Hugh* is an actor best known for his comic work: a sharp improviser, a gifted storyteller, a talented singer and dancer who has won awards for his theatre work. Now a leading book publisher has invited Hugh to write a memoir. But when Hugh puts his stories on the page, they die: the technicolored images turn dull and gray and the anecdotes sputter and crash before his eyes.

Seth*, a motivational speaker and business coach, rang me last week in a state of frustration. He was working on an idea for an inspirational book, but as he put it, ‘My writing skills are the opposite of my speaking skills.’

Hugh and Seth are smart guys with great stories to tell, but they can’t write anywhere near as well as they speak. Yet both of them want to commit their ideas and stories to book form (paper or digital). What can they do?

They can work with me. Or someone like me. A ghostwriter, or a writing coach, or a great editor who will dig into the slag heap and pluck out the gold.

With Hugh, I did a series of interviews face-to-face, then he went away and recorded a series of narratives, all based on the plan we had worked out beforehand. Often Hugh would ask his manager to sit with him while he recorded his stories: he works better if there is someone listening.

I am the opposite of Hugh and Seth. I communicate better in writing than verbally. After a conversation I often think, ‘I should have said that differently – I didn’t really get my point across.’ My brain seems to go at the wrong speed or it wanders off in another direction: I gabble, I ramble, I take too long to formulate a response.

But then, I am a writer. It’s not so surprising that the written word is where I feel most comfortable. But I love working with people who are the opposite of me: I get a kick out of listening to their stories (it’s like story time for grownups!) and developing a manuscript that captures their voice and their essence.

Hugh and I have just completed an 80,000-word manuscript and sent it off to the publisher. Next week I’ll be doing a Skype session with Seth to work through a plan to get his book written. Teamwork is a beautiful thing.

* Hugh and Seth are pseudonymsMan using megaphone

Some people hate the idea of working with a ghostwriter. Chris O’Brien was a head and neck surgeon who had become well-known through the TV series RPA, set in the hospital where he worked. Chris became even better known through a set of tragic events: around the time he was working hard to establish Australia’s first integrated cancer treatment center, he himself was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor.Chris O'Brien
Despite the best efforts of his physicians, Chris’s tumor grew. Three surgeries and radiotherapy failed to remove it entirely. Through his treatment Chris had days when he was lucid and on top of his game, and other days when he struggled to remember the names of familiar people around him.
Chris was a man who loved books. He had hoped he might write one himself one day. So when a publisher approached him wanting to publish the story of his life, it was a dream come true. At that point, though, his health was intermittent and the future uncertain. His prognosis suggested that he might only have a year to live. Perhaps we could team you up with a writer to help you? His publisher offered. They knew the perfect person.
Chris and I talked on the phone and we clicked immediately. I enjoyed his good humor, warmth and sharp mind, and I got a sense he was happy to deal with me. All the same, he went back to his publishers and said, ‘I don’t want to work with a ghostwriter. I want to write my book myself. It’s always been my dream to do it, and I think I can.’
Part of Chris’s objection was that he didn’t want people thinking, ‘poor Chris, he’s so far gone he can’t even write any more.’ Or that he was like supermodels and celebrity footballers who bring in a ghost because they can’t string a sentence together themselves.
So instead of being Chris’ ghost, I became his writing partner and editor. Chris went away and wrote the manuscript himself. He worked like lightning, producing around 60,000 words in just over three months. I then came in as a ‘book doctor’, reviewing what Chris had written and providing a detailed prescription for how it could be improved. Depending on how Chris was travelling with his health and energy levels, sometimes he would do the rewrites, other times I would re-shape what he had written, matching his style and phrasing.
Mostly what the manuscript needed was an injection of life, a sense of heart and motivation. Like so many people writing their life story, Chris had produced a chronological description of events but said little about his inner life or the characters of the people around him – his wife, children, colleagues. Together we wove a sense of heart and a strong narrative into his story.
The result was Never Say Die, shortlisted for the ABIA Biography of the Year in 2009.
That same year, Chris O’Brien passed away. As then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd described him, Chris was ‘a truly exceptional Australian’. It was a privilege to be his writing partner.

Most of my writing work these days is about helping other people to write their stories. Oh all right, I might as well admit it: I do a lot of ghostwriting. I don’t like the term, though, because most people think that what I do is deceitful.

It’s hard to get around that preconception, but fellow ghostwriter John Kador has written a great blog post that nails what ghostwriting is all about, the many forms it can take, and why it’s more prevalent than most people would think.

Ghostwriting comes with a load of baggage. I can predict the questions that come at me when people learn that I’m a professional ghostwriter.

Occasionally the questions come out of genuine curiosity, but more often than not I pick up a certain judgment, as if the practice was deceptive.

Most people have a very personal relationship with reading and the idea of a ghostwriter does not easily fit into the picture they have sometimes constructed. Most readers develop an idealized  relationship with the author, or the person they think is the author, so who am I, this interloper, and what am I doing in the middle of their fantasy?

I get it.  Writing is an intimate act. The craft of ghostwriting presents certain ethical difficulties.  But no more than any other profession. Here are some of the most common questions I get and my responses.

Read the rest of John’s excellent post here.

I have to come clean — I am no domestic goddess. There are days when I get caught up in the consumer frenzy: I succumb to over-packaged frivolities in the supermarket aisles; I call for takeaway because I can’t bear cooking dinner; and I rack up a new pair of shoes on a credit card that is already steaming at the edges. Tragically, I also suffer from ‘Singerphobia’: an extreme aversion to sewing machines.

But I know that I am at my best on the days when I slow things down a notch, bake a batch of biscuits with the kids, plant out some herb seeds, or recycle an empty wine bottle to hold a trail of jasmine from the garden.

Simplicity solves a whole lot of things. It is the answer to your time-management problems: do less, learn to say no. Choose, select, cut back. It’s the solution to your financial crisis: spend less, try doing without or re-using. It solves your storage dilemmas: instead of stuffing your cupboards full of more stuff or buying new cupboards (or a new house), explore the option of simply having less stuff. Want to lose weight? Simplify your diet. Eat more fresh foods and less processed products. As Paul Arnott suggests in his book Live the Moment, ‘the only way to live simpler lives is to want less’.

If the idea of creating an organised home, a happy family and a life worth living appeals to you, please check out my new book with Antonia Kidman: The Simple Things. It’s out now and available from all good book retailers, both bricks and mortar and online.

Go to Booktopia

Go to Dymocks

We all blog for different reasons.

For some, it’s an outlet. For others, it’s about making an income. And for another group, it’s about catching the eye of a publisher. Hopefully.

But are book publishers looking at your blog?

We’ve all heard about the Blog To Book success stories. Gretchen RubinJulie Powell (Julie & Julia), and others. But how likely is it? Are publishers even reading your blog?

The lovely and clever Allison Tait invited me to join a panel of publishers for a Q&A session on that very subject, as a guest post for Styling You with Nikki Parkinson. Read the full story here.

This is a third extract from my new ebook, Get Published. This one is towards the end of the book, looking at the big picture of being a published author.

Are you winning the war?

Kelly Gottuso Mortimer from Mortimer Literary Agency has this advice for writers. ‘Don’t concentrate on winning the battle (getting published); concentrate on winning the war (staying published – having a career as a writer!).’ Publishers and readers love writers who keep on delivering, who follow up one fantastic book with another, then another. Foundry Literary + Media’s Molly Glick says, ‘we’re always in search of “the one” – the author we can break out big, and grow from book to book.’

If you truly feel you have only one book in you, I suggest you think hard about whether the traditional publishing path is for you. Maybe you should publish your one book independently and bask in the glow of having achieved that one thing under your own steam, rather than seeking a relationship with an agent and a publisher and a readership that will end with this one book.

Just click on one of the links below to get the full story by buying a copy of Get Published for only $4.99.

Amazon Kindle

Gumroad (both Kindle and EPUB versions)

Today’s extract from Get Published is from around the middle of the book. This answers the question I get asked most often by aspiring authors: what do publishers really want from authors?

What publishers really want (apart from a proposal)

Believe me, I WANT to love every submission I read. But the bitter truth is that I despair. I read the submissions and I see novelists who could turn out to be great but who will be rejected by me – and probably everyone else – because they were impatient. I read other submissions that are truly awful. I read a lot that are just tepid.

So what do publishers really want?

•          More: More humour, more tears, more emotion, more sensuality, MORE OF EVERYTHING!

•          A professional submission: Don’t send it in until it’s ready to be sent. Check the spelling. No, the editor will not fix it for you. If your manuscript isn’t ‘clean’, you won’t get that far.

•          Something that’s great to read: By the same token, quit worrying about your font and your margin spacing. Is your manuscript compelling and remarkable to read? Is there magic on the page?

•          No follow-up calls a week after posting: Sometimes mail doesn’t get opened right away. Most publishers and literary agents get 2 metres of mail a week. It might take 3-6 months for them to get round to you. After that, you might politely ask if they’ve received it and how far your manuscript is from the top of the pile.

•          Courtesy: It is really attractive when writers are polite in their communication with my company. This is perhaps particularly true in the case of literary agents. Agents are like talent scouts: they are auditioning writers to find the right match for a role/publisher. Publishing culture doesn’t readily embrace prima donnas. If you are hostile with an agent or publisher from the get-go, alarm bells will ring for them. They will think that this is going to be hard work and they have to decide whether it’s worth it. You have to be an awfully good writer for them to decide it is. Writers who are pleasant to deal with, efficient and professional can often go further simply because agents and publishers like working with them, and they know they will deliver the goods.


Just click on one of the links below to get the full story by buying a copy of Get Published for only $4.99.

Amazon Kindle

Gumroad (both Kindle and EPUB versions)