Monday, April 30, 2012

Guest Post: Looking for a Ghost


This article originally appeared on Publishers Weekly.

I’ve ghosted books on nearly every conceivable subject. The first question every new ghostwriting client asks is, “Are you an expert or do you know anything about [fill in the blank]?” My answer is almost always the same: “No.”

So how do I do what I do? Furthermore, why do these people hire me?

Answer: While it is somewhat helpful to know a little about a subject before ghostwriting about it, it is absolutely unnecessary to be an expert. Why? Because the client is the expert. If I were the expert as well as the professional writer, why would I need the client in the first place?

Every field of interest has that dreaded thing called “jargon.” Experts use jargon endlessly and without pause. It is the language of their field. Fortunately or unfortunately, when people reach out for a ghostwriter, it is often because they are looking for an audience beyond the narrowness of their field and its accepted experts.

Enter the Dejargonizer. This is my superhero name. When my client rambles on about “Invertilizing the DRC of the SMU, we econometrically strafe the LLG, which leaves us in a much better astrometrical situation,” I stand up and scream, “Enough! What the heck does that mean?” As the Dejargonizer, I get to revel in my ignorance. My lack of expertise is my greatest weapon. When a client says, “Wow, you really are stupid,” I respond by saying, “Thank you.”

I take jargon and make it understandable. This is not “dumbing down.” I hate that phrase. It is “universalizing.” You can be a genius expert in one field and totally lost in the jargon of another. This is not a measure of IQ. Writing is communication. I am hired by people who are often relatively poor communicators to those outside their field.

Yes, conveying this at an initial hiring interview is dicey, but since I am a paid communicator, my first job, my proving ground, is to get my potential client to understand all this. If I am successful, I am hired.

It also helps that I am old enough to be referred to as “mature.” Ghostwriting is actually one of the few occupations where, I believe, somewhat older practitioners are at an advantage. When I am asked if I know anything about [fill in the blank], there is a far greater chance that I have at least a nodding knowledge of it simply through life experience. A long life has also taught me humility. I used to be really, really smart, but now I’m dumb as a tree stump. This ingratiates me to people; don’t ask me why. I seem less apt to try to take over someone else’s dream project and make it my own. I don’t feel the need to do such things. In the end, this is the client’s dream, not mine. When I was younger, I doubt I would have understood that.

How should a person go looking for a ghost or editor? Should a would-be author ask a potential ghostwriter or editor if they know much about his or her topic? Sure. But a person should do it more as a way of finding out if the ghost or editor has any interest or feel for the topic at all. If you are an expert on Australian Rules Football, the ghost or editor should at least have a passing knowledge or interest in sports in general. That’s often as good as it gets. Beware the writer who says, “I know nothing about that, and in general I hate sports. But I have lots of bills this month, so I’ll write just about anything.”

You should also see if you personally connect with the writer, since you will be spending a lot of time with him or her. Many friends of yours have no expertise in what you do in life, but you’re still able to bond with them because they take an interest in you and have inquiring minds. The same holds true when hiring a writer.

Look for a writer you connect with, someone who maybe has a tangential knowledge or interest in your topic and really wants to spend weeks or months immersed in it with you. Find that, and you’ve found your ghost.

Kerry Zukus is a full-time professional, published, and agented author and ghostwriter of more than 40 books. His first novel, The Fourth House (Madison Park Press) was a featured selection of the Book of the Month Club.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Money for Nothing (And Your Speech for Free)

We know as well as anyone that speechwriting has been traditionally undervalued in the marketplace, but a new service, brought to our attention by Vital Speeches guru David Murray, has literally taken it to a new low. Speeches4less claims they'll write your entire speech in 5 days and only charge you $5 per 500 words.

art from clipartheaven
David Murray went right to the source, and penned a two-part article (here and here) on the company, explaining why what they're doing isn't just bad for speechwriters, it's bad for everyone. This is a must-read for our friends in the speechwriting community. "Speechwriting isn’t expensive because clients are stupid enough to pay. It’s expensive because it (ostensibly) involves talented writers spending real time getting to know clients who really want to communicate something specific to a particular group of people." Hear, hear!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Guest Post: So You Want to Write a Book


This article originally ran in the Directors & Boards 35th Anniversary Issue. The full article is available on Barbara Monteiro's website.

There is nothing like a successful book to impart wisdom, make you a more recognizable name in the business field, and open doors to speaking, teaching and other opportunities. But if your intentions are serious, you first must answer some questions.

For many of you, writing a book may be just a passing thought. The pressing nature of business for most executives means that you’ve hardly had time to seriously consider whether (1) you should put your efforts into such a venture, and (2) what to expect to achieve, besides having fun recounting business events from your perspective or hoping to give useful advice to future leaders and managers.

For most of my career I’ve worked with nonfiction authors specializing in business, economics or finance. Many combined teaching with consulting and writing, such as C.K. Prahalad, who wrote the now-classic The Fortune At the Bottom of the Pyramid, which we launched as the leading book of the Wharton Business Book series. Others, like Bill George, former chairman and CEO of Medtronic and now Harvard professor, began writing his books after leaving his corporate position. He created the concept and bestselling book True North, and has used it as a platform for other writing, classroom teaching, speaking and consulting. His fourth book, True North Groups: A Powerful Path to Personal and Leadership Development, was published in fall 2011. There are those who are working full-time in their field while writing, such as Jane Stevenson, vice chair of KornFerry’s CEO and Board Practice, and Bilal Kaafarani, whose book Breaking Away was launched in spring 2011.

Whether you are in the middle of your career or at the top, whether you already write a blog or speak before conferences, here’s the thinking process you might use to decide whether writing a book is the right step for you. Before you begin the formulation of a book project or think about hiring a ghostwriter, here are some questions you should ask yourself if you are serious about writing a book.

1. What is the purpose of my book?
You’ll need to define what you want the book to accomplish. As a business executive, you already set goals for yourself and then plot the process to achieve them. You’ll need to think about your book in a similar way. With a larger purpose than simply yourself, you are more likely to find the energy to act as an advocate for the book once it is published. Please note: This is a different question than the one often asked in radio or television interviews—“Why did you write the book?” From my perspective, everyone has a unique story to tell, but that doesn’t mean it should be in book form.

2. Who is the target market for your book?
This is an important question, because you should be envisioning a real person in your target market and writing with that person in mind. For example, if you’re writing about leadership, then you’ll need to be thinking about the middle manager who is looking for inspiration and advice for leading his team. If you’re writing about how to turn around a business, then you’ll be thinking about the C-suite people under pressure to find a way out of a difficult situation. And, if you’re writing about innovation, then you’ll need to have many examples, both successes and failures, to show the reader how to think about the concept and how to pitch it so that it can get funded.

3. Why should people in your target market buy your book?
You’ll need to do some research to answer this question. One of the first things you’ll be asked by a publisher or a book agent is how does your book stack up against the competition. There are a few ways for you to evaluate what you’re up against. I advise that you visit your local bookstore and look at the books on the shelves, what is facing out and most likely selling well and what is on the “new nonfiction” tables near the front door. You can also visit your local library and ask the librarian about books that are regularly checked out in the business section. It is important to physically see the competition, look at the endorsements on the back of the book jackets, read the copy on the inside flap as well as the author biographies. Then try to envision who will endorse your book, which means they’ll get an advance reading copy and be interested in you and your book in order to get you a quote under a tight deadline. You should also use Amazon as a tool for sizing up the competition. Read the top 10 books in your subject or topic area and decide what your book would add. Read the Amazon reviewers comments on the top books as a way to understand why these books are selling well.

4. How is your message different from the books already published in your theme area?
Scan Amazon with keywords to see how books in your area are presented and what sales rankings they have. For casting a wider net, I would track some Google conversations with key words to see what conversations are taking place on your topics, such as “management” or “business strategy.” These are conversations you’ll be advised to join in on once the book is out. An editor once told me that he wouldn’t sign up an author if that author hadn’t read at least five books that year in their specialty. Doing your homework on the competition will also help you when you submit your book proposal to an agent or a publisher. Every book that is presented has this information available so that the publishing house knows how to represent the book to the bookstores and online retailers.

5. How can you increase your expertise and visibility in your area before you write your book?
Your expertise will become part of the “platform” for your book. There are some avenues that authors can pursue to increase their expertise. Do you lead professional conferences and debate opposite views from your own? Have you served in an executive position in trade associations? Have you received any awards for your work? Does the media already seek you out for comments? Have you done pro bono work in your field? The more of these activities that you already have on your resume, the better for making a name for yourself in your field and getting your book signed by a publisher.

6. How do I write my book? Do I need a ghostwriter?
Once you’ve done your homework, you’ll need to make a commitment to writing. I would advise that you make an outline of the chapter headings and then put your effort into completing the first three chapters. I would seek out a close business associate who will tell you the truth and have them read the chapters. If you need help with writing, there are many book agents who can suggest “book doctors” who can take what you’ve written and make it smoother and easier to read.

To read the rest of the article, click here.

Barbara Monteiro is the founder and president of Monteiro & Co. Inc., a firm specializing in nonfiction book publicity, author platform development, and bookseller relationships. She started the firm 15 years ago after holding marketing and publicity positions at Macmillan/The Free Press, John Wiley & Sons, and other trade and university press publishers. She served as a board member of the Publishers’ Publicity Association from 1986 to 1990, has lectured at the CUNY Publishing Procedures Course, and has been a panelist at the Radcliffe Publishing Institute.