Permission to publish – who needs it?

There is no better time to be writing and publishing books than now. We’ve had the funeral when everyone thought books were dead, and now we’re in publishing paradise, where there are innumerable ways to write a book and to get it into the hands (five-fingered or digital) of your readers.

So what has changed?

Read the whole article on the Advance website here.



What makes a bestseller?

Towards the end of this year’s San Francisco Writers Conference, a first-time author cornered me over coffee. “So what exactly makes a book a bestseller?”

He was asking the million-dollar question. It comes up somewhere along the line at most writers’ events, and I wish I could give a straightforward answer. Then again, if I could, I probably wouldn’t be sharing the key to that particular goldmine.

I can say there’s an ‘X factor’ that makes people respond to a particular idea at a particular time. That quality is easiest to define by what it’s not: it’s not jumping on the bandwagon of recent bestselling books, it’s not a ‘formula book’ created to meet the market. So if you’re asking the ‘bestseller’ question, most likely you’re looking in the wrong place.

I work in non-fiction, particularly life stories and ‘ideas books’ with a strong storyline. In that area, here is as close as I can get to the five ingredients that make – if not a bestseller, certainly a great book.

  1. Passion – the difference between the casual idea ‘that would make a great book’ and ‘this is the thing that makes the blood flow through my body’.
  2. Clarity – a vision for what this book is, what it does for the reader.
  3. Story – even if you’re writing a business book or the history of your company, think of it as telling a story – where are the turning points, the defining moments, the highs and lows? Where are you taking the reader?
  4. Commitment – once the book is written, your job is done, right? Wrong. You need to ‘own’ that book long term, being ready to talk about it, write about it, at the drop of a hat.
  5. Voice – the ability to capture a breathtaking ‘voice’ on the page. Cormac McCarthy has it, Geraldine Brooks has it. It takes work and some writers never get it.

When all five of those factors come together, it’s a beautiful thing. On top of that you need the complete package of a well-produced book (be it print or digital) with a standout cover and knockout marketing.

One thing that jumps out from this bunch of five is that a great book has as much to do with the author and their temperament, determination and motivation as with what they write.

The kind of work I do these days is about injecting ingredients 2, 3 and 5. If someone is struggling to pinpoint their vision for the book, or figure out where their story is going, or lacks the literary chops to come up with the goods, that’s where someone like me can add value. Sometimes – most times, really – a bestseller is a team effort rather than a solo achievement.

Measuring success in self-publishing

Not a Gold Rush is the name of a 2012 survey about the success of those who publish their own work. One of the authors of the study, Steven Lewis, has written a book digging into some key findings.

Here’s what I take out of it:

  1. The best results come to authors with more writing experience, especially those who have been published before and (presumably) learned from that experience.
  2. Authors who spent more, earned more. Self-publishing is not a solo effort: you need to bring in specialists in editorial, design, marketing.
  3. To succeed, you will benefit from a) having strong experience – either your own or your team, and b) resources – like those higher-earning authors, invest in your book.
  4. Romance writers are on a good thing!

Here at Red Hill Publishing, we offer services to support you with points 2 and 3. It may not be a gold rush, but if you are intent on making the most of your investment in your writing work, let’s talk today.

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

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!


Lean In and get over it

leaninWe need to get over the idea that one book can do it all – lead a revolution, fix your life, explain the universe. Unless the author is Marx or God (who clearly had a lot of help from co-writers).

Lean In is written by Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg with Nell Scovell. It has been greeted by a bunch of hate. Here are the two main criticisms.

1. Sandberg is rich, powerful and privileged and therefore has no right to tell the rest of us anything. Right, so we’re not going to be reading the next book from Barak Obama or Richard Branson, are we? Be honest, would you say that about a man?

2. Lean In focuses on individual behavior rather than corporate accountability, and puts the onus on women to change how they behave. Sandberg heads up a corporation, so she knows corporations are made up of people; maybe that’s why she fails to demand that a shadowy figure called ‘they’ should behave differently. For Sandberg, ‘they’ equals ‘us’. In Lean In she recommends that we all change the way we work together. Yes, men too.

This book is not the whole conversation, far from it, but it’s a welcome addition.

I always take an interest in books that are a collaborative effort, and that’s one of the reasons I picked up Lean In. Sheryl Sandberg wrote this book with TV and magazine writer Nell Scovell. Maureen Corrigan on the NPR website called the writing 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, but I did get an engaging blend of the personal and the political.

Kudos to Scovell: my guess is that without her in the mix, Lean In might have been considerably less lively and likeable.


Proud to be a ghost

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.


How to have a career as a writer

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)