Working Together

Another interview.  Unlike this interview about ghostwriting, we focused more on my background and past projects. Taken together the two hopefully answer questions you might have about working with a ghostwriter.


As a ghostwriter I don’t have to worry about book printing costs or deciding whether a publishing contract or self-publishing makes better sense.  But since I worked in book manufacturing for almost twenty years – for R.R. Donnelley, biggest book printers in the world, and then for Von Hoffmann Graphics, which was bought by Vertis and later by R.R. Donnelley and proves it really is a small world – I do understand the book manufacturing process and the costs. 

If you’re considering self-publishing, you should too. 


If you decide to self-publish - which also means self-print - you'll have to understand the basic components of a printed book. Even though I'm now a ghostwriter, I worked in book manufacturing for almost twenty years and still do productivity improvement consulting for larger book manufacturers. 

Here's all you need to know about how books are made.  We'll start with the basics:  Hardcover and softcover books.  (Don't worry, I won't go all Wikipedia on you.)


For anyone considering self-publishing, a major consideration is the cost of printing.  To give you a sense of the process, check out the following text from an actual quote from a major book manufacturer.  (I did strip out identifying elements, but the basics remain intact.)  If nothing else you'll be surprised how inexpensive printing your own books can be... under the right circumstances.



Questions about hiring a ghostwriter?  Here's the transcript of an interview I did for an Australian magazine that may provide some answers.



Here's the story behind Book Recommendations from... If this doesn't answer your questions feel free to write.


Timothy Snyder is a professor of history at Yale and the author of Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, a history of the political mass murder of 14 million people in eastern Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, and the Baltics. 

I can't say it's a light read, but if you appreciate rethinking and gaining a radically different understanding of significant historical events, Bloodlands is perfect.

Professor Snyder is also the author of, among other books, The Reconstruction of Nations and The Red Prince.

And I bet he teaches a mean history class.

Here's what he sent me:


Mary Roach is the bestselling author of Stiff, Spook, Bonk, and the recently released Packing for Mars, which just hit #6 on the NY Times bestseller list. 

Reading Mary's books is like sleep learning - except in her case the process works. She's effortlessly funny and consistently engaging.  Ever wanted to know what happens to your body at 600 mph?  Or what happens to, um, human waste by-products in space?  Or how cadavers serve a key function in the space program?  (If you didn't - you will.) If you're packing for a 14-hour flight to Australia from the U.S., make sure Packing for Mars is in your carry-on.


Check out Mary's list of favorite books:

Chris Palmer is the Distinguished Film Producer in Residence and founder and director of the Center for Environmental Filmmaking at American University and the author of Shooting In the Wild, a behind the scenes view of the moral and ethical dilemmas involved in making wildlife films.  Credentials aside, he's also won two Emmys and was nominated for an Oscar.  (In his case, those who teach also can.) 

Shooting in the Wild does include a touch of tell-all.  For example:  "When the king snake ignored the rattlesnake, the filmmaker tried again and again to engage them in combat, with no success. Finally, a crewmate came up with an idea: he put the rattlesnake into an empty mouse cage for a day so it smelled like a mouse. Problem solved - the king snake soon seized and ate the rattler."

But it's a lot more; the majority of the book focuses on achieving an honest, accurate documentary while entertaining and engaging an audience.  If you love nature films but have never considered how they are made - or the process behind creating what you see on film - you'll love his book.

Here's what Chris sent me:


James Tabor is the author, most recently, of Blind Descent: The Quest to Discover the Deepest Place on Earth. His last book before that was Forever On The Mountain.  A former Contributing Editor to Outside magazine, he was also the host of the PBS series, "The Great Outdoors."  He has climbed in Alaska, dived around the world, and explored wild caves in the U.S. and Canada. He was the Executive Producer of the 2007 History Channel special Journey to the Center of the World. (By the way; Jim likes likes to hear from other authors, in particular younger writers, who might have questions about writing and publishing - so feel free to contact him.)

Exploring caves is like rock climbing, diving, and mountain climbing all rolled into one - in conditions of complete darkness, poisonous gasses and limited oxygen, and a wide variety of ways to get stuck.   Plus cavers often spend months underground; it's physically and psychologically harrowing.  Blind Descent is not just an outstanding introduction to the science and culture of caving wrapped up in an adventure tale - no wonder it was chosen as an Amazon Best of the Month and Jim chosen to be interviewed by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show.

Here's what Jim sent:

Book Recommendations from Michael Hirst

Michael Hirst is the creator, executive producer, and writer of the Showtime series The Tudors, as well the films Elizabeth and Elizabeth: The Golden Age. (The final - sadly - season of The Tudors begins airing in April, 2010.) 

He's also writer and executive producer of the new Showtime series The Borgias, scheduled for 2011.

In short, he's the king of period drama, with a wonderful talent for weaving history into a compelling narrative.  (Hey, he's kept me hooked for thirty hours or so of viewing, no mean feat.)

Here's what he sent me; in return I owe him "A glass of Jack Daniels - or two!":


Most – actually all – of the books I want to recommend; books which have meant something to me, and continue to do so: books which, one way or another, changed my life, or at least my attitude to life – all of these books are “old”. That is to say, they’re not contemporary, or even nearly contemporary.  It’s not that I don’t read contemporary books.  But I’m like a monk in the Dark Ages who prefers the classical authors.

I love the novel. I love it as a form of literature, although the novel is essentially a nineteenth century form. There are exceptions: Sterne’s “Sentimental Journey” is a great comic work. But the novel gets into its stride and develops its awesome powers with the industrial revolution. It starts to “matter.” And it starts to matter all over Europe, and shortly after in America. Each nation, in fact, produced its own great writers and great traditions. I remember as a teenager becoming obsessed with Russian novels, then French ones, and only later with Dickens, George Eliot, Conrad and the other giants from my own backyard. I can still remember shivering with pleasure at the thought of beginning a new novel by Dostoevsky or Zola, and returning to their unique worlds. (For the world of a great writer is always unique.) Of the Russians, apart from Dostoevsky’s “The Idiot”, I loved Chekov’s short stories, particularly “The Lady with the Lap Dog”, Turgenev’s “First Love” and – sorry to be predictable – “War and Peace” by Tolstoy.  It’s still probably the greatest novel in the world, because it has more truth in it: truths both casual and profound about the human condition and human beings. You can’t speed read it. It takes a long time and a lot of attention to read it. But, in fact, it’s rather like one of Tarkovsky’s movies: you can even fall asleep while watching it and wake up still knowing it’s a masterpiece.

Of the French, I liked Zola’s “L’Assommoir” and Balzac’s “Old Gorriot” – big meaty novels with more flesh on them than anything Flaubert wrote, for all his glittering surfaces.  I have a soft spot for “Le Grand Meaulnes” by Alain Fournier. It’s not brilliantly written but it’s high romanticism appealed to me when I was young, and still does. In the same way – switching countries – I have always loved Emily Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights.” I grew up near Howarth and on the edge of the same bleak Moors, and my mother used to read me extracts from the book when I was probably too young to understand them. It’s – technically at least – a very strange book, but undeniably and emotionally powerful. It tells us that true love, the meeting of souls, is a terrifying experience not to be wished upon anyone. It drives you insane – mad enough to dig up the body of the beloved for a last embrace.

The meaning of English literature – in fact, probably the meaning of all western European literature – is to be found in Malory’s medieval epic “Le Morte d’Arthur.” The Arthurian legends are the source of most of our myths about love, morality, spirituality, and fellowship. It’s a rich, hard, rewarding read. Indeed it reminds me of what Huck Finn says of the Bible: “The sentences was good but tough.”

In terms of the English novel, you “have” to read Dickens – probably “Bleak House”,  George Eliot’s “Middlemarch” and Hardy – possibly “Jude the Obscure”, and certainly Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness.” If you do you will learn far more about English culture than reading any number of sociological accounts. Indeed at this period I think that novels were social objects as well as literary ones, and continued to be so until the middle, say, of the next century, where Forster’s “Howard’s End” represents the fag end of a fading but once powerful tradition.

I mentioned Checkov’s short stories.  I love short stories. I love Joyce’s “Dubliners”, Sherwood Anderson, lots of Hemingway’s and a few of Kipling’s best, particularly “Mrs Bathhurst” and “Dayspring Mishandled.”

For me there are three great American masterpieces: “Moby Dick”, “Huckleberry Finn” and “The Great Gatsby.” They are very different types of book, and it could be argued that all subsequent American novels belong to one of these types (although I wouldn’t bother to argue it myself). “Moby Dick” had a profound affect on my life. After I read it I could no longer hold as true and absolute the beliefs I had held before. Melville writes about ambiguity,  and I think that ambiguity can also be held to be a truth which is universal. I won’t say anything about Huck or Gatsby – they speak for themselves. But I remember a sad note Fitzgerald wrote to his publisher saying “Today I am thirty and it tragic, what am I to do, what is to become of me?” and he had already written Gatsby!

I think Hemingway was very cruel about Fitzgerald but I still think “A Moveable Feast” is Hemingway’s masterpiece. I don’t know another book which is quite so achingly true about first love and its aftermath. Faulkner is in many ways Hemingway’s opposite – why use three words when three hundred will do! But he’s another genius, and “Absolom! Absolom!” is the book for me.


I almost forgot to mention one other short American book by Thomas Pynchon called "The Crying of Lot 49".  It's probably out of print now but I still think it speaks to the heart of the American mystery.


For me the novel petered out around the time of “Ulysses.” It lost its power and could only comment, describe and finally try to shock. No one reads novels as a necessity any more. The last great novel was “A Hundred Years of Solitude” by Marquez. Magic Realism is over-rated but Marquez doesn’t use it as a device. He describes what is real to his characters. I used to think that the only other great “contemporary” novelist was Milan Kundera, but I was wrong. He’s very slight and clever in a self-conscious way.


I’m sure this is very boring. I’ll finish – momentarily – after saying that I love reading Yeats, T.S. Eliot and, from time to time, Whitman.


I also love non-fiction. My favourite of all time is a book called “Montaillou.” Check it out!


In The Works

Signed a contract to be the ghostwriter for a book on Social Entrepreneurship.  Client is a leader in the social entrepreneur movement, focused on helping people overcome poverty and social disadvantage through small business ownership.  In short, think assistance, guidance, and leadership instead of charity.  I'm excited to work on a project that uses business principles to create lasting social change.
Signed contract as ghostwriter on a book on private lending for real estate investments, including meeting compliance and regulatory requirements for pooled funds, fractional ownership, and passive investment.  Dry?  Nah - we'll make it fun.
Signed contract as ghostwriter on a book on legal (and practical) strategies for foreclosure defense, loan modification, and loss mitigation.  Client is a bankruptcy and debt relief litigator in Florida.
Signed contract as ghostwriter on a book on customer satisfaction measurement and implementation strategies for CEOs and managers of Fortune 1000 companies.  Theme is determining and measuring consumer and B2B intent, behavior, and subsequent actions to deliver quantitative satisfaction metrics and improvement strategies.
Signed contract as ghostwriter on a book on online marketing for a client whose company ranks in the top 1% in terms of online marketing revenue; book will focus on how companies (and individuals) can better leverage content strategies and partnerships to increase value-add income.
Signed a contract to ghostwrite a book on exercises and activities that can help people with a range of disabilities, disorders, injuries, and illnesses improve their prognoses and long-term conditions.  Client runs an Australian non-profit providing training, counseling, rehabilitation, and life skill services to people with disabilities.  Audience is physical therapists, healthcare professionals, and families.  While a complete change of pace for me, promises to be incredibly worthwhile and personally rewarding. 
Signed contract as ghostwriter  on a series of books on entrepreneurship for an Australian client.  Can't say more... extremely tight NDA... but I'm thrilled since it has the potential to be a multi-stage, multiple-media ghostwriting project.
Signed contract to ghostwrite a book on marketing for entrepreneurs and small businesses.  Client is based in Holland but publishes regularly in the U.S. as well as Europe and the Middle East.
Extended contract to ghostwrite small business resource guides for U.S.-based financial institution.  This next series focuses on financial statements, metrics, and performance, as well as forms of corporate ownership, tax planning...

Signed contract to ghostwrite a book on starting and building a law practice by leveraging technology and non-traditional marketing strategies.  Client is a courts-martial (yes, I used the "s" on purpose) defense lawyer who has defended cases across the U.S. as well as in Europe, the Middle East, and the Pacific.



Congratulations to our client whose book we wrote together has hovered in the top 30 on Amazon for the past six weeks and hit the NY Times bestseller list (among a bunch of other lists) over the past month.  As always, it's fun to see our hard work - and the author's original vision for the book - pay off with both critical acclaim and outstanding sales. 

Looking forward to the next one ---


Cervelo Test Team rider Ted King is the leader in the clubhouse in terms of book recommendation page views.  He's also building a merchandising empire; check out Brandy and Patricia (two of my kids) with one of his "I am not Ted King" t-shirts.

Tom Zirbel, a rider I met at the Tour of Shenandoah in 2006, lost his ride with Garmin-Slipstream after testing positive for DHEA.  Tom contends he did not knowingly take any banned substance, and if you know anything about quality control measures at the average supplement production facility, it's easy to believe him.  He's a nice guy - anyone nice to my kids is automatically considered a good guy - and I hope it all works out for him... but the way the system works it's unlikely.  Sadly, cycling doesn't presume innocence.
The Tour of Virginia hopes to start back up in 2010 after a several-year hiaitus caused by lack of funding.  If you're a deep-pocket organization with an interest in cycling check them out.  Quick disclosure:  We did web work for them a few years ago, as well as helping with print brochures and photography.  Another quick disclosure:  Their current website is not a product of our work.

Congratulations to Tom Zirbel, who just signed with pro cycling team Garmin-Slipstream.


I'm in the early stages of research for a book I'm ghostwriting that will blend Brazilian jui jitsu principles and strategies with personal finance and investing.  Since I know nothing about jui jitsu I asked Beau for help. 

Very nice guy, but he's as tough as he looks.

I wrestled in high school with mixed results, so I have some sense of grappling, leverage, etc, but jui jitsu is in many ways a completely different world.  Beau not only has a knack for making the complicated simple... he's damn good.

I was recently featured in a video discussion about how jewelry manufacturers, retailers, and the wedding industry can leverage social media marketing.  (Odd they chose me to participate since my face is made for radio...)


Brandy, Patricia and I finished fourth in the relay category at this year's Luray Sprint Triathlon.

Luckily I have fit (and smart and sweet) daughters.

We finished behind the third place team by 5 minutes, so while that sucks we also don't need to torture ourselves with thoughts like "if only I'd pushed a little harder up that climb."  Wouldn't have mattered since we could never have made up that amount of gap.