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

1 comment:

  1. Great post, Alisa. I always tell aspiring ghostwriters that the process is at least 50% customer service.