Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Guest Post: Speechwriting never goes out of style

by David Murray

Tonight's the State of the Union Address, and today is the one day of the year when professional speechwriters emerge into the sunlight of cable news punditry, to bask for a day in their own importance as shapers of policy, articulators of arguments and supporters of leaders. And everyone vaguely wonders, "What kind of people are these, anyway?"

Today I'm here to answer that question, perhaps as authoritatively as it's ever been answered, with the results of the first survey of the global speechwriting profession.

First, I should say: I go back with these people. The very first business conference I ever attended in my first job out of college was a conference of speechwriters. I was assigned to work in the cloakroom.

So now, as the founder and executive director of the Professional Speechwriters Association, I can reliably interpret the findings of our first membership survey (co-conducted with Gotham Ghostwriters): Although the set and costumes have been rearranged—speechwriters no longer smoke pipes, nor research their speeches by leafing through quotation books, nor wear cloaks—the players remain and the script is unchanged.

See for yourself. According to the PSA survey:

• Speechwriters are older than their colleagues in public relations, more likely to be male, better educated—and better paid. 
The typical speechwriter is a 51-year-old man with a master's degree. More than half of the speechwriters surveyed make more than $100K, with 23 percent pulling in more than $150K (and half of those making over $200K).

• Speechwriters found their way into their work through serendipity.
Some speechwriters claimed a method to their professional madness, with one saying he joined the business "to fuse my love of writing with my love of policy/politics."

In a more typical answer to the question, "Why did you become a speechwriter in the first place?" one PSA member wrote that he "stumbled into the job—CEO needed a speech."

• Speechwriters love their work, and hate their work.
Asked what they like most about speechwriting, speechwriters said, "shaping public debates," "finding and telling stories," "intellectual and creative challenge and reward," "the variety of topics and amazing people that I get to work with," and "the silent hours when I through writing try to understand and share something important."

What do speechwriters like least about the job? Solitude, short deadlines, slow workflow, lawyers, leaders' indifference. Speechwriters resent clients who "don't care about content" and bureaucrats who care too much.

"I have to contend with constant micro-managing by people who see risk lurking in every corner and are afraid of letting the CEO take any kind of position," one speechwriter said. "They also have no feel for what constitutes good writing yet exert a huge influence over the process."

• Speechwriters fear for the future… 
Speechwriters feel threatened by new challenges, such as the increasing use of the Q-and-A format and other informal presentation techniques to replace formal speeches. And they face timeless ones, such as quantifying the strategic value of their work and "the everlasting suspicion of rhetoric."

• …and speechwriters envision a brighter future. 
Now that they're getting organized for the first time in a global association, they have very specific requests of their new Professional Speechwriters Association: They told us they don't want another rigid structure in their lives, nor an elaborate guild or union, but straight-up professional development and an expanded network through online and in-person networking programs.

Speechwriters are a joy and a pleasure to serve, because they're the most erudite, intense, joyful people in the communication profession. They're also the most frustrated. Now that they have a platform to organize, I hope they'll realize their potential as powerful actors in their organizations and in society.

Yes, I go back with these people. Now we'll go forward together.

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

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Around the Word: Another Year, Another Roundup

Happy 2015, writers! Bidding goodbye to 2014 brought the inevitable influx of year-end roundups and articles on how to be a better reader and writer in the coming year. We waded through all the listicles and think pieces to bring you the highlights.

Up for a Challenge? 
Book Riot created the 2015 Read Harder Challenge for you adventurous readers looking to push your literary boundaries in the coming year. There are 24 book tasks total—two per month for the entire year—and the goal of the challenge is to “inspire you to pick up books that represent experiences and places and cultures that might be different from your own.” Tasks include reading a book that was originally published in another language or one written by someone when they were under the age of 25. Unlike many reading challenges, this one is definitely about quality rather than quantity.

National Novel Editing 
Last November’s National Novel Writing Month is over, but if you participated, your editing process may have just begun. If so, GalleyCat’s proposed literary resolution is for you: edit that NaNoWriMo manuscript. To assist in the process, they’ve put together a bunch of TED-Ed videos on grammar, word choice, and crafting stories.

Read More, Faster 
Feeling guilty that you never finished your 2014 to-read list? Head over to Shelf Awareness where you’ll find some short but sweet advice on how to make easily achievable reading lists.

Best of 2014 
If you’re not interested in resolutions or challenges and just want some good “best of” lists, the New York Times, Publishers Weekly, and the Washington Post have all compiled their favorite books from 2014.

Looking forward, Flavorwire revealed their “Book Publishing Predictions” for the coming year and the Millions released their “Most Anticipated” books of 2015. 2014 may be over but we can’t wait to see what 2015 has in store.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Happy Holidays!

It's the most wonderful time...

The GG offices will be closed from December 22nd through January 2nd, reopening on January 5th. We will still be answering emails, so if there's anything pressing, feel free to write to info@gothamghostwriters.com.

From all of us at Gotham Ghostwriters, wishing you a very happy holiday and a marvelous New Year.

See you in 2015!

Monday, November 24, 2014

We're moving!

As some of you may have already heard, we have some exciting news: Gotham is moving! After four terrific years with the Global Strategy Group, starting next month we'll be co-locating with the renowned Dystel & Goderich Literary Agency.

Our new home will be 1 Union Square West, Suite 909, New York, NY 10003, so update your address books!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Bidding on Elance: Here’s How Easily Freelancers Can Get Screwed

by Carol Tice
From my very first blog post back in 2008, I’ve advocated that freelance writers avoid mass bidding sites such as oDesk and Elance.

This past week, I learned in an unexpected way just how easily freelancers can get ripped off doing writing work through impersonal, third-party platforms like Elance.

Because I got ripped off, big time.

Here’s how it happened…

My first sign something was wrong was a series of emails I got from several different India-based SEO writers applying for “the post of content writer.” Asking if I would hire them.

I assumed they were interested in my writer’s guidelines for guest posting here on the blog, so I sent those over.

But something about it was weird. Just the way they were phrasing it didn’t seem right to me.

But I didn’t write anything for you…

Next, on the day after a religious holiday when I was out of the office, I got this odd email:

I assured her that I had never started article writing for her, and certainly wasn’t going to continue. I didn’t even have any idea what topics she was having articles written about!

When I asked what the deal was, I got this reply:

So there you have it, sports fans: An imposter created an Elance profile using my name, my photo, and my writer website, and was trying to get writing clients based on my reputation.

And if this one client hadn’t smelled a rat, who knows how long this might have gone on.

How’d they pull that off? They used a different, London-based Skype number and a different email address than my real one, thereby funneling responses to them rather than me.

And Elance was clueless.

Obviously, I was pretty steamed, given how strongly I’ve advocated for writers to avoid using places like Elance! I was quick to post about it on Facebook and Twitter, and start spreading the word around that I am not really hiring writers on Elance, hoping to warn prospective clients that they weren’t really hiring me.

I was hoping that would help resolve the problem.

But instead, things got worse.

Writers get sucked in

If the news that I was being impersonated on Elance so that someone else could earn a few bucks made me mad, I can tell you I totally hit the roof when I saw the next set of emails and Facebook messages that came in:


The complete picture emerged: Someone was impersonating me on Elance, getting clients, and then subcontracting out the work to other writers.

The final insult? The rates! This impostor was charging $20 a post… I opened that spreadsheet the client up top had sent over, and that was the per-piece rate.

I shudder to think what this person might have been paying the writers they hired to do the actual work. If, in fact, this fraud paid anyone at all.

Will writers get paid?

I contacted Elance immediately about all this, and it took them several days to get back to me. They let me know the bogus profile had been removed.

I think it’s notable that there wasn’t even an apology made for the damage to my reputation here. But OK — I’m breathing and letting go here, because suing is not a positive way to spend my time.

Who was the impostor? Elance isn’t saying. But I know they’re overseas, which would make legal action difficult to pursue anyway.

What about the writers who went busily to work, thinking they were writing for me? Given that Elance allowed this fraud to take place, will they be compensating the writers for their work?

Elance’s security team wouldn’t tell me how the writers would be dealt with…but one of the writers responded to me directly, saying they were told Elance’s payment protection policies would cover them — IF they could document their work to Elance’s satisfaction.

Here’s hoping Elance does the right thing and pays all of these freelancers for their writing.

Elance did indicate that it reached out to at least one freelance writer to warn them to stop writing for the impostor. But at least one other writer told me they got the word to stop work from the impostor, not Elance!

I guess it’s nice that Elance alerted at least one writer it was a bogus account, but from what the writers had to say above, it seems like the damage had already been done. Several writers had already wasted their time writing dozens of articles which they may or may not be paid for.

It just makes me sick to think about how these writers were excited to be writing for me, and then had to find out it was all a scam. Even though I’m only an unwitting participant in this ripoff, it really rankles.

Fighting writer exploitation is the core of my mission here on the blog! And then, this mess happens. I run a Google alert on my name, but it never turned this up. Makes me wonder what more we can do to monitor our online reputations.

The bottom line

This whole experience was a sad reminder that when you go on platforms where it’s easy for clients to mask their identities, you really don’t know who you’re dealing with. Which means it’s easy for that client to disappear without paying you.

Just another reason to go out and find your own clients instead of hanging around bidding on Elance for gigs posted by clients who may not be what they appear.

This article originally appeared on makealivingwriting.com

Monday, November 3, 2014

Wordenfreude: GG Writers Weigh in on the German Ghosting Scandal

photo from Deutsches Bundesarchiv, via Wikimedia Commons
A German friend of ours recently tipped us off to the most intriguing ghostwriting story of the year so far—what we have taken to calling "three reichs and you're out."

According to the magazine Der Spiegel, Heribert Schwan, the writer who worked with former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl on his memoirs for eight years and two volumes announced that he plans to publish his research for the third volume under his own name, after Kohl severed the relationship.

What makes this episode especially juicy—and borderline Wagnerian—is that the collaborator claims he was axed because Kohl's current wife had it in for him.

That got us to wondering—if there were a long crazy German word (along the lines of lebensabschnittpartner) to describe this unusual turnabout, what would it be?

We asked our network of ghosts to chime in, and here are our favorite responses:
  • Brad Schreiber sent us the elegant and economical autobiografikaput.
  • Mary Jo Bohr came up with the contagious-sounding frauKohlitis.
  • Claudia Gryvatz Copquincoined kohlaxghoulenscribe. In case you need a breakdown: "Kohl/axed (got rid of) / ghoul - en - scribe (ghostwriter)"
  • Tom Teicholz suggested the slightly profane diefraugefuckedovermich.
  • Jeff Kreisler showed off his comedic chops with derwifencrazenwritersblach. Writer's block indeed.
  • Arthur Allen won the award for longest entry: Kohlsfrauverursachteghostwriterausgrenzung. According to his German friend, this literally translates to "wife-caused ghost writer exclusion."
Think you can top these submissions? Show us your edelwrites in the comments below.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Small Writers Group Nets Big Results

by Theresa Sullivan Barger

New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, FastCompany.com, Columbia Journalism Review, Family Circle, Parents, The Atlantic, Philanthropy, Poynter Online—these are just some of the places the bylines of our small writers group members have appeared for their first time since we started meeting 10 months ago.

We originally formed as a monthly accountability group, but soon evolved into much more. We set up a closed Facebook page where the eight of us could post questions and share the wisdom of the group. Our virtual newsroom replicated the days when we could slide our chair over to a coworker to ask how she would handle that day’s challenge. We soon switched to meeting every two weeks.

We’re each other’s support system, cheering squad, and sounding boards. The group is helping each of us advance our careers while addressing the isolation we freelancers face. We recommend each other to our editors and share links to helpful webinars or websites.

When we started, most people in the group had never met. I was the only one who knew everyone, and I didn’t know most of them well—but I knew them enough to know that we all shared a desire to grow as writers. We’ve become trusted colleagues who offer honest critiques, ideas for sources, and a gentle nudge.

Freelancers By Choice

Our members range in age, specialty, political views, and freelance experience, but that’s part of why the group works. We’re different enough to not be in direct competition. We have diverse strengths and weaknesses, so we learn from each other.

We come to our meetings with lists of stories we’re working on or thinking of doing, and the rest of the group offers suggestions on story approach and where to pitch. When we hear of editors looking for writers, we share that news.

Success Breeds Success

When one of us gets a “yes” from a prestigious pub for the first time, we’re all happy. Each person’s success propels the rest of us to aim higher and keep trying. If one of us can break into that coveted market, so can the rest of us. Our celebration of breakthroughs seems to be happening with increasing frequency.

Since rejection—or simply being ignored—is so much a part of the job of being a freelance writer, it really helps to have encouragement from writers whom you respect.

One of our members—a talented, experienced writer—had never pitched to a national publication. A challenge from the group propelled her to commit to a date for pitching. When she stumbled on an idea worthy of a national newspaper, she pitched it to the New York Times. When they passed, she refined the pitch and immediately sent it to the Journal, which said yes. We felt like proud parents.

(This post originally appeared on The ASJA Word)