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:

How to Evalute Self Publishing Costs

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. 


The following assumes you’ll serve as your own “book publishing general contractor” as opposed to signing with companies like Author House (I have nothing against them; they just showed up first in search results) that provide services for a fee.  You can evaluate the economics of those types of arrangements on your own.  Just keep in mind it’s not hard to manage the process yourself; you can do anything a “personal publishing consultant” can do for you.


Note:  If you aren’t familiar with common industry terms use to describe book components, check out What Real Books Are Made Of.  I’ll also use the term “traditional publishers” to refer to major publishers and not vanity presses, subsidized presses, self-publishing service providers, etc.  When you see “traditional publisher” think Random House, Harper Collins, etc.


Also keep in mind I don't approach this from the vanity publishing perspective.  Approximately half of my clients have publishing contracts, the other half self-publish.  Those that self-publish tend to move a lot of books; one client sold over 75,000 books in less than two years and another sold about 50,000 before she decided to sign with a traditional publisher.  So if you have written your memoirs and want to have a few books printed, the following likely does not apply since your potential sales are limited.  (But don't feel bad - no one would want to read my life story either.)


Book Design

The design process includes text design and jacket/cover design.  The end results are print-ready files. 


Check the copyright page of many books and you’ll find an entry like “Designed by John Doe.”  That entry refers to the text design.  The only substantial design elements in the average book are the title page, chapter openers, header and footer, and sometimes section breaks.  Not to make it too simple, but after that the main choices are font, font size, and margins. 


Pick up five or ten books, focus just on design, and you’ll notice they all look fairly similar.  That’s because the content of the average book is the star, not the design.  Unless photos or graphics drive your book, your text design should complement your words and not overwhelm them.  Sounds obvious… but is easy to forget.  Keep in mind no one will buy your book because the text design is incredible – but they may not buy it if the design is poor. 


With that in mind, here's a quick note on font, font size, margins, line spacing, etc.   Paper is one of the main drivers of book cost.  More paper equals more cost.  As a result you might be tempted to squeeze more words onto a page.  Don’t.  Think of your reaction when you pick up some books.  The average scholarly history book tends to use smaller fonts, smaller line spacing… and can seem off-putting to the average reader.  On the other hand, too much white space seems like the book was padded to make it seem longer than it really is.  Focus on a professional design.  Then worry about whether you should modify it slightly to result in a few less or a few more pages.  Keeping costs down is certainly important, but never make a decision that limits your ability to sell books.


It's not always possible to save your way to profitability.


Again, look at a few bestsellers and model your book after those – there’s no reason to reinvent the book printing wheel.  Think “professional” and you’ll be fine (and spend less on design.  Why spend money where it won’t generate a return?)

Some text designers also create cover and jacket designs, but most do not.  Jacket credits are noted on the jacket itself, like “Jacket design by Jane Doe.”  (Illustration and photo credits may also be listed.)  Jacket/cover design is more critical than book design:  Your book has to stand out, either on the bookshelf or on a website.


You can’t create interest, much less make a sale, if you don't first attract. 


Traditional publishers handle book design for their authors, either using in-house designers or, increasingly, by outsourcing.  (Don’t produce enough titles to justify full-time staff?  Outsource.)  If you decide to self-publish you’ll need a designer unless you buy a package printing deal from a self-publishing provider, many of whom require you to choose a template.


Since the end results of book design are print-ready files, designers use desktop publishing software.  In book printing terms a Word doc, a PDF from a Word doc, or a file created by Microsoft Publisher is not a print-ready file.  Common DP applications are InDesign, PageMaker, and Quark Xpress, but there are others.  You don’t really care what software your designer uses; you do care whether the output meets your book printer’s file specifications.  While different printers have different guidelines, in general terms you’ll need PDF files with fonts embedded, Type 1 or TrueType fonts (but sometimes not both), high-res images in specific formats, graphics as vector art, margins that meet standards… in other words, it can get complicated. 


The book printer will Preflight your files to see if they meet requirements.  Fail to meet printer specs and you’ll end up with delays and/or additional charges for fixing your files.  In fact, some book printers use file prep as a strategic profit center. 


A good book designer provides a clean, professional, complementary text design, an eye-catching jacket or cover design – and print-ready files.  The art of book design is important but so is the science.


I’ve worked with several great freelance designers; one of my favorites is Michelle Landry at Digital Dragon Designery in Canada.  She’s a superb text and jacket/cover designer and is also an outstanding illustrator – not an easy combination to find. 


Design out of the way, it’s time to find a good book printer.


Book Manufacturing

Lots of commercial printers can create softcover books.  Even though I live in a small town there are several small print shops that produce softcover books; give them a Word file  and a Photoshop or Illustrator cover design and off they go.  Paper choices are limited and print quality won’t match that produced by large offset and sheetfed presses, but small print shops do fill a niche.  In fact, if you only need a couple hundred softcover books, that’s probably the way to go.  While books may cost $5 to $8 per unit depending on specs, larger printers won’t accept quantities that low (and if they do they’ll kill you on price.) 


But let’s assume you want at least 1,000 books.  (Most of my clients who self-publish choose initial printings of 7,500 to 10,000 books.)  And you may want hardcover instead of softcover books; in that case a larger book manufacturer is the way to go.


Book manufacturers fall into tiers based on size and capability.  At the top end are companies like R.R. Donnelley, Worldcolor (was Quebecor), and Bertelsmann AG.  Regional printers include companies like Victor Graphics.  (Mid-size manufacturers may have national accounts but typically service regional clients, if for no other reason than shipping costs.)  In either case the overwhelming majority of clients are traditional publishers – but any of these manufacturers will run your books, too.  Customers are customers.


So let’s look at components.  We’ll use a “typical” book:  6 x 9, hardcover, 256 pages;  50-pound, 400 ppi text stock, black-only text; one-piece case, spine stamping; 4-color gloss laminated jacket.  (Shipping costs are not included because those costs obviously vary depending on, if nothing else, distance.) The component specs I just described are vanilla and are used in the majority of books produced.  Nothing fancy, good quality, good price.


Yet the above also might sound confusing.  That's okay; sales reps will make it easy for you.  Think of it this way:  If you go to a restaurant and aren’t sure which wine to choose, you probably default to the house red or house white.  Book manufacturing works the same way.  Tell the sales rep you want to use stock paper, stock case materials, stock jacket and/or cover materials, etc.  That will narrow down your choices to things like component colors and significantly reduce your costs.  Why?  Book manufacturers stock a range of “typical” component materials.  To keep costs down, stick with “house” materials and you’ll be fine.


Quick aside:  Don’t assume – or believe – one of the self-publishing providers will use better materials; in most cases the quality will actually be lower.  Major manufacturers order huge quantities of paper, case material, etc – they get the best prices and tend to apply less markup.  If you’re in doubt, ask a self-publishing firm to send you a few sample books to compare to the average book you bought in a bookstore.  (Just understand they'll send you their best quality.)  Compare and you’ll notice a big difference.  Bookstore books will look and feel better; that's because the big boys print bookstore books.  


Here are prices from a recent actual quote from one of the larger manufacturers, for hardcover books, using the specs above:


 5,000 $10,689       
 7,500 $14,255   
 10,000 $17,817 1.78
 Additional 1000s       
 $1,426 1.43







You may not be familiar with the concept of additional 1000s.  Say you order 5,000 books.  Book manufacturers allow for production waste.  If they only produce 5,000 jackets and one is torn during the process… the order is short and they will have to go back to press, a manufacturing fate worse than death.  To allow for normal waste and also for variation in the manufacturing process, most work on a percentage over/under basis.  For example, if you want 5,000 books your contract may be for 5,000 +/- 10%.  Delivery of any quantity between 4,500 and 5,500 is considered acceptable.  If the manufacturer keeps waste down and delivers 5,400 books, great – and you’ll be charged for them.  If they experience excessive run waste and only deliver 4,700 then they don’t have to go back to press but also can only charge for 4,700 units.  (Not so great for the manufacturer.) 


You can tighten the over/under spread if you like.  For example, you could contract for 5,000 + 5% and no “unders”; that means you won’t accept anything less than 5,000.  Just understand your price per unit may go up slightly since the manufacturer will probably increase waste allowances to compensate for the risk of missing the mark.


So with all that said, additional 1000s is the price you pay for “overs” on your run.  If you order 5,000 books you’ll be charged $2.17 for the first 5,000 and $1.43 for any books over that amount (up to the max quantity specified.)


In case you're interested in the difference in hardcover and softcover prices, here are the numbers for softcover books using the same basic specs as above:


 5,000 $7,372          
 7,500 $9,531   
 10,000 $11,690 1.17
 Additional 1000s       
 $863 .86







Softcover books are obviously cheaper; covers are a lot less expensive to produce than cases. (And you don't need a book jacket.)


Determining Quantity

How do you decide the right quantity?  Like everything, it depends. The more books you order the lower your cost per unit since you take advantage of operating efficiencies and the manufacturer spreads makeready (job setup) costs across more units.  Of course you have to be confident you can sell the books you order, since returns are not allowed except in the case of defects.  (And don’t think you can take your chances and later try to return books that don’t sell because they’re “defective” – doesn’t work.)  Determining order quantity is based on balancing your confidence in your marketing abilities with your desire to minimize unit cost.


Finally, a quick note on terms.  Don’t expect to get terms like net-30 or net-45.  It won’t happen.  Your local print shop may allow you to pay on or after receipt, but larger manufacturers will not.  Minimizing accounts receivable is important and as a small customer you have no leverage to dictate looser terms. 


At a minimum expect to pay something along the lines of 30% at order, 30% after proofs, and 40% before shipping.  Some printers expect 110% of contract price at time of order, with unused money refunded once the exact ship quality is determined.  So if you decide to self-publish, you will need to pay up front – don’t expect to pay once you’ve sold some books.


Bottom Line

For most of my clients who self-publish, deciding whether to handle the process themselves or use a self-publishing firm is strictly cost/benefit driven.  Self-publishing firms actually deliver very little in terms of marketing or marketing support:  No one will care about your book like you care and no one will put more effort into marketing your book than you will.  (Sadly, a tremendous amount of fluff is built into the typical “marketing services” offered by self-publishing firms.)  But self-publishing firms are convenient and do make the process easier, and for some are the right way to go.


Here’s an example.  Say you spend $1,000 on book design (I picked a round number.)  You get an ISBN number for $275.  (Actually you get ten for that price, so you can write nine more books without spending more on ISBN numbers.)  Then you have 5,000 hardcover books printed and spend a total of $12,000 including overs and shipping costs.


Rounding off we’ll assume your cost per unit is $2.60.  Not bad.


Now say you have a cover price of $24.99. Assuming no marketing costs and no loss on shipping and you make over $22 in profit per unit sold.  Sell 600 books and you break even; the rest is gravy.


Or think about producing softcover books.  Design costs are basically the same.  ISBN cost is the same.  Produce 5,000 books and you'll spend a total of about $9,500 (rounding up) for a unit cost of $1.90.  Assuming a cover price of $16.95 and no +/- on shipping and you make $15.05 per unit; sell about 640 books and you break even. (Takes a few more units to break even compared to producing hardcover books, but at the same time your investment is about 25% lower.)  Again, I left marketing costs out.


So: compare your costs, potential profit, etc. with what you can do using a self-publishing provider.  While they will make the design and production process easier, you will also give up some control... and they can’t do anything for you that you can’t do for yourself. 


Content aside, selling a lot of books is based on effective marketing - don't assume someone else will work hard to market your book.  And keep in mind self-publishing providers make their money up front; profits on books sold is incremental gain.  Self-publishing firms certainly hope you sell a lot of books, since they'll keep a percentage of the revenue, but unlike traditional publishers they make money on the front end.


If you think solely about the business model, it makes better sense for a self-publishing firm to focus on acquiring more author/customers than on selling books on behalf of their authors. That's what I would do if I were in their shoes:  I can't predict which books will sell... but if you send me a check to provide self-publishing services, I incur no risk. Traditional publishers only make money if books sell; self-publishing providers make money when authors contract for services so they make money even if no books are sold. Book sales are icing to a self-publishing service provider.


Weigh the costs, weigh the benefits… and do what’s right for you.  Just understand handling book manufacturing on your own isn’t difficult.


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.