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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Ghostwriter Interview

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

 

What exactly is a ghostwriter?

Ghostwriters are just writers who don't take credit for their work.  Say you have an idea for a book and even have a publisher already lined up.  (That happens more than you think.)  You've developed a fresh new concept and there's definitely an audience... but now have to actually write the book.  The prospect seems overwhelming and you have no idea where to start.  So you hire me.  Together - or sometimes not so together - we write the book and your name goes on the cover.

 

People get a book contract before they've written the book?

Sure.  That's often the case, especially on high-profile projects.  Let's pretend you're a doctor and you have a high profile, not only in your field but also with the general public.  You've done print interviews, some radio... maybe even a spot or two on a morning show like "Today."  You've developed the perfect platform to not only share your ideas but also sell some books - what publisher wouldn't want you?  But I should mention that usually the book comes before the appearances - most media folks want to introduce you by saying, "Welcome Dr. John Doe, author of 'Ten Ways to Live Longer!'"  The fact you've written a book lends credibility and authority and tends to lead to a lot more media bookings and talking head opportunities.

 

What about people who don't have a publishing contract?

Some clients self-publish.  Some sell their books through partnerships with trade organizations.  Some use books as a way to establish themselves as experts in their fields.  I think that approach works best when it's part of an overall strategy:  Write a book, do media appearances, raise your profile, sell books based on a higher profile, translate that into a book contract, write more books... etc.  One of my clients self-published and sold over 12,000 books before striking a deal with a traditional publisher.  Another sold, last I heard,over 20,000 e-books, which is pretty cool when you consider she had no print or distribution costs to speak of.  The point is there are tons of ways to leverage your book, even if you don't have a publishing contract.

 

Let's take a step back.  Isn't it disingenuous to put your name on another person's work?

Absolutely not - otherwise I wouldn't be a ghostwriter.  Bottom line a non-fiction book is content: It's a collection of ideas, concepts, steps, how-to information, advice, guidance, etc.  The value of the book is direclty dependent on the value of the information provided, not by the name on the cover.  If you read a management book and learn how to better run your company, that's the value of the book.  Who "wrote" it is immaterial.  I take my clients' concepts and ideas - and my own - and craft a well-organized, easy to read, informative book.  I simply do what my clients can't - and the reader benefits.

 

Still sounds a little odd to me.

Really?  Think of it this way.  You'll write the story that accompanies this interview.  Your editor will probably change some things.  A copy editor will probably change a few more.  Someone else will probably write the headline.  When the magazine goes to press, will you be down there hanging plates?  Bundling finished copies?  Coordinating distribution?  Delivering the magazine to a mailbox?  No... when a person reads your story, they'll see your name, but they will have no idea how many other people "touched" the story so they could read it - and that person doesn't care.  If the reader is entertained, informed, or empowered by what they read... that's all that matters.  The value lies in what they read, not in who wrote it, or printed it, or delivered it.  As a ghostwriter I'm just part of the process of entertaining and informing.

 

Okay.  Then how many books are ghostwritten?

I haven't seen actual statistics, but I've seen estimates saying forty to fifty percent of non-fiction books are ghostwritten in part or in full.  My guess is the percentage is at least that high.  If you think about it that makes sense:  You may be a great athlete, a great leader, or a great investor... but that doesn't mean you can write well. Instead of spending the years it takes to learn to write - or giving up on the idea - my clients hire me so they can keep doing what they do best while I do what I do best.

 

Does it bother you to see someone else's name on a book you've ghostwritten ?

Absolutely not.  It's really fun to go to the bookstore and pick up the books I've ghostwritten.  (But it does irritate me when they're out of stock.)  I don't need to see my name on the cover.  I don't have an ego as far as that's concerned.  What I do care about is how well the book sells, because I think that's a validation of sorts.

 

Speaking of sales - do you get royalties from book sales?

I don't, and that's by my choice.  When I sign a ghostwriting contract I work for a flat fee plus expenses.  If the book sells well, great - then we'll do another one together.  And publishers will keep calling me.  That way our working relationship is cleaner, and I don't have to worry about how much effort the publisher or the client puts into marketing the book.  Bottom line I think it creates a much better working relationship - we can focus on writing a great book, not on the "business" side of our arrangement.

 

What types of books are you most often approached to write?

It depends on the source of the query.  Publishers tend to seek me out for business, real estate, and investing books because they know my track record in those areas.  Same with businesspeople, medical professionals, and other high-profile and successful people:  They know I'm great at writing how-to, advice, guidance... practical information and knowledge, whatever the subject.  On the other side are people who seek me out because they're convinced their life story is fascinating and worthy of a book.  Sadly that's almost never the case.  No insult to them - hey, my life story is pretty dull too.  I wouldn't want to read mine, much less write it.

 

Let's talk about the actual writing.  How do you make sure the book sounds like the "author"?

That's actually easy, at least for me.  I like writing in different styles and voices.  You've hit on one of the keys to being a good ghostwriter.  For example, a few of my clients are speakers; they're onstage several times a week.  If a person in the audience buys their book - or attends the event because they read the book - the book absolutely must sound like the speaker, or there's a huge disconnect that not only affects the impact of their message but also negatively impacts the speaker's overall "brand."  In those cases it's easy; I listen to a few speeches, watch a few videos... and pick up the person's style,rhythm, and timing.  The client and I also talk about tone and style, and I give input based on their goals for the book and their intended audience.  It comes together much more easily than you might think.  The best compliment I get is when a client says, "Wow... this reads like me."

 

Are there writing styles you can't easily adopt?

Sure.  I'm not particularly good at scholarly writing.   I don't think the Oxford University Press is likely to knock on my door anytime soon.  But that's okay - I'm at my best when I can write material that is accessible, builds rapport, and makes a connection with the reader.  Luckily that's what mainstream readers want, and those books make the most impact.  Can you imagine a book like "The 4-Hour Workweek" with fifty footnotes per chapter?   And I'm terrible at hard-sell sales writing, like the "one page sales letters" a lot of websites use.  I don't even try even though I'm often asked.

 

Do you edit books?

I do, and I have, but it can be a thankless job.   The only time an editing arrangement tends to end well is well is when it starts with a client saying, "I've written this, and I have to admit it's terrible... can you please turn it into something decent?"  Sometimes the book is actually pretty good, but that kind of client is willing to listen to input and doesn't get upset when I suggest or make changes.  The worst situation is the client who says, "I've revised this dozens of times, and had lots of friends look at it... we all think it's in great shape, but I think one more set of eyes...."  In those cases I don't take the job - whatever I say is likely to upset the client because in the end they feel I'm criticizing their baby.  On the other hand, a client recently said, "You took a horrendous piece of writing and transformed it."  It's all about the client's attitude.  I'm not saying my ideas are always perfect, but I do at least somewhat know what I'm doing.  But sometimes having material to work with is a really good thing; I just accepted a project to write a business book for an Australian client; he's written about 50,000 words, and together we'll reshape what he has - and add a lot more material -to create a more focused book with a structure that really suits the subject matter.  Best of all he's more than happy for me to reshape what he has; he knows it's good, but he also knows it can be a lot better, and that's what he wants.  We'll both check our egos at the door and do good work together.

 

Here's an easy question.  What makes a good ghostwriter?

Obviously you have to be able to write well - that's a given.  But there's a lot more to it.  One key is the ability to adopt someone else's point of view; I'm not particularly religious but I've ghostwritten a book for a Baptist minister.  I don't have to agree with everything I write - what I do have to do is understand and effectively convey someone else's ideas and point of view. Another is to understand what you're writing about; research is great, but "doing" is even better.  For example, I did a lot of work for a (now on hiatus due to the economy) bicycle race called the Tour of Virginia; I picked up an interest in road cycling, made some professional cyclist friends, and still ride today.  I'm a rank amateur compared to those guys but I can talk the talk with some credibility, and that was reflected in my writing.  To me nothing is worse than reading text from someone who stayed at an arm's length from the material.  To do a good job your hands have to get a little dirty.

 

What's the best part about ghostwriting?

One I love to write.   But almost as important is the range of experiences I've had: I've met interesting people, learned a lot, had cool experiences... I've worked with people across the U.S., but also from Canada, Holland, England, Scotland, Australia, Brazil... For example, I'm currently working with a German national who moved to the U.S. to go to college, then moved to Malaysia to start a sports marketing firm.  Among tons of other stuff, they promoted Danny Way's motorcycle jump over the Great Wall.  (Check it out on YouTube.) How else would I get to meet a guy like that?

 

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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