Monday, December 16, 2013

Guest Post: Why Authors Need to Have Chemistry With Their Ghostwriters

by Tim Sanders
This article originally appeared on NetMinds.

Recently I caught up with my longtime friend Glenn Plaskin to talk about why chemistry was the #1 factor an author should consider when selecting a ghostwriter.  He's both an author himself, a syndicated columnist, and seasoned ghostwriter of several bestselling books. While many authors look for credentials or, sadly, price, Glenn suggests they first seek out a personal connection.  

Tim: How did you get started as a ghostwriter?
Glenn: For me, it all started with magazine writing. After 25 years in that business, one of my interview subjects, a celebrity, had liked an article I'd written about him, and asked me to write a book with him. We would talk on tape, I’d formulate a chapter from our interviews, and then we’d go over that material until it was a fully formed chapter, then a fully formed book.

Tim: Talk to me a little bit about why the author/ghostwriter relationship needs to be collaborative. 
Glenn: It’s like going on a blind date except there won’t be any romance—or at least there shouldn’t be! But it is a little like dating someone: there has to be that indefinable click. And is anything more collaborative than dating? You have to feel a rapport, some kind of emotional connection that allows the author of the book to feel comfortable with a ghostwriter, to feel that the ghostwriter understands them, not just intellectually, but emotionally. An author/ghostwriter relationship needs to be harmonious. You’ll be working together in very tight quarters. So things have to be amiable. And having a great sense of humor is key too! I once met with a prospective author for what was scheduled as a 45-minute meeting, and we ended up talking and laughing for three hours! I knew after that our writing relationship would be a successful pairing. And it was. 

Tim: How do you conceptualize the author/ghostwriter relationship? 
Glenn: The author may have a compelling story but may not have the time, skill, or training to write it. The ghostwriter is the conduit. I compare it having a Mercedes: it’s a great car but when you need it serviced, you don’t try to do it yourself, you take it to the dealer. The ghostwriter is the book mechanic, who is best equipped to make the Mercedes run perfectly. The author has the ideas and the content; the ghostwriter has the technical skills to tell the story in the way in needs to be told.

Tim: Let’s put you in the author’s shoes. What should an author look for in a possible ghostwriter? You indicated humor previously. What other factors should the author be looking for in those first two general meetings with a ghostwriter? 
Glenn: Well, the first thing a prospective author should do is check a ghostwriter’s credits. A simple resume check. Google the name, see what comes up. Go to the ghostwriter’s website and see if it’s professional and well maintained. Make sure they’ve been published. Make an effort to call authors the ghostwriter has worked with in the past and ask them how working with that ghostwriter was. There is quite a lot of pre-prep that can be done. 

Tim: And ghostwriters should have their credentials readily available? 
Glenn: Exactly. Once an author has determined the ghostwriter is professional, step two is the meet and greet. Usually the first interaction is conducted over the phone, then the second meeting in person. The very first thing I look for is simple likeability. Do you get along with the person? Would you be their friend in “real life”? Are you impressed with their intelligence? Do they seem to understand what you’re talking about? Did they come prepared? Nothing will impress someone more than knowing something about them. Everyone likes to talk about themselves. Also, is the ghostwriter a good interviewer? Can the ghostwriter fill in the blanks? Are they a good listener? Do they seem to be grasping the verbal cues that you’re giving them and picking up on them and furthering the conversation?

Tim: Do you always ghostwrite subjects that you are well versed in? 
Glenn: Not at all. I met with a pastor once. I really liked the guy, so he passed the likability test, but I didn’t feel connected with the religious subject matter of his book. I didn’t actually have much interest in it. So I turned the project down. A few months later he came back to me and asked me again, and I said yes. I challenged myself. We ended up having a great collaboration. My lack of knowledge of the Bible didn’t hurt the product in any way. I feel that a good ghostwriter can write about anything, especially if they have great chemistry with the author, as I did with the pastor. 

Tim: Can the author cultivate that chemistry? 
Glenn: The author shouldn’t have to. Remember, the ghostwriter is there to make your life easy. They’re servicing your Mercedes. It’s not up to the Mercedes to do the work! The ghostwriter is the one that has to build the relationship and build the trust. 

Tim: As a ghostwriter, can you improve the chemistry with the author? 
Glenn: If by the second date you’re not crazy about the person, you’re really not going to go on any more dates. So I can’t overemphasize the importance of the first telephone and in-person meetings. If the click doesn’t happen after the first two or three interactions, it’s likely that it may not go any further. And maybe that’s as it should be. You can’t improve what never existed. 

Tim: What do you do to sustain strong chemistry over a long project? 
Glenn: Well, for starters, every working relationship needs boundaries. We can’t work in an unorganized vacuum. So it’s up to the two collaborators to decide things like: When are we going to work? How are we going to work? How often are we going to talk? Once these boundaries have been established, a ghostwriter might need to get creative when making sure the author follows them. I once worked with an author and our schedule was a tight one. We needed to finish a chapter every week. The problem was that he wasn’t giving me the information I needed soon enough. So I gently told him, “The train is leaving the station every Monday, one way or the other.” He heard me, and we had zero problems after that. I got the information I needed first thing Monday morning from then on. Writing a book takes discipline on both sides, and that certainly helps the sustained chemistry stay buoyant. The final thing I’ve learned to help keep the chemistry strong is to never responding when angry. In the book-writing process, there will be moments of great tension. There are going to be times when the author is irritated and not in the mood to do his or her part, and there are also going to be times when the ghostwriter may feel annoyed by the client. That’s normal. One thing I practice is that when I’m upset is always the wrong time to discuss it with the client. Instead, talk to a friend, talk to your sister, talk to anybody else, but don’t talk to the client. By practicing this, I hardly ever have arguments with an author. You want to avoid those at all costs. You’ve got to learn to let annoyances go. It’s almost like you have to take a ghostwriter twelve-step program! In order to keep the chemistry going, it’s very important to keep the relationship as harmonious as you can make it. 

Tim is a bestselling author and former Yahoo! executive with a mission to disrupt the traditional publishing and self-publishing industries and share knowledge with authors looking to publish and market high-quality books. Follow him on Twitter at @sanderssays.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Holiday Gift Ideas: Ten Terrific Books to Give this Season

Jhumpa Lahiri once wrote, “That's the thing about books: they let you travel without moving your feet.”

This holiday season, give your loved ones, your writer friends, and even yourself the gift of experience—the feeling of unwrapping a present only to find it contains your imagination.

 Here’s a list of books we recommend for this holiday season:

1. Hopscotch by Julio Cort├ízar
Because a little experiment keeps the mind on its toes.

2. Carried Away: A Selection of Stories by Alice Munro
Because we always need to be reminded that the small things are the big things.

3. And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
Because there’s more to Afghanistan than war.

4. Faces of Love: Hafez and the Poets of Shiraz (trans. Dick Davis)
Because a little poetry keeps the blood flowing.

5. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
Because we are all searching, and one day it will lead us somewhere.

6. The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)
Because we all need consoling since Harry Potter grew up.

7. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
Because learning how to be a better person never goes out of style.

8. Love Is a Dog from Hell by Charles Bukowski
Because there's no lesson quite like one of unrequited love.

9. My Heart Is Broken by Mavis Gallant
Because we are all outsiders in our own way.

10. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami
Because how to live life wasn't taught to us in school.

Monday, December 2, 2013

How to Be an Entrepreneurial Writer

Though writing is an art, it’s vital to combine it with business savvy in order to give yourself a competitive edge. A keen understanding of the business of books and media will enhance your professionalism: you’ll approach clients, agents, and publishers more tactfully; pitch yourself for projects more frequently and sincerely; and learn to protect yourself and your financial interests.

Moreover, by becoming an entrepreneurial writer, you'll learn how to build confidence, be resourceful, take risks, earn more, and convince publishers and agents to invest in YOU.

Here are some ways to adapt an entrepreneurial mindset into your writer’s psyche:

1. Be Opportunity Focused 

Entrepreneurs are always on the lookout for potential business ideas. As a writer,  condition yourself to become curious about the world around you—ask questions, observe people and their environs, pay attention to trends—so you’ll be more likely to find inspiration that’s unique to you and relevant to your audience.

What can you write that could make someone’s life better or easier? How can you create value through your writing? Focus on these questions as you decide what stories to pitch.

2. Prepare Your Resources 

Entrepreneurs have vision. They plan a clear path that will get them from where they are to where they want to be. An entrepreneur is always prepared and knows how to make a spontaneous good first impression.

As a writer, you also have to look ahead. Figure out your skill set, your strengths, and your weaknesses. Determine your USP (unique-selling point). Does your writing fit a niche, or is your strength your versatility? Do you have institutional knowledge about a subject that could be shared to benefit others? Be proactive about the results—if you’re interested in writing in a specific genre or style but don’t have much prior experience, reach out to people who do, or sign up for a class that will teach you the basics.

3. Network, Network, Network 

Entrepreneurs are, by and large, master networkers. The old adage is true: it’s not only what you know that matters, but who you know.

Always look for ways to expand your network. Attend panels, workshops, and cocktail parties. Frequent bookstores, readings, and book launches. Figure out where the people you're writing about—or the audience you're writing for—gather, and make it a habit to spend time in those places. You never know whom you’ll meet.

And always carry business cards with your contact information and website, so you can continue the conversation later. Feel like you hit it off with someone at an event? Send an email expressing how delighted you are to meet them, show an interest in what they do, and ask follow-up questions. If you want to get involved with their organization, set up a meeting.

4. Take Risks 

Entrepreneurs tend to be confident, inspired, and dynamic. They attempt things that are slightly out of reach—and are often rewarded.

Every so often, pitch yourself for a project that seem a little out of your league. With the right combination of talent, timing, and luck, you might be rewarded by landing the gig. And even if you don't, the exercise will refine your pitching skills and could lead to a new connection. You might even receive feedback that will improve your profile as a candidate in the future. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Tips and Tricks for an Effective Blog

(Don't let this be you.)

You invest your time and creative energy in it, your readers enjoy it, and your potential employers/clients require it.

Just as e-books are changing the way we read, blogging is changing the way we write—to some extent. As a freelance writer today, having a well-nourished, well-manicured, well-maintained blog is the key to standing out from the cyber crowd.

But with an influx of content creators all across the Internet, how do you know if you’re getting the words you write right?

Here are some quick tips to make sure your input maximizes your output, so you end up with a blog that’s not only successful in positioning you well, but also effective in terms of generating clientele.

1. Cleanliness, Clarity, and Consistency
Your reader is not going to stay on your site for more than a few seconds unless you keep them there.

 • All posts should be neat and well formatted
 • Avoid too many colors, distracting fonts, and pictures
 • Always include a title—titles are the first thing a reader will notice, and probably the only thing they'll retain
 • Break up large chunks of text, and use lots of white space
 • Offer your contact details clearly—if someone wants to speak to you, they should know how to get in touch
 • If you’re using your blog as a portfolio, organize different writing samples under headers, tabs, or tags

 2. Establish Your Brand and Quality Control
Whether you’re writing for the general public or are hoping your website will impress potential clients, your blog is a part of your brand. Make sure it represents who you are. 

 • Know your subject matter, your voice, and your structural style—and be consistent with it
 • Always (always, always) edit what you write before you post it
 • Be conversational and casual, but make sure you don’t sound inarticulate or unrefined

3. Frequency and Variety
Posting regularly is a great way to establish reader loyalty. If someone likes your blog, but sees no new posts when she checks in back next week, you will probably lose her. 

 • Set weekly goals for how many new posts you'll write—and stick to them
 • Plan for a series of posts or come up with themes for different weeks
 • Be creative with the ways you present or curate content

 4. Call to Action
Pushy salespeople are often instantly disregarded, so don’t demand interaction from your readers. Try to generate responses in other ways.

 • Do include a comments feature, but don’t pressure your readers to participate
 • Create easy-to-answer polls or comment and request feedback on other people’s blogs

5. Further Reading
For more tips and tricks on blog writing:
 • "10 Secrets of Professional Writers Every Blogger Should Know" by Jeff Bullas
 • "The 10 Commandments of Blogging" by Stanford Smith
 • "Blogging Statistics Per the Wall Street Journal" by Mark Penn
 • "How to Avoid Common Beginner Blogger Mistakes" on WikiHow

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Guest Post: Why I Like Being a "Content Provider"

by Minda Zetlin

If you spend a lot of time around longtime journalists, you may have heard the term “content provider” used with something like a sneer—generally from what I think of as the old guard: venerable writers who built their careers writing great news stories for great news organizations and are aghast at the changes the Internet has wrought upon the world they thought they knew.
But “content provider” is a term many of us are embracing, because that old world of journalism is gone for good. I spent part of last week at a forward-looking conference where respected media guru Steve Rubel, executive vice president of global strategy and insights at PR giant Edelman, laid out, in a few minutes and a few slides, the forces that have changed media forever.

Content is infinite; time and attention are finite. We all know this as readers. I’ve often thought that I would like to read the New Yorker—if only it came out monthly instead of weekly. The days when people eagerly checked their mailboxes for that long-awaited magazine are over. These days, the magazine has a website where it publishes new articles or blog posts 20 times a day. All your friends have blogs they hope you’ll follow, and now that there are so many publishing venues, most have books out, too, that they’re waiting for you to get around to reading. Not to mention Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Digg, Flipboard, and StumbleUpon. There’s just too much good stuff out there for any of us to read everything we might like to.

Publishers can’t depend on subscription revenue. Right or wrong, most people assume that content on the Internet should be free, and very few companies have found a successful way to charge people for reading material online. As we’ve just seen, there’s enough good reading out there for free to make anyone wonder why they’d bother paying to read a website. As more and more people are turning away from paper, subscriptions just aren’t a great way for most publications to make money anymore.

Online ad revenues don’t amount to much. Advertising was supposed to be a viable business model for online publications, just as it’s always provided much of the revenue for print publications. Rubel notes that most online advertising is sold using automated networks rather than person-to-person, and at very low prices. Late least year, Forrester Research estimated the average cost per thousand page views of an online ad at just $2.66. The Atlantic reported that newspapers lost $16 in print ad revenue for every $1 they had gained in digital ad revenue in 2012, one reason why total newspaper employment in the United States fell below 40,000 for the first time since 1978.

This is all terrible news for traditional media, for the state of American journalism in general, and for writers determined to make their livings from pure journalism. When some of the biggest names in media are faltering, and all of them are scrambling to compete in an increasingly overloaded market for readers’ attention—well, that’s not a good thing.

I wish I could say that pay for good writing is going up, but it isn’t. I wish I could say that all the writing I do is meticulously researched and fact-checked, but it isn’t. I wish real news and media outlets were still willing and able to pay for serious investigative journalism, but they aren’t, which is why we need nonprofits like Pro Publica to support it instead.

Amid these grim developments, Rubel sees a big silver lining for public relations, because struggling media outlets are desperate for other revenue, and that’s created an opportunity for companies like Edelman to place “sponsored content” on their websites. Meantime, companies are more comfortable than ever creating their own content, because most have been doing it already, aiming for the content-rich, frequently updated websites that Google’s ranking algorithms favor.

That’s where we come in, those of us who make our livings writing—if we’re willing to be content providers as well as journalists. There’s an immense hunger for fresh material to be posted on traditional media sites, corporate sites, and hybrids of both. If you’re already full up with work or committed to never writing anything but purely journalistic stories, that may not much matter to you. But if you’re looking for ways to create easy revenue and gain regular clients, then the Web’s endless appetite for content is definitely a good thing.

Rubel stressed in his talk that effective custom content must be high quality and journalistic. This is one way custom content can offer an advantage over some of the low-rent Web-writing opportunities out there. Content mills may offer laughably low payments for laughably bad articles and have little to lose if what they publish is poorly researched or written. A company trying to build up its brand, however, will think twice about putting its name on pieces like those. It’s the brand-conscious companies that are more likely to hire professional writers and offer pay professionals will accept.

How do you get into the custom content market? One place to start is ASJA’s Content Connections conference taking place November 7 and 8 at Columbia College in Chicago. We’re bringing writers together with experts in content creation and also hosting an event called Client Connections. It’s similar to Personal Pitch (meetings with agents) that is a regular feature of our annual conference in April, with two big differences: the short meetings are with content buyers who may represent corporations, advertising, or PR agencies. And it’s open to all writers, not just ASJA members.

I, myself, have included sponsored or custom content in the mix of how I make my living for the past dozen years. Most (but not all) of the time, the material I write for these corporate clients is highly similar to what I’d be writing as a journalist. It’s always some of the easiest and best-paid work I do and usually provides regular income. And in the uncertain world of a freelance writer, regular, steady, easy, well-paid work is a very nice thing.

Minda Zetlin is president of ASJA, a columnist for the Inc. magazine website and author of several books, including The Geek Gap: Why Business and Technology Professionals Don’t Understand Each Other and Why They Need Each Other to Survive (Prometheus Books, 2006), co-authored with her husband, Bill Pfleging. Connect with her on twitter at @MindaZetlin.

This article original appeared in the November 2013 issue of the ASJA magazine, and online here.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Around the Word: Major Publishing Trends for 2013

With explosive developments in technology, readers and writers are struggling to re-construct an understanding of how to “be” readers and writers as the industry moves away from traditional publishing formats.

Here are some snapshots of major publishing industry trends of 2013 that are forecasted to continue:

 • The Multimedia Wave. Book publishers are investing more time, energy, and resources in designing applications for e-books, given the dramatically increased use of tablets for reading. Conventional publishing protocols—designing book covers, re-printing new editions, choosing bookstores and other channels of distribution—have been neglected in favor of making online readability more interactive with music, pictures, search features, and other multimedia tools.

In a Guardian article, Victoria Barnsley of HarperCollins UK says, “We can’t think of ourselves as book publishers anymore. We have to see ourselves as multimedia content producers.”

 • The Return of the Subscription Model. With growth in piracy arising from free-floating creative content in the Internet universe, many magazine publications are looking to protect their content by reviving the subscription model. Readers will have to subscribe to the magazine and select an option for "digital issues"—at an additional cost—before they can access content on their tablet or smartphone.

In May 2011, the New York Times published an article about the digital birth of the New Yorker on the iPad. New Yorker editor David Remnick excitedly explained, “If you are going to get thousands of readers that you didn’t have before, or maybe even hundreds of thousands of readers, you’d be foolish to complain about the work that went into coming up with something they found compelling on the iPad. It is a very big opportunity for a magazine like the New Yorker to find whole new audiences.”

 • The Rise of Self-Powered Curation. Social media presence and prowess is one of the key features of the modern man’s (and modern company's) identity. The integration of Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Twitter into our digital behavior suggests that users are interested in personalizing the presentation and experience of content online.

Many apps (like Pocket, InstaPaper, Readability, Read It Later, etc.) allow users to find, download, and save online content to read later, offline. While such online-bookmarking tools, the idea of self-powered curation is sure to change reading habits and expectations.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Happy Halloween: Trick or Tweeting

Halloween is a great holiday for creativity! There are crazy costumes, creepy stories, and lots of strange decorations to come up with.

But here at GG, we have an extra-special Halloween trump card: GHOSTS! What better time is there to recognize the art of ghostwriting?

So here's a fun, ghostly Halloween challenge:

Come up with a creative hashtag for what being a ghost(writer) means to you, and tweet it to us at @GothamGhosts by Thursday, October 31st.         

We’ll round up the wittiest, funniest, cleverest ghostly tweets in a BloGG post next week.

And have a happy and safe Halloween!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Guest Post: How to Get Your Speakers to Sing

by David Murray
Last month in Europe I got asked the same question I get asked in the States: How do I animate and effervesce my wooden, flat speaker?

Bring in a speaking coach, is the easy answer.

Too easy, in many cases. Coaches can polish a rough speaker, but teaching a stiff speaker to act animated is like tying ropes to the arms and legs of a corpse.

Speakers are stiff because they are scared. And they are scared because they should be scared. For they have permanently stolen an hour from the lives of many human souls, and they know full well they don’t have anything to say that is of real importance even to themselves, let alone to this innocent crowd.

Fear and public speaking have gone together since the first fourth-grade teacher forced the first fourth-grader to choose from a list of five weary topics on which to give a speech to the class. And the fourth-grader felt like a fraud because he was made to be a fraud, forced to pretend he had a genuine, studied, heartfelt, unique, and useful opinion about “How does pollution affect society?” Or was it, “Are zoos good for animals?”

And so the fourth-grader stood, shame-faced but brave, in front of classmates with whom he or she had exchanged fart jokes that very morning and pretended to be an authority on the benefits and drawbacks of cloning (while the classmates, with mixed success, pretended to care). And said the expected things for the required amount of time and sat down and hoped that the next such assignment would be proceeded by death.

And that’s pretty much exactly how public speaking went down for the fourth-grader, as he or she passed through junior high, high school, and college, where the phony passion was applied to mouthing rote arguments for or against euthanasia, raising the drinking age, and the legalization of drugs, exactly in that order.

Then a merciful decade or two passed—during the fourth-grader’s early work life, when most of the speeches were being given by the elders—and the fourth-grader’s oratorical participation consisted mostly of pretending to be interested in other speakers who were pretending to be interesting.

But then one day the fourth-grader became a manager. And soon an executive. And then a senior executive. And finally the call came: Would the fourth-grader honor a faceless audience by appearing at a random leadership forum and delivering a speech on an unspecified topic? 

That’s when the fourth-grader became your client. And you wonder why your client is elusive and would appear to prefer to focus on any aspect of her work rather than the speech that’s coming up. Don’t be surprised! Your client is a fourth-grader! And do you know who you are? In the fourth-grader’s mind, you are the teacher who is trying to get the fourth-grader to choose one of the five weary topics that you have suggested!

Long before the fourth-grader understood his or her own mind well enough to have anything genuine to say that could be sustained over more than a single minute of oratory, he or she had utterly disassociated public speaking from true candor and intimate communication. So if you are to recouple these two concepts in your fourth-grader’s fully grown (and thus half-ossified) mind, you will have a hell of a job ahead of you.

You have to ascertain something true and deep about what motivated the speaker to climb all the way from the fourth grade to the position of CEO of your company. Are we dealing here with a brilliant or dogged engineer? A passionate financial analyst? A natural motivator of people? An idealistic believer in the industry? Or just a gasoline-driven ambitious maniac? Whatever the qualities that got the fourth-grader all the way to this exalted position (far ahead of all of the fourth-grader’s classmates)—well, you’ve got to understand something about where those qualities came from, and how they connect today with the fourth-grader who’s still inside.

And now you’re threatening to write a speech that’s outside of the five suggested topics. A speech that feels like something only your fourth-grader could give—because it’s about his grandpa, it’s about what she did over the summer, it’s about why he doesn’t like to get a haircut, or why she thinks it’s better to be a tomboy than a girly-girl. And suddenly, the fourth-grader isn’t so focused on the PowerPoint deck. Suddenly the fourth-grader is up for trying it without a lectern. Suddenly the fourth-grader is laughing on stage, and wondering aloud whether you should maybe be videotaping this speech, to send to all the employees.

Because she suddenly realizes: Shc can’t remember giving a speech that sounds so much like herself.

Actually, this doesn’t happen suddenly at all. A speaker for a Danish government minister came up to me after my talk in Copenhagen last week. “He doesn’t like to tell personal stories,” she said about her client. “But I’ve gotten him to do it, and he knows they love it when he talks about the old car he bought and loves. And he knows that’s always the part they remember.”

Could she have a straight-up conversation with him about beginning to choose the topics he speaks on based on the issues he feels most personally connected to? So that, to whatever extent strategically advisable, every speech he gives is about his beloved old car—or his mother, or his freshman history professor, or his political mentor, or an intellectual revelation or a personal turning point or anything that’s as as true to the fourth-grader as it is to the man?

Yes, she said. She actually thought she could have that conversation.

I told her to keep me posted. She looked at me skeptically but could see that I meant it. The speeches they generate together will all be in Danish. But if she succeeds, the communication they achieve will speak to us all.

I’ll keep you posted on her work with her fourth-grader, if you keep me posted on your work with yours.

David Murray is the editor of premier online speechwriting magazine Vital Speeches of the Day. This article was first published on VSOTD here.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Guest post: End Procrastination Now!

by Arielle Eckstut, one half of the Book Doctors

This past August, we had the honor of attending a conference hosted by behavioral economist and bestselling author Dan Ariely. He studies why human beings make the predictably irrational decisions that they do.

Dan invited a number of writers to the conference because he contends that behavioral economics is often best elucidated through stories. And through Dan’s own stories, we learned so much about the ridiculous decisions we make as writers—as well as how we can become more productive by putting into practice the principles he teaches.

Over and over, we talk to writers with great ideas for books. But these very creative people just can't seem to finish writing them. If we say it once, we say it a bazillion times: In order to get successfully published, you have to actually write. To do so, here are three principles of behavioral economics that will help slay the procrastination beast:
  1. Set real, concrete, achievable deadlines and schedules. Instead of saying you're going to write three days a week, actually name the days—Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, for instance. This way, you don’t get to say, “Oh, I’ll just do this tomorrow.” Map out a draft of your book in your calendar, not just in your head. Put in deadlines, along with reminders of those deadlines.
  2. Find a buddy (or buddies.) Join a writer’s group or seek out a partner, and check in with each other to make sure you meet your deadlines. For example, Arielle and her dear friend Laura Schenone were both working under tight deadlines to finish their books this summer. They were struggling. Then they made a pact: They would both write 500 words a day and then email their word count to each other at the end of each day. It was amazing what this simple social motivation achieved! The knowledge that they would have to check in with someone else produced enormous traction. Day after day after day, they wrote their 500 words. And even when they didn’t get to 500, they did write something—which was a hell of a lot more than they had been doing previously.
  3. Reward yourself, whether negatively or positively. For example, if you finish a week’s worth of reaching your word count, arrange for a romantic date with your loved one, or a relaxing evening on your favorite golf course, or buy yourself that fancy doodad you’ve been craving. Or you could go the other way: Set up an account with a charity you hate, and if you don't meet your goals, send them $50.  Losing something valuable to someone you hate turns out to be a great incentive!
Do you have other great tips to end procrastination? Share them in the comments.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

GG’s Oriana Leckert Featured on TechHive

“Whenever someone sounds drastically more coherent in a tweet then they do in person, they probably had some help.” 
—Oriana Leckert 

A recent article on TechHive, a site that focuses on gadgets, trends, and other tech news, features GG Director of Operations, Oriana Leckert, on growing ghostwriting trends in the social media celebrity-sphere.

In “Who’s actually writing your favorite celebrity’s tweets?Evan Dashevsky illuminates “ghost posting” on social media among high-profile personalities. From celebrities to politicians, ghostwriting has become a common phenomenon in the maintenance of public profiles on social media. “Having worked in this industry for a few years, I just assume that everyone has a ghostwriter,” Oriana says.

So whose writing are we actually reading? We will never know. Dashevsky interviews a celeb ghostwriter for the inside scoop: from negotiating per-tweet rates to client (non)interaction to the legalities of staying anonymous. 

“Ghostwriting [for social media] is definitely gaining ground; the stigma around the whole thing is being lifted,” Oriana says. Fans are going to have to become comfortable with the idea that social media profiles are prepared for, not by, their favorite celebs.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Around the Word: Preparing for NaNoWriMo

Have you ever considered writing a novel? What about writing a novel in thirty days? That may sound crazy, but every November, tens of thousands of people do it, as part of National Novel-Writing Month. Why not join in?

NaNoWriMo encourages high-intensity writing (50,000+ words) in a short period of time. Bringing together professional and amateur writers from all over the world, it's sort of like a support group for those struggling with writer’s block. If you want to push yourself to write more and more quickly, or are simply an enthusiastic lover of challenges, NaNoWriMo is a great way to get inspired, get started, or, if you’re ahead of the game, finally complete your partially finished work.

Shanghai-born, Brooklyn-based writer Jack Cheng once said: “If it excites you and scares the crap out of you at the same time, it probably means you should do it.” If you do decide to accept the NaNoWriMo challenge, register on the site, and then get organized. The better prepared you are, the greater your chances of success, so why not designate October your pre-NaNoWriMo boot camp month?

Here are some tips to prepare yourself for the intensive writing month to come:

o Research
Wondering if NaNoWriMo is right for you? Start by evaluating past writers’ experiences. Not only do you stand to gain valuable tips and tricks from your experienced predecessors, you'll also be able to adjust your expectations and understand what you're getting yourself into.

Seek Inspiration
Writers read and readers write, so try re-reading some favorite books or stories. Reading exemplary writing can light the spark of excitement and encouragement.

o Document Your Inspiration
If you don't already have one, try making an "idea journal" with quotes, images, excerpts, photos, music, and anything else that inspires you. This is a good way to keep track of your current interests as a writer.

o Prepare a Rough Outline
By the end of October you should know what you want to write about during NaNoWriMo. Make a list in your idea journal of the names of your main characters and at least five qualities about each of them, the major dramatic question or conflict, the primary themes, and a layout of the structure. But don’t work yourself up over every last detail—leave some things to fate.

o Find Friends
Crazy loves company! One of the great things about NaNoWriMo is that it's easy to connect with other writers. Acting on this network sooner rather than later is a good way to gear up for the process, exchange ideas and strategies, discuss workshopping possibilities, and establish a support network to lean on during the intensive month.

o Plan Your Writing Schedule
NaNoWriMo can be extremely rewarding—if you get it done. So know your limitations and make up a schedule of when you'll have time to write. Decide on your daily and weekly goals, and plan accordingly. This will help you be most efficient, and understand when you are lagging behind.

If you found these tips helpful, we encourage you to share your NaNoWriMo plan-of-action and personal writing tips in the comments.

Good Luck! You're probably going to need it.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Book Spotlight: The Indie Writer's Survival Guide by James O'Brien

We're pleased to spotlight a new book today: The Indie Writer's Survival Guide: Dos and Don'ts of Full-Time Freelancing, Year One by James O'Brien, just out from SlimBooks. It's a terrific overview of the freelance writing world, and a guide to transitioning from full-time writing to independent writing as a full-time career.

GG talked to James about cultivating clients, building networks, and anecdotal puffery.

What prompted you to write this book?
I found the publisher before the book was even an idea. SlimBooks is on to something when it comes to how business books work best, and how they don't work to the reader's benefit a lot of the time. They were looking for authors who could strip out the fluff and leave aside the repetitive anecdotal puffery that all too often pads business writing. I mean, anecdotes can be illustrative, and they can contextualize, but business-book readers have told me that they're annoyed by endless iterations of "Here's what Bob experienced one Monday in a meeting!" I like to think that we read business books to take away practical information, to receive a template or strategy that we can apply to what we're doing (or what we want to do). 

What do you think is the biggest challenge to being an independent writer?
After cash flow, it's cultivating the client list: building and maintaining one that will sustain you week after week, one that can survive, and allow you to survive, for months and years at the job. Getting clients is often a giant problem when you're starting out, but even after you've earned your way into outlets that will take your work, it's equally nerve-wracking to be in this reactive space all the time. Editors change, publishers' business models shift, networks bloom and then dry up . . . you're never not in entrepreneurial mode, really. And that can wear a writer down if the projects aren't fine-tuned to emphasize elements that keep you engaged—passions, interests, challenges. You have to stay in love with the stories, or the vicissitudes of the environment are going to burn you out. 

What do you find most rewarding about being an independent writer?
Freedom. And I don't mean the freedom to go sit in a coffee shop with your laptop all day; I mean the freedom to take on projects that you wouldn't be able to tackle if you were woking in a traditional full-time writing job. As an independent, you can write your way to a financial place that creates whole weeks without a deadline, and then you can start to explore. This kind of exploration, as a writer, takes you to places, literally, that you might never otherwise go. One morning you're answering an e-mail or pitching a piece to an editor, and then two weeks later you're on a plane, following a source or an idea that keeps you at the edge of your own skills and knowledge. This is the deeper kind of payoff that I think the happiest independent writers end up realizing and pursuing. 

The publishing landscape is changing dramatically. How do you see this affecting independent writers?
Mostly I see it as beneficial. There are so many outlets and so many developing spaces online that an entrepreneurial mind can find its way into multiple revenue streams. I know that this is often not the ideal scenario for traditional full-timers—there's a lot to be said for security and benefits and the comfort of a team that you grow to know and trust. But once I made the transition to independence, a whole world opened up. There's a real frontier in the digital publishing milieu. Don't listen to the voices that only say "No pay! No pay!" They're wrong: there is a lot of money on the table, but you have to be aggressively open to the way mastheads and editorial work now, and it's not what J-school taught back in 1985, 1995, or even 2005. What we mean when we say "news" or "article" or even "journalism" is subject to a number of new and interesting pressures that just weren't there ten years ago. This is not all bad, or even mostly bad, but it takes some flexibility and time and effort to sort out what works about this for the individual writer, and what does not.  

What other resources would you recommend for those who are transitioning into an independent writing career?
Avail yourselves of well-connected high-end networks such as Contently and Gotham Ghostwriters. That may sound like an advertisement, and I'm aware of where this interview is being published, but it's authentic advice, on my part, coming from what I know to be effective. Networks, especially online networks with well-funded projects, are more powerful than individuals, or at least they can save the individual a ton of time in the search for good work. There are lots of smart, young, successful people—writers, publishers, and network builders—who know this already. Be like them, and work with them, and with time and some humility, they'll change the way you work.

James O’Brien writes about business, technology, social media, film, wine, and travel. The Nieman Journalism Lab has called his work in the custom-content space "sponsored content done right." From 2008 to 2012 he reported and wrote extensively as a news correspondent for The Boston Globe. In 2012, he joined the caption-research team for photo-essayist Rick Smolan's The Human Face of Big Data. His fiction and poetry appear most recently in The Newer York and in Commas and Colons. New fiction is forthcoming in Space and Time and Footnote. O'Brien holds a PhD from the Editorial Institute at Boston University, where he researched Bob Dylan's other-than-song writings. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Around the Word: Spooks and Savvy Marketing

Ghost in the machine. In a clever twist on conventional uses of social media, ad agency Keiler has started a Twitter account for the ghost haunting its building. That's right—it's a literal ghostwriter.

Tweeting under the handle @KeilerGhost, the ghost shares snarky comments about advertising trends and daily office operations. Some of our favorite ghost-tweets:
  • I've seen a lot of advertising trends come and go in 200 years. But this stock photography thing has got to stop.
  • Agencies are like Ghosts: Clients expect transparency.
  • I’ve been dead for over 200 years and I’m still humming that darn Coca-Cola jingle.

She's got the look. In another example of marketing genius, author Emily Liebert partnered with a designer, a nail polish company, and a jewelry line to create looks inspired by the characters in her first novel. We think this was a great way to increase the visibility of her book in a flooded market. Read the Huffington Post article on Liebert's strategy here.

A club a day. If fashion isn't exactly your forte, take inspiration from author Jennifer Miller, who aims to visit 365 book clubs in one year to promote her novel, The Year of the Gadfly. Read about her strategy on GalleyCat here. Let us know your clever publicity/marketing strategies!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

GG's Dan Gerstein Interviewed by Author Learning Center

Gotham Ghostwriters President Dan Gerstein was interviewed recently by the Author Learning Center, a company that helps first-time authors reach their writing, publishing, and marketing goals.

The interview covered how Dan creates successful collaborative writing relationships, as well as how to promote writing skills and services.

A lot of people struggle with writing.
Here Dan talks about the rewards of working with a ghostwriter:

Setting Expectations
And here he discusses ways for writers to successfully collaborate with clients:

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Intern at Gotham Ghostwriters

Our team is seeking an administrative and social media intern interested in gaining exposure to the publishing, content creation, and freelance writing industries.

We are looking for an intern who is knowledgeable and passionate about social media to support our company's growing workload and help expand our online presence. The intern will be tasked with following the latest developments in the publishing and media world, drafting blog posts, and curating our Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr, as well as performing general administrative tasks as needed. Excellent writing skills and attention to detail are a must.

This is an unpaid internship with a commitment of 12 to 16 hours a week at our office in Manhattan, days and times negotiable, for 4 to 6 months.

If interested, send your resume and cover letter to!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Happy Labor Day!

In honor of Labor Day, Gotham's offices will be closed from August 30th through September 2nd.

We are always reachable by email at, and we will respond when we get back next week.

Have a relaxing and enjoyable holiday!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Around the Word: Outing the Ghosts

Pictures supplied by Eva Rinaldi and NASA
Astronaut Chris Hadfield, who has become something of a celebrity du jour thanks to his videos and tweets about life on the International Space Station, may have had a ghostwriter compose some of his tweets, according to The Albatross

Blacklock’s Reporter Tom Korski claims that documents from the Canadian Space Agency showed that Hadfield’s “seemingly spontaneous performances in space were the product of a three-year marketing campaign.” Hadfield’s son, Evan Hadfield, adamantly denies it.

Are we missing something? What’s the big deal? It looks to us as though Blacklock’s Reporter seriously exaggerated what help Hadfield had. Having an occasional tweet drafted by your son, or even the CBC, doesn’t equal a “three-year marketing campaign.” And even if Hadfield did have a ghostwriter, that’s not exactly the makings of a scandal, is it?

Maybe it is. In fact, Chris Hadfield wasn’t the only one “accused” of using a ghostwriter recently. Ransom, a rapper who collaborated with Nicki Minaj, recently released a song in which he claims to have written verses for her before she became famous. Nicki denies ever having used a ghostwriter in a (somewhat profane) response on TMZ.

What do you think about these stories? Is "ghostwriter outing" the new rage? Why all the hubbub?

Friday, August 9, 2013

Writer Poll: Is Ghostwriting Hazardous to the Health of Your Voice?

All ghostwriters are writers—whether they're writing in collaboration or on their own. So what happens when a ghost is too good at inhabiting the writing mind of another person or persona? Is it possible to get so immersed in another voice that you lose track of your own?

Annie Davies' recent Salon piece, “My Dirty Secret Writing Life,” says yes. In it, she expresses regret that she spent so many years ghostwriting a young-adult book series based on a popular TV show. Ultimately, she decided that “none of the ghostwriting gigs mattered very much, not in the long run.” And when she finally stopped writing for the series and turned to her own bylined projects, she found that she’d become disconnected from her own voice.

We polled our writers to see whether that resonated with them—had ghostwriting ever been hazardous to the health of their voice?

Davies' article really hit a nerved in our writer community. Most responses scolded her for her unacknowledged privilege, including some variation of “first-world problems.”

One of our ghosts, Sandra Rea, responded with “DUH…she lost herself. That’s what writers do.” She went on to pose some questions in a hypothetical conversation wtih Davies: “What does being a 'real' writer mean to you? What do you think you were doing all those years? If you were busy as a ghost—and paid well too—doesn't that legitimize you as an actual, flesh-and-blood writer?”

Some writers said that they found ghostwriting to be beneficial for their other projects. Holly Robinson said, “I enjoy the challenge of capturing a new voice on the page and have discovered that, although most of my clients are people whose lives are quite different from mine, many of our central conflicts and experiences share a common thread. Plus, ghostwriting has given me lots of good fodder for my fiction writing!” Alan Perlman felt similarly, saying, “As an academically trained linguist, I'm unusually objective about language, and as a student of stylistics, I like the challenge of replicating another person's voice. Praise from the client, audience reaction to a speech, and money—these serve my superficial ego needs.”

Other ghosts felt that, though they had at times felt conflicted about their own voice, at the end of the day, it all comes down to the paycheck. A writer who preferred to remain anonymous said, “Anything hazardous [to my voice] has been helped by the check I get that covers my rent and life.” Blogger and ghostwriter Claire Shefchik agreed: “When I'm ghostwriting and start worrying about ‘the health of my voice,’ these three little words usually help: I'm getting paid.”

The consensus from our writers is clear. Davies should be happy that she's been able to do what so many people can’t: make a living off of her writing, bylined or not.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Around the Word: New Books, New Places

With the heat wave we went through in NYC last week, there’s no denying that the dog days of summer are emphatically here. The bad news is that you could fry an egg on the sidewalks, but the good news is that it's probably time for a writing vacation!

If you’re planning to traveling to new and exotic locations, you'll surely want to keep a travel journal. Writer inspiration blog "One Wild Word" shares some great travel writing tips to make sure your vacation memories stay remembered, and even gives suggestions for waterproof notebooks—in case you're too close to the surf when inspiration strikes.

Then again, if you want to spend your vacation actually vacationing, know that you’re in good company. “I loafe and invite my soul,” wrote Whitman in his "Song of Myself." “I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.” Melville House’s Emma Aylor shares the expertise of several other famous authors who weren’t afraid to kick their feet up.

Or maybe you think the whole “vacation” concept is over-hyped. Who needs to swelter in the Fiji sun when you could be sitting in the comfortable cool of your air-conditioned office? If that's more your speed, stay home and leave the traveling to the books with Mailbooks For Good. The clever company partnered with Random House Australia to make books whose dust jackets transform into pre-addressed, pre-stamped boxes, so you can to donate the books you've finished to literacy charities.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Guest Post: Building Books as a Ghostwriter

by Alice Lesch Kelly

One of the authors I ghostwrite for checked in recently from the road. She was out promoting the book I’d written with her, and she was having one of those “I forget which city I’m in” moments.

While she rattled off her frantic schedule—a long list of readings, interviews, TV appearances, and speaking engagements—I sat back and appreciated the situation. After months of work on her book, we were both just where we wanted to be. She was out promoting her bestseller, and I was writing my next book.

As a ghostwriter, I get to do what I consider to be the most interesting parts of creating a book. I brainstorm topics, develop content, define strategies, package ideas, delve into research, and conduct interviews. And then, best of all, I write—expressing ideas, choosing words, crafting sentences, guiding narratives. I draft, revise, and polish.

Then, when I’m finished, I hand it all over to someone else.

I often think of myself as a surrogate mother. My books’ genetic material comes from another person, but I form it. I carry it for months, molding it, cultivating it, giving it voice. Under my care it develops and grows from the seed of an idea to a completed book that’s all ready for delivery.

The process works for everyone: The author has her baby, and I have the satisfaction of having written it to life.

When I started ghostwriting, I thought I’d feel disappointed when my authors received praise and attention for books I had written, or that I might be envious when Good Morning America called them rather than me. As it turns out, though, I prefer it this way. I get to have all the fun of writing—but when my books are ready to step out into the spotlight, I’m happy to let them go.

That’s why I love ghostwriting. Authors build platforms and marketing strategies, but I get to build books.

Alice Lesch Kelly is a book collaborator and ghostwriter specializing in health and self-improvement. Two of her recent books are Healthy Mom, Healthy Baby (HarperOne) and The Omni Diet (St. Martin’s Press). Her website is

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Published Posthumously

The New York Times had a particularly interesting book review last Sunday covering autobiographical books written about the authors’ own deaths.

The clever title, “Deadlines,” draws the reader in, and Meghan O’Rourke doesn’t disappoint, bringing up the insightful questions throughout the article. The piece touched on books such as John Updike’s Endpoint and Roger Ebert’s Life Itself: A Memoir, asking why there has been such an explosion of “death lit” recently.

Interestingly, the New York Times published another article on the very same day highlighting David Rakoff’s final novel, Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish, which he wrote on his deathbed. The book is written in iambic pentameter, something Rakoff had never done before. Joel Lovell paints a touching and inspirational picture of Rakoff’s struggle to finish his novel before his final deadline.

Does literature about death inspire or depress you? Why the sudden influx of books about dying? Let us know what you think in the comments.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

3 Benefits of Being a Blog Ghostwriter

by Kelsey Jones

Many writers get into blogging because they want to have their work published online. However, if you have started blogging for a living, you will quickly learn that the benefits of not having your name on something can often far outweigh the name recognition you’ll get on a piece of content written under your name.

Writing content that isn’t going to be published under your name (and is instead published under someone else’s name) is called ghostwriting. Published authors have been using ghostwriters for years on their books, and now the market for digital ghostwriters is stronger than ever. Higher rates, more work, and better guidelines are all things you can look forward to as a ghostwriter.

Better Pay
Most bloggers charge higher rates for ghostwritten pieces over those published under their name. This is understood by most clients, as not having your work recognized as your own carries a higher cost (as you can’t usually use it in your portfolio). For ghostwriting assignments, I usually charge 15 to 30 percent more per word or per piece. This rate usually varies wildly per industry and takes some experimentation before settling into a steady ghostwriting rate.

More Opportunities
Many clients are specifically looking for ghostwriters for their own marketing/blog content or to for their clients. Because the quality of content has a significant impact on a website’s traffic and search rank, companies are looking for great bloggers who can craft unique and engaging content. As many companies begin to realize how important blogging can be a website’s ROI and engagement, they will begin to hire more writers as well. What does this mean for bloggers? There will be more ghostwriting assignments available to go around. If you are okay with ghostwriting, this can allow for more clients than you might have received had you been adamant about your name being attached to any work you produce.

More Structure
More rules and guidelines might be viewed as a negative aspect of ghostwriting, but many bloggers see it as a benefit. For writers who are given free rein on assignments they attach their name to, it can be difficult at times to continuously come up with new blogging topics, due to that pesky writer’s block. However, many ghostwriting assignments have specific guidelines for content length, topic, and frequency, which can help the creative process when it comes to composing posts. We all need a break from idea generation, and more structure can often help.

This article originally appeared on the Blog Herald.

Visit Kelsey Jones' website: The Social Robot.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

We're On Tumblr!

Hello ghostwriters, writers in general, and tumblr-ers as a whole: We’ve joined the tumblrsphere!

We’ve got a folder full of gifs and we’re ready to party. We love hearing about the adventure of ghostwriters, freelance writers, editors, interns, and basically anyone in the writing and publishing businesses.

Follow or like our tumblr if you post about any of these topics!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Guest Post: Amazon's White Glove Publishing Service

by Andrew Crofts

There are any number of ways that a book can stumble on its journey from your brain to your readers’. One of the most common blockages is with the literary agent. Your agent loves your book and is confident she can sell it—but six months later she has failed to get a publisher on board.

But what if an agent who is keen on a book were in a position to “publish” it herself? Amazon has spotted this niche, and is now offering a service called White Glove. In this arrangement, the agent does all the liaising with Amazon and helps with the publishing process, and then she gets her standard 15 percent of anything the author earns from the deal.

Why partner with an agent when it’s not hard to do the self-publishing thing yourself? For one thing, it is so much better to have someone else who believes in your book, agrees to put time and effort into its publication, and generally shares the ride. In addition, a book’s chances of success are vastly improved if someone other than the author is behind it. If an agent does this for you, you have already gotten your first endorsement.

Last year I wrote a novel called Secrets of the Italian Gardener, set inside the palace of a dictator about to be overthrown in the Arab Spring. The narrator is a ghostwriter who, while writing a book for the dictator, meets a wise, elderly Italian gardener who gradually unravels the story of who really holds the power and wealth in this world. As the rebels draw closer to breaching the palace walls, the ghostwriter is also struggling with his own breaking heart.

I sent the manuscript to someone at United Agents, one of the biggest agencies in London, whom I have known for many years, and he came back brimming with enthusiasm. He wanted no rewrites, and he was sure he could sell the project.

Six months later, he had failed to convince any publishers. In the old days, that would have been the end of the story. But we turned instead to Amazon’s White Glove service.

Highly skilled Amazon staff did all the heavy lifting to get the book up onto the site, ready for print-on-demand as well electronic publication. It became a team effort rather than a lone author’s voice in the crowd, and should the book start to gain traction in the marketplace, the agency is already fully engaged and ready to handle the business side of taking it to the next level.

The book is now available on Amazon, and it has been a terrific experience all around. I am keen to see where things will go from here.

Andrew Crofts is a ghostwriter and author who has published more than eighty books, many of which were Sunday Times bestsellers, and has guided a number of international clients through the minefield of independent publishing. He has spent much of his career among dictators, politicians, arms dealers, and billionaires, passing time in their lavish palaces and heavily guarded compounds in the wildest parts of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, as well as in tax havens like Monaco, Bermuda and the Caribbean. He lectures about making a living from writing at Kingston University and frequently guests at writing workshops, literary festivals, and in the media. He blogs regularly on matters pertaining to publishing, self-publishing and writing. Find him at