Monday, August 31, 2015

Guest Post: Fun Facts About the Transcription Industry

Being a ghostwriter means talking to people. A lot. There are few better ways to capture someone’s writing voice than to hear how they communicate out loud. After hours of interviewing your client—digging through layers of triviality to find those nuggets that make up a good story—it can be hard to even look at your tape recorder. But all that glorious truth doesn’t do any good unless it’s been transcribed into words for you to shape and hone.

Whether you transcribe yourself, or hire out, we think you’ll appreciate some of the stunning facts and figures about the transcription industry found in this excellent infographic via Take 1 Transcription, a company that offers transcription services.

Infographic created and originally posted by Take 1 Transcription

Friday, August 21, 2015

Guest Post: Interview with a Heckler

Originally posted on Vital Speeches of the Day.
By David Murray

"Hecklers are vandals" was the headline of yesterday's post on my personal blog, Writing Boots.

I was taking on Zoe Nicholson, a lifelong political activist who had objected on her Facebook page to the Bernie Sanders campaign's anti-heckling tactics. When Sanders is giving a speech and hecklers start chanting, "Black Lives Matter," Sanders backers are instructed to overwhelm the hecklers by chanting, "We Stand Together."

"Maddening," said Nicholson on Facebook. "All hecklers want is a voice and the issues prioritized. Shouting down is making them voiceless. That is the real message."

Aside from questioning a heckler's right to complain about being heckled back, I questioned—partly in defense of my fine-feathered speechwriting friends who work too hard on speeches to have them shouted down!—the effectiveness of heckling, and whether it's worth the social cost:
At best, it may alert some people to the idea that there are people who think, for instance, that George W. Bush or Barack Obama is a baby killer. But if you didn't know in the first place that people felt that way, you're probably not inclined to read further, because you never were a big reader in the first place. 
Mostly, heckling just makes everyone embarrassed and sad, that people feel desperate or disrespectful enough to vandalize a community gathering, and destroy an attempt at communication.
Happily, the heckler Nicholson responded in defense of heckling, writing, in part:
I am pleased that you quoted me and perfectly too. I am a real fan of heckling, personally. I began it with George Wallace in regards to civil rights and the Vietnam War. My teacher is Alice Paul, who learned it from Emmeline Pankhurst. 
To really understand the organic effect of heckling you have to have the mission of pointing out to those in power that they need to prioritize the issues. For example, Senator Sanders was talking about the distribution of wealth and the hecklers wanted him to update his position on Black Lives Matter. It was not, 1) that he is a racist, 2) that his work in the 60s was ignored, or 3) redistribution of wealth is not important. And, the fact is—within 2 days his campaign did put out a NEW set of positions on the issues of the day. No matter how it appears—the fact is that it works. 
I heckled POTUS on the repeal of DADT. I was chanted down and escorted out by the Secret Service. BUT President Obama prioritized and set a committee in place to investigate the effects on the armed forces should they allow LGB to openly serve. Obviously it was repealed. 
It is the work of the militants to break convention. Heckling is a tried and true tool. But if you measure it on how the moderates react—it looks like rude immature shouting. However, the approval of the moderates is not the goal.... 
BTW—I just read that "Bernie rally tonight in LA opened with a woman giving a speech about Black Lives Matter. The cheers from the crowd were insane." Well done!
I thanked Nicholson for her thoughtful response and added that "even if I don't necessarily buy your implied direct connection between your heckling and the repeal of DADT," her points were well taken.

Speechwriter—O megaphone for power!—how do you respond?

David Murray is executive director of the Professional Speechwriters Association. He's also editor of Vital Speeches of the Day magazine.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

GG is Hiring (Part 2)

We are now actively seeking candidates for a brand-new position at our agency: Chief Matchmaking Officer.

The CMO will be responsible for managing our stable of writers and overseeing the assignment of projects for our clients.

The ideal candidate for this role will be an entrepreneurial wordsmith with a strong background in smart content, publishing, agenting, and/or project management. 

You can check out the full job description here:

Chief Matchmaking Officer Job Description

If you are interested in being considered for this position, please email your resume and at least three representative writing samples to

Monday, July 27, 2015

Author spotlight: Hilary Liftin

Hilary Liftin's Movie Star by Lizzie Pepper, written like a celebrity tell-all, takes readers inside a fairytale Hollywood romance that turns out to be very different under the surface. Below, Hilary sheds some light on how her years of experience as a celebrity ghostwriter helped her shape her first novel.

Q: Where did you get the idea to write your novel as a celebrity tell-all?
A: The idea for this book came one day when I was reading People magazine and saw yet another celebrity marriage exploding. I thought, "I don’t have to wait to land this job or any other. I can just write it myself—write the celebrity memoir of my dreams."

Q: You’ve been ghostwriting real-life celebrity memoirs for more than a decade. What was it like writing your own novel?
A: I’ve never written or studied fiction, but by now I’m very comfortable with writing memoirs. I’m used to taking on someone else’s story and voice and helping bring it to life. So it made sense for my first fiction to write a faux celebrity memoir. But there were definitely new challenges. I’m used to working with true stories, most of which I incorporate into the book in some form. For Movie Star by Lizzie Pepper, I had to face the daunting notion that not every idea was worth keeping. I probably wrote and discarded a couple hundred pages.

Q: Without naming names, can you share a little bit about what it’s like to work with celebrities on their books?
A: Ghostwriting is a true collaboration. We talk for hours—usually at my clients' houses—with me typing at high speed on my computer. I don’t know about other ghostwriters, but I would never put made-up stories in a memoir. Instead, as a client tells me what they think is most important and entertaining about their life, I’m helping them find connections and structure the narrative. Most celebrities work hard to manage their brands. They speak carefully, worrying about soundbites. Something that they and I both enjoy about the process is that it’s completely liberating. I’m on their side. I work for them. They can trust me with the truth, and then we can decide together how much of it to reveal. I always encourage my clients to be honest. If they’ve done something that’s potentially controversial, I figure if they can make me understand it and feel sympathetic, then we can achieve the same with the reader.

Q: What do you hope readers will take away from reading your book?
A: So many of us devour the “just like us” celebrity photo section of magazines. In a way, I hope that the book is the ultimate “just like us” experience. But instead of realizing that stars pump gas too, Movie Star by Lizzie Pepper is meant to go a little deeper, exploring what happens when you discover that your spouse (megastar or no) isn’t all that you had hoped. I want it to be satisfyingly juicy, but also surprisingly romantic.

For me, reading about celebrities is part of my job, but it’s also a bit of a guilty pleasure. I feel sympathetic toward anyone who has to deal with paparazzi, no matter how much fancier their lives are than mine. I hope the book is a way for people to fulfill that voyeurism through fiction. No celebrities were harmed in the making of this book!

Hilary Liftin is an award-winning, New York Times–bestselling ghostwriter who specializes in celebrity memoirs. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and children.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Three Ways to Collaborate as a Ghostwriter

by Graciela Sholander
This post originally appeared on Ghostwriting Plus.

I have ghostwritten over 25 books for a number of clients, including doctors, lawyers, and motivational speakers. Today I want to share with you three effective ways you can collaborate with your client.

1. Rewrite a Raw Manuscript

These days, this is my favorite way to ghostwrite a book. If your client has written most or all of her manuscript, you’re in a great position to help her reach the next level. She’s written down her ideas. Now it’s your turn to do your magic.

Starting with what she’s put together, rework it to produce the most engaging, professional product possible. Hack away! Create new chapter titles and section headers. Rewrite to your heart’s content. Remove redundancies. Expand points. Add anecdotes and examples to support her points.

Keep the main messages, and make sure your client’s voice comes through. But use your own savvy to rework the manuscript, transforming it from amateurish to a highly professional work of art, with every sentence a joy to read.

2. Write a Manuscript from Interviews

At the other end of the spectrum is the client who has written nothing and has a million ideas floating in his head. He’s brilliant, and his ideas are worth sharing with readers, but as soon as he tries writing anything down, he loses them. He’s an eloquent speaker, not a writer.

In this case, schedule a series of interviews. They can be conducted in person, by phone, or through Skype. I interview clients by phone, and since I’m a fast typist I go ahead and type what they say, creating a written record in real time. This saves me the expense and extra step of having an audio interview transcribed. Then as I piece together a manuscript from scratch, I simply copy and paste sections from the written record, rewriting and expanding them as needed.

By the way, in this case it’s a good idea to charge separately for the interviews. I typically charge clients a per-page rate for ghostwriting plus a per-hour rate for phone interviews.

3. Piece Together What You’ve Been Given and Gather More

In this approach, the client has some material to give you. For example, she might hand you 19 pages she’s written with rough ideas for her book, plus five articles published about her in different magazines, and two YouTube videos of her being interviewed on the subject you’ll be ghostwriting about.

Your job is to take this hodgepodge and incorporate it into a new work. In addition, you’ll need to figure out what’s missing and schedule a few interviews to gather more information.

Since I enjoy writing a hundred times more than I enjoy talking, I try to conduct email interviews whenever possible. This won’t work for clients who love to talk and hate to write. It does tend to work for very busy professionals, though, since they can sit down and address your emailed questions at their leisure.

When I conduct email interviews, I do not charge extra. I charge only a per-page fee for ghostwriting the manuscript.

Graciela has been a professional writer for 21 years and focuses on ghostwriting, editing, proofreading, articles, social media, marketing, and website content. She is also the co-author of Dream It Do It: Inspiring Stories of Dreams Come True, a motivational self-help guide.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Book Spotlight: "Business Writing Today: A Practical Guide"

This week, we caught up with author Natalie Canavor, whose new book, Business Writing Today: A Practical Guide, is out now.

Business Writing Today is a self-help book for people who want to write better at work. Canavor, who has written several books on this topic, is brimming with great ideas and strategies to improve your business communication. Check out her take on business writing in the digital era in our special Q&A.  

GG: What made you want to write this book, and who is the target audience?
NC: Research, and my own experience, tells me that most young people today write badly. Few are able to figure out what to say, and even fewer are able to say it well. This hurts them when they compete for career opportunities, and if they are hired, most don’t function as well as they could. But it isn’t just young people’s poor writing that produces a huge problem for today’s organizations; most business communication is awful. This results in very expensive mistakes, misunderstandings, and unnecessary conflicts.

Business Writing Today is a self-help book for people who want to improve their everyday writing—emails, resumes, elevator speeches, proposals, blogs, and so on—in order to get what they want.

Why do good writing skills matter in today’s digital marketplace?
In the digital world, so much depends on writing. You won’t get in many doors without a good elevator pitch, resume, proposal, sales letter, blog, and/or networking message. In a world where we meet less and talk less, we make decisions and judge others based on their writing.

And there are no captive audiences anymore. Surrounded by so much to read, so much media, we are all extremely selective. If we want to be read, the academic models most of us learned in school don’t work. Good business writing isn’t about strict correctness and impressive language. It’s about knowing how to attract and hold your audience. It’s about understanding other people’s viewpoints. It’s about building relationships.

Can you share a tip or two from your book?
Here are two of my favorites.

Before writing a message, visualize whom you’re writing to. Hold a mental conversation. If you’re asking for something—which, in a way, every message does—“hear” the other person’s reservations and think about how to answer them. Then when you write, you’ll almost automatically adopt the right tone, know the best content to use to make your case, and be able to frame your message to that individual. Always figure out why someone should give you what you want, from his or her perspective rather than your own, and then write from that understanding.

On a micro level: After you’ve drafted your message, look at each sentence (or say it aloud). When you find more than one “of,” “to,” “in,” “for,” or “that,” or more than a single word ending in -ing or -ed or -ious or -ly, rewrite the sentence so there is only one. (Or two, if you absolutely can’t help it.) This is a surefire way to edit yourself out of abstract, wordy, dishwater-dull writing. Simple words and present tense usually solve the problem. To avoid a choppy rhythm, alternate long and short sentences for a cadence that carries people along.

What are some additional resources for those who want to learn more about business writing?
Everyone should read William Zinsser’s On Writing Well. He makes the best-ever case for clarity, conciseness, and simplicity in all writing. Of course, I’d like it if people checked out my other books as well! In addition to Business Writing Today (which is a second edition of Business Writing in the Digital Age), there’s Business Writing for Dummies and The Truth About the New Rules of Business Writing, which delivers the ideas in 52 bite-sized pieces.

Natalie Canavor is a business writer, journalist, and communications consultant. She gives workshops on practical writing and workplace communications. Natalie also teaches advanced writing seminars for grad students in PR/Corporate Communications and young professionals at NYU.

Friday, May 15, 2015

"Lincoln Speaks": A Review

By Dana Rubin
“Public sentiment is everything,” declared Abraham Lincoln in 1858 during his first senatorial debate with Stephen Douglas. “He who molds public sentiment, goes deeper than he who enacts statues or pronounces decisions.”

Lincoln thought public speaking was a more profound tool for influence and persuasion than the legislative or executive arenas. And his tool of choice was language. The development of his linguistic and rhetorical skills is the subject of "Lincoln Speaks: Words that Transformed a Nation" at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York.

Reflecting on his use of language, Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer—himself a onetime speechwriter for Mario Cuomo—calls Lincoln “an aspirational model for the modern politician.”

But was Lincoln truly a modern writer? In notes, letters, poems, pamphlets, scribbles, and speeches, the exhibit traces the growth of his literary and persuasive skills. It was language that helped him win his senatorial seat and the Republican nomination and presidency, sway public opinion during the prosecution of the Civil War, and pave the way for post-war reconciliation.

Growing up poor in a frontier town, the son of an illiterate and abusive father, Lincoln found refuge in books and poetry. With limited access, his reading was broad but not deep. He read the same works over and over—the King James Bible, Dickens, Aesop’s Fables, Shakespeare’s tragedies and histories, and Edgar Allan Poe. It’s the exact opposite of our reading habits today.

In an age without television, radio, or internet, the public had a tolerance for a certain windbaggery. Speakers at debates, rallies, and conferences would routinely drone on for two hours or more. Their words were then printed as a pamphlet or broadside and quoted in the newspapers.

Lincoln broke with convention by using language more sparingly. His speeches, which he wrote himself, were tighter than his contemporaries, his word choices simpler, his arguments more direct.

Prominent in the exhibit are copies of the three speeches now considered his greatest: the Second Inaugural, his Cooper Union speech, and the Gettysburg Address.

The Cooper Union address, which won him national attention and helped him gain the Republican nomination, was printed as a pamphlet in 1860. In it Lincoln anchored his anti-slavery argument in the thinking of the nation’s founders and predicted the ultimate end of slavery.

The Second Inaugural was published not long after the inauguration itself on March 4, 1865 as a large broadside in blue ink. With the Confederacy weakening, he used conciliatory language to reach out to his enemies and heal the wounded nation. He ended with the vision of “binding up the nation’s wounds”—borrowed from the Hebrew psalms.

Many today consider it Lincoln’s finest speech, but at the time Southerners detested his message and bitterly fought his nomination and election. After the assassination on April 15, it was reprinted—this time in black ink.

Then there’s the Gettysburg Address. Only 272 words, it memorializes the sacrifices of those who gave their lives on the battlefield in now iconic language. Tony Kushner calls it “a spectacular prose poem.”

For those of us who might want to learn from Lincoln’s craftsmanship, there are no original drafts in the exhibit, no notepads filled with scratched-out lines and ink blotches. We know Lincoln revised his speeches over and over, up until the last minute. But once the speech had been delivered, proofread, and typeset, he threw the drafts away. He wasn’t thinking of the archives.

So what kind of model was Lincoln for wordsmiths like us? To contemporary audiences, his spare and direct language is clearly more modern than his contemporaries. Yet there’s a quality of restraint that still sounds antique. I think that’s because Lincoln believed that to win public sentiment, a speaker must appeal to reason, not emotion. As a speechwriter he relied on principles and rational argument to do the heavy lifting.

Today we do the opposite. We enthusiastically use raw emotion to sway our listeners. We whip tension into frothy peaks and sloughs of despair like the most heavy-handed and manipulative Hollywood scriptwriters. Our professional gurus tell us a good speech has to play to our audiences’ emotions. Make them feel it in the kishkes.

We also worship at the altar of happiness. As professionals, that’s the state we’re all striving toward, right? But Lincoln was a gloomy guy. He suffered nervous breakdowns, bouts of melancholia, a dark and macabre dream life.

So how was he able to summon the language that would define so profoundly those turbulent times? How did he carry on despite so much suffering? Despite the wealth of documents, this exhibit can’t explain it—except to suggest he prevailed through language.

See it quick! The exhibit ends June 7.

This post originally appeared on Vital Speeches of the Day.