As I found my way as a novice attorney, I developed a personal mantra that became the cornerstone of my legal career: “Every client is the only client.”
Despite the glamor and intellectual challenge of the work, especially within the theatrical ambiance of court appearances, I early latched onto the perspective that I was in the service business, professional services to be sure, but the service business nonetheless.
I was privileged to represent an amazing array of local, national, and international clients, from a Nobel Prize winner and Fortune 100 companies and executives to the homeless, terminated employees, and other pro bono clients, among countless others. I realized early how easy it was unthinkingly to favor and prioritize clients according to their financial status or social power and I aimed to avoid the allure.
Each time I entered a courtroom or other neutral forum on behalf of a client, my charge was to bring passion and commitment to advance the client cause, no matter its nature and odds of success. I had to be the voice of the client and tell their story from their vantage point. I had, as best I could, step into their shoes and get decision-makers, be they jury, judge, or arbitrator, to do the same and have them take stock of the world through client eyes. Each client deserved no less.
The same goes for memoir clients.
Like attorneys, ghostwriters are in the service business. Our job is to apply the range and depth of our skill and talent to advance the client mission and achieve the client goal. We are duty-bound to give expression to their voice to reach their audience and tell their story the way they want it told.
I belong to various writing associations. Fellow ghostwriters are not shy about expressing frustration from memoir client experiences. I understand the angst. It isn’t always easy. Memoir clients run the gamut from sophisticated to naïve and stubborn. Like law clients, they can be a joy to work with or present a difficult struggle each step of the way.
But we can’t realistically expect every memoir client to be smooth sailing. And we certainly cannot reasonably expect them to understand the often confounding and unforgiving realities of the literary and publishing market. Nor can we expect clients always to appreciate the subtleties of effective writing. Unlike us, they are not trained in the art and craft of writing.
What we can expect is that they each will have different needs, experiences, and sensibilities and want to give life to their dreams in different ways. They are entitled too, dare I say, to be wrong about what they insist upon.
As we service memoir clients, we have constant opportunity to provide a professional point of view, a perspective grounded in years of experience and know-how. We’ve been there. We know what works best. We should advocate for how we believe aspects of the experience should be handled. We owe the client that much.
On the other hand, we have to accept when the client insists on doing it their way, even if it strikes us as irrational or unreasonable, so long as ethical and legal boundaries are respected. It is their work. We are servicing them. They are entitled to take what they like from what we provide—and discard the rest.
Sure, sometimes it is super hard and severely tests our mettle and patience. And sometimes, the relationship isn’t a good fit. But by and large, memoir clients are entitled to be demanding. They are entitled to test our commitment to service them well. We take each as they come.
That doesn’t mean we have to treat each the same. On the contrary. We have to understand our client and meet them where they are. When I was a high school basketball coach, virtually every player presented different traits and personality quirks. I strove to treat each fairly, but that didn’t translate into treating each the same. I might motivate one player one way and deploy an entirely different approach for a teammate. The goal was always the same, getting them to be a better athlete and person. Only the method differed.
So, to come full circle, yes, every client is the only client. It is our job to adapt more to them than they to us. We are fortunate to be able to help them tell their story—as they want it told.