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A community of ghosts

The writer’s life can be a lonely, isolating one.

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”, 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.

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That’s what I said, but it’s not what I meant

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?

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Are you the perfect client?

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.

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Your perfect (writing) partner

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?

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Why I Couldn’t Afford NOT to Go to a Ghostwriters’ Conference

ghostwriters 2I 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!

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10 questions for your ghostwriter

In the business world, books have become a marketing tool almost as ubiquitous as business cards. But few executives write alone.

Read the rest of the article from Worth magazine here.

If you’d like to discuss your ghostwriting requirements, you can contact me direct through my web page (trust me, I do keep an eye out for messages via the contact form and I respond quickly!), or get in touch with Madeleine Morel at 2M Communications.

 

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Is that Sheryl Sandberg’s voice I hear?

sandbergI always take an interest in books that are a collaborative effort, and that’s one of the reasons I picked up Lean In. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg wrote this book with TV and magazine writer Nell Scovell. I can’t rightly call Scovell a ghostwriter because she has been publicly credited, though well in the background behind Sandberg. ‘Phantom writer’ perhaps? That appeals to me, being a long-time fan of The Ghost Who Walks.

Maureen Corrigan on the NPR website called Lean In tepid: ‘the book has that ironed-out quality of a collaborative project.’ I disagree. I found it funny and human, certainly more than I expected from a businessperson haling from the world of economics and corporate management. I wasn’t expecting Germaine Greer, and I didn’t get it either, but I did get an engaging blend of the personal and the political.

ScovellKudos to Scovell: my guess is that without her in the mix, Lean In might have been considerably less lively and likeable. My guess is that she has done what a great ghostwriter or editor should do: bringing out the ‘best voice’ of her writing partner without imposing her own voice.

I’ll have a chance to find out whether that’s the case when I go to hear Sheryl Sandberg speak at an event in a few weeks’ time. The spoken and written word are different beasts, of course, which is why turning a collection of speeches or interviews into a book takes a great deal more than a transcription service. But I’m hoping to catch turns of phrase and ways of putting a thought together that come through in the way Sheryl speaks as well as in her book.

Have you read Lean In yet? How do you think it stands up as a piece of collaborative writing?