Monday, December 21, 2015

Dear Authors, I'm Sorry: Confessions of an Editor-Turned-Writer

By Sarah Knight

During my fifteen years as a book editor for major publishing houses, I made a number of observations about the behavioral patterns of authors. These observations led me to conclude that most of those authors were special little snowflakes at risk of melting if I so much as looked at them funnylet alone failed to include at least three paragraphs of glowing praise in my editorial letter before launching into the actual, you know, edits.
I have seen the error of my ways.
This summer, I wrote my book proposal for The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a Fuck. I received a round of comments from my agent and sent the revision back to her in twenty-four hours. I vividly remember the appraising look she gave me from across her glossy 5th Avenue desk and her comment: “God, I love working with professionals.”
That was the first and last time that I felt snugand smugin the knowledge that I, a professional book editor, was totally going to kill it as an author.
Not only was I going to write a hysterically funny, brilliant parody of a bestselling Japanese tidying guide, I was going to sail through the publication process without any of the anxieties, insecurities, last-minute changes, cover art hemming/hawing, or obsessive Amazon-rank-refreshing exhibited by my authors over the years.
Instead, I wrote a hysterically funny, brilliant parody of a bestselling Japanese tidying guide and fell victim to all of the above, and then some. But hey, I’m a grown-ass adult, and I know when to say I’m sorry.
Here goes…
Dear Authors,
I’M SORRY for suspecting some of you of leaving little typos on random manuscript pages just to see if I was paying attention. I used to think it was impossible to make so many typos in a 300-page document, so you must have been fucking with mebut now I realize you were so gacked out on caffeine and sleep-deprivation by the time you handed it in, that you probably really thought “different” was spelled “fidderent.”
I’M SORRY for being annoyed when you “checked in” just to make sure I “got the file” less than forty-eight hours after you sent it, when twenty-four of those hours comprised “Sunday” and another eight, “sleeping.” If, like me, you told your editor (who would also be me, in this scenario) that you “weren’t too eager for feedback yet” or to “take as long as you needI just want it off my desk!” what you really meant was “Every minute that passes that I don’t hear a kind word from you, I will assume that you and my agent are on a call deciding who will be the one to break it to me that everything is shit.”
I’M SORRY for wanting to reach through the phone and bonk you on the nose like one might a recalcitrant cat when you kept asking me how many more daysnay, hours (oh let’s be honest, minutes)you’d still have to make final changes before the book went to print. Don’t you want to be done with this thing??? I would fume incredulously, predicting [correctly] that you’d ask for more time no matter what my answer. Only now do I know that peculiar fear of waking up from a day-after-deadline fever dream with the PERFECT addition to the end of chapter four (or in my case, an improvement to a Nick Nolte joke), and not being able to make it.
I’M SORRY that I ever expected you to be able to approve your cover art and then not second guess yourselfand the motivations of your editor, publisher, and art director in “pushing” this design on youand then email hours later to rescind said approval and ask for more changes. (I may or may not have submitted an innocent query to my editor about “bumping up” the shade of red in my title font the day after I approved the art.)
I’M SORRY for rolling my eyes every time you emailed me excitedly about your Amazon ranking having gone from 655,782 to 655,001 and also asking me if I knew why it had done so. Here is the actual text of an email I sent to my editor and agent several weeks ago:
Date: October 15, 2015 
Subject: It has begun
Last night I looked at my Amazon page to post something funny about my ranking (182 in Humor/Self-Help & Psychology). Then this morning I checked again and it was up to 54. I now see how this can be addictive.

I’M SORRY that I told you to feel free to stet as many of the copyeditor’s comments as you wanted, without also warning you that going through your copyedited manuscript would feel not unlike being slowly debrided of burn wounds over 80% of your body by a spastic toddler wielding an old toothbrush.
Without anesthesia.
AND I’M SORRY that when you emailed me in a panic about missing a deadline because your computer died or your postman dropped the first pass pages in a puddle or your daughter had to go to the E.R. or your house was hit by a tornado, I didn’t believe you for one goddamn second. I am sorry about this because, on the eve of the deadline for turning in my final corrections, my printer literally ate my manuscript. Half the words were missing from the pages; the other half were mysteriously bolded.
Knowing as I do the standard reaction of an editor to this sort of late-game tomfoolery, I actually sent mine a photograph of one of the affected pages, along with a request for a new set printed at Little, Brown and Company and messengered to my apartment the next day. Then I thought about how, if one of my authors had sent me a photo of her house destroyed by a tornado and asked for an extra day with the manuscript, I would have assumed she’d spent three hours learning the ins and outs of Photoshop just to score a reprieve on her due date.
(I would therefore also forgive my editor for assuming that this entire essay was concocted to give further credence to the above scenario.)
Love, Sarah

Sarah Knight is the author of The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck (Little, Brown /Dec ‘15), a freelance editor, and writer at

This article was original posted on Medium.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Guest Post: Authentically Simple-Minded

Reuters/Alex Domanski
By David Murray
And here comes a prominent business professor who actually thinks authenticity is bullshit.
"Leaders don’t need to be true to themselves; in fact, being authentic is the opposite of what they should do," writes Stanford's Jeffrey Pfeffer in a currently popular book called Leadership BS. "Each of us plays a number of different roles in our lives, and people behave and think differently in each of those roles, so demanding authenticity doesn’t make sense."
All of our namby-pamby talk about how leaders are most convincing when they're speaking from the heart? Which heart? Pfeffer asks.
"One of the most important leadership skills is the ability to put on a show ... to act like a leader, to act in a way that inspires confidence and garners support—even if the person doing the performance does not actually feel confident or powerful."
To me, Pfeffer sounds like he's being purposely disingenuous. I'd love to ask him if he thinks the "role" he plays as a husband or a father isn't any kind of true self—or at least a truer self than the "role" he plays with his students or his colleagues or his administrative assistant. Are they utterly separate roles or just different sides of one soul? Surely he doesn't boil down all of his life's behavior as merely pragmatic reactions to the drama at hand? I'm pretty sure a person who felt that way would not write books.
Pfeffer's idea isn't merely simplistic, it also old—too old to be called provocative by anyone who has read Shakespeare: "all the world's a stage, and all men and women merely players."
But the endurance of this amoral vision forces us to acknowledge it. It forces us to question, as Pfeffer does, the authenticity notion that the leadership industry (and also the leadership communication industry, of which I must consider myself a part)—has been making too simple-mindedly.
"The leadership industry is so obsessively focused on ... what should leaders do and how things ought to be," Pfeffer writes, "that it has largely ignored asking the fundamental question of what actually is true and why."
And this, my friends in and around the leadership communication industry, is where and why we must be careful. Because we want leadership to be closely tied to authenticity. We want it because authenticity is good and we want to be good. We want to be involved in a noble social enterprise, not a mercenary racket.
But if we believe all the time what we want to believe, our counsel will be appropriate to the clients we wish we had rather than the ones we have. And those clients will notice. (And maybe they've noticed already.)
To be effective and moral actors, we must do four things simultaneously:
• Believe in a kind of authenticity as a leadership ideal.
• Acknowledge the more complicated way many leaders actually behave.
• Bring ourselves to acknowledge that some of those leaders actually know what they're doing.
• And nevertheless seek other leaders—leaders whose version of authenticity give us the chance to do our best work—to serve.
David Murray is executive director of the Professional Speechwriters Association. He's also editor of Vital Speeches of the Day magazine.

This piece was originally posted on Vital Speeches of the Day.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Guest Post: When Ghostwriters Need Each Other

Ghostpreneuers help ghostwriters step out of the shadows
By John Kador

If being a writer is a lonely occupation, consider the fate of the poor ghostwriter. Not only do ghostwriters toil alone, they don’t even get to tell people what they’re toiling on. When the book is published, someone else gets the credit, stands up at the bookstore readings, and sits down to sign books for adoring friends and fans.

The only satisfaction for the poor ghostwriter is that ghostwriting makes them a little less poor. It’s a living that definitely has its moments, but attaboys or accolades from readers are not among them. Isolation prevails. Even finding fellow ghostwriters to network with is hard to come by.

Enter “Ghostpreneurs” a support group for ghostwriters that has boosted my professional practice. The group was started three years ago by Derek Lewis, a business ghostwriter based in Baton Rouge, LA. Each month, six highly successful ghosts call in to share tips and leads, describe best practices, and help professionalize the craft. The title of the group is a mashup of “ghostwriter” and “entrepreneur,” a nod to the fact that ghostwriters are, first and foremost, in business for themselves.

Water-Cooler Conversations

The six members of Ghostpreneurs meet by teleconference every month for 75 minutes. After everybody checks in with a quick update on the last month, we focus on a theme to improve our game. We usually talk shop. After all, the business of ghostwriting is how we choose to support our families. So there is generally a lot of conversation about setting fees, marketing, structuring contracts, and qualifying prospective clients.

Often we have a guest speaker talk about some aspect of the work of ghosting. In recent months, we heard from an attorney on intellectual property law, a social media expert, a branding expert, and even an accountant on the best way to handle billing and taxes.

When a member is stuck, the group never fails to surface out-of-the-box ideas. For example, one member confided to the group that even with a steady flow of potential clients, the ghost was unable to get prospects to sign. Someone in the group suggested the ghost consider hiring a coach with the narrow task of getting better at closing sales. Within weeks of working with the coach, the ghost had closed three new book projects.

A Ghost Support Group

Sally Collings, a ghostwriter based in Palo Alto, CA, focuses on memoirs and life stories. Sally worked for HarperCollins and was editorial director for Amber Books before going out on her own in 2006 and founding Red Hill Publishing. “Being part of this group has been enormously valuable to me in so many ways,” Sally says. “Over the past couple of years, its members have become my pseudo-colleagues: people I can gripe to, celebrate with, and commiserate with. Our monthly calls are my water-cooler conversations.”

It's helped me, too. Sometimes, I’m stumped by how to work with a testy client; the group helps me figure out how to stay professional. When I’m looking for a fresh perspective, it seems like someone has a suggestion that helps me.

I met Derek Lewis, the founder of the group, at a rare conference for ghostwriters. It’s so rare, in fact, that the conference has yet to be repeated. Ghostwriters attended from all over the U.S., England, and Australia. As the conference was winding down, Derek suggested a few of us continue the conversation about professional matters and that’s how Ghostpreneurs was born.

“I wanted to set up a monthly conference with some of my fellow ghostwriters for a purely selfish reason,” Derek concedes. “I wanted to learn from the best for free. More than two years later, I'm still learning.”
Most of all, I’m reminded I’m not alone.

# # #

John Kador is a business author and ghostwriter based in Winfield, PA. His website is

Monday, August 31, 2015

Guest Post: Fun Facts About the Transcription Industry

Being a ghostwriter means talking to people. A lot. There are few better ways to capture someone’s writing voice than to hear how they communicate out loud. After hours of interviewing your client—digging through layers of triviality to find those nuggets that make up a good story—it can be hard to even look at your tape recorder. But all that glorious truth doesn’t do any good unless it’s been transcribed into words for you to shape and hone.

Whether you transcribe yourself, or hire out, we think you’ll appreciate some of the stunning facts and figures about the transcription industry found in this excellent infographic via Take 1 Transcription, a company that offers transcription services.

Infographic created and originally posted by Take 1 Transcription

Friday, August 21, 2015

Guest Post: Interview with a Heckler

Originally posted on Vital Speeches of the Day.
By David Murray

"Hecklers are vandals" was the headline of yesterday's post on my personal blog, Writing Boots.

I was taking on Zoe Nicholson, a lifelong political activist who had objected on her Facebook page to the Bernie Sanders campaign's anti-heckling tactics. When Sanders is giving a speech and hecklers start chanting, "Black Lives Matter," Sanders backers are instructed to overwhelm the hecklers by chanting, "We Stand Together."

"Maddening," said Nicholson on Facebook. "All hecklers want is a voice and the issues prioritized. Shouting down is making them voiceless. That is the real message."

Aside from questioning a heckler's right to complain about being heckled back, I questioned—partly in defense of my fine-feathered speechwriting friends who work too hard on speeches to have them shouted down!—the effectiveness of heckling, and whether it's worth the social cost:
At best, it may alert some people to the idea that there are people who think, for instance, that George W. Bush or Barack Obama is a baby killer. But if you didn't know in the first place that people felt that way, you're probably not inclined to read further, because you never were a big reader in the first place. 
Mostly, heckling just makes everyone embarrassed and sad, that people feel desperate or disrespectful enough to vandalize a community gathering, and destroy an attempt at communication.
Happily, the heckler Nicholson responded in defense of heckling, writing, in part:
I am pleased that you quoted me and perfectly too. I am a real fan of heckling, personally. I began it with George Wallace in regards to civil rights and the Vietnam War. My teacher is Alice Paul, who learned it from Emmeline Pankhurst. 
To really understand the organic effect of heckling you have to have the mission of pointing out to those in power that they need to prioritize the issues. For example, Senator Sanders was talking about the distribution of wealth and the hecklers wanted him to update his position on Black Lives Matter. It was not, 1) that he is a racist, 2) that his work in the 60s was ignored, or 3) redistribution of wealth is not important. And, the fact is—within 2 days his campaign did put out a NEW set of positions on the issues of the day. No matter how it appears—the fact is that it works. 
I heckled POTUS on the repeal of DADT. I was chanted down and escorted out by the Secret Service. BUT President Obama prioritized and set a committee in place to investigate the effects on the armed forces should they allow LGB to openly serve. Obviously it was repealed. 
It is the work of the militants to break convention. Heckling is a tried and true tool. But if you measure it on how the moderates react—it looks like rude immature shouting. However, the approval of the moderates is not the goal.... 
BTW—I just read that "Bernie rally tonight in LA opened with a woman giving a speech about Black Lives Matter. The cheers from the crowd were insane." Well done!
I thanked Nicholson for her thoughtful response and added that "even if I don't necessarily buy your implied direct connection between your heckling and the repeal of DADT," her points were well taken.

Speechwriter—O megaphone for power!—how do you respond?

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

Thursday, August 6, 2015

GG is Hiring (Part 2)

We are now actively seeking candidates for a brand-new position at our agency: Chief Matchmaking Officer.

The CMO will be responsible for managing our stable of writers and overseeing the assignment of projects for our clients.

The ideal candidate for this role will be an entrepreneurial wordsmith with a strong background in smart content, publishing, agenting, and/or project management. 

You can check out the full job description here:

Chief Matchmaking Officer Job Description

If you are interested in being considered for this position, please email your resume and at least three representative writing samples to

Monday, July 27, 2015

Author spotlight: Hilary Liftin

Hilary Liftin's Movie Star by Lizzie Pepper, written like a celebrity tell-all, takes readers inside a fairytale Hollywood romance that turns out to be very different under the surface. Below, Hilary sheds some light on how her years of experience as a celebrity ghostwriter helped her shape her first novel.

Q: Where did you get the idea to write your novel as a celebrity tell-all?
A: The idea for this book came one day when I was reading People magazine and saw yet another celebrity marriage exploding. I thought, "I don’t have to wait to land this job or any other. I can just write it myself—write the celebrity memoir of my dreams."

Q: You’ve been ghostwriting real-life celebrity memoirs for more than a decade. What was it like writing your own novel?
A: I’ve never written or studied fiction, but by now I’m very comfortable with writing memoirs. I’m used to taking on someone else’s story and voice and helping bring it to life. So it made sense for my first fiction to write a faux celebrity memoir. But there were definitely new challenges. I’m used to working with true stories, most of which I incorporate into the book in some form. For Movie Star by Lizzie Pepper, I had to face the daunting notion that not every idea was worth keeping. I probably wrote and discarded a couple hundred pages.

Q: Without naming names, can you share a little bit about what it’s like to work with celebrities on their books?
A: Ghostwriting is a true collaboration. We talk for hours—usually at my clients' houses—with me typing at high speed on my computer. I don’t know about other ghostwriters, but I would never put made-up stories in a memoir. Instead, as a client tells me what they think is most important and entertaining about their life, I’m helping them find connections and structure the narrative. Most celebrities work hard to manage their brands. They speak carefully, worrying about soundbites. Something that they and I both enjoy about the process is that it’s completely liberating. I’m on their side. I work for them. They can trust me with the truth, and then we can decide together how much of it to reveal. I always encourage my clients to be honest. If they’ve done something that’s potentially controversial, I figure if they can make me understand it and feel sympathetic, then we can achieve the same with the reader.

Q: What do you hope readers will take away from reading your book?
A: So many of us devour the “just like us” celebrity photo section of magazines. In a way, I hope that the book is the ultimate “just like us” experience. But instead of realizing that stars pump gas too, Movie Star by Lizzie Pepper is meant to go a little deeper, exploring what happens when you discover that your spouse (megastar or no) isn’t all that you had hoped. I want it to be satisfyingly juicy, but also surprisingly romantic.

For me, reading about celebrities is part of my job, but it’s also a bit of a guilty pleasure. I feel sympathetic toward anyone who has to deal with paparazzi, no matter how much fancier their lives are than mine. I hope the book is a way for people to fulfill that voyeurism through fiction. No celebrities were harmed in the making of this book!

Hilary Liftin is an award-winning, New York Times–bestselling ghostwriter who specializes in celebrity memoirs. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and children.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Three Ways to Collaborate as a Ghostwriter

by Graciela Sholander
This post originally appeared on Ghostwriting Plus.

I have ghostwritten over 25 books for a number of clients, including doctors, lawyers, and motivational speakers. Today I want to share with you three effective ways you can collaborate with your client.

1. Rewrite a Raw Manuscript

These days, this is my favorite way to ghostwrite a book. If your client has written most or all of her manuscript, you’re in a great position to help her reach the next level. She’s written down her ideas. Now it’s your turn to do your magic.

Starting with what she’s put together, rework it to produce the most engaging, professional product possible. Hack away! Create new chapter titles and section headers. Rewrite to your heart’s content. Remove redundancies. Expand points. Add anecdotes and examples to support her points.

Keep the main messages, and make sure your client’s voice comes through. But use your own savvy to rework the manuscript, transforming it from amateurish to a highly professional work of art, with every sentence a joy to read.

2. Write a Manuscript from Interviews

At the other end of the spectrum is the client who has written nothing and has a million ideas floating in his head. He’s brilliant, and his ideas are worth sharing with readers, but as soon as he tries writing anything down, he loses them. He’s an eloquent speaker, not a writer.

In this case, schedule a series of interviews. They can be conducted in person, by phone, or through Skype. I interview clients by phone, and since I’m a fast typist I go ahead and type what they say, creating a written record in real time. This saves me the expense and extra step of having an audio interview transcribed. Then as I piece together a manuscript from scratch, I simply copy and paste sections from the written record, rewriting and expanding them as needed.

By the way, in this case it’s a good idea to charge separately for the interviews. I typically charge clients a per-page rate for ghostwriting plus a per-hour rate for phone interviews.

3. Piece Together What You’ve Been Given and Gather More

In this approach, the client has some material to give you. For example, she might hand you 19 pages she’s written with rough ideas for her book, plus five articles published about her in different magazines, and two YouTube videos of her being interviewed on the subject you’ll be ghostwriting about.

Your job is to take this hodgepodge and incorporate it into a new work. In addition, you’ll need to figure out what’s missing and schedule a few interviews to gather more information.

Since I enjoy writing a hundred times more than I enjoy talking, I try to conduct email interviews whenever possible. This won’t work for clients who love to talk and hate to write. It does tend to work for very busy professionals, though, since they can sit down and address your emailed questions at their leisure.

When I conduct email interviews, I do not charge extra. I charge only a per-page fee for ghostwriting the manuscript.

Graciela has been a professional writer for 21 years and focuses on ghostwriting, editing, proofreading, articles, social media, marketing, and website content. She is also the co-author of Dream It Do It: Inspiring Stories of Dreams Come True, a motivational self-help guide.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Book Spotlight: "Business Writing Today: A Practical Guide"

This week, we caught up with author Natalie Canavor, whose new book, Business Writing Today: A Practical Guide, is out now.

Business Writing Today is a self-help book for people who want to write better at work. Canavor, who has written several books on this topic, is brimming with great ideas and strategies to improve your business communication. Check out her take on business writing in the digital era in our special Q&A.  

GG: What made you want to write this book, and who is the target audience?
NC: Research, and my own experience, tells me that most young people today write badly. Few are able to figure out what to say, and even fewer are able to say it well. This hurts them when they compete for career opportunities, and if they are hired, most don’t function as well as they could. But it isn’t just young people’s poor writing that produces a huge problem for today’s organizations; most business communication is awful. This results in very expensive mistakes, misunderstandings, and unnecessary conflicts.

Business Writing Today is a self-help book for people who want to improve their everyday writing—emails, resumes, elevator speeches, proposals, blogs, and so on—in order to get what they want.

Why do good writing skills matter in today’s digital marketplace?
In the digital world, so much depends on writing. You won’t get in many doors without a good elevator pitch, resume, proposal, sales letter, blog, and/or networking message. In a world where we meet less and talk less, we make decisions and judge others based on their writing.

And there are no captive audiences anymore. Surrounded by so much to read, so much media, we are all extremely selective. If we want to be read, the academic models most of us learned in school don’t work. Good business writing isn’t about strict correctness and impressive language. It’s about knowing how to attract and hold your audience. It’s about understanding other people’s viewpoints. It’s about building relationships.

Can you share a tip or two from your book?
Here are two of my favorites.

Before writing a message, visualize whom you’re writing to. Hold a mental conversation. If you’re asking for something—which, in a way, every message does—“hear” the other person’s reservations and think about how to answer them. Then when you write, you’ll almost automatically adopt the right tone, know the best content to use to make your case, and be able to frame your message to that individual. Always figure out why someone should give you what you want, from his or her perspective rather than your own, and then write from that understanding.

On a micro level: After you’ve drafted your message, look at each sentence (or say it aloud). When you find more than one “of,” “to,” “in,” “for,” or “that,” or more than a single word ending in -ing or -ed or -ious or -ly, rewrite the sentence so there is only one. (Or two, if you absolutely can’t help it.) This is a surefire way to edit yourself out of abstract, wordy, dishwater-dull writing. Simple words and present tense usually solve the problem. To avoid a choppy rhythm, alternate long and short sentences for a cadence that carries people along.

What are some additional resources for those who want to learn more about business writing?
Everyone should read William Zinsser’s On Writing Well. He makes the best-ever case for clarity, conciseness, and simplicity in all writing. Of course, I’d like it if people checked out my other books as well! In addition to Business Writing Today (which is a second edition of Business Writing in the Digital Age), there’s Business Writing for Dummies and The Truth About the New Rules of Business Writing, which delivers the ideas in 52 bite-sized pieces.

Natalie Canavor is a business writer, journalist, and communications consultant. She gives workshops on practical writing and workplace communications. Natalie also teaches advanced writing seminars for grad students in PR/Corporate Communications and young professionals at NYU.

Friday, May 15, 2015

"Lincoln Speaks": A Review

By Dana Rubin
“Public sentiment is everything,” declared Abraham Lincoln in 1858 during his first senatorial debate with Stephen Douglas. “He who molds public sentiment, goes deeper than he who enacts statues or pronounces decisions.”

Lincoln thought public speaking was a more profound tool for influence and persuasion than the legislative or executive arenas. And his tool of choice was language. The development of his linguistic and rhetorical skills is the subject of "Lincoln Speaks: Words that Transformed a Nation" at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York.

Reflecting on his use of language, Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer—himself a onetime speechwriter for Mario Cuomo—calls Lincoln “an aspirational model for the modern politician.”

But was Lincoln truly a modern writer? In notes, letters, poems, pamphlets, scribbles, and speeches, the exhibit traces the growth of his literary and persuasive skills. It was language that helped him win his senatorial seat and the Republican nomination and presidency, sway public opinion during the prosecution of the Civil War, and pave the way for post-war reconciliation.

Growing up poor in a frontier town, the son of an illiterate and abusive father, Lincoln found refuge in books and poetry. With limited access, his reading was broad but not deep. He read the same works over and over—the King James Bible, Dickens, Aesop’s Fables, Shakespeare’s tragedies and histories, and Edgar Allan Poe. It’s the exact opposite of our reading habits today.

In an age without television, radio, or internet, the public had a tolerance for a certain windbaggery. Speakers at debates, rallies, and conferences would routinely drone on for two hours or more. Their words were then printed as a pamphlet or broadside and quoted in the newspapers.

Lincoln broke with convention by using language more sparingly. His speeches, which he wrote himself, were tighter than his contemporaries, his word choices simpler, his arguments more direct.

Prominent in the exhibit are copies of the three speeches now considered his greatest: the Second Inaugural, his Cooper Union speech, and the Gettysburg Address.

The Cooper Union address, which won him national attention and helped him gain the Republican nomination, was printed as a pamphlet in 1860. In it Lincoln anchored his anti-slavery argument in the thinking of the nation’s founders and predicted the ultimate end of slavery.

The Second Inaugural was published not long after the inauguration itself on March 4, 1865 as a large broadside in blue ink. With the Confederacy weakening, he used conciliatory language to reach out to his enemies and heal the wounded nation. He ended with the vision of “binding up the nation’s wounds”—borrowed from the Hebrew psalms.

Many today consider it Lincoln’s finest speech, but at the time Southerners detested his message and bitterly fought his nomination and election. After the assassination on April 15, it was reprinted—this time in black ink.

Then there’s the Gettysburg Address. Only 272 words, it memorializes the sacrifices of those who gave their lives on the battlefield in now iconic language. Tony Kushner calls it “a spectacular prose poem.”

For those of us who might want to learn from Lincoln’s craftsmanship, there are no original drafts in the exhibit, no notepads filled with scratched-out lines and ink blotches. We know Lincoln revised his speeches over and over, up until the last minute. But once the speech had been delivered, proofread, and typeset, he threw the drafts away. He wasn’t thinking of the archives.

So what kind of model was Lincoln for wordsmiths like us? To contemporary audiences, his spare and direct language is clearly more modern than his contemporaries. Yet there’s a quality of restraint that still sounds antique. I think that’s because Lincoln believed that to win public sentiment, a speaker must appeal to reason, not emotion. As a speechwriter he relied on principles and rational argument to do the heavy lifting.

Today we do the opposite. We enthusiastically use raw emotion to sway our listeners. We whip tension into frothy peaks and sloughs of despair like the most heavy-handed and manipulative Hollywood scriptwriters. Our professional gurus tell us a good speech has to play to our audiences’ emotions. Make them feel it in the kishkes.

We also worship at the altar of happiness. As professionals, that’s the state we’re all striving toward, right? But Lincoln was a gloomy guy. He suffered nervous breakdowns, bouts of melancholia, a dark and macabre dream life.

So how was he able to summon the language that would define so profoundly those turbulent times? How did he carry on despite so much suffering? Despite the wealth of documents, this exhibit can’t explain it—except to suggest he prevailed through language.

See it quick! The exhibit ends June 7.

This post originally appeared on Vital Speeches of the Day.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Your Speechwriter: An Operator’s Manual

by David Murray
This post originally appeared on The Strategist via PRSA

[ikon images/corbis]
As far as PR positions go, the speechwriter probably has one of the most interesting (and borderline absurd) jobs. One describes his marching orders from the CEO as: “Write down my thoughts as if I had them.”

Until recently, this group didn’t have a formal forum to share what they do. But with the advent of the Professional Speechwriters Association (PSA) this past winter, we can now look into the realities of this position, thanks to the recently released results of its first-ever membership survey. The survey yielded insights about modern speechwriters that their managers and colleagues might find useful, as they try to coax sustainable excellence from this peculiar, but potentially powerful PR position.

The first thing to know about speechwriters is that many of them prefer to be referred to as something else. In fact, an argument broke out among the delegates at the first World Conference of the PSA about this point:

“The term ‘speechwriter’ is limiting,” someone said, questioning the wisdom of the name of the new association. One suggestion was to call it the “Leadership Communication Association,” in order to acknowledge the broader role that so many speechwriters have: building thought leadership platforms, crafting executive messages for many media and coaching executives through various communication opportunities.

But other speechwriters rose to the defense of the old term. One person said it’s useful because “it fences me off” from others in the organization who would water the job down with other duties. A self-proclaimed “speechwriter” is a kind of brand that “excites people,” as opposed to broader but blander descriptors such as “executive communicator.”

Don’t hide your speechwriter

The PSA survey revealed that speechwriters are older, more likely to be male, better educated, and better paid than their colleagues in public relations. The typical speechwriter is a 51-year-old man with a master’s degree. More than half of the speechwriters surveyed make more than $100,000 annually, with 23 percent pulling in more than $150,000 (and half of those making more than $200,000).

Speechwriters are also more likely than their well-coiffed PR colleagues to be unkempt, unruly, unconventional—or all of the above. But do not punish them for this. Every organization should have one person who is deeply—and perhaps even a little single-mindedly—devoted to helping the leader articulate the organization’s point of view as compellingly as possible.

Most leaders know this and will tolerate—and sometimes embrace—a little eccentricity in a person who helps them sound, look, and feel better in front of important audiences.

Help out your speechwriter

Even with the best client-speechwriter chemistry—JFK called his speechwriter Ted Sorensen “my intellectual blood bank”—the speechwriter struggles to get sufficient access to achieve a real mind-meld with the boss.

Now add the litany of common troubles that PSA members listed in the survey: solitude, short deadlines, slow workflows, lawyers, and indifference.

Speechwriters resent clients who “don’t care about content”—and bureaucrats who care too much: “I have to contend with constant micromanaging by people who see risk lurking in every corner and are afraid of letting the CEO take any kind of position,” one survey participant said. “They also have no feel for what constitutes good writing, yet exert a huge influence over the process.”

A PR manager should not be one of those risk-averse bureaucrats. And when the lawyers or the HR staff or the compliance people start sucking the life from a piece of leadership communication, fight valiantly on your speechwriter’s behalf.

Even if you don’t win, your speechwriter will appreciate having an ally instead of one more institutional enemy.

Know what makes your speechwriter happy

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

Speechwriters are like snowflakes; some succeed precisely because they’re CEO whisperers. But many of the ones worth keeping around are the oddest and most difficult to please. They have razor intellects, a restless curiosity and healthy—if not slightly obese—egos.

But remember, lots of speechwriters are older. So they know by now that life in leadership communication will not lay itself neatly before them. So if they can see that they are achieving something significant with their work, if they can be intellectually stimulated, if they feel that someone, somewhere in the organization believes that the corporate strategy can be advanced by articulate rhetoric and communication, they will stick around and keep giving their best, despite it all.

Thirty years ago, a corporate speechwriter wrote, “No one is recording these speeches. There are no books of them that readers save and treasure. Our files will be tossed on the scrap heap when we leave or retire. But we have been sitting at a typewriter making land, a sea, a sky, burning words. That’s enough. It is more than most have.”

In the end, it’s all your speechwriter requires. That, and a salary somewhere in the low six figures.

But in exchange for helping your organization’s top leadership communicate compellingly, is that too much to ask?

Friday, April 10, 2015

Blank Page, Blue Sky

by David Murray

I get it on the golf course every time I'm paired with a stranger. There's a wait on the fourth tee, and the guy says, "So what do you do for a living?"

(I generally want to avoid this conversation because I like to keep golf separate from life—the reason I play in the first place. Similarly, I don't take my business cards to bed with me in case I meet a potentially useful new contact in my dreams.)

"I'm a writer," I say, never able to hide the pride. It's cool to be a writer. It's old. It's elemental. It's a little like announcing that you're a fisherman or a hunter (or a clown or a prostitute). "Am a writer," my novelist mother once wrote. "Get to call myself that because I write."

But then there is dread. Dread because the response is so perfectly predictable.

"Oh, wow!" Pause, two seconds. "What sort of writing do you do?"

That last question means, "How on earth do you make a living? Or is your wife an investment banker and you're actually a bum and that's why you're on the golf course in the middle of the week?"

My pride forces me to convince the fellow that I do make a living, by hook and by crook, an exercise I resent. Once I've achieved this, his next line, if it's not the worst case ("I've got a story you should write!") is something to the effect of how interesting my work must be.

Which I take as a confession about how boring his life must be.

My old man, an advertising writer, used to see everyone else's job as a nightmare of tedium. Even a doctor! He said: "Can you imagine, day after day, hour after hour, patient after patient, describing the same symptoms over and over as if they were just the most important thing in the world? And you having to listen gravely, even though in most cases you know from the moment they walk into the office that you're going to prescribe amoxicillan."

Glad Dad wasn't a doctor? Me too. But maybe he was on to something. Maybe a writer does have a kind of blue sky that others don't. But the writer also has a blank page to contend with. (A bus driver once told me he pitied writers when he opened up the newspaper and tried to imagine some poor wretch having to write all those words!) A writer's work isn't done for him in the form of a full waiting room. A writer's work, however familiar the subject has become, must be done from scratch.

“People would say I must have had such a great life doing this, people who were engineers, doctors, insurance salesmen or whatever,” said radio comedy writer Tom Koch, who died last week. “But it was the kind of work where every morning I would wake up and think, ‘My God, I wonder if I can do it again today.’ There is no way you prepare to do it, or even know how you do it.”

And maybe that's the best thing about it.

This post originally appeared on Vital Speeches of the Day.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Around the Word

Here's the latest in our regular roundup of literary news.

Cover chosen for Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman
Michael Morrison notes that the jacket “draws on the style of the decade the book was written, but with a modern twist.” The cover, featuring a 1950s train forging off into the distance, touches “literally and figuratively on the book's content.” Surely, in contemporary celebrity fashion, Harper Lee’s fans will line up for half a mile just to catch a glimpse of the 88-year-old author’s winning smile.

Nine Launches, One Book
Can you be in nine places at once? In May, he folks at McPherson & Company, in an innovative experiment, will inhabit nine parallel universes—well, nine different bookstores—to launch the multi-author essay collection Every Father’s Daughter. Nine of the book's 20+ authors will host a simultaneous talk, with readers at one shop being able to Skype their questions to authors across the country. Join Gotham Ghostwriters (in nine separate realities) as we congratulate their achievement.

Centennial Stories
Best American Short Stories is celebrating its 100th birthday! Far from being infirm, crotchety, or behind the times, the series is vigorously planning a special anniversary edition to celebrate becoming a centenarian. 100 Years of the Best American Short Stories will feature seminal works from the last century, with contributions from literary luminaries such as George Saunders, John Cheever, Sherman Alexie, Edna Ferber, and many more.

To Self-Publish or Not to Self-Publish?
Lulu recently published an infographic based on a survey conducted by Digital Book World and Writer’s Digest, touting the benefits of going indie (self-publishing). Traditionalists beware! The revelations of the changing publishing landscape are gothic and dire. However, while the enticing “Indie Math” may lead writers to believe that navigating the dense forest of self-marketing is profitable, the article goes on to describe how difficult a venture this can prove.

Monday, February 23, 2015

To Write Well, Forget Everything Your High-School English Teacher Taught You

By Jonathan Rick

In today’s the-world-is-flat era, few things can differentiate you better than polished communication skills. Indeed, even at the world’s top PR agencies—among people who make their living off the written word—those who can write well are shockingly few (and increasingly well compensated).

Happily, the mechanics of good writing are eminently learnable. For most of us, the problem is readily diagnosable: our last English class was in college, and from our corporate perch today, we look down on continuing education—“Do I really need a two-hour seminar on something I do every day?”

Yes! We all do. (If you disagree, ask your boss.) In fact, the time you spend writing (emails, memos, reports, proposals, website copy, blog posts, social media content, e-newsletters, and so on and so forth) is a reason for training.

In that spirit, I hope you’ll page through the above presentation. A refresher on the myths and rules of good business writing, it contains cameos from House, Good Will Hunting, Saturday Night Live, Shakespeare, Churchill, Einstein, da Vinci, Orwell, and of course Strunk and White. Even the IRS makes an appearance.

Enjoy—and happy writing!

Jonathan Rick is the president of the Jonathan Rick Group, a communications consultancy in Washington, DC. For more linguistic learnings, pursue his blog, Sprachgefuhl.

Monday, February 16, 2015

GG is Hiring

Our firm is actively seeking candidates for three open positions to help us run and grow our business.

First, we are looking for two senior content pros with an entrepreneurial streak to serve as Managing Directors of our Bookwriting and Thought Leadership groups.

The MDs will be responsible for leading and scaling up our two main practice areas. The work will involve a mix of business development, brand ambassadorship, and client management.

You can find the full job descriptions here:

Managing Director, Bookwriters Group

Managing Director, Thought Leadership Group 

Additionally, we are looking for a highly organized self-starter who has a way with words to fill a Junior Associate position.

The Junior Associate will work closely with the President and other senior staff to help manage the firm's daily operations, support and service clients, and expand our brand.

You can find the full job description here:

Junior Associate 

If you are interested in being considered for one of these positions, please email your resume and at least three representative writing samples to:

Guest Post: Patrick Sweeney, on the three audiences

by Neil Hrab

Speechwriters, don’t let your eyes deceive you. When writing a speech, you’re typically trying to help a speaker connect with not one, but three distinct audiences. Patrick Sweeney, an author, speechwriter and corporate executive, explains the three audiences as follows:

“There’s the audience who requested you to speak, a separate audience whose job is to interpret your message, and then there is the audience of your audience. What I mean is that, first, there’s the audience who invited you because they are interested in your perspective. They are looking for you to engage, inform and inspire them. The second audience comprises journalists who are covering the event. Journalists are listening for content and style, substance and memorable phrases. They have an appreciation for words and language, so through your speech, you are also seeking to give them a place to take their story, realizing that your phrases can suggest possible headlines and lead paragraphs.”

“And then there’s the third audience—the people whom your listeners will interact with following the speech. You need to consider what they will remember about the speech and share with family and friends at the dinner table, for example. When drafting a speech for New Jersey Governor Brendan Byrne, my goal was to keep these three audiences in mind, and write something that would, hopefully, resonate on all three of those levels.”

A talent for connecting with audiences is, in some ways, the thread that binds together Sweeney’s multi-faceted career. After graduating from college in 1974, Sweeney worked as a newspaper reporter, magazine editor and assistant to the producer of a current events TV program. He also wrote feature articles for the New York Times.

In 1978, Sweeney left journalism to become the primary speechwriter to Brendan Byrne, who had just been re-elected as Governor of New Jersey. Being new to speechwriting, Sweeney particularly appreciated how generously Byrne shared his time, thought process and guidance on draft speeches. 

“In all honesty, it took a while to learn how to emulate the Governor’s style of speaking. I remember spending the first few weeks getting a sense of his cadence, his timing, and the way he liked to tell stories and make his points. He was very good at sharing with me what was working in a draft, and what I still needed to refine,” Sweeney recalled.

Sweeney would also research the subject matter for each speech, drawing on his experiences in journalism. “I would make sure the information in the draft was accurate, and then work with the Governor to create a message that clearly reflected his intent in a manner that was compelling.” 

Sweeney observed some similarities between his journalism and his speechwriting: “To me, speechwriting is a unique combination of the typical news story format, with elements of feature writing. These are two completely different ways of telling a story. A news story is all about facts, with the important information up front, in case it needs to be edited for length. A feature story, on the other hand, usually starts with some intriguing observation or story up front to pull readers in and grasp their attention. By putting these two approaches together, you can capture feelings and facts, thoughts and emotions – which is what I found myself doing for the Governor as a speechwriter.” 

While Sweeney was a journalist by background, and Byrne was a lawyer and former judge, the two shared a keen interest in ensuring that all speeches would connect in a moving way with their intended audiences.

“When he agreed to a speaking engagement, the Governor always had a very clear perspective on what message he wanted to communicate and how he would convey it. As we were developing a draft, he did not have to talk very long before I would often hear him say something that was very quotable. It was a very collaborative process, and the more time we spent with each other, the more effective I became as a speechwriter,” Sweeney said.

“With Governor Byrne, speaking engagements were opportunities to make a statement. So, he took the preparation very seriously. In the case of major addresses, for example, I would meet with him several months beforehand to discuss the speech. The Governor would explain the points he wanted to make and the impression he wanted to leave, as well as why he was doing the speech in front of this particular audience. I’d then craft the initial draft, and show it to him, and he’d say what he liked, where he wanted more details, where he might want the phrasing to be stronger, etc., and I would go back to work.”

For Sweeney, the most memorable speech that emerged from his work with Governor Byrne involved a March 4, 1981 speech in Philadelphia, PA. The Governor informed Sweeney he would use the speech to comment directly on then recently-elected President Reagan’s agenda. Byrne, a liberal Democrat, explained that he was not terribly impressed by Reagan’s claim that he could simultaneously balance the federal budget and increase military spending. “The math just doesn’t work,” Byrne told Sweeney. “There’s been a grace period for the new President, but I want to say that I feel like I am in the fairy tale where everyone seems to be admiring the new President’s clothes…but you can actually see right through them,” Byrne said.

Byrne further shared that, for this particular speech, he wanted Sweeney to confer via telephone with the renowned journalist and former editor of Saturday Review Norman Cousins. As a long-time admirer of Cousins’ work, Sweeney was thrilled to have the chance to collaborate with this legendary figure.

The speech delivered by Byrne to an audience of tri-state business leaders was a respectful but hard-hitting and carefully reasoned take-down of Reagan’s political program. It received extensive media coverage.

“I agree with the President that nothing is more important than our ability to defend ourselves,” Byrne said during the speech, “[but] the central question is: ‘What does our security depend upon?’ We cannot defend ourselves with 1890 ideas, any more than we can with 1890 weapons.”

On the President’s proposed military build-up, Byrne said: “We have human needs far more pressing than the foolish desire to continue building our stockpile of nuclear weapons…[For] if there was security in the arms race…we would certainly be secure by now….What are we doing [by building more nuclear weapons] except overloading our boats with life preservers to the point where there is no room for people?”

On the President’s plans to reduce the federal budget, Byrne adroitly observed Reagan wanted to “cut spending at every corner, unless those corners happen to be on the sites of military installations.” 

Sweeney subsequently left the Governor’s office in 1981 to begin working at Caliper, an international management consulting company based in Princeton, NJ. His accomplishments at Caliper include: serving as the company’s president; co-authoring two books with the company’s founder; and acting as one of the company’s key spokespeople. Sweeney recently decided to venture on his own, taking a page from a New York Times bestselling book he co-authored called Succeed on Your Own Terms. He is currently hard at work on a new book to be published by McGraw-Hill.

In his own speaking engagements, Sweeney has carried with him several lessons from his speechwriting days. One of them is that, as a speaker, Governor Byrne “was always true to himself. He had his own style of speaking, which he honed. My style of speaking is different from the Governor’s. Still, I carry with me his advice about being true to myself, being clear about my message, and seeking memorable ways to truly connect.”

Another lesson is to practice for speaking appearances, just as Governor Byrne would do: “It’s about honoring your audience, and showing that you’ve given the appearance your full dedication, commitment and enthusiasm.”

For Sweeney, pulling this all together is about ensuring that the perspective he is sharing, the points he is making, the humorous anecdotes, the poignant accounts, and all of the final touches he adds to his speeches are not just there to be amusing or interesting in and of themselves. “Stories enrich speeches, certainly. They can touch us in ways that are very deep and meaningful. What matters is that they come authentically from the speaker’s experience, interest and heart. That is when they truly connect and become much more powerful,” Sweeney said.


Sweeney shared one more piece of advice about connecting with an audience – inspired by a brief conversation he had with João Carlos Martins, the pianist known for his passionate interpretations of Bach. In 2007, just before Sweeney was about to go on stage to address a huge crowd at a leadership conference in São Paulo, he turned to Martins, an internationally-renowned performer, for some advice on connecting with such an enormous audience. Martins, who was featured in a book Sweeney co-authored, was scheduled to perform immediately after him.

Martins replied: “What I do beforehand is connect with my heart, and then I imagine the hearts of everyone in the audience. In this mediation, our hearts connect, and float up together. And, after that, I know everything will be fine.”

Sweeney cited Martins suggestion as an excellent way to sooth one’s pre-speech nerves. It’s one that other speechwriters-turned-speakers may want to file away for future reference. As Sweeney has learned, it is all about connecting.

This article originally appeared on Vital Speeches of the Day.