanski's next project, The Ghost. The film is an adaptation of Robert Harris' novel about a ghostwriter hired to write the memoirs of an ex-prime minister." Who are these ghostwriters and how do they get work? We spoke with Madeleine Morel, who represents ghostwriters exclusively, and with more than 100 ghostwriters in her roster, she haunts bestseller lists. Established in 1982 shortly after Morel moved to America from England, 2M Communications Ltd. is a literary agency specializing in non-fiction titles. Morel matches ghostwriters and professional collaborators with high-profile authors, and she frequently works on a confidential basis.

"We are especially skilled in the following areas: parenting, multicultural issues, memoir and personal growth, pop-culture, health and beauty, cooking, relationships and psychology, and business," Morel says of her preferred genres.

Houses Morel has worked with include: Avery, Avon, Atria, Ballantine, Broadway, Chronicle, Clarkson Potter, Crown, Doubleday, Free Press, Grand Central Publishing, HarperCollins, Meredith, Penguin Putnam, Regan Books, Rodale, Simon & Schuster, Simon Spotlight, St. Martin's Press and Wiley. In addition to 2M Communications Ltd., Madeleine is also a partner in Lowenstein-Morel Associates, a literary agency that specializes in developing nonfiction books, particularly in the multicultural market.

This spring two books of Morel's collaborations reached the New York Times bestseller list including Stolen Innocence by Elissa Wall and Lisa Pulitzer, and a second book which, Morel says, "I can't tell you the title because of the confidentiality clause, but it's a medical book aimed at women written by Maggie Greenwood Robinson, author of the bestselling Biggest Loser. " We spoke with Morel on the phone to discover what it takes to make a bestseller written by a ghostwriter, and what makes a good ghostwriter, as well.

How do you turn a ghostwritten book into a bestseller?
What turns a ghostwriter into a bestselling ghostwriter is [when]: the author is a major celebrity; they're on every TV and radio talk show; they're covered by all the periodicals or, they're someone like Elissa, caught up in the eye of a media storm. In other words, someone with whom the public is really familiar. Since I've been doing this, I've helped put eight books on the Times bestseller list; collectively the authors with whom I work have put close to 50 books on the list.

How did Stolen Innocence come about?
HarperCollins signed up Elissa Wall after seeing her on television and then came to me to find a ghostwriter and crash the book through. It was a complicated book because the author was in the witness protection program during the trial, making access even more difficult.

What made Lisa Pulitzer a perfect fit in your mind to write Stolen Innocence?
Lisa has an uncanny ability to capture someone's voice; she had already written a No. 1 Times bestseller on the Scott Peterson case, and she makes women feel very comfortable. She was working with a girl who was forced into marriage at the age of 14 and was completely traumatized by the incident. This book needed a delicate touch.

How fast do ghostwriters generally turn projects around?
Right now, I have two projects where the editors want the books delivered in a month to six weeks. Some ghostwriters can do two to three books a year; others are more deliberate and write one book a year. However, publishers are demanding books be written in even shorter time frames to coincide with media events -- be they TV shows, movie premieres, court cases, Mother's Day etc. As a ghostwriter, you have to have stamina to deal with the increased stress inherent in these short deadlines.

Do you have a stable of ghostwriters you turn to?
I have well over 100 -- they have all been previously published by the major publishing houses. I don't rep anyone exclusively because I work with so many. In this respect, I'm different [than] everyone else -- I function more like a talent agency. It also means that when an agent or editor comes to me I can offer them four to six writers from whom to choose because I have many writers in different fields.

If someone comes to me for a specific project and I don't have the right match, I will contact other agents or editors in the field and we split the commission on their writer equally. Conversely, agents come to me increasingly when they represent nonfiction writers who are so prolific that they can't keep them busy. If I find their writer a job, we again go 50/50. I am really only interested in people who have already been published. I do keep a B list of people not previously published for smaller jobs. I don't like doing the small books because it takes about the same amount of time as a big book and it pays less.

What about new additions to your roster?
I'm always looking for really qualified new writers; however, I don't like getting involved with ghostwriters who find me on the Internet unless they already have a proven track record. I no longer sell and am not interested in selling.

Are your writers generally from a nonfiction background?
Pretty much, yes. I occasionally take a person from fiction. Fiction is so arbitrary in terms of taste. To sell it, the editor needs to see at least 150 pages of manuscript – this can be expensive for the putative author, since they have to pay for the work. I prefer to stick to nonfiction: agents can sell on the strength of a full-blown proposal and a sample chapter. Since I've never worked in fiction, it's not my strong suit.

What about credit for the ghostwriter?
Sometimes the writer will get cover credit. Most importantly, the industry people know which books are written by someone else and at the end of the day, that's all that matters. Agents are looking for writers with a platform -- and even if they don't get cover credit, they all receive credit on the acknowledgment page.

Any tips for ghostwriters looking to break into the biz?
There's a real art to ghost writing. Number one, they have to have no ego, and they have to be able to capture the primary author's voice. Get your name out there, write as many articles as you can online or in magazines. Once writers have a good resume of articles, they have a much better chance of landing a book contract. Initially, they might start with the smaller, independent houses, but if they are sufficiently aggressive, they can move upward. I would also recommend that writers specialize in a particular field -- I find it much tougher to place writers who've written a little bit in many different areas. Writers have to decide on their area of interest and expertise and concentrate on it. Right now, I'm working on everything from a book with a stripper to a title with a famous American religious leader.

Andy Heidel is a blogger for GalleyCat.