The most unexpected growth strategy you will read about this week.

Many organizations set out to create a book about their history because it will boost their brand in the marketplace. It can frankly be a way of stroking the ego, too. But a considered, well-crafted book can do so much more than that.

When his family celebrated 125 years in business, Fred Mouawad (one of three sons who share leadership of the Mouawad jewelry, diamond and watch empire) set out to interview uncles, brothers, cousins, and his mother and father. His intention was to create a book about their family enterprise.

The Mouawads produced a book that is both beautiful – showcasing the gems and jewelry that have made them famous – and full of insights into an enduring family enterprise. There are tales of adventure and sacrifice, generosity and perfectionism. Chapter by chapter, the book details the way in which this business grew from its roots in a simple workshop in Beirut to become a global leader in jewelry and gemstones; how Fred’s great-grandfather brought back watchmaking skills from the United States before the First World War; why his grandfather risked everything to move the business to Saudi Arabia; and how one brother came to be an unexpected leader in the third generation.

Over the course of a year, the project offered unexpected benefits for Fred as a business leader.

“Creating a book … has been a deeply valuable exercise in digging into our roots, identifying our core values across generations, and documenting our heritage for future generations. By better understanding our history we were able to set a better trajectory into the future.”

Through working with Fred and with other family businesses on their stories, I’ve come to believe that the very process of writing a book can deepen the qualities that have ensured their success, and that can apply to other kinds of businesses too.

  1. Handing on core values. Members of successful family enterprises not only understand why they are in business together, they are able to articulate those reasons. Typically these values are stable but not static, being redefined in a unique way by each succeeding generation. Writing a book about the business history demands an analysis of how those values play out over time.
  2. Unity within the organization. In the face of fierce competition and financial fluctuations, the business family’s first loyalty is to each other. As they hand over control to a new team of leaders, business leaders of all kinds can ensure their successors have a personal connection to their history by writing down their story.
  3. Actively seeking and fostering talent for future leadership. In family businesses that succeed through many decades and even centuries, there is a strong sense of stewardship: of preserving something for future family members. The same can be true of any organization, whether family owned or not. Handing a well-defined and considered story to future leaders is a clear way to ensure their mission is communicated clearly and openly.
  4. Commitment to long-term sustainability. An in-depth written account will bring to light the kind of sacrifices made by founders; it will also evaluate their role as stewards ofthe business, and relate that to the leaders of the future.

Shared values, unity, fostering talent, commitment to the long term. If you could capture those four qualities and bottle them for your own organization, wouldn’t you want to? The process of conceptualizing and writing a business book allows you to do just that.

Creating a good book takes time and contemplation. As you develop the plan for your book, you will be forced to scrutinize the key turning points for your organization: what sacrifices were made, what trade-offs permitted? When conflict loomed between co-founders, did loyalty win out? How did a retiring business leader identify leadership qualities in their successor, sometimes against prevailing opinion?

For a business with the courage to ask the difficult questions about their past and a vision for stepping into the future, writing and producing their story can be a growth strategy that transcends every expectation.

This article is adapted from this piece I wrote for Medium.

One of the questions I get asked most is, “how can I find the best ghostwriter [or co-writer] for me?” An excellent question, and one that I will address in a future post.

But what about you – are you ready to launch into the writing process? Have you got all your ducks in a row? Are you ready to be the perfect client for your ideal ghostwriter?

Here are five qualities of the ideal client:

  • A clear vision
  • A realistic schedule
  • Availability
  • Good feedback
  • Compatibility

As part of your vision for your book, you could put together a sample chapter. Or you could assemble a mood board – Pinterest is a great tool for that. Include book jackets, photos of writers or thought leaders, article headlines, magazine covers, and film stills that capture an element of the voice you want to convey, or an attitude or style that you feel aligned with. Mood boards are traditionally visual, but you could also write your ideas in a brainstorm-style list. For this kind of thinking, I find a large sheet of blank paper and a set of colored pens takes me places a computer rarely goes.

In your schedule for the book-writing process, build in time up front for the writer to digest your ideas and materials, and time at the end for the manuscript to “percolate”. Don’t expect a first chapter to hit your in-tray days after you start working together. At the end of the process, I always recommend that writers put their manuscript in a drawer for a month before reviewing it one last time and submitting it to a publisher (or an editor if you are self-publishing). I try to abide by that principle myself: sometimes my month shrinks to a week, but even that much “percolating time” makes a huge difference to the maturity of the final work.

Just because you sign up a ghostwriter for your book, doesn’t mean you can lock the door and go on vacation (or even go back to running your business). You won’t have to dedicate many months of your time (as your writer will have to do), but you will need to be available on a regular basis throughout the process. Your ghostwriter needs you: this will be a collaborative, iterative process, with plenty of back and forth and exchange of ideas and information.

When you give feedback to your writer, avoid the temptation to be ironic or prove that you are smarter than them. Questions and suggestions work well: “I think this paragraph would read better if it started with xxx, what do you think?” is constructive and collaborative. “This section is boring” doesn’t give your writer much to go on.

When you consider your working style, think about your weaknesses. In choosing your ghostwriter, you have an opportunity to balance those flaws. Are you unable to let go of a project? Find someone who is clear and decisive. Do you have a tendency to rush things? Look for a writer who is meticulous and careful. Remember, though, that polar opposites can be uncomfortable, so make sure there is enough common ground between you to make the partnership work.

Put all of this together and it could be a match made in heaven.

 

The writer’s life can be a little lonely at times.

There’s an up side, though, as my fellow ghostwriter John Kador describes in his latest blog post. John and I are both members of a “community of ghostwriters”, and that cuts through the isolation. Read more about the writing life and community here.

I’d love to hear your stories of community in the midst of isolation – whether you’re a writer or not.

Sometimes the words that come out of my mouth don’t exactly match the meaning I had in mind. Pretty often, if I’m honest.
When you see a literal, accurate transcription of what someone said, it can be surprising how little sense it makes. Even when it is said by an extraordinarily wise person with a gift for articulating ideas.
In his blog The Actual Pastor, Steve Wiens includes a direct quote from Irish poet John O’Donohue taken from an interview shortly before his death in 2008:

And I love what my old friend Meister Eckhart, 14th-century German mystic wrote. One day I read in him and he said, “There is a place in the soul — there is a place in the soul that neither time, nor space, nor no created thing can touch.” And I really thought that was amazing, and if you cash it out, what it means is, that in — that your identity is not equivalent to your biography. And that there is a place in you where you have never been wounded, where there’s still a sureness in you, where there’s a seamlessness in you, and where there is a confidence and tranquility in you. And I think the intention of prayer and spirituality and love is now and again to visit that inner kind of sanctuary.

All those spare “and”s, the backtracking and reframing – it’s typical of how we all speak. On the page, it’s not pretty. That’s why the sensitive editing of spoken words when they are to be used in written form is so important.
Many journalists would be horrified by the idea of tampering with a direct quote. As a book editor, I’ve had numerous battles about that. My view is that when you write a book (as opposed to an ephemeral news report), there is an expectation from your interview subject and your reader that the words will be polished to render them both clear and pleasant to read, without altering substance or style.
What’s your take on it?

One of the questions I get asked most is, “how can I find the best ghostwriter for me?” An excellent question, and one that I addressed in a previous post here.

But what about you – are you ready to launch into the writing process? Have you got all your ducks in a row? Are you ready to be the perfect client for your ideal ghostwriter?

Over at the Jenkins Group’s book ghostwriting blog, you can read an excellent post that sums up what makes the perfect client. It lists six qualities of the ideal client:

  1. A clear vision
  2. Organization
  3. A realistic schedule
  4. Availability
  5. Good feedback
  6. Compatibility

As part of your vision for your book, you could put together a sample chapter, as this post suggests. Or you could assemble a mood board. Include books, writers, articles, magazines, and films that capture an element of the voice you want to convey, or an attitude or style that you feel aligned with. Mood boards are traditionally visual, but you could write your ideas in a brainstorm-style list.

In your schedule for the book-writing process, build in time up front for the writer to digest your ideas and materials, and time at the end for the manuscript to “percolate”. Don’t expect a first chapter to hit your in-tray days after you start working together. I always recommend that writers put their manuscript in a drawer for a month before reviewing it one last time and submitting it to a publisher. I try to abide by that principle myself: sometimes my month shrinks to a week, but even that much “percolating time” makes a huge difference to the maturity of the final work.

When you give feedback to your writer, avoid the temptation to be ironic or sarcastic. Questions and suggestions work well: “I think this paragraph would read better if it started with xxx, what do you think?” is constructive and collaborative. “This section is boring” doesn’t give your writer much to go on.

When you consider your working style, think about your weaknesses. In choosing your ghostwriter, you have an opportunity to balance those flaws. Are you unable to let go of a project? Find someone who is clear and decisive. Do you have a tendency to rush things? Look for a writer who is meticulous and careful. Polar opposites can be uncomfortable, so make sure there is enough common ground between you to make the partnership work.

This week a motivational speaker asked me, “How do I find a ghostwriter who can capture my voice?”

She went on to explain that she had worked with writers before who seemed hellbent on cleaning her up. “I’m very opinionated and sometimes my language is pretty colorful. I don’t want anyone to change that – it’s who I am.”

Here are three tips for finding a writer who will catch your voice on the page.

  1. Don’t look for a writer who is your mirror image. A natural tendency is to look for a writer who is similar to you. If you’re a male sports coach from Michigan, you might think your perfect match will also be an athletic male from the Midwest. Not necessarily so. A good ghostwriter will be able to catch your voice regardless of how similar it is to their own “natural” voice. They will do it by being an attentive listener, working with transcripts or videos of your talks or your own writing pieces. I’d even go so far as to say that you may be better off with a writer whose background and style is quite different to your own. That way, you’re going to know pretty quickly whether it’s your voice or theirs coming through in the draft chapters.
  2. Check your writer’s track record. Can they show you some writing samples that demonstrate a range of styles, so that you can be confident of their ability to switch it up?
  3. Make sure that you agree on what your writing voice should sound like. Most of the people I work with don’t have a writing voice at all. They have a speaking voice, which is what they use when they act, or do public speaking, or give interviews. From that speaking voice I synthesize a written voice, and part of my process for working with a client is agreeing up front what that written voice is. Some people want their style tightened up and made more formal, while others – like my motivational speaker friend – want to keep a lively, loose style in their written work.

I’d love to hear about your experiences of working with a writing partner – has it been easy to get the voice right, or has it been a struggle?

I am excited that I will soon be speaking at Ghostwriters Unite! (GW), the first book industry conference of its kind.

Few people question going to BookExpo America, a writers convention or a general publishing conference. But why go to one like this?

GW covers more than ghostwriting. It features a number of professionals across industries, including publishers, literary agents, screenwriters, public relations managers, photographers, and marketers.

I’m going so that I keep my finger on the pulse of the overall book industry and hear about all the latest developments in traditional, indie, and self-publishing; to learn about best practices in manuscript development and marketing; and to see what has worked for others in business (and what hasn’t).

Overall, I’m going to learn how to better serve the authors and publisher with whom I work.

But while the great lineup of panelists and speakers (of which I am one) is certainly a draw, the informal conversations in back hallways and at lunch may be just as valuable—if not more so.

True, much of the book industry happens digitally today. But there is still no substitute for meeting like-minded professionals face-to-face. Conferences give us a place to sit down across from our counterparts, without the constraints of keyboards, clients, and kids in the background.

It is a great opportunity for all of us to share what we’ve learned through our experience and to help each other. Those of us who have had success in our profession want to reach back to new and rising stars in the book industry and help them along their way. We all have something to learn and we all have something to contribute.

The book business is like no other. We are a unique assortment of literary artists, entrepreneurs, professionals, and creative individuals who need the give and take of community.

If you have yet to register for this groundbreaking industry event, come as my guest! When you register at ghostwritersunite.com, use promo code GU13WAM for $50 off your registration fees.

I knew I couldn’t afford to miss this great conference. You can’t either.

Go to ghostwritersunite.com and be part of history in the making!