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Ron's Blog

Take a minute and tell me what you want

In most cases, the first contact I have with a potential client is by email. Some people call me by telephone out of the blue, as one did today, but that is the exception. What is interesting about the emails is how unhelpful so many of them are, the majority in fact. Here are a few I've received over the last few weeks, reproduced here in their entirety:

"looking for someone to write my book"

"unfinished manuscript what are your prices of helping."

I particularly enjoyed the next one:

"I've wanted to try a site like this for months. BUT, how do I know you guys are legit? Just get back to me or whatev."

And my all time favorite, received in the last month:

"Could you e-mail me a pricelist. Anything more or less than this is an annoyance and a guarantee of lost business."

It should come as no surprise that I've done no business with any of these people. Indeed, I have to ask myself how genuine some even were. If they were serious at any level there would be a few details, even from Mr. Toughguy.

The problem with a price list is that it must of necessity be so general in nature it's not much use. I used to post one on this website until I realized it caused more problems than it solved. Anyone serious about hiring a writer needs to be willing to take a few minutes to share a bit about the story in the first communication. I need to know, for example, if they want a novel or a non-fiction book. Have they already written it and want it edited? Or is the book to be written from scratch? Will the book be based on interviews or will they provide material from which much of the book will be drawn? And, most of all, how many pages do they envision the book being when complete?

With this information I can usually provide a price and time range. Based on that the prospect can decide if he or she wants to take the next step. The fact is that most successful ghostwriters are very, very busy. In my case, most of my business is from previous clients and I usually take on no more than one new client a year.

I suppose the last email above is from someone who sees himself as a tough businessman, which only tells me I don't want to be involved with him for the time it would take to write a book. There's a place for toughness in business; it's not in the opening email. Writing a book for a client is a fairly intimate experience and if at any point in my contact with a prospect I decide I don't want to get to know them better I bail out.

So take the time to provide a bit of information. You'll find it leads to a much better and more helpful exchange, and leave the chip on your shoulder somewhere else. But if you don't want to take the time to write about your book, just pick up the telephone.

Turning your blog into a book

Recently I was contacted by a businessman who has a blog as part of his website. His idea was take the approximately 70,000 words in his blog, organize them into chapters, then edit and rewrite as necessary to turn all that material into a book. He would then self-publish, gain the status that comes with being a published author, and distribute the book as part of his ongoing marketing efforts.

All this is an excellent idea. Some years ago, before the advent of blogs, another businessman I've worked with over the years since had much the same idea, only with his newsletter. The objective in both situations is to take existing material and turn it into a book. In most, or at least many cases, both newsletters and blogs will contain the primary points the businessman wants to make in his book.

I'm often approached about writing a book for someone who pitches all the right elements to me, but once I'm engaged I learn to my dismay that the pitch is all there is. What follows are tedious months of slowly extracting the substance of the book from the client. Clients are often surprised at how much hard thinking they have to do for me to produce their book. It demands more time than most clients realize and are prepared to give. It is also the most expensive way to produce a book.

Anyone in business considering hiring a ghost to write his or her book should rethink the objectives of their newsletter and/or blog. In addition to the promotional and informational purpose it serves, it should be morphed into generating material that will form the backbone, and much of the flesh, of their future book. Following are some steps I suggest:

If you don't have either a blog or newsletter, launch a blog as soon as you can. Look at your competition, see what they are doing and design a blog accordingly. If you write each entry yourself be certain you have a qualified editor rework and copy edit your material.

Have something to say in each entry. If you tend to be a salesman with more flash than substance this will be a challenge but blogs must be informative and interesting.

Most books have eight to twelve chapters along with an Introduction and Conclusion. Organize what it is you want to say into categories. Each category will become a chapter in your future book. Then list the categories in a logical unfolding.

Next, break each category into parts and also list them in logical order. Now, make each part, or portion of a part, a blog entry. Once you've written it all in the blogs it's time to hire someone like me.

A ghost writer will charge much less to take this material and turn it into your book than he or she will to write your book from scratch. But don't make the mistake of thinking this is purely an editing job. A good ghost writer will bring a level of creativity and vision for your book that will be worth every dollar you pay.

By taking this approach, you will not only reduce the cost of eventually producing your book, you will find yourself doing all that essential thinking beforehand. In my experience, this will improve whatever it is you do and even if you never publish your book you and your business will be the better for it.

But that's down the road. For now, get to work changing or creating your blog.

Who hires a ghost?

It was ten years ago I first ghost wrote a book. At that time this was a profession shrouded in secrecy. Clients were quite concerned that no one know they had hired a professional. On those occasions when I met with them to conduct face-to-face interviews they would pass me off as their "editor". I still run into this but not so often. Since those days it has become somewhat of a status symbol to have a ghost writer. Today I'm put on display whenever I travel to meet with a client. It's been an interesting transformation and certainly made my job a lot easier.

I've traveled the world as a ghost and over the years met numerous interesting people I'd never have known otherwise. But the most satisfying part has been the books I've produced. A number have been published by the major New York publishers and sold in bookstore, while others have been self-published. The advent of print-on-demand and Amazon.com have greatly reduced printing costs and provided a method for distribution that never existed previously. When I began this career path I thought eBooks would be prevalent by this time but that hasn't proven the case. I am of the personal opinion that we are ten to twenty years away from an significant acceptance of eBooks. People still want the real thing and I don't see that changing.

So who hires a ghost writer? The answer is: almost anyone. The most common client, or in ghost writing parlance the "author" as compared to the ghost who is the "writer", is an entrepreneur with a successful company. In come cases they are poised to move the company to the next level and intend to use the book as part of the marketing plan. In other cases they are near the end of their career and want to document what they've accomplished for family and for any of the public who are interested.

The other more common author is the individual who has survived a life altering event. One was the survivor of a ship disaster while another survived a near-death experience. And then there are the memoirs. These are generally commissioned by people who have lived interesting lives and want to record it for their families. Typically, they self print 50 presentation copies.

Every person who hires a ghost has one thing in common with the others. They have a story to tell and recognize that they lack the skills to write the book. We hire plumbers, painters and mechanics, why should we hesitate to hire someone to write our book? I can't think of a reason.

From time to time I'll be blogging on my profession. I hope you will drop by. If you have a book in mind, drop me a note and I'll give you a price quote. Regardless, however, take notes, gather material and record your thoughts. You never know when the writing bug might strike or when you might decide to hire a ghost.

Ronald J. Watkins
Author and Managing Writer
© Ron Watkins 2002
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