Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Around the Word

Internet Save the Queen. Over 40,000 pages of Queen Victoria’s private journals have been posted online by her great-great-granddaughter Queen Elizabeth, just in time for the Queen’s upcoming jubilee. The journals contain everything from politics to passions, beginning in 1832 when she was just thirteen, up until her death in 1901. The journals are so detailed you can almost imagine her in the present, sitting at her royal computer and updating her Facebook status. Sample quote: “Had a good night and could take some breakfast better. Took an hour's drive at half-past two. It was very foggy, but the air was pleasant.”

Dear Diary, it’s Me, Saddam. Speaking of diarists, Raghad Saddam Hussein, daughter of the late Iraqi dictator, is seeking a publisher for her father’s handwritten journals. The content of the memoirs has not been specified, but they are the only personal documents that Hussein had written by hand. What do you think is in them? Tell us in the comments.

Turn that Frown Upside Down . . . or Into a Fat Paycheck. Salon has an exclusive excerpt from Augusten Burrough’s newest book, This Is How, which urges those with dark memories to do what we normally pay hundreds of dollars in psychiatric bills for: let them go and move on. It's an interesting suggestion from the man who wrote Running With Scissors, which basically transmogrified his painful memories into a whole lot of money in the bank.

Arisen from the Grave of Past Literature. Hesperus Press is hosting a contest to find out-of-print gems to re-publish. To enter, submit a title for consideration, along with a 500-word introduction explaining why you love it and why it should be brought back. If your book is chosen, they'll publish your intro with it. The deadline is June 1st, so dig through your bookshelf now for your favorite tattered classic—it might just be coming back into style.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Business Wisdom from the Business Ghost

Earlier this week we were privileged to have premier ghostwriter Michael Levin (aka the Business Ghost) give a dynamite presentation at our offices on a topic that’s on the minds of nearly all writers-for-hire today: How do you market yourself in a way that will land you high-paying work from high-profile clients?

The key takeaway: Your mindset matters most. You are not just a writer, Levin told the packed room of writers from the GG network; you’re an entrepreneur who runs a business specializing in writing. Deal with your fear, and stop being halfhearted with your self-marketing. Value your skills properly, and ask for what you’re worth. It’s the only way you’re going to get it.

Once you’ve got the right attitudinal bearings, Levin said, there are a number of basic sales and marketing techniques that writers can leverage to generate more productive leads and land more rewarding deals. Here’s some of the top tips and tricks Levin shared:

Cold-calling works
Keep your pitch simple: “Hi, my name is Michael Levin of Business Ghost, and I specialize in writing books for people of your stature. I don’t know if you’ve ever considered writing a book, but if you’re interested, I’d love to talk to you about working together.” Pique their curiosity—no one uses the telephone anymore—and appeal to their ego. Many writers worry that cold-calling is bothersome, but you’re not bothering someone if you’re solving a problem for them.

Don’t be afraid of gatekeepers
Secretaries, assistants, and other gatekeepers are benign dictators—if you’re nice to them. They respond, like anyone, to respect and kindness. (Of course, you could also make a habit of calling at 8 am, before the gatekeeper gets to work.)

Get over your fear
Be confident! The more you push on “no,” the more the client will push on “yes.” You have to act like you’ve got a winning lottery ticket in your pocket, meaning you could take this job or leave it. Use a line like: “I’m very fortunate to be busy with other projects, but I can usually make room in my schedule when something exciting comes along.”

It doesn’t matter if you’re less experienced in the subject matter
Tell the client, “My credentials as a writer are more important than my knowledge of your industry.” The client is the one who knows his or her subject matter; you’re being hired on the strength of your writing skill.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve never written a book before
There are many ways to get paid for your first book. You could write for a percentage of the back-end (with clearly defined metrics), for example, or you could get paid on a per-chapter basis. You’ll certainly charge less than market rate, so position it like this: “I’m buying market share in my future, and you’re lucky enough to be getting a great deal on a fantastic writer.” Michael suggests charging $15 to $20k for your first book, and increase your rates with each subsequent project.

It’s not a vanity project
Many clients get nervous about self-publishing a book, because they don’t want it to look like an ego-driven idea. Michael has a great essay on his website called “But Isn’t It a Vanity Book?” that answers this question. In short: a vanity project is all about stroking the ego, whereas a self-published book is about providing a service. Tell the client that it’s her duty to share her acquired knowledge with the world.

Don’t be so smart
To be smarter than the client is stupid. Channel seventies TV detective Columbo, and use what you don’t know to keep the client talking. In addition, don’t be tricked into giving away all your secrets for free in an initial interview. Clients will flatter you to inflate your ego and keep you talking—which is the same thing you should be doing to them.

Set up your next session
At the beginning of your first meeting with a client, explain that you’re going to give him a lot to think about, and that you’d like to schedule your next meeting or next step now. That prevents you from leaving with nothing but a weak promise of “I’ll be in touch.”

Want to hear more from Michael? Check out his Business Ghost website and follow him on Twitter at @Business_Ghost.

Michael, a New York Times–bestselling author, has built one of preeminent ghostwriting practices in the country. His company, Business Ghost, has produced more than 100 ghostwritten and co-written books, of which eight have been national bestsellers. He also appeared on ABC's hot reality show Shark Tank, and his episode will re-run tonight, May 25th, at 8pm.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Our Next Free Workshop: May 31

In conjunction with ASJA, Gotham is proud to present our latest free workshop for writers: How to Create a Killer Book Proposal . . . For a Dead Tough Market

If you’ve tried selling a nonfiction book to a publisher lately, you’ve probably read the same writing on the wall we have—it’s a bear out there. Submissions are booming, but deals are shrinking and advances are shriveling. Editors and agents are focused if not fixated on projects that come with a built-in platform, today’s magic password for publishing. For those of us not named Oprah or Madonna, that means there is more pressure than ever to offer an indelible proposal. One that gets your story or idea to stand out, break through, and ultimately tickle a buyer’s sales bone.

To help make this challenge a little less daunting and a little more digestible, we have pulled together another panel of industry experts to walk you through the key elements of crafting a killer proposal to maximize your book’s chances of selling. We will cover a number of tips and tricks to keep your or your client’s project from going directly into the slush pile and instead keep your reader riveted to the pitch, including: 1) how to position your book in the marketplace; 2) how to identify your target audience; 3) how to create a brand message; and 4) how to create a powerful marketing statement.

Leading the discussion will be:

Marilyn Allen
Founder of the Allen O’Shea Literary Agency and author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Book Proposals & Query Letters

Beverly West
Author of the bestselling Cinematherapy series and President of Kitchen Table Media, which specializes in branding experts to succeed in the publishing marketplace

Dan Gerstein
President of Gotham Ghostwriters

Thursday, May 31st
6–7:30 p.m.

ASJA’s Office, Times Square
1501 Broadway, Suite 403

please register at

Friday, May 4, 2012

Guest post: A Tribute to Hillman Curtis

This post originally ran on Contrary Magazine's blog.

Here is a truth about ghostwriting that I never knew until now: You can write about practically anything in the first-person—except death.

One week ago today, an old friend died after fighting cancer for three and a half years. He was just 51, had a wife, two young children, and countless friends scattered all over the world. He was famous enough for his obituary to be featured in the New York Times. And he was the only other person in the world, besides myself, whose life, ideas, and work I have discussed using the word “I.”

He was Hillman Curtis, a web designer-cum-filmmaker, and I was his ghostwriter.

We had become estranged in recent years, but I knew he was sick. In 2010, five years after our last book project together, he confided in me over email that he “had a bad case of cancer.” It was meant as a joke, an allusion to one of his favorite films, The Royal Tennenbaums. Hillman liked to lighten the mood whenever possible, but I didn’t catch it. I was too much in shock. He had reached out to me much like he always had: seemingly on a whim, with an idea for a project that he wanted my help with. That’s how Hillman worked with everyone.

Only this time, the project didn’t involve a book. We wrote two together, one in 2001 and another in 2005—but I’ll come back to that. The first time he emailed me, in May 2001, it was simply to ask if I might have time to help him structure his thoughts for a book on new media design he was writing. I had interviewed him a few months earlier for a magazine article about broadcast design, and apparently we’d hit it off. I was only 25. I jumped at the opportunity.

Thus began a unique kind of partnership. When he had time, he would write a mess of ideas—stream of consciousness, really—and then I’d turn the draft into a chapter. Other times, we’d simply sit and talk, and I’d record the conversation. Later I would transcribe the conversation and write a chapter from that. I got to know him very, very well during this process. I internalized his voice, started using his expressions, and even went against my own literary judgement and ended a lot of sentences with ellipses (as he liked to do…).

The book was a success, and we worked on many other projects over the years. He would call me up, or email me, and say he needed my “special touch” on a piece of writing—usually copy for a website, a chapter for another author’s book about design, or a speech. Payment varied—once, when I was very broke, he paid my month’s rent, in addition to the fee we had already established. In 2005, we wrote a second book, about digital filmmaking, a field he waded into and then immersed himself in during his last decade of life, ultimately replacing his web design work with artist documentaries, commercials, and short narrative films. He was a self-described “serial self-reinventor.” And he was successful at practically everything he put his mind to.

Except for the last project he tapped me for, in 2010. He wanted me to train him for a half-marathon. He had begun chemo, he explained, and he was often very tired. He needed something to focus on, and someone to “kick his ass,” as he put it. He even offered to pay me.

I never said no to Hillman, and not because I was afraid to. When he asked someone to do something for him, it was usually a tremendous opportunity. “Do you have time to help me write a book?” Of course. “I just got this new film equipment; will you help me make a documentary about David Byrne?” Are you kidding? Yes. “Will you give me something to look forward to three months down the road, and an excuse to get out every day and breathe fresh air, talk about life, and simply enjoy being alive?” Absolutely.

But this time, Hillman didn’t follow through. We exchanged many emails about running. I advised him, developed a modest schedule for him, and encouraged him every time he reported back about a run he had completed. But we never met to go running in Prospect Park, as we’d planned on doing twice weekly, nor did he ever run a half-marathon.

I never pressured him. When he was reluctant to begin our second book together because he didn’t quite know what kind of book he wanted to write, I waited—for two years, and through many false starts in the meantime. And so, when he faltered on the running, I didn’t “kick his ass,” as he’d asked. After all, he was dealing with a bad case of cancer.

Maybe I let him down. Maybe he wanted me to be Mickey to his Rocky, never backing down, showing tough love from the side of the road, stopwatch in hand as I shouted his quarter-mile splits. But I just didn’t have the heart for that.

A lot of people knew Hillman, and many more respected him. He revolutionized the web. He helped untold numbers of young designers find their way. And he gave a few of us, those lucky enough to have worked closely with him, opportunities of a lifetime.

I wish that I could ghostwrite a goodbye from Hillman, channel his voice one last time. But I can’t. Even so, if I were able to suggest the idea, I think I know exactly what he’d say: “Right on.”