Guru Guts Ghost

I’ve named this new blog after an actual thing a human in the universe once said to me. He’s a familiar player in the publishing industry. A guy from the South who’d hit the jackpot in the ’90s and ’00s with a string of nonfiction bestsellers, all of which you’ve heard of. “Jackpot” is not a fair word—his savvy, especially in marketing, led to those breakaways.

But it got to his head. He became a dick. He adopted the air of a cult leader. Was a champion schmoozer. He’d invite to his sprawling ranch potential author-clients he was courting. On a hill overlooking the ranch, he’d built a shrine to his favorite fictional character. Such visits to the ranch often cost his author-prospects hundreds of thousands in “consulting fees.”

You’d get your own room in one of the residential buildings on campus. Each room featured a guest book. In the one in my room, every past guest fawned as though this guy were the impresario who’d discovered the disciples and first decided to publish their improbable blockbuster and its sequel.

I was there because I’d ghosted two books for a particular author-client and his team. The Guru was trying to woo us away from our editor in New York. The first two books had boosted my author’s and his organization’s profile considerably. I’d literally lived at their facility for half a year to make that happen.

They’d asked me to write a proposal for their third book, the one we all thought would wind up a smash. A shit-ton of cash was on the table. I expected all I had to do was walk the potential new publisher through the project.

Slow your roll, Son.

It became clear to me a few minutes into his presentation that the Guru was attempting to muscle the contracted ghost – me – out. He started spouting pretend publishing statistics. No one misquotes Oprah and gets away with it. I politely interrupted à la Columbo, and inquired as to his source.



The author and his team with whom I’d toiled for two solid years would surely not stand for that kind of ghost-abuse. But they only looked down at their apple and cheese plates on the conference table. My nemesis had already sold them on another writer—himself.

I’d been flown out so an ax-man could boot my typing-monkey ass from the project.

The Guru ultimately couldn’t deliver on his over-promise. The book never made the bestseller lists, which is the real shame of this anecdote. And the author and his institution paid through the nose for the failure. It was already too late that day for me to try to save the project, to keep my author-client’s career-trajectory on the upswing. It was too late to save myself, or my feelings. Even typing monkeys have egos. I cried in the shrine that night.

A ghost doesn’t need to disappear—he’s already invisible.

I don’t offer this tale to bash my author-client. I love him still. And I’m not touting myself as some Trumpian “only-I-can-clean-up-this-mess” would-be hero. No one can promise nor predict anything in this business of awful exigencies and vulgar vagaries. But it doesn’t hurt to remember that not all ghosts are created equal, and that it’s better to judge from the quality of the work, on the page, where it counts, than from a song and a dance, or even a shrine and a ranch. In my experience, it’s the ones who promise you untold wealth who have the fewest qualms about enriching themselves at your expense.

Beware the guru schtick.

And welcome to the monkey suck.