SPS-353: An Insider’s Guide to Ghostwriting – with Cara Thurlbourn

Most writers need a side-hustle, especially at the beginning of their career. Cara Thurlbourn has found that ghostwriting with a reputable publishing company has enabled her to earn money writing while also improving her craft, and leaves her time to write her own books.

Show Notes

  • On the renaming of the SPF 101 course
  • The author’s essential task of balancing income and creative expression
  • What Cara gets paid as a ghostwriter
  • Ghostwriting as a way to learn to write to market
  • Is ghostwriting doing a disservice to readers?
  • Keeping away from conflicts of interest with one’s own writing
  • The positive impact on Cara’s writing because of ghostwriting
  • Using dictation to meet deadlines

Resources mentioned in this episode:

PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page

SPS LIVE 2023: Early bird tickets available now.

MERCH: Check out our new 2022 hoodies and t-shirts in the SPF Store.


SPS-353: An Insider’s Guide to Ghostwriting - with Cara Thurlbourn

Announcer: On this edition of The Self-Publishing Show.

Cara Thurlbourn: When it's ghost writing, it's very different. It helps you develop those skills and helps you learn how to be a bit more objective as well in a way. Not that I've ever worked with any mean editors, but they don't mind so much about hurting your feelings because it's not your project, it's not your heart and soul that's gone into it.

Announcer: Publishing is changing. No more gatekeepers, no more barriers, no one standing between you and your readers. Do you want to make a living from your writing?

Join indie bestseller Mark Dawson and first-time author James Blatch as they shine the light on the secrets of self-publishing success. This is the Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.

James Blatch: Hello and welcome to The Self-Publishing Show with me James Blatch.

Mark Dawson: And me Mark Dawson.

James Blatch: Mark Dawson, welcome. Have you had a good week?

Mark Dawson: I have, yeah. I should probably mention first of all, I've got to do a bicycle ride. As we record this, it's in about 10 days time. I'm going to do a little cycle ride around Wiltshire to be sponsored for helping our Ukrainian guests as they move out from us, with us, and going into their own place and any function, all that kind of stuff. So, I did a little kind of GoFundMe or just giving, hoping to raise about 5,000 pounds. And at the moment we've raised 12,000 pounds.

James Blatch: Wow.

Mark Dawson: Which is amazing. Lots of authors have contributed. So, thank you very much to everyone who has, it's made a massive difference. It's basically, I think, probably paid for their rent for a year, which is fantastic. So, everyone's been really generous. My readers as well. I actually have got a lot of readers chipped in and yeah, it's been great. Really lovely. So, I've got to do the bike ride now.

James Blatch: How far is this bike ride?

Mark Dawson: I'll do a 50 miles, so not too fast.

James Blatch: And this is on your bike with a battery and a pump motor?

Mark Dawson: No, I'm going to do it on a non-motorised, non-electric bike.

James Blatch: Wow, I am impressed. Well, funny enough, we are talking about what we are going to do next year. So I ran a half marathon this year. We did a hundred mile bike ride the year before. And my friends have been on the message saying, "What are we doing for '23?" And I'm thinking about London to Paris, biking, potentially doing the war fields in order to raise money for War British Legion or injured veterans and things. I'm just starting to plan it now, but it'll look like several hundred mile days, should be...

Mark Dawson: Wow, okay. Yeah, it will be great.

James Blatch: Yeah, I think we'll take the long ferry so we have a nice rest overnight on the...

Mark Dawson: Yes, good idea.

James Blatch: But anyway, yes. Okay, good. Well done, Mark. And well done for hosting a family. I know you are not the only one who listens, or you don't listen to the show, you're on the show, but people who listen to the show have also been hosting families, one of my neighbours has as well. And as we seem to be entering potentially an end game, I have no idea how it's going to pan out.

From the military point of view, a few things have been happening this week, including, I think, potentially a precursor to us finally delivering some air power there, because there's a big air defence system going in the next couple of weeks. So anyway, we're keeping an eye on that and hope that at some point there will be a conclusion that's a peaceful one. Fingers crossed.

Okay, let's talk about what we're going to talk about today. We've got a few things to get through, but then a really, really interesting interview. If you are really into writing, you love writing, you struggle to get your own books to sell or think about what you're going to do, there is another option which will have you writing novels and being paid for it, an indie, that is today's interview. So that's coming up shortly.

Let us first of all talk about the live show next year, Mark, which is June the 20th and 21st. Paid the deposit now, so we're definitely doing it. And that is going to be in London at the South Bank Centre, our same venue we had for the first two The Self-Publishing Show lives. This is the biggest gathering of indie authors in Europe. It's a fantastic opportunity to learn but also to meet your fellow authors in June in London, which is sometimes even warm and sunny. And we are opening tickets and early bird offer tickets as roughly 20% off. That is today from 2:00 PM UK. You'll be able to go to or /earlybird. They both go to the same place.

Now, we may or may not sell out during the early bird period, but I certainly wouldn't dillydally and the price is going to go up. I think the price is going to go up on December the 31st, so you've got to the end of this year if the tickets last long enough. And we're trying to keep costs as low as we can, but obviously, there is a price rising all over the place at the moment. We have already known we're going to be stuck for more organising this conference this year than we were last year, while we're doing what we can to keep the prices low.

Excited to see you all in London in June. It was a great event last time, and I think we definitely want to make it a fixture. We're very happily, I got the enthusiastic support of Amazon KDP who definitely want this conference to go ahead, and they want to be a big part of it. We know that quite a few other organisations and service providers to indie authors have been talking to us at the last conference we went to without them being involved, so there'll be a big weighty presence at this conference, as well as I think just your fellow authors is one of the most valuable things you get out of these conferences, right Mark?

Mark Dawson: Yeah, it's a really good chance to meet your fellow authors to find some enthusiasm. It's always the best way I think to kind of be enthused about what we do is to meet others who are doing it at the same time, so you can find commonalities and use that to give you a bit of momentum. And also, it's a good chance to network.

No one likes networking, I don't seem to like networking. I think that's a terrible word actually, I hate the word networking. I suppose it's an opportunity to meet people who can help you, so not just authors, but it's a great chance to meet the team from Amazon I've had a number of issues in the past with automated sweeps on books. There was nothing wrong with the books, but the bot thinks that there is, and it's very nice to be able to reach out to someone at Amazon who can help. And not just Amazon, I mean other providers, Draft2Digital will be there, Ricardo from Reedsy will be there and on and on and on. BookBub.

James Blatch: I know Brad West from Vellum is hoping to come. He's obviously going to let us try and plan that.

Mark Dawson: Tonnes of people, so it's a great chance to put names to faces, and also make connections that can really help you as you progress through your career. And that's apart from lots of great content that we'll have at the conference itself. And also going to beef up... the live ticket is going to be a bit more of an event this time as well, sorry not the live ticket but the digital ticket, so the recordings, we're going to be doing some extra stuff around that to make it... If you can't come for whatever reason, can't come to London, then we're going to try to come to you. So, we can do a second conference, but it'll be online. I'm still thinking about that, but we'll have some detail on that as we get closer to the end of the year.

James Blatch: Okay, so just to let you know, and when I say today, I mean Friday the 21st of October, depending on when you're listening to this, it will probably be open by the time you're listening to this. And that's URL again is or spsLive, which is our regular URL that goes to the same place. Good, looking forward to that.

Okay, we have another announcement to make, which is we have ceased Self-Publishing 101, our foundational course, the course that builds your platform for you to launch yourself as an indie author and has launched many indie authors. It's no longer, it has ceased to be, and has been relaunched or is going to be relaunched in November as Self-Publishing Launch Pad.

We thought it was time to spruce the course up to rebrand it and repackage it, so Self-Publishing Launchpad. If you are in 101, you'll automatically be enrolled in Launchpad. Don't worry about that. It's much the same content, but there are some changes here and there. We're working on it quite hard in the background.

If you're not in SPF, so in Self-Publishing 101, and you are thinking about it. I think next week, Mark, we can go into a bit more detail about what Launchpad is and whether it's going to be suitable for you. But in broad terms, this is the course that you talk to us about in the very early days of Self-Publishing Formula.

Before we even came up with that name, this was the course you wanted to build, isn't it?

Mark Dawson: Yeah, it is. Originally, I've mentioned this before, when I originally started thinking about what I would like to teach, it was going to be a very broad A to Z, this is what you need to do and these are the tools you could use or you can choose which ones you'd like to use. The process that I've been following for nearly 10 years. And when I looked at how big that was, I decided that I'd bitten off more than I can chew. So we focused down on just advertising, so that's the Ads For Authors course, which as it turns out is enormous now as well. But the 101 course as it was, or Launchpad as it is now, is the kind of bible that I refer to as I've developed what I do to sell books.

 So, it's a big course, it's comprehensive, it covers everything. And what we are doing now is we're giving it a lick of paint, because it hasn't really had that for three or four years. We are updating the content, so it's all accurate. Everything as we do with all our courses, we'll be doing this in a very systematic way. We're going through everything and making sure that what we teach is what you'll see.

So, as you said, all existing students will get that at no further charge. And I think is a pretty good course for people who are just getting started or getting started to intermediate level building the foundations for what we would hope would be a successful career.

James Blatch: Yeah. Good. Okay, that's going to be November 9th. We're going to launch Self-Publishing Launchpad, and we'll give you more details closer to the time of how you can look in at it in more detail and sign up.

 Okay, right. I think we're ready for our interview. Our interviewee today is Cara Thurlbourn. I actually met Cara, she came to the dinner that we had in Cambridge when Craig Martel was on his train journey through the UK. So, she lives locally to me, I think in Suffolk. Cara is somebody who has been writing her novels, not having as much success with them as she hoped, but has stumbled across the way of being paid to write novels. And she's absolutely loving it and she's making a decent money from it.

It's ghostwriting, which is something a bit of a loaded term I think controversial potentially, and that's something we explore. I think this is a bit of a demystifying interview about ghostwriting, at least this particular type of ghostwriting that Cara is doing. And certainly sounds like it could be an opportunity for a few of you, if that's the route you want to go down.

So, here's Cara and Mark and I, we will be back for a chat.

Cara Thurlbourn, welcome to the Self-Publishing Show. Lovely to have you on here. We've actually met, because we had a little author's dinner as part of Craig Martel's train talk with the UK.

Cara Thurlbourn: Yeah, we did. It was an interesting and funny mix-up at the end with the bill. I don't know if you remember?

James Blatch: I tried to pay for everyone.

Cara Thurlbourn: You did. Yeah. You kindly offered to pay for everybody, but the message got a bit mixed, so the waitress came and told us that Mark had paid for the meal. So, we all sent these gushing thank you messages to one of the people who'd attended, and not Mark.

James Blatch: And not Mark Dawson, but another Mark.

Cara Thurlbourn: So this poor guy got home and read through his emails and thought he'd just paid for dinner for 30 people.

James Blatch: Yes. There you go. Well it was a nice evening.

Cara Thurlbourn: Yeah, it was good. It was lovely.

James Blatch: Really good to meet you. And yeah, we got chatting on the night. Well, you are generally a writer, a fiction writer, but you're also a ghostwriter. I think that's what we're going to really major on tonight because I think it's a really interesting area, and I know that it's been successful for you.

Why don't you start Cara with a bit about yourself and your writing background.

Cara Thurlbourn: I knew you were going to ask me this. I've been trying to think about how I would actually summarise it. So, I think I always wanted to be a writer, but back in sort of 2009-2010, when I finished university, the indie landscape was so different then. Being a self-published author just wasn't really on my radar. So, instead of that, I decided to work in publishing.

I did an MA in publishing and then went to work in academic and educational for about 10 years. And literally, I think about when you guys started doing this podcast, I started listening to it and that was around when I started thinking, okay, being a writer is a thing that is something that you can make a living from, so it was then that I started formulating a plan.

James Blatch: So, you wanted to be a writer? That was clear.

Cara Thurlbourn: Yes. Literally always. My mom recently found something when they were moving house, which I listed what I wanted to be when I grew up, and number one was a Disney illustrator. I'm rubbish at art, so that didn't pan out. Number two was writing books and number three was making books. So, it's literally lifelong dream, but I'm sure a lot of us say that. So, that was when I started to think about actually making a plan to get out of publishing one day and write.

I don't know if you've ever heard the Neil Gaiman speech, a lot of people reference it where he talks about forging a career in the arts and how it's very difficult to kind of get that balance between working on your craft and actually making money, and it's really hard to make those decisions as you go along. And he talks about picturing a mountain... I'm paraphrasing really badly, but picturing a mountain and thinking about what's at the very top and making sure that what steps you take are either towards the mountain or maybe just a side step, but just not going backwards.

So for example, a job in journalism would be slightly closer, but a job in accounting would be far, far away.

James Blatch: Right.

Cara Thurlbourn: So, that was what I started to try and do, really. And when it came to the end of my maternity leave around 2018, that was kind of... I think a lot of women have it, it's that time where you think, okay, I've got to make a decision now, do I go back to work full time or do I go part time? And for me that was thinking, okay, if I went freelance and started doing freelance editing or other work, could I then start to build towards my own career as a writer?

At that point I had two not very well published young adult fiction books, which I think I'd written quite well. But because I worked in publishing, I thought I knew what I was doing. So, I did everything that a trad publisher would've done. I spent stupid money on PR and all that sort of stuff, but I wasn't making any money from it.

So, I started having to think about what jobs I was going to take that would bring money in, but also allow me to work on my craft as a writer. And to start with that was editing jobs, I worked with some other authors, non-fiction authors because that was what my day job was in. And then towards I think 2019, I was literally formatting books with Vellum for a publisher, and they are a publisher that their whole business model is ghostwriters and editors and that kind of, I think, maybe a story studio, that sort of thing.

James Blatch: Right.

Cara Thurlbourn: And they literally sent out an email to everybody who freelanced for them saying, "Don't forget, there's a referral bonus if you send a writer in our direction." At which point I thought, hang on a minute, you pay people to write and you just write the words and you get paid per word. That sounds amazing.

I didn't have any experience ghostwriting. I had these two novels out, which were in completely unrelated genres, but I sent them some of my stuff and that was how it got started really. So fast forward to today at the moment, for the last couple of years, ghostwriting has been my main form of income while I work on my own stuff.

James Blatch: Do you do it through that company?

Cara Thurlbourn: Yeah, so I've done some private freelance projects, but the bulk of my work for the last couple of years has been through this particular publisher.

James Blatch:x Right. And even with you being paid via based effectively an agency that takes a pretty big cut, I mean they're just paying you, you are still finding that a profitable use of your time.

Cara Thurlbourn: Yes, so the way that ghostwriting works, because I think there's a couple of people maybe don't understand how it works. You're working for somebody else, you are essentially creating a product for them, they pay you for your services, and then you give it away and you don't have any rights to it. But so on average, I probably am paid about $3,000 per book.

So if you then think about how many copies of a self-published book you would have to sell in order to make that money, that's a lot of copies. And obviously, going forward you give up your rights to be named as the author, which I think is the thing that's the sticking point for a lot of people. But I think especially if you do it in the right way, it's more of a collaborative process, so it's not my story, it's not my ideas, it's somebody else's, I'm just writing it for them.

James Blatch: Okay. Well, I've got lots of questions about ghostwriting, so we're going to get into that. But just a little bit more on the business side of things.

How much work do you have? Do you constantly have a queue of people?

Cara Thurlbourn: I'm currently fully booked until March next year, which in terms of, again, being a writer and having a regular income is not something that many people have, actually knowing, okay, this project is... so I'm in the middle of a six-book series at the moment. This project is going to last until the end of March next year. I know exactly how many words per book, I know exactly how much I get per word.

There's different milestones, so each time I hand in say 10,000, 20,000 words, I get paid, and I deliberately don't book up my calendar too much. So, I'm now luckily at the stage where I'm able to start saying this particular company, those are the only books I'm going to do and I've got X amount of time for my own stuff as well. But that's been a slow buildup. To start with, that really was the priority, and I was taking every job that I could get. But now that my stuff is starting to grow, it's kind of switching a little bit.

James Blatch: And when you're ghostwriting, what's your typical word count?

Cara Thurlbourn: So, the books are about 80,000. I hope per hour, I tend to write about 2,500-3,000 words an hour. But again, that's something that ghost writing has really helped with. So, it's worth your while if you are faster, because your hourly rate goes up. And obviously, you've got to be clean and fast because the editing hours are capped.

I would say if anybody's ever thinking about hiring a ghostwriter, make sure that you have that conversation at the beginning, because, obviously, you could hand in something quite shoddy and then have to do lots and lots of rewrites. So, the idea is generally it's 80,000 words, we're expecting there'll be some rewrites to do, but it shouldn't be extensive.

James Blatch: Okay. What's interesting about this is that I've discovered that I'm not really a discovery writer slowly in the process of writing. Everyone thinks they're discovery writers, but I like to know what's going to happen in a scene. And I write faster, more efficiently and better when it's plotted out for me, and I've plotted it out rather, and then I'm writing it. So, I'm currently sort of re-plotting book three at the moment.

That sounds to me like ghostwriting, but I'm not going to go into ghostwriting, but it would suit my style of writing because you sit there knowing what it is you're going to write.

Cara Thurlbourn: Yeah, absolutely. And when I started I had no idea if I was going to like it or hate it because I thought I was a discovery writer. I thought that I hated the idea of having a plot and it would take all the fun out of it. And when I first started... The publishing company called Relay Publishing, I'm sure they'll be inundated now with applications, but they are brilliant to work for, and they always pay for any trials that you do.

So that's another thing I would say is if you ever do a trial for a ghostwriting project as a writer, make sure you're paid for your time because otherwise you're just giving it away for free.

James Blatch: What do you mean by trials? Is a sample of what?

Cara Thurlbourn: So yeah, so they literally said, "Okay, this book is..." the very first one I did was psychological fiction, "Here's an outline for four chapters, write them, and then we'll discuss whether we want to work together." Because also it's important that you feel like you're going to enjoy the project as much as they feel like you're going to suit the project.

When I started I had no idea if I was going to enjoy it or not. And actually, it's really freeing because if you've got the outline there and you're not having to worry about the characters and what they're doing, and I think especially when someone else has plotted it for you, the whole book is planned out so you can really focus on actually your craft and how well you are writing it. I find it quite freeing, which I never expected, but it is. And that's then translated to my own work more. So, I don't plot in as much detail, but I do plot a lot more with my own stuff than I used to.

James Blatch: So you mentioned fiction work there. In my mind most ghostwriting is some kind of entrepreneur's built up a business and wants a book as a calling card. But the fiction ghostwriting is a bit more controversial really.

I can imagine quite a few people listen to this thinking, is that right? Is that ethical? So let's talk about that for a little bit.

Cara Thurlbourn: I think you're right, and I did a talk once at... I think it was, the Women's Institute and I was supposed to be talking about my own stuff and mentioned ghostwriting, and then the whole thing became focused on that because they were very uneasy at the idea that readers are reading books, and they think that it's written by this author kind of persona that's built up, and it's actually completely made up.

So Relay, I'm using them as an example because they're the main people I've worked with. They're very open about it. If you look at their website and if you look at the copyright page, they're very open about the fact that they use ghostwriters and that's how the book is written. And actually it's a great exercise in writing to market I think when you do it that way, because it's totally about the reader and it's a very collaborative process.

The outlines are developed by outline writers, editors. I've just started to get involved in the outlining as well, which again, I didn't think I would enjoy, but I do actually quite enjoy that talking to other people and coming up with ideas, because I think as writers we are quite solitary, we don't have that very often. So actually sitting down and saying, "What do you think of this? And maybe we could do that." That's quite an enjoyable process, so that's how these particular books are started that an outline team come up with, and they analyse the market as well, so they go, what genre are we going to move into next? What's popular at the moment?

James Blatch: Are these small imprints or is this Relay themselves commissioning?

Cara Thurlbourn: This is Relay themselves. Yeah, it's all remote staff, freelancers from all around the world, and this is their entire business model. I can't remember when they started, but this is how they produce their books. They look at what genre is popular. So, when I started with them I was doing psychological fiction, but I'm now doing post-apocalyptic fiction, which again, as a writer is great to have that different exposure to different genres.

James Blatch: Is the name on the book then a made up author's name?

Cara Thurlbourn: Yes, completely made up. And there could be multiple ghostwriters writing as one author at the same time, but obviously, that's when the editing teams come in to make sure that it's all kind of similar.

James Blatch: Similar voice.

Cara Thurlbourn: Yeah.

James Blatch: Interesting. I mean, there's more of this than we probably imagine. In fact, at the top level you've got people at James Patterson who...

Cara Thurlbourn: Yes.

James Blatch: I hope I'm not going to libel him here because it'd be expensive if I am, but I know now if you go look at James Patterson book, it says with so and so. And the same with Clive Cussler, I mean, he died two years ago, and I think his next book's going to be out next month because I tend to read them.

I think there was a time when James Patterson just had James Patterson on the front cover of his book, but actually he was working with other people who are doing the writing.

Cara Thurlbourn: Yeah, and I've been approached by quite big authors who've said, "I want to start a new pen name. I don't want to abandon my old pen name. Would you consider ghostwriting it for me so that I can move on to this new stuff? Because I don't want to let my readers down, so I'll still be coming up with the storylines and would you write it?"

So, I think it is probably more common than people realise, but it's very hush hush. And as a writer trying to get into it as well, it tends to be one of those, you fall into it by just luck and that's how you get started. It can be quite frustrating if you are looking actively to try and get into it.

James Blatch: I suppose there's a difference between you writing a book, let's say, it's A.B. Smith is the author name they've come up with for this apocalyptic series, and two or three other writers also writing in the series. That's different from me for instance, James Blatch, coming to you saying, look, I can't be bothered to actually write these books anymore. Can you write them and publish them as James Blatch and taking the plaudits.

That feels to me like that's the line that's a bit dodgy.

Cara Thurlbourn: Yes, and I think from my point of view, that's what a lot of people think ghostwriting is. You see these jobs on Upwork and various other platforms where it'll be like, I want somebody to come up with the plot, come up with the outline, and write the book, and I'll pay you $200. And that is not something that I would recommend anyone ever does because then that really is your work and you are just giving it over to somebody else.

But when you work for a publisher or somebody who's going to maybe give you a co-writing credit, something like that, that's a little bit different, because I think especially when you're doing it for a publisher, it's really they're the client, you're a paid writer and it's not your ideas and it's not your baby in the same way. I don't feel any ownership over it because it is such a joint thing.

 And it is the case where I'll be like... I can email the editor and say, "Oh, do you think maybe we could add this?" And she'll go, "No, that doesn't work." And if that's your own book you probably feel a bit like, "Oh, but I thought that was a really good idea." When it's ghostwriting it's very different, and I think it helps you develop those skills and helps you learn how to be a bit more objective as well in a way, because you get used to... Not that I've ever worked with any mean editors, but they don't mind so much about hurting your feelings because it's not your project. It's not your kind of heart and soul that's gone into it.

James Blatch: So, in all cases when you're ghostwriting, the plot has been done by a team or somebody else. You are never asked to, "We want a contemporary romance book set in a small town, can you plot it?"

Cara Thurlbourn: No, and I wouldn't do that sort of job because then it does for me, that's where the line would get blurred because then I would feel like I am giving away my ideas, and I might as well do it myself. And I think with Relay, certainly, and I'm sure other publishers do the same thing, there's a conflict of interest clause in the contract so I can write anything I like but not in the same genre, because that would get too messy, because where do you separate your own ideas and your own voice from theirs?

James Blatch: And you still write YA?

Cara Thurlbourn: Yeah, so I write Young Adult under my own name, and then I have a women's fiction pen name, and I recently launched a Paranormal Romance pen name as well.

James Blatch: These are genres that you wouldn't accept ghostwriting or you wouldn't be able to, essentially.

Cara Thurlbourn: Yes, so no I wouldn't. No, and I've had people approach me and similarly I've had people approach me to ask if I could help them with their TikToks for those genres, because I do quite a lot on TikTok. And I've said no because it would be a conflict of interest because I do that stuff for me, so yeah, how would I separate at what point I go, hang on a minute, I don't want to do too well for them because then it's going to impact me. So, if it's ghost writing or anything like that, I separate it out from the ones that I write for myself.

James Blatch: How well are these plotted? What does the plot look like? Is it very detailed as an outline?

Cara Thurlbourn: They are super, super, super detailed. So literally, you have the proper full on character breakdowns of their physical characteristics, their past, their relationship with their parents. They're very, very detailed because you have to get to know them, and actually that's quite a large part of the project with Relay is getting to know the outline and discussing that with the editors and making sure that you don't have any problems with it.

A couple of times I've been like, oh, I don't really understand why this character would do this, are we sure that it has to happen this way? And sometimes it's a case of they just explain the thinking behind it and you go, oh right, yeah, okay that makes sense. I just need to weave that into the story, and other times it's like I really feel like we need to tweak this somehow, so it's not completely set in stone. It's not like if you really felt like something didn't work that you would have to do it anyway.

I think when you work with individual authors. So, if I was working with a James Blatch on James' novel, that gets a little bit more difficult to manage because then it is personal. I've worked on a couple where somebody has for example, written like 50,000 words of their novel, and they know it needs to be 80,000. And they've said help it, there needs to be more to the plot, I need you to bulk it up. And those are pretty difficult, because then it is personal and if you say to them, this really doesn't work, I feel like it needs to change, that's a difficult conversation to have. But when it's that kind of collaboration it's quite easy and it's quite fun as well, like I said.

James Blatch: So, you do take some freelance job outside of Relay or you don't?

Cara Thurlbourn: I don't anymore, but I did to start with, so I still was quite picky. So like I said, when you look on the various freelance platforms or wherever you find these jobs, you can tell the ones that are going to be just not worth your time, and you do have to make that decision between, okay, I need to bring in some money, but I also need to value my own time and working on my career and my craft as well. So, there is a point at which it's like okay, I really need to know my own value and what I'm going to accept and what I'm not going to accept.

James Blatch: Yes, because this is a lot of investment time, isn't it? You don't want to be 50,000 words through, and then realise this is not going to work or they're never going to be happy.

Cara Thurlbourn: Yeah, I think as well with the private projects, you do have to get to that stage where you're like, okay, I've given them my advice, and it's the same if you're coaching or anything like that, you can only do so much. You give someone your suggestions and if they don't want to take it, then you just have to bite your tongue and get on with it.

And to be fair, that's the same with the Relay projects that I've done, except I've never had that situation, because it's so focused on the reader and that's the end game is to make something that the reader is going to really like.

James Blatch: That's a great commercial attitude for us all to have actually to constantly be focused on the reader. That's a good thing to learn.

Cara Thurlbourn: Absolutely. So every decision we make is just actually not about whether the outline writer is going to be... their feelings will be hurt or whatever it says.

James Blatch: Is the reader going to turn the page?

Cara Thurlbourn: Yeah, is this going to make it a better book or not? And if it is, then it needs to be done.

James Blatch: How much writing do you do before it goes back for them to have a look at during the process?

Cara Thurlbourn: We have check-ins as we go along. So, every sort of 20,000 words, which again, if you're ever, I know a lot of people don't even know where to start and what looks like a good contract and what doesn't. I think those check-ins are really important because it gives you that opportunity for them to say, "Hang on, take a step back, we need to fix something here." Or for you to say, "I'm not very happy, can we do this before it gets to that end stage where you've spent God knows how many hours on it, and then you are stuck with, okay, my editing hours are capped at 10 hours, but there's loads more work to do." It prevents that from happening because you get that chance to talk as you go along.

James Blatch: So with your writing speed, you're doing a book every month and a bit, maybe?

Cara Thurlbourn: So, it's spaced out. With my own stuff I produce quicker and with the Relay stuff... they're pretty good. So they're like, how long do you want, basically, for each check-in. And I deliberately give a bit longer because I want to be able to give it my full attention.

James Blatch: Rushing through deadlines. Yeah.

Cara Thurlbourn: Time to squeeze it. Yeah, exactly.

James Blatch: No one likes deadlines, that's why we're self-publishing.

Cara Thurlbourn: Yeah, and that's another thing, actually, is the deadline part of it is a really important skill that definitely I've had to get used to, because you don't have the option to be like, oh, I really don't feel like it today. With my own stuff, if I'm really not feeling it, I just won't do it. I'm not one of those people who can make myself do it. But when somebody else's entire publishing schedule is dependent on you being on time, and if you don't get the words done, then the proofreader doesn't get theirs and then somebody else doesn't get theirs, you've got to do it. So, it really helps you to get used to that feeling of working through the uncomfortableness. Because I think we avoid the uncomfortable, don't we? If it's uncomfortable to sit down and write, you do something else, anything else. But when you've got a deadline and it's somebody else's deadline, you just have to do it.

James Blatch: Or it just goes to show the old thing about there is no such thing as writer's block, which is...

Cara Thurlbourn: Well, yeah, and I suppose with that element of it, because it's been plotted out, that helps.

James Blatch: Yes.

Cara Thurlbourn: You can't have the excuse of I didn't know what to write, because it's already been done. But there's definitely the feeling of I don't really want to do it, and you have to do it.

James Blatch: It sounds like you really enjoy this aspect of it.

Cara Thurlbourn: I do. Yeah, I do.

James Blatch: And I think that in itself would be surprising. Before we'd heard everything you've talked about and you've added a lot of nuance to what happens to ghostwriting already in this interview. But I think a lot of people would think, I would never feel satisfied ghostwriting. But you clearly are in a situation where you do.

Cara Thurlbourn: Yeah, and I think because I like working with other people and that was part of my publishing career that I really enjoyed was working in a department of other people, so being an indie author, you just don't have that. And especially a lot of us, I know I think you work with a development editor, don't you? On your books, but a lot of indies can't afford to do that. So, we kind of skip that part and go straight to a copy editor. So actually having that kind of creative collaboration is really enjoyable. And it's actually at the point now where it's kind of like, I could probably give it up, but I don't really want to because it's actually providing something more valuable than just the money now. That make sense?

James Blatch: Yes, it does. It absolutely makes sense.

And one of the values you're getting from it is the impact on your own writing, which you've said a couple of times in the interview you felt has really benefited from this.

Cara Thurlbourn: Yeah, definitely. I think the speed, obviously, but also writing cleaner. And it's the same with anything, if you work with an editor, you pick up on the fact that you have certain, I used to have an obsession with semicolons and my editor hates it.

James Blatch: I love a semicolon.

Cara Thurlbourn: I might still have it. I think I'm over it.

James Blatch: No, I'm the same. It's been edited out of me. I hardly ever use them now, but I still love them.

Cara Thurlbourn: In the last two and a bit years I've done nearly 20 books, ghostwritten. So, when you've done that many and you've worked with an editor that many times, your writing's going to get cleaner. You're going to get to understand what you are doing a lot. And definitely it's getting to the stage now where it's very, very clean and faster, so that's good.

Another thing I think it's done is dictation, which I hate with a passion with my own stuff, but it forced me to get into it. Because I had a really weird eye injury earlier in the year, and I just couldn't focus on the screen when I was typing. And if that had been my own stuff, I would've just not done it. I would've just delayed the pre-order and gone, I can't work for six months, I'm not doing it. But I had to because I'd signed a contract, I had to get it done. So I just had to dive in. And I think because of the detailed outline, that obviously helped as well. Definitely, I would not have even started dictating if it wasn't for that.

James Blatch: How did you force yourself to dictate? I think I'm in the chair that lots of people have started and given up far too soon without properly pushing through, but I have not.

Cara Thurlbourn: I think actually it was... I think you did an interview with Rachel McLean.

James Blatch: Yeah.

Cara Thurlbourn: And she said that she gave up on all the dragon dictation and all those sorts of things and just spoke into the iPhone app, whatever it was, and tidied up the punctuation afterwards. And that was the light bulb moment for me, because having to keep going, "Full stop, new paragraph, start quotation marks," I couldn't do it. My brain was stalling, I just couldn't do it. So once I put that aside and decided to just talk, that was the turning point I think. And also having the really detailed outline, because then I wasn't having to think at the same time as speak.

James Blatch: Yes.

Cara Thurlbourn: I still prefer typing.

James Blatch: Yes.

Cara Thurlbourn: But as writers again, it's like if you have an injury that stops you from typing and that's your main form of income.

James Blatch: You'll learn to do it right.

Cara Thurlbourn: Yeah, exactly.

James Blatch: I'll give it another go. I keep saying I got to give it another go.

Cara Thurlbourn: Yeah, I think the problem is when you don't need to do it, and that's what made me do it because I had to do it. I didn't have a choice. It was either that or have to say, "I can't finish the book." And then what happens then? So, it had to be done, so that was the difference. I definitely wouldn't have done it if it was just my own stuff.

James Blatch: I could definitely do with upping my word count, so there's that kind of need to do it. And I get a limited period of time.

Cara Thurlbourn: It definitely is. It's the difference between 2,500 words an hour to 2,500 words in 20 minutes.

James Blatch: Yeah.

Cara Thurlbourn: That's the difference. And obviously, it takes you time to edit it if you're not doing the punctuation and stuff, but it's still a lot of words down.

James Blatch: Yeah, always thinking. Whenever I talk about dictation, I always think I must give it another go.

Cara Thurlbourn: Yeah.

James Blatch: Where you are now, you're not scaling back, but you're being a bit more selective about your projects from Relay.

Cara Thurlbourn: Yeah, so I'm fully scheduled with them until March next year, and I'm not taking upon any private projects at all now. So, we'll see. I really think I will still continue doing it because I enjoy it so much. But definitely, my own writing is making me money now, so I'm in that lucky situation now where...

James Blatch: How many books you have out now, Cara? Your own books?

Cara Thurlbourn: Personally, I've got 18.

James Blatch: Wow.

Cara Thurlbourn: Yeah, since...

James Blatch: From 2018?

Cara Thurlbourn: Yeah. Across three different pen names, so I've got a couple of young adult ones with an actual publisher, and then I've got my women's fiction pen name and then my Paranormal pen name, which I started earlier this year. So, across those.

James Blatch: Okay, so Cara, I'm just having a look on Amazon now, I think people will probably have a look at your books. So Cara Thurlbourn is your... which nickname?

Cara Thurlbourn: Yes.

James Blatch: Which one is this? This is the YA.

Cara Thurlbourn: So those are the young adult books. Yeah.

James Blatch: Okay.

Cara Thurlbourn: Yup.

James Blatch: And what are your other pen names? Are you happy to give this out or are they secret?

Cara Thurlbourn: I'll give you the women's fiction one, but I'm not giving you the paranormal romance one because it's really spicy and if my mum reads it, I will die.

James Blatch: I'm going to send it. I'm going to find it, I'm going to send it to your mum.

Cara Thurlbourn: To be fair, you could find it if you...

James Blatch: Look at this filth, I'm going to say to Ms. Thurlbourn.

Cara Thurlbourn: Yeah. You could find it if you did some digging. But I shared it with my sister, she read the first page and she went, I can't read anymore.

James Blatch: I understand that.

Cara Thurlbourn: And it's just because I couldn't write it if I knew that anyone I know is going to read it, so the women's fiction is Poppy Pennington-Smith

James Blatch: Poppy Pennington-Smith, what a brilliant name.

Cara Thurlbourn: Yeah, it was my grandmother's surname.

James Blatch: Oh.

Cara Thurlbourn: And Poppy was her favourite flower, so there you go. But it's literally two sides of the coin. That's another reason I don't want to give it out because my poppy is sweet clean. As clean as you like romance.

James Blatch: Yeah, so you don't want to mix those for sure.

Cara Thurlbourn: They don't even have a... barely have a kiss on page. So the difference between that and the paranormal romance is massive.

James Blatch: They look really lovely covers by the way. They look absolutely on point.

Cara Thurlbourn: Thank you. I actually did them myself.

James Blatch: Oh, they look great.

Cara Thurlbourn: Yeah, it took ages, and it was one of those things where it was was like... Because I used to do nonfiction covers all the time, and then I thought I can do fiction covers. And it took flipping ages and it got to the point where I was like, I really should have just paid someone to do it because it's taken me so long.

James Blatch: Oh, they look great. Well this is exciting. I mean, it's really interesting getting under the skin of ghostwriting. It's a bit of a mysterious area, you've spoken really openly about, and I think, certainly from my point of view, demystified some of the preconceptions we may have had.

Cara Thurlbourn: I hope so. Because I think it's really hard when you are in that position of trying to make a living but also trying to make writing your full-time business, and basically, that's what ghostwriting allowed me to do. When I first finished my maternity leave, I was doing editing projects and things like that, which in Neil Gaiman speak were side steps, but they weren't getting me any closer to what I actually wanted in terms of my goals. Whereas ghostwriting has actually allowed me to do that.

James Blatch: That's exactly how you started the interview. I think lots of people will have some sort of side hustle along with their writing to try and make it pay, which hopefully is related to writing. It's either blurbs or for other people or doing some editing on the side or something. But in your case, your side hustle is writing as well, which is what you want to do.

Cara Thurlbourn: Yes, exactly. Exactly. I remember the thrill the first time that I actually handed in some chapters and got paid for those chapters per word. It was just mind blowing to me. And I think it was just 12-year-old me being like, someone's paying you to write words.

James Blatch: If people wanted to look up the book that you're ghostwriting, is there something you can give out? Can you tell us where to go?

Cara Thurlbourn: If you go to the Relay Publishing website, they've got all of their ghost names and things like that and they also list any genres that they're currently looking for writers in. I really would encourage people to have a look at it if they're looking to make, I mean, really are going to be inundated now with applications. But yeah, in terms of just being... Because there are so many sketchy projects out there that it's hard to know what's going to be a good project to take on.

James Blatch: You certainly rate Relay as a good job.

Cara Thurlbourn: Yeah, absolutely. In terms of upfront contracts being very easy and lovely to work with and actually pay on time, which is marvellous.

James Blatch: Yes. Well so there's a lot of abs and torsos on here straight away on the website.

Cara Thurlbourn: Yes, so they asked me actually if I wanted to go on their list for their abs and torsos, and I turned that down recently, because I'm obviously doing the paranormal. Which isn't exactly the same, but still it crosses over.

James Blatch: Yeah, a bit of a crossover there.

Cara Thurlbourn: Yeah.

James Blatch: Great. Well Cara, thank you so much indeed for coming on. It's been really genuinely illuminating.

Cara Thurlbourn: Thank you. It's been amazing. My son is so excited that I'm going to be on YouTube. He's five and he doesn't care one jot about the fact that I'm a writer, but when I said I was going to be on YouTube, he was like, "Mommy, that's amazing."

James Blatch: And the weirdest thing is for a five-year-old brought up today, they wouldn't care if you're on BBC One. Well they wouldn't see you or notice about it, but on YouTube that's a big thing, right?

Cara Thurlbourn: I mean if I was on YouTube holding a dinosaur, that would be better.

James Blatch: Yes, you could have always picked up a dinosaur if you wanted. Next time.

Cara Thurlbourn: Next time.

James Blatch: Okay, Cara, thank you so much. We must do dinner again.

Cara Thurlbourn: Thank you. Yes.

James Blatch: I know there's call for that, and a couple of people have said they're in the area who would like to join us. I don't know who organised it, was it you who organised it last time?

Cara Thurlbourn: It was me. I'm dodging the bullet for the next time.

James Blatch: There's an old adage in life is you want something done, ask a busy person.

Cara Thurlbourn: Yes, that is definitely true. It was one of those things where I volunteered for it, and I genuinely thought that loads of other people would volunteer, and it ended up being me and I was like, oh.

James Blatch: What made you think anyone else was going to volunteer?

Cara Thurlbourn: But yes, we must, and we won't make you pay for the next one.

James Blatch: We'll make Mark pay.

Cara Thurlbourn: Yeah.

James Blatch: Yeah.

Cara Thurlbourn: Which Mark?

James Blatch: Yes, which Mark. Doesn't matter, as long as it's Mark. Just tell them Mark's paying. Okay, brilliant. We're getting very bogged down in that, but we will let you know. I'll let people know on the podcast if we do do have dinner again. If you're in the area, come along and say hello. Brilliant.

 Cara, thank you so much indeed. Brilliant interview.

Cara Thurlbourn: Thank you.

James Blatch: And yeah, we'll catch up again soon.

Cara Thurlbourn: Okay. Bye.

James Blatch: Okay, Mark, I know you haven't heard this interview yet, so I'll just give you the gist of it that we've just been hearing Cara talk about. So, she works basically for a small imprint that publishes romance series and other genre series under pen names with multiple writers writing into them, and she gets paid per word and works with editors and writes these books and absolutely loves it.

I think she loves the fact that she has the freedom just to be a writer and a guaranteed income as a result of that. And it's taking over her writing. So, I thought it was really interesting.

Ghostwriting is controversial. Isn't the idea that sort of controversial. I mean, the idea, if we found out that somebody who fairly prominent in our community didn't write their own books, they were just the name on the cover, I think most people take a dim view of that. But at the same time, some pretty big writers on the planet, I mean, Clive Cussler is the one I talk about quite a lot, because I read his books. I think they are quite good.

Mark Dawson: James Patterson...

James Blatch: James Patterson is another one.

Mark Dawson: the bigger one. Or dead authors like...

James Blatch: Well, Clive Cussler's dead. Yeah.

Mark Dawson: Yeah, also there's another one, name's leaving me now, but there's another.

James Blatch: Robert Ludlum, is he still alive? I don't know.

Mark Dawson: Yeah, he's dead. Ian Fleming, I mean he's not quite as elegant as everyone knows that Ian Fleming is dead. But there are plenty of books written, we have Bond books written by other authors, usually under their own names to be fair. But yeah, I don't think it matters. At the end of the day, the reader just wants an entertaining story and provided that it's good quality, it's well written, it doesn't matter, who cares.

I had a couple, I wrote some books well but with Steve Kavanaugh, who's now doing very, very well in trad. Michael Ridpath, Scott Mariani who's well known. They've written books in my Milton universe kind of connected books, or even full novels and readers don't care. They enjoy it.

James Blatch: I think at the James Patterson, Clive Cussler level, it's a brand that they're using to get the books to readers. And I think Clive died a couple of years ago, but funny enough in a bookshop yesterday, I picked up one of his books and looked in the inside cover and it had a list over the two pages of all his books. And there were dozens of them, and the majority of them said with so and so.

Mark Dawson: Yeah. Yeah.

James Blatch: The majority, I mean, in fact, Russell Blake had written a couple of them.

Mark Dawson: Yes, he has. Yeah.

James Blatch: He's a guest on this show in the past. Yeah, but we know what we're going to get with Clive Cussler. It's a bit like what we talk about with your cover and your marketing should say what you're going to get in the book, that'll match it up to the right reader. That's what this process does, isn't it?

Mark Dawson: Yeah, absolutely. So no, first authors who just aren't comfortable or can't... all you can write but find it difficult to sell. This is a perfectly valid way to make money with your writing. Again, good luck to Cara and everyone else is doing it. I think it's a good idea. Kudos.

James Blatch: Good. Okay, well thank you very much indeed, Cara. It was a really good interview, and I thought you explained everything very clearly, very illuminating for us.

Just to remind you that tickets for the Self-Publishing Show Live London 2023 are on sale with an early bird discount. You need to snap across to, all one word, and you'll get about 20% off and that price will go up if there's tickets left, they will go in general sale in the new year.

That, Mark Dawson, is it for today. You better get on your Peloton and start getting training for your 50 mile ride. I want to see a good average time when you post it on Strava.

Mark Dawson: Slightly. I'm getting old now. I got out of bed this morning, stretched, and pulled one of my muscles out in my back. I was like, oh my God, what an injury getting out of bed. So, that kind of sums it up really. I'll be fine.

James Blatch: You look fine to me.

Mark Dawson: No, that's true. I'm not. I'm doing Peloton, because I've been a bit unwell last... I had a bit of illness after coming back from NINC for about a week. But I feel fine now. Back on the bike. Did a good session yesterday, half an hour, and yeah, it's great. Feel kind of buzzing afterwards with all the endorphins flying around.

James Blatch: Yes.

Mark Dawson: It feels pretty cool. So, I'll be doing that. Might go for a run today, I think, just because I think it might be easier on the old shoulder, but we'll see.

James Blatch: Well, I've been doing some late night. I'm a New York Mets fan, as you know, and all season they've been doing really, really well. But I did say to you tonight, a few weeks ago, I felt that they were just running out of steam at the wrong time going into the playoffs. So, my plan was to watch them through the playoffs late at night, I could sit on my bike and do an hour cycling for the first hour of the game. But their post-season lasted nine innings, and that's that, so they're done. Although the Braves did lose last night, so there's something for Mets to enjoy. Sorry if you're listening to this, Ernie. Okay. Thank you very much. By the way, I watched your Dolphins lose as well this week. I thought I watched some NFL, the Dolphins.

Mark Dawson: It's a bit unfair. The Dolphins have... it's a very long podcast if we start getting into that, but they've had really bad luck.

James Blatch: Yeah, they got some injuries. I know.

Mark Dawson: Massive injuries. Yeah. Anyway, don't get me started.

James Blatch: No. Okay, let's not go down that rabbit hole. If you're still listening. Thank you both of you for the show.

Mark Dawson: Thanks, mom.

James Blatch: Yeah, yeah, thanks, Gill. Like they'd listen. That's it from me. All that remains for me to say is a goodbye from him.

Mark Dawson: And a goodbye from me. Goodbye.

James Blatch: Goodbye.

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