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Letter to a Ghostwriting Client

What I wish ghostwriting clients knew about the process. (Photo credit: Pexels)

Dear ghostwriting client,

I may not say it enough, but I really enjoy working with you. Although we may not have met in person, if we’ve spent any time working on your project, odds are good I consider you a friend. That means I want only the best for you. I want your project to be successful, whether it’s a book, a high-profile magazine article, guest blog post, speech, or something else.

I want you to attract a lot of positive attention, generate new business or media opportunities, and to make good money from our work together.

I’m here to lift you up and support you in achieving your goals.

So since you hired me for my writing skill, expertise, and experience, I hope you’ll accept the following advice in the spirit in which it’s given – to make you more successful.

Stick with the tried-and-true approach. I understand that you want to make your work stand out or make a splash in your industry, but opting to do go against conventional wisdom is risky. I’m talking about decisions like what color font to use for your blog post – always black, not red or green or purple – or selecting a title that is a double entendre, when your book is a business guide.

In both cases you’re likely to attract attention, but not the kind you want.

Don’t cut corners. Hiring an interior page graphic designer from a low-budget site like Fiverr, who is charging you $10 to lay out your whole book, is unwise. Sure, you’ll pay the designer very little but it’s also likely that you’ll have to pay someone else even more to make it right later.

And I’m not knocking Fiverr – I love it! It’s just not the first place I’d turn for services related to an important project.

Some of my ghostwriter colleagues have similar advice, based on their experiences with clients.

Keep the medium in mind when writing. Thousands of words on a topic is great for a book but less appropriate for a blog post, which is exactly what Debby Kevin explained to her client. Unfortunately, the client insisted on throwing everything but the kitchen sink in and made the post less readable.

Serve your audience. You know your audience – certainly better than your ghostwriter – so you’ll want to be sure to write in a way that will help them make the best use of your material. Richard Lowe Jr. tried to help his client by recommending that he tone down the technical jargon in his book. Unfortunately, the expert “insisted on going down to very detailed technical descriptions in a book intended for CEOs and other c-level managers. It made the book a little schizophrenic as he switched back and forth between detailed technical talk and manager talk,” says Lowe.

Listen to the experts you’ve hired. When you hire an advisor to assist you in marketing your business, promoting your book, or crafting a new logo, listen to their recommendations. You paid them because you believed that they knew more than you did, right? So get the most from your money by following their advice.

Discount advice from non-experts. Be careful about asking for input from people who don’t know your field or who don’t know anything about publishing, says Sandra Beckwith. “Your spouse, roommate, or cousin may have opinions about your content, but if they aren’t communications pros, I’d give more credence to feedback from those who are.”

I know it’s tempting to solicit advice from a wide variety of sources when you’re working hard on an important initiative, like a book or big article. You want to do all you can to increase your odds of success. I get it. Just know that I’m on your side, too.

To your success,

Marcia

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Generate Ideas for Blog Posts with the Help of Photos

Mike Wicks is the author and/or ghostwriter of seven print books and five eBooks. Latest publications: Building Vancouver Island for 100 Years (Vancouver Island Construction Association); City of Langford: Living the Lifestyle; The Financial Navigator with Tim Paziuk (a highly controversial book on the financial industry). He also wrote the award-winning, Fire From the Sky: A Diary Over Japan.

Guest Post by Mike Wicks

If you’re a regular blogger like me, you’ll know how difficult it is to sustain originality both with topics and creative approach. I sometimes fear my well of ideas might actually run dry.

I’ve read countless articles, such as 101 Ideas to Inspire Your Next Blog Post, but still I search for new approaches, angles, perspectives. And there is always an overwhelming, pervasive feeling that I’m going to become predictable – the blogger’s sin of all sins.

I’ve tried many things to stimulate my creativity. I trawl British and Australian, as well as North American websites that cover my areas of interest looking for inspiration, I read random magazines and the outpourings of top bloggers such as Seth Godwin, all to see if I can grab hold of a kernel of an idea. I’m not talking about plagiarising something, just looking for a topic that I might have something interesting to say about, or where I might offer a unique approach.

The other day I was given 40 royalty-free photographs – a completely random selection of images – and I came up with an approach I’ve not seen mentioned in any of those blog post ideas articles. Looking at my folder of new images I thought of the eMagazines I publish and wondered how on earth I would could use this bounty; none of them related to the subject matter covered in my publications. I thought of my blog posts and realized that I always write my post first and then search for an appropriate image to complement the sentiment espoused. My idea was, what if I reversed that and started with the image?

My free images included shots of bread, burgers, a forest, a giraffe (close-up), an ancient building, windswept Shetland ponies, a shepherd with his flock of sheep, three camera lenses, the Mona Lisa, a rose (close-up), and the leaning tower of Pisa.

Could these provide inspiration for a blog post? Well, for a start, they inspired this one! But that would be cheating. I challenged myself to focus on my own two blogs, not ones where I ghost-blog for clients, and find a way to write about small business and freelance writing using these images.

Here are a few examples:

·       I thought about bread and the fact it needs a leavening agent – it won’t rise by itself. This made me think about how developing a marketing strategy is a little like making bread. It needs a leavening agent – something that will develop public interest, a unique selling proposition along with a sweetening agent to stimulate growth. You get the idea.

·       The three camera lenses got me thinking about the idea of a post on writing an article. This centered on taking the rough concept and jotting down three different perspectives from which the article could be approached. It’s easy to build an interesting post around this foundation.

·       The Mona Lisa? Eyes that follow you around – the enigmatic smile? This made me consider a post on how one could write an article based on why this painting is so popular. How could one write like the Mona Lisa looks? Okay, I realize this is a long way from being a concrete idea for a blog post, but it’s a starting point and often that’s all we need. A creative launch-pad.

·       The burgers were also interesting to me. I looked at the multiple layers and this got me thinking, each layer has a job to do, there has to be a good balance between filling and bun, the flavors need to be in harmony, it needs to look appetizing, it needs to be constructed and cooked well. Now, I had the basis for a blog post on structuring a non-fiction book!

So, you get the idea. I challenge you to choose one of the other examples listed above and see if it could be used as the basis for your next blog post. Perhaps the rose, with its large petals on the outside and getting smaller and tighter as they get closer to the centre might be just the inspiration you are looking for?

Next time you’re stuck for a blog post topic, simply take a look at your photo-library.

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Why a Passion Planner is This Year’s Must-Have Planner for Writers

This is the view I keep open most often, to ensure I’m keeping the big picture in mind as I plan each day.

I’ll admit it, I’m a planner addict. I buy several new ones each year so I can try out different approaches to managing my workload and time. I’ve probably tried more than 25 in the last few years.

Time management is a major focus for me as a freelance writer, because I know that the more work I can get done in less time, the more revenue I can generate.

This is true for any service provider – the more you can accomplish in a given hour, or given day or week, the higher your income potential.

For most people, the trick isn’t working faster – rushing will not yield your best work – but making better use of your time.

Finding a planner that provides enough structure to help me develop better time management habits, as well as the flexibility to organize my day and my week as I see fit, has been challenging. Some are too simple, with wide open spaces for days and nothing else. Others are too complicated – have you tried bullet journaling? Anything that requires an index to use is way too complex for me.

So when I heard about the Passion Planner on Kickstarter three years ago, I was intrigued. I liked the page designs, which include a monthly view and then a weekly view, and a daily schedule broken down to the half hour. I’ve found that this approach helps me set long-term goals and then break them down more easily into smaller, doable chunks.

The Passion Roadmap, which is a section at the very front of the planner, is where you strategize and break down your goals for the coming year. To me it looks sort of like a mind map, but I like that asks you to think about your goals for your life, three years hence, one year hence, and three months out.

The Passion Roadmap is your goal-setting space.

Then it walks you through how to define and make progress on your GameChanger – the one thing right now that would have the most positive impact on your life. I appreciate the simplicity of zeroing in on that one thing I can do right now that would make the biggest difference in my business.

That’s the forward-looking work that you do before you even get into the day-to-day planning.

I also like that it’s sturdy, with a bound faux leather cover, a bright green ribbon to mark your page, and an elastic band to hold it closed or to mark another page.

The classic cover holds up through the months and is professional enough to bring to meetings.

While some people focus on daily tasks, I always work from a monthly view, so I want spaces on the monthly page to be large enough to note appointments.

I attach washi tape to the edges of each month so I can quickly flip to the monthly view.

That’s how I keep track of who I’m interviewing today and also what the rest of my week looks like. This allows me to quickly spot days where I’ve already overloaded my schedule and days where I have time to fit in a rush assignment here and there.

I like that the week starts on Monday with this planner.

On this two-page spread, I can record a number of key pieces of information. Because I’m a visual learner, having reminders right in front of me at all times is very helpful.

So up in the left-hand corner, I set a monthly work and personal goal. These are the single activities in those two areas of my life that will make the biggest difference in my business. This month, for work, my focus is hitting the half-way mark on a client’s book. On the personal side, it’s getting the house decorated for Christmas. So anytime I feel confused about what to do next, I look at that space on the planner to reorient myself.

I use the weekly view to note upcoming assignment deadlines and milestones I want to hit on larger projects. Many Passion Planner users go crazy with creativity on these pages, jazzing up their daily schedule with washi tape, colorful markers, and stickers. I love dressing mine up, too, but only when I have the time to relax and have fun.

Some planner users affix stickers, use colorful pens, and washi tape to jazz up their weeks.

Like the monthly view, each week you can set a specific task to focus on or theme. And you can easily track what went right on the left, which I like. (I’m also one of those people who will write a task down that I’ve just completed so I can have the satisfaction of crossing it off my to-do list.)

I like that each day of the week has a schedule that runs from 6:00 am to 10:30 pm, with 30-minute increments. At the top of each day there is also a spot to note the day’s focus. For me, that’s usually the one project or task I absolutely have to get done.

Since I think of my work week as running from Monday to Friday (and sometimes Saturday and Sunday), I was thrilled that for 2018 you have the option to choose from a week that starts on Sunday OR Monday. That was the one thing I didn’t really like in previous iterations of the Passion Planner.

At the bottom of the page is a grid for your “Personal To-Do List” and “Work To-Do List,” which helps me highlight those must-do’s for the week. There’s also a spot to list necessary errands, but my errand list never fits in those spaces, so that’s one thing I don’t usually use. On the right is a blank space that I use to jot down phone messages and other ideas that pop up. It’s a catch-all, essentially.

At the end of each month are “Monthly Reflection” pages that are a useful place to record your big wins, or at least that’s how I use it. I note major accomplishments, lessons I learned, and what I can work on next month. It’s a nice wrap-up that helps me make incremental improvements each month.

Taking stock of what went right at the end of each month is a great way to start the new month.

And at the end of the planner book are blank pages, as well as pages with grid lines, that I often use to note appointments scheduled for next year, editing rules I’m always looking up, and prospects I need to follow up with. There are at least 20 pages, so you could certainly designate whole pages to tracking various aspects of your life.

I use one page as a repository for ideas for future guests to interview for the Association of Ghostwriters and another as a place to jot down ideas for entrepreneurs I want to collaborate with on books.

I think since writers are often in reactive mode, waiting for assignments to come in or to get the go-ahead on proposed work, or waiting for client feedback, it’s easy to feel that your schedule is not your own. That’s why I love the Passion Planner, I think. Because it gives me a sense of control – as much or as little as I want – over my work.

Some days, when I’m feeling particularly overwhelmed, I’ll map out tasks in 30-minute increments in an effort to reduce any time-wasting that will prevent me from finishing that blog post that’s due or wrapping up the research I need to be able to finish a client’s book chapter. It provides structure when I need it, and freedom when I don’t.

It’s also fun to go crazy with sticks and colorful washi tape, to make it visually appealing rather than stale and black-and-white.

You can find washi tape in many bright colors and patterns to dress up your pages.

Each year Passion Planner designer Angelia Trinidad comes up with new cover colors. I always buy the black version, but this year you can also choose covers in Vintage Brown, Golden Dream, and Blue Blossom, and Rose Gold Blossom. There are even more options if you want to just buy a reusable sleeve to wrap around an Eco version of the planner, which you swap out at the end of the year. There are two sizes, the Classic, which is 8.27” x 11.69”, and the Compact, which is 5.83” x 8.27”. I like to have lots of space to take notes, so I always buy the larger Classic. But if you want sometime to take with you in your bag, the Compact might be more convenient. And you can get the planner with all the dates filled in or the undated version, which allows you to start at any time and organize your weeks however you prefer.

I’ve always been a paper-based planner user, so this works well for me. At the moment the Passion Planner is not available in electronic form, so if you prefer to manage your schedule on your computer, this may not be as good a fit.

Another benefit of choosing the Passion Planner is that you can get access to a free PDF version of the planner immediately, so you can start charting your path now, rather than having to wait until it hits your mailbox. You can also print out the PDF and give it a test run before you even decide if you want to buy it, which I think is great.

Click here to learn more about the Passion Planner. If you decide you’d like to order one, if you use my code MARCIAT10 you’ll get 10% off through December 31st.

What’s your favorite planner?

*I became an affiliate for the Passion Planner this year because I love the product. If you use my code you’ll save money and I’ll receive a small commission.

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Write Your Memoir (With a Little Help from a Ghost)

Guest post by Tom Seligson

Tom Seligson is a widely published author, journalist, ghostwriter, and Emmy-winning writer/producer for television. He has been published in The New York Times, The Village Voice, Glamour, Self, Mademoiselle, Redbook, American Health, and the L.A. Times and was a contributing editor to Parade.

You don’t have to be a Hollywood celebrity, decorated war hero, or even a notorious criminal to think your life story belongs in a book. Memoirs are more popular than ever. More than a third of the non-fiction books on The New York Times bestseller list are memoirs.  Who knows how many self-published books fit that description.

 Why Should I Write a Memoir?

  • Your book can celebrate your family and your life.
  • People today are fascinated by their ancestry.
  • Your book will be a treasured part of your legacy, a valuable family heirloom.
  • Your book is the ultimate personal gift.

 But My Life Isn’t Fascinating Enough.

  • You don’t have to have climbed Mt. Everest or worked in the White House to have something interesting to say.
  • It’s been said that everyone has a story in them.
  • You just have to find yours.

How Do I Find My Story?

  • Think back on the varied experiences you’ve had – from childhood all through your career.
  • You’re bound to find some worth sharing.

What Are Some Examples?

  • I came from a very abusive family. I ran away when I was in high school, and was homeless for a year. I’ve never revealed this before.
  • I was the youngest associate in my law firm. The older lawyers resented me, hoping I would fail. I learned the secrets of office politics, which helped me to succeed.
  • These experiences could easily be the basis for a book.

What if I Need Help?

  • Here’s where a ghostwriter comes in.
  • A ghostwriter can be your sounding board, someone you can bounce ideas off of.
  • A ghostwriter is a professional storyteller. The more he gets to know you and your life, the more he’ll be able to guide you into identifying your story.

Who Would Want to Read My Book?

  • Friends, family, colleagues are the obvious ones.
  • Depending on the topics you write about, you can potentially appeal to many readers.

Writing is Too Hard. I’ll Never Finish.

  • Writing can be challenge. But remember, you’re not in a race. Bestselling author Gay Talese writes one sentence a day. Those sentences eventually add up to a book.
  • You’re not a professional, so no reason to be hard on yourself. Writing your memoir is a great way to recall some of the major moments in your life.

Why a Ghostwriter?

Whether you want someone else to write every word, or have someone to simply fall back on during the process, a good ghostwriter can be a valuable partner to creating your memoir, something that can live on for generations to come.

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Manuscript Deadlines: Should Ghostwriting Projects Have Them?

Clients walking away from book projects is not unheard of. Here’s what some firms are doing to protect themselves from loss.

I think we can all agree that deadlines are a good thing, even a necessity, for both client and ghostwriter. Deadlines help ghostwriters plan their workloads and set appropriate client expectations regarding when they’ll see deliverables. A deadline helps both parties stay on track.

What Happens When a Deadline is Missed?

Now, when the ghostwriter fails to meet an agreed-upon deadline, the client can choose to end the project and turn it over to someone else, or give them additional time to finish it up. Since ghostwriters are typically paid on completion of certain tasks, they are incentivized to get the work done efficiently.

That is, when a ghostwriter stops working, they stop being paid.

A similar issue arises for the ghostwriter when the client disappears. When, for whatever reason, the client becomes unavailable to work on a book, this becomes a problem for the ghostwriter, who can only generate income when they are writing. They’ve committed to the project, maybe even turned down other work to make time for it, and when a client disappears, suddenly their income source has disappeared.

Sometimes the client surfaces days or weeks later, and sometimes they don’t. Ever.

A Client Gone AWOL

This happened to me about five years ago. We had drafted all of the chapters in a client’s business book except for one, which he had left until the end because it was the most important one – the one where he laid out in detail his success strategy. From my perspective, it was what made his book different and appealing. But after finishing all the other chapters, he suddenly considered leaving this chapter out. I explained why I thought that was a bad idea and he said he would think about it and get back to me.

I never heard from him again.

In addition to not being able to finish the manuscript, I was also unable to bill for the last milestone payment worth several thousand dollars, which hinged on completing that last chapter. Despite regular follow-up, I never heard what had happened. And I was never paid for that work because I hadn’t completed 100% of the manuscript, as the agreement required me to do in order to qualify for the payment.

Preventive Measures                                                           

After this happened a second time, within the last year, I’m now seriously considering attaching a time limit for completion. Turns out, I’m not alone.

Tara Richter, president of Richter Publishing, an independent publishing house based in Tampa, FL, promises clients that their book will be written, edited, and published within a year if they meet all their deadlines. The agreement both parties sign makes it official.

At the year mark, if the book is not completed because the client was pulled in another direction, the project is concluded. Any money already paid is non-refundable.

Richter emails the client what has been finished to that point, she says, which is usually a half-written book. “They can then do whatever they want with it,” she explains. Or, “If they finally reach back out, we sign a new contract with more money paid and we continue and another one-year limit is set.”

Other publishing firms have been debating this step, too.

Carrie Jones, director of production at Greenleaf Book Group in Austin, TX, says, “I’ve gone back and forth on putting a deadline on projects that are in the creative stage, such as ghostwriting. Although it seems like it would help authors commit to devoting the time needed to develop the manuscript, it could backfire.”

She explains, “If the author misses the date, then they may be so discouraged that they give up the entire book project, which would not benefit either of us. I think putting a deadline on this can have short-term gains but long-term losses.”

Jenkins Group, in Traverse City, MI, has taken a slightly different tack to ensure the firm and its ghostwriter are paid in full if the client changes his or her mind once underway. Leah Nicholson, production and editorial director at Jenkins, says, “We have recently started billing on time instead of milestones achieved.”

With this approach, the client makes a down payment and then partial payments at 60 days and another at 120, says Nicholson, with the goal of getting paid in advance while they are active and engaged in the project. Then if the client decides to bail, at least all the vendors have been paid.

Jenkins also has a project expiration date at nine months, or six months with no movement, says Nicholson. The goal is to keep projects on schedule and clients involved in the process.

This is a relatively new policy for the firm, which previously billed at production milestones and, Nicholson says, “Fewer people have squawked about it than we thought. Now, when projects take much longer or the client gets delayed, they don’t want to make payments so fast. But we keep after them. It’s the contract they signed.”

Have you ever had a client disappear before the book manuscript was finished?

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How Ghostwriters Can Gracefully Exit a Project

Many ghostwriting projects go smoothly, but sometimes ghostwriter and client need to part ways.

You do your best to vet or investigate potential ghostwriting clients up front. That might include Googling them, checking their LinkedIn profile, reading articles about the organization they work for, scanning their blog posts, and interviewing them, trying to get a sense of how easy they will be to work with. At the same time, they’re checking you out, trying to get a sense of what you’ll be like to work with.

As you hunt, you hope that you won’t find anything worrisome, like reports that the company is about to declare bankruptcy or a lawsuit is pending.

Rarely does information surface that suggests that a writing-related project is likely to go south. And few do.

But once work gets underway, the chances of some kind of conflict occurring quickly rise. Sometimes issues arrive even before the contract is signed or payment is received.

Conflicts could include differences in work style or schedule, availability of information, access to key sources, market shifts, unethical behavior, or delays in payment. Even one of these issues could be cause for a ghostwriter to want to walk away.

So how do you do that without creating bad feelings or potentially damaging your reputation?

Here are some strategies for declining the work no matter where you are in the negotiations.

Before you get started: Decline the opportunity. If you uncover something that doesn’t sit right, or your gut is warning you that this is not a client you want right now, let the prospect know that while you would love to work on their project, it’s not a good fit for you.

I would recommend not using excuses like you’re “booked with other projects” or quote a fee that is multiples of what you currently charge just to knock yourself out of contention. Those tactics don’t always work.

Save yourself some time and simply say that it’s not for you. Maybe the topic is not a subject you’re familiar with and would take way too much time to get up-to-speed on. Maybe it’s a genre you’re unfamiliar with. Maybe it’s not a topic you’re interested in, and you have to be passionate about a topic in order to devote the next few months to it. Maybe you’ve never written on that particular subject and know that other writers would do a better job.

Those are all reasonable and polite reasons to give that will convey that you are unwilling to accept the project.

Whenever possible, make it clear that you’re declining the opportunity because you know it is in the client’s best interest to hire someone else.

Once you receive the contract: Decline the opportunity. When you receive a proposed contract from a client and don’t like the terms, say so. Maybe the indemnification clause is onerous. Maybe the schedule is crazy. Maybe you’re being asked to do tasks that weren’t part of your initial discussions but without any additional compensation. Maybe you have to turn in weekly timesheets or found out that a committee of 10 will be reviewing your drafts. Or maybe you discover your client expects you to work 24/7 on their project and that’s just not what you had in mind.

At this point, you can decline to sign the contract if you feel it is not in your best interest. Sure, it’s a little awkward because the client was probably getting ready to begin the writing process, but you’re much better off walking away now and alerting the author-client that they need to find a replacement than waiting until work gets underway.

After signing the contract: Stop work. Sometimes everything goes smoothly until you send the invoice for a down payment and then things slow to a halt. If you’ve billed for a down payment and have not received it, despite follow-ups, and have not yet heard why it hasn’t arrived, you might consider turning your attention to other projects.

If you’re pretty sure the payment will arrive at some point, you might just let the client know that you can’t hold your schedule open for them indefinitely, but that you’ll be happy to get started once payment arrives. And then move on. You haven’t actually walked away at this point, but you’ve conveyed that you have to focus on getting other paying work.

You can do this at any point in the project when a promised payment doesn’t arrive as expected. Stop work until you are paid and the check clears.

Most payments do eventually show up, but in the meantime, invest your time in tasks that will pay off in the short-term.

After signing the contract: Cancel it. Always leave yourself an out within the contract to withdraw from the project with two weeks’ notice. This should be an option for both parties – you and your client. I am not an attorney and this is not legal advice but it’s good common sense to leave yourself an out in any contract.

Two weeks’ notice gives you the chance to wrap up any tasks you were taking care of, to package up your notes or any materials you need to return, and to bill for any work completed since you last invoiced.

There are many reasons you or your client may need to cancel the project. Sometimes senior leadership changes and the project you were working on is no longer a priority. Sometimes the client loses a major client of their own and needs to stop work for cash flow reasons. Sometimes an event in their industry changes the book’s content and they need to stop work, even temporarily.

And in your case, you may have an event in your own life that you know will interfere with your ability to complete the work on their timetable. When that happens, it’s best to alert your client as soon as possible, so they can take steps to continue with another writer.

Or maybe the client starts adding material that you know is dangerous – libelous or untrue – and you’re wary of being associated with the project. That’s another reason to back out. Or, as one of my colleagues once discovered, the client may have plagiarized some material and presented it as their own. That’s a big no-no that you also may not want to be associated with.

These are all legitimate reasons to back out of your contract and as long as you have agreed that either party can cancel with notice, you should have no issue.

Of course, it’s always helpful to suggest other colleagues who could pick up where you left off, but only if you’re comfortable doing that. Or if you can suggest steps that can be taken to make the author less likely to encounter trouble down the line, that’s always a good move.

No matter what your reason for declining a project, and no matter how far along the work is, always be as professional and as helpful as possible. Because you never know when your paths may cross again. If done gracefully, your past client may also become a solid source of referrals for you.

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Ghostwriters: Should You Ever Let Someone “Pick Your Brain?”

Should you be willing to give away your brainpower, your expertise, for free?

The email in my inbox this morning from a complete stranger asked for some of my time “to learn more about your process” and “to pick your brain about ghostwriting.” 

I have to admit I was a bit shocked by the question. Sure, I receive requests to network or to answer a few questions about ghostwriting from time-to-time, but rarely does someone I don’t know at all ask me to give away my hard-earned expertise at no cost to them.

Why in the world would I ever do that?

In this case, I wouldn’t. There is no reason for me to put aside billable work to spill all my secrets to a stranger. I declined.

However, there are situations where it may be in your best interest to say yes. Some of those scenarios include:

Being invited to speak. If you are asked to speak or to present to an audience about your work, your process, or your business and there is the chance that you could come in contact with prospective clients, sharing your expertise might be worth your time. Or if you are asked to speak to students or to fellow writers who are attending a conference, you might also consider the request, as a way to support the community of writers. The pay-off is helping others – who have demonstrated they recognize the value of your advice by investing in the class or the conference – become successful. At some point those colleagues might also return the favor and refer work your way; that has certainly happened for me.

Being asked to help a friend or colleague. When a friend, friend-of-a-friend, colleague, or fourth cousin once removed asks for my advice, I gladly give it. Chances are very good that somewhere along the way, I benefited from someone else’s friend’s counsel and advice and I’m happy to return the favor. I also enjoy helping my friends. But there needs to be a personal connection for me to give up my free time.

Being interviewed for an article, book, or blog post. Since publicity is one of the best ways to establish yourself as an expert, it’s generally a good idea to speak with journalists and writers about what you do when given the opportunity. The media coverage that results is often very beneficial. So when a reporter asks for your time, I strongly suggest you consider giving them as much as they need, as long as the story they’re writing will paint you in a positive light.

Being asked to consult with a potential client. I often get calls from experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who are considering writing a book and want to chat with me about its viability – is it worth their time and energy to produce it, they want to know. Because such calls can often lead to projects for me or for colleagues in the Association of Ghostwriters, if the topic isn’t up my alley, I am generally willing to set aside 15-30 minutes for a discussion. I actually enjoy these calls, when I can learn something new and share information that may prove useful to them. In this case, I consider the time a marketing expense – there is the possibility of future work. I’d recommend that you also be willing to give prospects your time when they ask for it.

Having a referral source ask for your time. If you receive leads from people like attorneys, accountants, PR professionals, graphic designers, editors, or agents and they ask you to spend a few minutes speaking with one of their clients, it would behoove you to say yes. Show why the individual refers work your way, by demonstrating your professionalism and industry knowledge to their client or contact. It’s also a way to show appreciation for the trust your referral source has shown you and the business they’ve sent your way.

Generally, I need to know who you are, what you need from me, and how your request is going to benefit me more than continuing to complete the billable client work I already have on my desk. I don’t mean for that to sound harsh but I try hard not to give away time that I’ve asked them to pay for. It’s just not fair to them.

What are some situations in which you’ve been willing to let someone “pick your brain?” 

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What Does “Bestseller” Mean?

Bestselling books have generally sold hundreds of thousands of copies.

Most authors and ghostwriters want to pen bestsellers, right? Because the term “bestseller” indicates that a book has sold better than others.

But how much better, exactly?

That’s what I started to wonder after seeing some authors in my area claim to have written bestsellers when I know (from previous conversations) that their sales are around 500 copies. No, not 500,000 copies – 500.

Let me assure you that a book that has sold 500 copies is not a bestseller on any list. Nor does 5,000 or 10,000 copies sold come close to reaching the top of a bestseller list. You have to hit hundreds of thousands of copies sold to qualify for true bestseller status.

A book I worked on years ago is a true bestseller, having sold close to 1 million copies thus far. I was the co-author with Ed Paulson on the first few editions of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Starting Your Own Business, which was a bestseller when it first debuted.

I also edited a more recent New York Times bestseller. While I don’t know the book’s sales figures, I can see it on the actual list to confirm it is, in fact, a bestseller.

Bestseller Lists

Granted, there are different bestseller lists. Amazon names bestsellers overall and in different categories. The New York Times, USA Today, and the Wall Street Journal all have their own bestseller lists, as do other newspapers and magazines.

So what does it take to have a bestseller?

You need to sell thousands and thousands of books in a short period of time, so that editors responsible for compiling bestseller lists take note. That doesn’t always mean that your book has sold the absolute most – because lists are often compiled based on how well editors think a book will sell, versus how much it has.

Bestselling author Tucker Max explains this in an Entrepreneur article, characterizing bestseller lists as “popularity contests” and not straight rankings based on sales. He cites The New York Times lawsuit filed by William Blatty, author of The Exorcist, as proof that their list is part fact, part personal preference, reporting:

“The New York Times defense was that ‘the list did not purport to be an objective compilation of information but instead was an editorial product.’ They won the case in multiple rulings all the way up to the Supreme Court, based on the argument that the list is not supposed to [be] accurate, but reflects their judgment.”

But speed of sales is a big factor in determining whether you have a bestseller, at least on Amazon’s chart.

Obtaining Amazon Bestseller Status

One way to game the Amazon system to hit the top of your category is to have dozens of people order your book during a short window of time, preferably in the middle of the night. That’s because few people are ordering books then and your book will sell much faster relative to many other books you’re competing with. That’s how you rise in the ranks – based on how fast people are buying your book relative to other books.

Then, once you’ve hit the top of the charts, you can forever claim that your book was an Amazon category bestseller.

It’s not as easy to gain entry onto established print bestseller lists, however, because those are based partly on sales figures and partly on book buyer intuition. But if you can get near the top of Amazon’s list and stay there for a few weeks, the newspapers will certainly take notice.

Given how hard it is to achieve bestseller status, don’t believe every author who claims to have written one. Which list, you might ask. You can easily verify such claims once you have that information.

And if you get a blank stare, it’s a good bet that the author doesn’t really understand what it takes sales-wise to reach that pinnacle.

Have you ever asked someone what list their “bestseller” is on?

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Ghostwriters: Say “Yes” When Offered More Business

The potential for too many ghostwriting projects is actually a good thing, if you know these strategies for managing your workload.

Ghostwriters experience the same “feast or famine” scenario that freelance writers regularly deal with. One month work is pouring in, the next, all you hear is crickets.

Many ghostwriters experience a cycle of too much work, then too little, with anxiety spiking in between those two states of being. Some of that stress creeps in as work slows down and you fear you will never land another project as long as you live, and then as work picks up, you worry that you will have to start saying “no” to opportunities because you’re too busy. How you will manage the overflow becomes your looming crisis.

I have some advice for you – never say “no,” unless it’s work you would never take under any circumstances. Say, for example, if the pay is far too low, the client far too difficult, or the topic way beyond your area of expertise. You can say “no” to those.

But if you’re worried because you don’t want to be overwhelmed, or at least above your comfort level in terms of your workload, let me relieve your fears.

How to Manage Your Workload

Taking on more than you can handle won’t happen, even if you say “yes” to everything that comes your way, if you do the following:

  • Ask for more time. When your workload starts piling up, you can still take on new work if you negotiate more time from your newest clients. You might even offer a discount if they can extend their deadline to a more manageable completion date. Explain that while you can’t get their book done by year-end, you really want to work with them and could commit to having it done in the first quarter of next year. Most clients don’t have a due date tied to any particular event, like a conference or major speech, and the majority can be convinced to give you more time.
  • Stagger your projects. Agree to start a new project after you’ve hit a milestone on an existing project, such as completing the first chapter, or the first half of the manuscript. That way you avoid working on two projects with the same timeline.
  • Outsource. If you discover you have more on your plate than you can comfortably handle, or you want to reduce those concerns from becoming reality, line up folks who can take on some parts of your task. For example, you might find a transcriptionist to take the typing up of interviews off your hands. Or hire a virtual assistant to line up interviews for you. Hire an editor to improve your hastily-prepared rough draft, or a researcher to hunt down elusive statistics or sources so that you can stay focused on the work your client hired you to do – the writing.
  • Partner. If you can’t convince the client to give you additional time, you could ask to bring in a colleague to support you, to ensure you can meet the client’s deadline. You’d split the work – perhaps your colleague does all the client interviews and has them transcribed and you tackle the writing. Or vice versa. Increasing your capacity by tapping into the availability of a trusted colleague allows you to say “yes” and boost your income by at least a portion of the fee.
  • Refer. If you do get to the point where you’re crying “uncle” and want some breathing room, you can always refer work to other ghostwriters you trust. You’ll earn their gratitude and you’ll move to the top of their list of potential referral options when they discover they need to refer extra work elsewhere.

The truth is, you will worry about pending projects coming through simultaneously but it rarely ever happens that several projects appear at once. Things happen. Existing clients go on vacation, giving you free time to devote to other projects. Pending projects get pushed into next quarter for budget reasons. The client takes weeks to make a go-no go decision. Or they opt to work with a different ghostwriter.

Nothing to Worry About

Last month I worried about a potential project for which I looked like I was a shoe-in. I got nervous about my bandwidth, as they say in corporate speak, and began strategizing how I would get everyone’s work done on time.

Turns out, that was time wasted. I needn’t have worried. The client decided to put the project off until early 2018.

Earlier this year I was in a similar predicament – a full workload and a potential project that I was really excited about. So, of course, I lay awake at night worrying about the late nights and weekends of work in my future. And then, suddenly, an existing client put their project on hold temporarily, creating the space I needed to fit a new project in without any trouble.

So don’t do what I did – worry unnecessarily about being overwhelmed. Say “yes” and then figure out how to get it done if, in the unlikely scenario, several projects come in at once.

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John DeSimone is a published memoir ghostwriter and novelist. He has successfully ghostwritten more than a dozen books, taught writing at the university level, and edited several hundred others, both fiction and non-fiction. His passion is helping individuals shape their stories into compelling reads. Find out more about him at www.johndesimone.com.

When Writing a Memoir, First Consider How to Tell It

By John DeSimone

Recently a friend of mine who is writing a memoir told me about a conversation he had with an acquisitions editor at a writer’s conference. After he had chatted her up about his story of the unfortunate death of his sister, one he thought as a teen he could have prevented, she stated flatly, “I’d be interested—if it’s about grief.”

A memoir about grief—aren’t there enough of them already?

Evidently not according to that editor. Despite the discouragement that literary agents pass out like dictates from heaven that memoirs by non-celebrities are impossible to sell, publishers are always looking for well-told stories that fit into a category they know how to edit and market.

That’s why this bit of advice from an acquisition editor is so relevant to anyone thinking of writing a memoir. Not that you need to write a memoir on grief because that particular editor said she was interested, but consider her advice in a wider sense. Before you think about pursuing your dream of writing your story, think about what story your writing. Why? Because that’s how the people on the other end of the writing process, those who will publish and read it, will market and find your book.

Categories and Narrative Arcs

Memoirs are theme driven stories about our lives. Memoirs are about one story and one story alone—the theme. They are not a comprehensive compilation of incidents—that’s the territory of the biography. Rather, memoirs are selective, they dramatize experience, they are based on memories, and they have a strong narrative arc.

A memoir with an identifiable narrative arc will be easy for publishers to fit it into a particular category.

A story with a narrative arc takes a character through a series of events, beginning with something tragic, happy, unsettling, or whatever—that impels the character to seek change; scenes lead to a rising action that results in a positive or negative conclusion. Most but not all memoirs end with a positive change that places the author in an entirely different place than in the beginning. (I’ve written extensively on narrative arcs in memoirs if you care for more.)

A successful arc creates momentum, the sense that the story is leading somewhere, and not just a series of vignettes or essays about your life, and it ends with a conclusion that is logical based on the stories events.

A story of escape has a character reaching safety, a triumph over seemingly insurmountable obstacles. A story of healing has left the author in a new state of health, a victory over sickness. Or maybe not. It may be a story of dealing with the inevitability of death, and so it does end with death, but the lessons learned are transformational. A story of transformation has to lead to a new person, spiritually, emotionally, or whatever the case may be. And so one.

The arc ends up establishing the category of memoir.  

Memoirs Fit into Categories

Editors buy well-written memoirs that develop a theme that will fit into an established category already on the bookshelf; every book is sold through placing it in an identifiable category. Marketers and search engines need to know where it fits so readers can find it. With the dominance of Amazon or Google categories have become more important than ever before.

It is true that certain categories, such as recovery from divorce or an abusive marriage, have exhausted the market and agents turn them down for that reason. That’s why I suggest working with a memoir ghostwriter who knows how to shape your story for maximum effect. There are ways to develop a story that can save you the anguish of rejection if you write it from the wrong angle.

Think of the memoir, Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. She had gone through a painful divorce, leaving her lonely and depressed. Knowing that surviving divorce memoirs is a saturated category, she chose a different angle. The theme of her memoir didn’t focus on the divorce directly but on finding new love. Using the structure of a travel memoir, she turned her painful experience into an exciting tale that bridged two categories: travel and recovery; it became an instant sensation. The story not only captured the imagination of editors but readers as well, eventually becoming a hit movie.

Should you have such focused attention on the market while you wrangle the details of your life into a meaningful tale? As a memoir ghostwriter, I say most emphatically, yes. I talk to people all the time who want to write their story. Your experiences are valuable and should not get lost in the unpublished world by not shaping your story correctly. If you use a narrative arc that allows the book to slip neatly into an identifiable category, it will appeal to readers who seek out your thematic concerns. And if the story proves exciting, it can succeed. And in the hands of a competent writer to assist, it likely will succeed.

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