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.

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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. 

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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.)

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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.

 

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

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Recommended

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

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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Another Ghostwriter Interview

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.

If not - contact me.

Keep in mind this is a full transcript (except for questions that were identical to the other interview; I've discarded those), so if at times I sound a little scattered, it's because, at least at that moment... I was.

 

What kinds of clients are the best to work for?

I don't know if there's a single answer to that question.  But in terms of the success of the book and our collaboration, I can generalize.  First, the client should have the reader in mind, first and foremost.  A lot of people want to write books solely to enhance their reputations.  While that's a wonderful by-product of the process, if that's your primary goal... the book will suck.  As an author, your readers shouldn't think about you.  They should think about themselves and the value they get from your book:  Information, guidance, entertainment, inspiration, etc.  If you only want to show how smart you are you won't help the reader get smarter.  If the book helps people learn or understand, by extension they'll know you're smart.  And your reputation will be enhanced.  But the reputation cart comes after the information horse:  If you help other people gain a skill, they'll naturally think of you as skilled.

 

So do you turn down "reputation" projects?

Not always.  Most successful people have great information and advice to share.  I just help clients focus on that aspect, and hopefully it's a win-win for the client and their readers.  And if a client is dead set on telling the world how great they are, there are ways to pull that off while still educating and informing.  Say a client stepped into a failing company and turned it around.  She naturally wants to toot her own horn.  We can do that by telling stories about the turnaround that illustrate points she's trying to make and advice she hopes to share.  Experiences and anecdotes are great ways to tell a story, especially a non-fiction story... and by extension those stories highlight the skills and experience of the client.  Done correctly it works for everyone.

 

What's the hardest type of ghostwriting?

For me?   Hard-sell.  Lots of products - especially information products - are sold on the web through one-page sales letters.  They're really not one page; some run into the thousands of words... you scroll down forever.  You've seen them:  It's a never-ending stream of bullets and lists of why you should buy the product, with testimonials sprinkled in, and special offers, and "but wait, there's more!" offers, and my favorite, the "I'm raising the price on Friday, so act now!" teasers...  I'm not putting them down - there's a definite art and skill to making those work.  Read one all the way through.  Done well it's almost like getting hypnotized... you'll find yourself thinking, "Hey, maybe I should buy this..."  I can't write those.  I think I could fake one - meaning I could successfully mimic what other people do - but its just not a skill I have.  I'm good at telling people how to do things, but I don't like telling people what to do, and in the end that's the essence of sales writing.  Again, I'm not putting it down - I just can't do it.

 

What is your favorite type of ghostwriting?

I like to tell non-fiction stories.  I know that sounds like a contradiction in terms, but work with me.  The best non-fiction, especially business or how-to non-fiction, tells a story.  You go from one place to another, and the journey is what you learn to do along the way. The book should have a story arc; if it's just a collection of lists, bullet points, and sub-headings, it's more of a reference guide.  Done well non-fiction tells a story, even if that story is how you'll change your life, transform your business, develop new skills... get from point A to point B.  Even something as short as an article should tell a story and somehow come full circle.

 

I'm not sure I get that.

I probably didn't describe it well.  I might do better if I wrote it instead of saying it.  Here's an example; I wrote these two sentences as the first lines of the Introduction for a book about corporate finance:

"Every week my accountant is ready to change the world.

The problem is – although neither of us acknowledges the fact – I’m not going to let him."

 
And off we go.  It's the start of a story and draws the reader in.   Admit it - you want to know where it's going.  It sets the tone for the rest of the material, and by the end of the Introduction, and the book itself, we've revisited the opening scene so the message resonates with the reader.  So it's non-fiction, but we're still telling a story.

 

You're also a photographer.  How does that fit with ghostwriting?

How doesn't it fit? It's possible to be a lot of different things.  The way the economy is changing, I think everyone should have multiple skills.  I've done weddings for years, and I really enjoy them.  We only do about twenty a year - that way they stay fun and fresh... and our clients benefit from that approach.  The best photographs tell stories; to capture that story you have to anticipate, understand, and work within any constraints you face... the same with ghostwriting.  Plus it's good for magazine clients because I can provide images as well as words and have the luxury of knowing what photos best illustrate and highlight the text.  I ghostwrote a piece on horse racing and within minutes knew the angle I'd take on the story; it was easy then to focus, terrible pun intended, on capturing the images that would best accompany the piece.  At least in my opinion.

 

What about your business background?  How does that help your writing?

It helps in a number of ways, since I do a lot of management, leadership, entrepreneurship, etc books, but most importantly it helps because I understand both my clients' perspective and the needs of the reader.  Say I'm ghostwriting a management book and I'm working on a section about accountability, discipline, and - ugh - firing employees.  I've fired people - it sucks, way more for the employee, of course, but also for the manager - but there's a decent and humane way to do it.  I know that.  I've done it well and I've done it poorly.  So I understand both sides and that greatly improves the quality of the material.  Or say we're looking at process improvement - been there done it, sometimes spectacularly well, sometimes not so much.  Improving productivity isn't an abstract concept - I understand what's involved, how hard it can be, how resistant people can be to change, etc. A good ghostwriter can write well about things they are told or research.  After all, I've ghostwritten a pregnancy book, and I have no direct experience in carrying a child, but I do think often material can be significantly better when you've walked the talk.  At least I think so.  Often I am - or at least was - a member of the audience I'm writing for.  I know what the audience wants and needs to know because I'm one of them.

 

What about speeches?  Have you ghostwritten for speakers?

Sure.  It's actually a lot of fun, even though the style is very different.  I'm not sure I could write a speech for, say, Obama. He's relatively formal, and often his speeches are meant to be read as well as spoken.  That's a tough balance to strike.  I tend to write for businesspeople who need to speak to large groups.  It's fun to find the right rhythm and pace that suits a particular speaker while managing to hold and hopefully inspire and motivate the audience.  It's a very different type of writing, and sometimes it's a little scary because, sure, I can write it, but they have to deliver it, and if they do poorly the speech falls flat... but luckily that almost never happens.  The toughest speech I wrote was a eulogy for a former client to be delivered by his closest friend and business partner.  I had to sum up the man and his impact on his family and friends while making sure his friend could actually get through the eulogy without breaking down.  I sprinkled humor in to help him keep it together, and it worked.  To convert the old cliche, "They laughed, they cried..." but it was tough to write, both personally and professionally. All said and done, I'm proud of it.

 

Do you have advice for people considering becoming ghostwriters?

Sure.  One, check your ego at the door and drop the "artiste" thing.  A lot of people want to write what they want to write.  That's fine if you're writing for yourself, but as a ghostwriter the needs of your client and your client's readers are the only things that matter.  Who is the audience?  What do they need to know?  What is the best way to get that information across?  That's what matters.  Your viewpoints and biases are irrelevant.  What matters is the point of view of your client.  I occasionally do small seminars, and the most frequent comment I hear is, "I can't get published.  Why don't people care about good writing anymore?"  I try to be nice, but good writing is getting published - it just has to be on subjects people want to read about.  I'll write about just about anything as long as I think I can learn something in the process.  If you take that approach, you can be successful.  If you restrict yourself to just the projects that suit your particular artistic vision... probably not.  Two, stop thinking about the process of writing, and think about conveying information in an organized, informative, and hopefully entertaining way.  Don't go into some weird writer mode and try to impress people with particularly elegant turns of phrase.  Good non-fiction writing is accessible, establishes rapport, and creates a conversation of sorts, even though it's by nature a one-sided conversation.  Get over yourself and write to be understood - don't write to show off.  Nobody cares... most of all the readers.

 

 

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.

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News

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.

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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.

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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.
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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...)

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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.

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