Sunday, March 28, 2010

How to Soothe a Scared Author


How to Ensure Your Writer Gets It

I recently met an author who had just started working on a proposal with a writer and was worried that the writer “didn’t get it.” He didn’t think the writer had a full grasp of his brand. He didn’t think the writer understood what he was all about. Most important, he worried that the writer was going to try to bully him into putting his name on a book that did not look, feel or sound as if he’d written it.

Indeed, the proposal stage is a scary one for authors, and it’s just as scary for writers, too. Both usually have just met, so neither one knows for sure whether the other is prone to Going Postal. And the project is still amorphous, so neither the author nor the writer knows if the dang thing is really going to materialize.

The author is worried about whether he or she hired the right person, wondering things like: Can she really capture my voice? Does she really know how to write a book that sells? Does she get me?

The writer is worried, too, wondering: Is this author going to micromanage this project? Can she really go commercial or will she force me to write boring drab that even her own mother won’t want to read? Is he going to pay me on time or will I end up in small claims court?

What follows is my best advice for overcoming fear, so you can both focus on your common goal—writing a proposal that sells.

Advice for Authors

1. Trust the process.
Many writers—myself included—communicate much better with our fingertips (ie when we’re typing) than we can with our lips. Often times we have a very tough time putting the stunningly awesome ideas in our heads into verbal words that other people will recognize as stunningly awesome. Yet, we can easily do it when we sit down to the keyboard. In other words, if your writer sounds like a doofus when she talks, it doesn’t necessarily mean you hired the wrong person. Reserve judgment until you’ve seen something she’s written.

2. Think about what you do differently—that one thing that makes you stand out from every other person in your specialty. Communicate this one thing to your writer. Whether or not she’s asking the right questions, it’s what she’s searching for. Provide it and the entire process will go more smoothly.

3. Give your writer lots of interview time. Your writer can’t capture your voice or your ideas from reading your old columns or other things that you’ve written. Your writer needs you.

Advice for Writers

1. Don’t talk about how you think the book might develop until you’ve done a complete author-to-writer brain download.
Try to get to know your author as intimately as you know your mother.

2. Let the author help you find the hook.
Ask questions like:

· A book is one way to leave a legacy. What kind of legacy do you want to leave? What is the unique mark you want to leave on this world?

· What are you most passionate about? What do you find yourself talking about everywhere you go?

· What really irritates you about your profession or about how others view your profession? What record do you want to set straight with this book?

3. Listen. Listen. Listen. The author has a hook. Listen for it. In the beginning, your interviews should be focused on you asking questions and listening as the author talks. They should not be you brainstorming hooks and suggesting them to the author.

4. Don’t try to create the hook from the ethers.
It’s the creating a hook from ethers that really gives authors the heebie-jeebies. Think about how you would feel if a writer came to you and said: I have the perfect concept for a book about writing that I’d love to put your name on. What do you think?

5. Present the author with a number of options.
I’ve only recently developed this strategy, and, so far, it has nearly eliminated author distrust. Rather than come up with just one concept and outline, I present the author with 3 to 5 of them. They are not crafted. They are not complete. They are mere starting points. I say, “Here are some ways we could package what you know into a book. Let’s take a look at what you like and don’t like about each and see if we can create a winner based on those reactions.”

6. Soothe the author’s fears.
Don’t become locked in a power struggle. Don’t continually shoot down the author’s ideas. Definitely do not tell the author that he or she is boring. Instead, create a common goal: a proposal you are both happy with. Say that you will not rest until you’ve reached that goal, and mean it.

Alisa Bowman is a ghostwriter of 6 NY Times bestsellers. You can learn more about her at

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Ghostwriter's Guide to the ASJA Conference

The ASJA Annual Writers Conference meets at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City April 23 to 25. Lots for ghostwriters at this year’s gathering.

It’s All In The Packaging.
This panel pulls together an impressive panel of book packaging professionals. Lots of packaged books use ghostwriters. Go, listen to what the industry needs, think about how you can tailor your skills to that market.
Looking at Lives: Memoirs and Biographies.
Who says memoir is dead? Every time that pronouncement is made, another great true life story hits the stands. A great memoir often needs a ghostwriter.
Personal Pitch.
It’s not just for bylines. Every year, I make the rounds of agents and book publishers with my boilerplate pitch: “Hi, I’m Ellen Neuborne. I’m a ghostwriter. My specialty is business and within that marketing, advertising and sales. If you’ve ever got a client in need of a ghostwriter, I’d be delighted to work with you.” Then I drop off my resume and move on. Every year, that’s turned up some kind of paying gig. Twice I was hired to write book proposals, once I snagged an actual book gig. And all those other book professionals have my resume on file. You never know.

Posting for Dollars.
The latest new market for ghostwriters is ghost blogging. Hit this panel and listen for ways to market your skills to experts who want to post and tweet but don’t have the time.

Go Team: Collaborations.
The other word for ghostwriting is collaborating. The difference is often the amount of credit and prominence the writer receives. Collaborations make good work for ghostwriters and many of the big names in the industry will be at this panel, including Madeleine Morel, a literary agent who specializes in matching experts and ghostwriters.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

New Association of Ghostwriters Announced

Later this month, freelance writer and ghostwriter Marcia Layton Turner will launch the Association of Ghostwriters, a new membership-based organization for ghosts and collaborators. I caught up with her and got the scoop on this exciting new group.

GM: Tell me about the organization and what you hope to do with it?

MLT: For the last three years I’ve produced an e-mail newsletter entitled Become a Six-Figure Writer, which was established to help people figure out how to earn more money as freelancers. Every once in awhile, I’ll do a survey of my 1,500 subscribers and I’ll ask them “What are you interested in?” Lately, I’ve seen an increasing interest in ghostwriting. People want to everything from what kinds of projects are out there to how to find them to how to create successful collaborations. So, I decided to create an organization with member benefits to help people answer those questions and be successful ghostwriters.

GM: What are some of the benefits members will receive?

MLT: We have a series of monthly tele-seminars designed to help ghostwriters find projects, improve their writing skills, qualify themselves for projects that are out there and get an overview of the range of projects. I plan to have a ghostwriter service to help people find ghostwriters, and plan to track news and information about ghostwriting in mainstream media, blogs, social media, and other sources. We’ll have a monthly newsletter and an online networking forum for ghostwriters. We’ll also have some discounts on services. Charter memberships will start at $69.00 per year, and will rise to $99 after the first six months.

GM: Do you find that there’s a great demand for ghostwriters?

MLT: There is a rising demand for ghostwriters across the board. If you look at the job postings that are out there on the many different services, there’s definitely demand or at least interest in ghostwriting services. The sector is changing. Five years ago, when you talked about ghostwriting, the assumption is you're talking about ghostwriting a book. As Twitter, Facebook, and blogs have become more important communication vehicles, companies and experts are finding that they need to hire professional writers because they simply don’t have the time to manage all of that content. And I think the challenge for us, as professional ghostwriters, is to weed out the people who are serious and understand what a ghostwriter can do for them from the people who are looking for someone to help write a memoir and have a budget of $10.00.

GM: For writers who are interested in ghostwriting but maybe don’t know how to get started, what is your recommendation for establishing a ghostwriting business?

MLT: I think one of the first things they need to do is to demonstrate their writing skills. Pursue articles in major publications in their area of specialization, such as business or health. They also need to make contact with the companies who are looking for ghostwriters. Set up a website that shows ghostwriting availability and talk about any ghostwriting experience that they’ve had.

Of course the biggest challenge for someone who wants to get into the business is getting that first job. Until you ghost your first book, article or blog, it can be difficult to convince someone to take a chance on you. But it’s the goal of the Association of Ghostwriters to make the world of ghostwriting easier to navigate and help writers profit from this lucrative sector.

For more information about the Association of Ghostwriters, visit