Thursday, March 20, 2014

Insider Stories from Ghostwriter Sari Botton

In a recent interview on the digital magazine Scratch, ghostwriter and GG pal Sari Botton talks at length about the joys and struggles of being a ghost in a today's unpredictable market.

Botton talks about the mix of good and bad deals she's landed over the years. She says, "Ghostwriting is a job—one I wouldn’t do if I didn’t need the money. Like any job, it has its pros and cons, its ups and downs—lots of freedom, the satisfaction of helping someone tell their own story; but also, frequently, having to handle intense personalities with kid gloves.” From being fired yet earning more than $100,000 in a year, to writing a New York Times bestseller for no royalties or credit and getting a lawsuit instead, Botton recounts some of her most memorably difficult projects.

Despite the trials, Botton refuses to quit. She writes, “For every bad client, there’s also an instance of grace—mostly people grateful for my ability to help them express themselves, even if their books haven’t been blockbusters…like helping an author’s daughter, who had severe learning disabilities, write an afterword that made her feel proud.”

In an associated community post on Scratch called "So, You Still Want to Be a Ghostwriter," Botton offers advice to fellow ghostwriters on how to protect yourself contractually, how to maintain realistic timeline expectations, and why to keep your agent your best hidden secret. Botton also acknowledges Gotham Ghostwriters as a great source for ghostwriting gigs. (Thanks, Sari!)

Read the full interview here.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Learning Off the Job by David Murray

This post originally appeared on Vital Speeches of the Day.

Just back from the Ragan Speechwriters and Executive Communicators Conference in Washington, where 180 full-time, part-time, or would-be speechwriters gathered to express indignation to one another and to the leading lights in the field, about how their speakers aren’t pulling their weight.

Oh, that’s not the only reason they came. They attended sessions and led bull sessions of their own, about the need for storytelling in speeches, the desirability of injecting authentic emotion and intellect into speeches, and they even called for their leaders to allow themselves to connect with audiences by being vulnerable.

But mostly, it was about their lack of access to the speaker and their speaker's unwillingness to participate in the speech-creation process. While everybody ought to have the right once a year to cry in their beer about how dumb the bosses are, this year—22 years after attending my first Ragan speechwriting show—I feel compelled to call bullshit.

Not that I disagree for a moment with speechwriters’ lament: that the CEOs, university presidents, and nonprofit directors who employ most speechwriters refuse to contribute more than a quarter of the thinking, work and time that would be required to create meaningful and memorable oral interactions with the audiences before they appear.

Speechwriters are dead right: Many leaders, as the warm, witty, and earnest former President Obama chief speechwriter Jon Favreau put it here, have no inkling about what they want to say—only an idea of the flattering light in which they want the audience to regard them afterward.

President Obama thinks it is worth his time to agonize over the ideas and the words in the speeches he gives, Favreau said. So if the leader of the free world feels that way, Favreau reasoned to this receptive crowd, then leaders of lesser institutions—the people he’s working for now as he runs his own firm, Fenway Strategies—should certainly deign to collaborate with their speechwriter too.

Here, young Favs betrayed the naivete he honestly earned by spending his whole twenties writing for a politician much more like himself than like any of the Fortune 500 CEOs and other public sector clients who are flocking to him now.

Why do CEOs want to hire Favreau? Is it because they remember those great speeches President Obama delivered after losing in New Hampshire, after winning in Chicago, on his historic trip to Cairo? And because they think that the wunderkind who wrote those persuasive speeches will help them convince their constituencies that yes, they also can?

Speechwriter, please.

These folks want Favreau because Favreau is—as I introduced him in my role as conference emcee—the Jennifer Lawrence of the speechwriting business.

A corporate leader who can abide a Democratic scribe and who wants everyone to know he or she has hired the best—this leader has only one choice in a speechwriter: Jon Favreau, the one and only It Boy.

I say none of this to disparage him. As I said on a conference call from the Mayflower, I think Jon Favreau is as fine a representative of this profession as I’ve ever met. He’s humble, he’s smart, he’s sincerely committed to the ideas his rhetoric has attempted to advance—and despite his young years, he’s probably as skilled a speechwriter as anyone else in the Mayflower Hotel ballroom last week.

It’s just that this isn’t why he’s got more clients than he wants—just as your professional skills and deficiencies have little to do with why your clients leave you to invent their ideas out of whole cloth, refuse to help you put their stamp on them and then read them for the first time in the Town Car on the way to the event. (Imagine the opposite scenario: Bill Maher telling his writers he doesn't have time to look at their jokes, he's sure they're fine, just plug 'em into the teleprompter and he'll read them when he walks out on stage.... No, you know he's all up in their faces all week long, rejecting this joke for being too obvious, rejecting that one for not being obvious enough, accepting this joke but honing it for half a day until his writers are ready to scream.)

It’s not that your leaders don’t believe in you. It’s that they don’t believe in speeches. Unlike politicians and comics, your leaders do not believe that words will help them achieve their goals.

Judging beliefs by actions, we must already know that our leaders believe their time and money is much better spent speaking with their lieutenants, mobilizing their lobbyists, and cultivating analysts and donors to raise money to grow their organizations and thus their power.

Speeches? By and large, they see these as symbolic events where they flatter the audience by showing up… where they sound intelligent and look confident… before returning home having taken one for the team and done nothing to undermine their real power: the size, the visibility and the prestige of the organization they lead.

Ideas? Stories? Authenticity? Vulnerability? These are things that speechwriters talk about (and talked about ad infinitum at the Ragan show). Power is the only thing that most leaders know.

So the challenge we face is bigger than we think. It’s not merely to convince our bosses that a speech will be improved by spending 15 minutes with you on the front end, exchanging a few emails with you during the writing, and rehearsing the speech once or twice before the audience hears it.

The challenge is to convince your leaders of something much more fundamental: that it is possible to find or to gather a group of human beings either so important or so large that telling them the truth as compellingly as possible can change the course of their organization—and their own career—for the better. (And without unduly risking the opposite result.)

Feverish speechwriter, chances are that whether you’re Joe Blow or Jon Favreau, your client doesn’t believe that right now.

How will you convince her?

I’ll be back with some ideas next week. But I’d like to read yours in the meantime. —DM

Friday, March 7, 2014

Announcing the first conference just for speechwriters!

We are excited to announce that we're joining with the newly formed Professional Speechwriters Association to sponsor the first dedicated conference for professional speechwriters.

The PSA's inaugural World Conference will be held on May 22–23 in New York and hosted by NYU's School of Continuing and Professional Studies Department of Strategic Communication, Media, and Management.

Working in partnership with our friends at Vital Speeches of the Day, we conceived this gathering to be a barn-raising for a professional home for people who call themselves speechwriters and leadership communicators.

We invite speech pros to learn about the conference and the PSA here:

Or, if we had you at hello, you can go directly to the registration page.

We look forward to seeing you in May!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Book Spotlight: Where Are the Ghostwriting Jobs?

Our latest Book Spotlight focuses on a topic that's near to our hearts. Where Are the Ghostwriting Jobs? discusses more than 30 avenues for the novice or experienced ghost to pursue their next gig, whether you write books, blog posts, speeches, or tweets.

Before you click over to pick up your copy, check out our Q&A with the book's author, ghostwriter Graciela Sholander.

What’s your ghostwriting background? How did you land your first ghosting jobs?
I’ve been a freelance writer for over 20 years. This is a second career for me; I started as an engineer, but after my kids were born I left engineering to become an at-home mom, and that’s when my writing career began to emerge. To date I’ve ghostwritten 24 books. When I first started ghostwriting I was unfamiliar with the term. I was living in Albuquerque and had just completed an article about a local psychic for a regional women’s magazine. The psychic was impressed with my work and referred me to one of her clients, a recovering alcoholic who wanted her life story captured in a book she could share with other women struggling with addiction. That book ended up inspiring quite a few people, and the project was a rewarding one. I soon signed up with (which was in its early days) and landed my next ghostwriting jobs thanks to that site.

What attracts you to ghostwriting?
I love so many aspects of ghostwriting. It’s exciting to meet new people who are experts in their fields or have a compelling story to tell, and then help them get that story in writing. It’s fun to watch a book take shape, from maybe a handful of notes to a complete, full-length tome. I also enjoy capturing the client’s voice and crafting something that sounds like them. I really enjoy serving as the missing link, so to speak, a bridge between a brilliant person’s ideas and his or her audience.

What are some challenges an aspiring ghostwriter might face?
As with any field, the biggest question for newcomers is, “Where do I start?” While there are plenty of people who desperately need help with writing their books and articles, an aspiring ghostwriter may not know how to go about finding these potential clients. I always advise creating an online presence, as all writers benefit from having some form of online portfolio. Another challenge new ghostwriters might face is transitioning from writing short pieces, like articles and blog posts, to longer works, like books and ebooks. In this case, I recommend treating a book like a series of articles in order to get a handle on the project and estimate how long it will take and how much it will cost.

Were there any surprises during your research for this book?
I began writing Where Are the Ghostwriting Jobs? in 2011, and when I became busy with a number of other projects I put it aside. When I went back to complete it in late 2013, I was surprised by how many sites and businesses I was planning to include had disappeared. So the places listed in my guide are the ones with true staying power!

Do you see ghostwriting as an expanding market these days? 
I do. I’ve been watching this business for 20 years, and during that time it has grown by leaps and bounds. The beauty of ghostwriting is that there are so many sectors that utilize it; it’s not just about celebrity biographies. Businesses hire ghosts to create newsletters, website content, case studies, white papers, speeches, and more. Info marketers hire ghosts to write ebooks. Nowadays we even have ghost bloggers and tweeters! As the internet continues to create additional writing opportunities, ghostwriting will expand into these new arenas.

What are the most common kinds of ghostwriting work available?
Memoirs continue to be among the most popular, mainly because so many people of all ages have fascinating life stories they’d like to share with the world. A variation on the memoir is what I call the “expert book”: a doctor, an attorney, a movie industry insider, or an entrepreneur (to name a few examples) has developed a special technique or strategy and now wants to publish a book about it, so he or she seeks the services of a ghostwriter. I also often see people seeking a ghostwriter’s help with a first novel or screenplay. In addition, many information sites rely on ghostwriting. Years ago, I wrote medical articles for a health website. The site’s parent company assigned these articles with very specific instructions and had physicians review them for accuracy, but the writing was done by ghosts.

Can you reveal a tip or two from the book?
Absolutely! One tip is to take confidentiality requests very seriously. If your client does not want to reveal that his book was ghostwritten, you must abide by that. That means you can’t reveal the author’s name, the book title, or any other specific details about the project you’re working on. Confidentiality is a very important factor in the ghostwriting equation. The ghostwriter’s reward is not fame or recognition; it’s steady income and a fulfilling job. A second tip I’d like to share is this: avoid clients who demand perfection but are not willing to compensate you fairly. Ghostwriting is a collaborative process. Give it your absolute best, but be sure your client respects you and your services enough to pay you fairly.

Graciela Sholander has been a professional writer since 1993. As coauthor of Dream It Do It: Inspiring Stories of Dreams Come True, she had the privilege of interviewing Bill Nye the Science Guy and astronaut Eileen Collins, among other inspiring individuals. As a ghostwriter, she’s completed 24 manuscripts as well as dozens of articles. She has also worked as an engineer, a marketer, proofreader, copywriter, editor, content provider, and translator.