Thursday, December 31, 2009

How to Interview an Author

I wrote a companion post for authors about a month ago, titled, “How to interview a ghostwriter.” This post is for potential ghosts.

Before hiring you, most authors will want to talk with you. Whenever I talk with an author, I try to determine three things by the end of the conversation:

1. Is this someone I want to work closely with for four or more months? If you are desperate and your electric is about to be cut off, then you might be willing to work with anyone who is willing to hire you. In lieu of that dismal situation, however, it’s probably a good idea to make sure your potential author is mentally balanced and is someone who will respect your boundaries.

2. Does this person have a compelling idea that I can turn into a successful book proposal or book? Not every idea can be spun into a book. I prefer to work on successful projects. I also want to make sure that this is a project that can net me my fee.

3. Does this person have a platform to support the “compelling idea”? Similar to #2, if the platform is non-existent or not big enough, the author is not going to get an advance big enough to cover my fee.

I’ll go into how I determine each of those one at a time.

#1. There are a few red flags that I look for to determine whether or not a potential author will turn into an author from hell. They are:

· If the author wants me to call back immediately—particularly if it’s a national holiday. That means the author has boundary issues.

· If the author has delusions of grandeur (this is going to be a worldwide best seller, I’m going to get on Oprah, this book is going to make me rich and allow me to give up my [insert career here]). People who only want to do a book in order to get rich or earn fame are usually incredibly disappointed by the realities of book publishing, and they usually blame this disappointment on their ghostwriter. I like to ask authors, “Why do you want to do a book?” The ones who answer that question with, “To help people” or “to make a difference” end up being my favorite authors.

· Anyone who wants me to sign an NDA just to talk to them on the phone. That means they have trust issues.

· If the author tells me that she or he is a “writer.” That usually means that the author thinks I’m a typist, and that’s not what I do.

· If the author asks me if I’m willing to write for free, for trade or for half price, or whether I’m willing to take on this project because I “believe in it.” This means that the author does not value what I bring to the table.

#2. A compelling idea is one that other people want to know about. If the author tells you about his or her idea and your first thought is either, “Been there, read that” or “yawn, is it naptime yet?” then you’ve got a problem. I don’t necessarily give up on the project at this point, but I do ask a lot of questions to try to see if there is anything salvageable: Are you willing to go more commercial? Are you willing to work with me to make your idea stands out from what’s already on the shelf? What is it that your patients/clients thank you for? Why do you think you are successful at what you do? How does your program work?

#3. Platform. This is becoming more and more important in publishing. The platform needs to be both credible (not someone with a mail order degree) and broad. The author needs to have close media ties, a big mailing list, a speaking career, and/or a huge online presence. If these things are absent, it’s nearly impossible to sell the idea to a publisher. I can usually get a sense of an author’s platform by looking at his or her bio and CV, but these are the kinds of questions that I ask: Have you been on TV and how did that go? Do you do public speaking? How large are your audiences and how often do you do it? How many patients/clients do you work with on any given day? Do you have people who would be willing to serve as testimonials for your program?

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