All posts by David Leonhardt

17 signs you need a proofreader

Many people have atrocious spelling. Even intelligent people. Even educated people. And other people, too. And sometimes they leave “signs” all over the place that say “I need a proofreader!”

Here are 17 signs that all say “I need a proofreader!”

1. When you want a sense of “occassion”…

2. Back to “shcool” for this spelling bee contestant…

3. “Hipocracy” is for the hipos…

4. If you can edit this sign, “your” smarter than its writer…

5. The masked proofreader strikes again!…

6. This lady might not know English very well…

7. Sign’s need more apostrophe’s…and what is “beyone”?

8. A sign that maybe the staff should stay after class…

9. What do you do when you run out of space to finish your sign?…

10. West Newbury is a town that desperately needs a “scolarship” fund…

11, Whoever “THE CHURH” is, I’ll bet he’s not as ashamed as the person hiding her face behind her sign…

12. Get a brain! Moron*…

13. This lady is so excited about English, that she double-underlines the words she misspells…

14. When peeling them once isn’t enough…

15. Too bad. He should be “useing” a proofreader or editor instead…

16. Demonstrating just how badly someone might need both an editor and a proofreader…

17. Here’s a sign that you are insulting your customers…

*No morons were harmed in the creation of this post. The damage was done years ago.

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18 Tips to Save Money on Ghostwriting Fees

Everybody has a book inside them just screaming to get out. Some books are for personal pleasure, some are for business promotion, some are to sell as a product. Everybody has a book inside them, but not everybody knows how to set it free.

That’s where ghostwriters come in. But ghostwriters are expensive. Let’s face it, you are hiring a skilled professional for several months, and the costs can add up. But there are ways to keep costs from spiraling out of control, and below are 18 tips to save money without skimping on quality. In fact, some of these tips will virtually ensure a better quality manuscript, regardless of the quality of the writer.

Some ghostwriters charge by the hour, others by the project. We always provide a project price (and you will soon discover why that makes more sense for ghostwriting clients) but the list below covers tips that help lower hourly ghostwriting costs.

Be prepared to save on ghostwriter fees

KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE: Know what type of audience you’re aiming for; this helps to shape the material and save time on discussions beforehand or rewrites later on. If this is something you can’t do yourself, that’s OK; that might be one of the reasons to hire a ghostwriter in the first place, so make sure this is one of the first things you discuss with her.

GET A STYLE: Have an idea of the genre and style you want to use. There are just so many to choose from, and it really pays to get this right from the start. This is especially true if you are paying by the hour; you don’t want the writer to have to needlessly rewrite whole chapters because you had not carefully thought it through.

DON’T RUSH: You will have to decide when you want the manuscript to be completed. Ideally, you want to give the writer enough time to do a proper job without rushing. For books of 50,000 to 100,000 words, this is typically 4-6 months. A shorter deadline could be more expensive (if it is a “rush” job) and might even compromise the quality of the manuscript.

DO YOUR RESEARCH: Have all the details ready. This is especially crucial for non-fiction, where facts must be accurate. You can always ask the writer to do the research for you, but that can really sink you in the hole. I mentioned before that we charge on a project basis, but we make an exception for the research. This can be a bottomless pit of work for the writer, so we charge by the hour; don’t let is become a bottomless pit of costs for you.

BE ORGANIZED: This is the single most important factor in keeping down the costs of ghostwriting. It’s one thing to have done all the research, but if you provide a box of papers and news clippings, even with information highlighted or underlined, the writer still has hours of sorting and weeding to do – hours that will cost you money. Yes, we take that into account when finalizing the project price. Best to organize information by date (especially for biographies and true stories, by character (especially for fiction), by location, etc. If using research or interviews, double-check and correctly cite your sources so the writer doesn’t have to. This can get expensive if you are paying by the hour, and if paying by the project, the writer might leave it up to you to do anyway (and that information might have been useful to include in the text itself.

WRITE IT DOWN: What is in writing can be easily reviewed, saving countless hours of work. Nevertheless, lots of people offer us video or audio recordings. Can you imagine the pure torture a writer would have to go through, spending hours winding, rewinding, searching for a certain reference? Well, ghostwriters can imagine it, and if you provide audio or video information, we will tell you what the transcription fees will be. To avoid those fees, provide written notes.

GO ELECTRONIC: Electronic (Microsoft Word is the standard in the publishing industry) offers two major benefits over sending paper notes. The writer can easily search the documents much faster than by flipping pages. And often there is material that can be cut and pasted, such as quotations, long names of places or documents or diseases or Latin names of animals or…well, you get the idea. That saves time writing and it also saves time editing. Electronic is also instantaneous and easily shared, cutting down on distracting delays that ultimately can affect the quality of the writing.

GIVE CLEAR OBJECTIVES: If you make it very clear from the outset what you want, the writer won’t have to keep asking questions. Fewer questions, less back-and-forth and the less-frustrated, more-inspired writer (hint, hint – higher quality manuscript) will charge fewer hours. And for companies like us that charge by the project, we can tell pretty quickly if we need to factor teeth pulling hours into our price.

KICKSTART THE PROCESS:Create an outline or do a draft (if you can). This is a great way to make sure that not just your information is organized. It can save a few hours of back-and-forth with the writer. If this is something you can’t do yourself, that’s OK; that might be one of the reasons to hire a ghostwriter in the first place, in which case the money for this is well-spent.

Negotiating the ghostwriter contract

HIRE ON A PROJECT BASIS:That is the only way we operate. There are two benefits to hiring on a project basis, and both have to do with the tedious and time-consuming process of accounting. If a writer has to spend time and effort keeping track of hours, you pay first for the time she spend on “accounting” matters and then in the inevitably lower quality manuscript from a writer distracted. When we negotiate a contract with a client, all the accounting for hours is removed from the equation. Our writers focus on writers. They don’t have to spend their time accounting. Or marketing. Or networking. They focus on writing, and that’s what you want them to focus on.

ASK FOR THE BEST PRICE:This is pretty obvious, and you may already be getting the quoted price, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. If a ghostwriter is able to give you a better price, you’ll know right away. If she says the quote is final, don’t become a pest; the price won’t change. If the price is really too high for your budget, the writer might suggest reviewing some of the items on this list.

SHORTEN UP:The single most effective way to reduce the price is to reduce the word count. In some instances, this makes sense. In others, it does not. Ultimately, there is an ideal size for almost every book, and you don’t want to skimp. However, I have seen times when reducing the length of the book by as much as a third from the original intentions could save money without compromising effectiveness.

GET A FINAL EDIT: Make sure to ask if the manuscript will be in publishable form or will it still need to be edited. We always deliver publish-quality manuscripts. One big caveat: any editor will be able to take any manuscript, no matter how polished, and edit it further. And most publishing houses will want to edit whatever you present them to meet their own criteria. So “final” edits don’t really exist. But you don’t want to end up with a manuscript that still needs serious editing.

ASK FOR A BONUS: We are happy to provide free synopsis and query letter for any book-length manuscript. This saves time, headaches and costs for our clients who decide to approach publishers and agents. Obviously, this won’t work when hiring on an hourly basis, nor for clients who plan to self-publish, but many of our clients appreciate it. If you plan to self publish, you might ask for back-cover text as a bonus.

NEGOTIATE A FLEXIBLE PAYMENT PLAN:I should not that this won’t reduce your overall costs, and in some cases it might increase costs (like leasing a car costs more than buying it, even though monthly payments are less). But if cash flow is an issue, if you have only a certain amount of funds available each month, this might be for you. We usually request payment in thirds, but we have put clients on a monthly payment plan when asked. Our golden rule is that until we receive payment, the writer does not begin work. So when payment comes in monthly, it means the work flow follows the same schedule. I personally believe this is disruptive to the creative process, as the writer must stop and hold back at times when she is on a roll. But if your cash flow is limited, this might make sense.

Communicating with your ghostwriter

BE EMAIL ACCESSIBLE:Ghostwriters frequently have questions for clients. It saves a lot of disruptions if the writer can fire off a quick email and have it answered in a timely manner. Email saves a lot of time , because phone calls inevitably take longer and they often take time to set up, not to mention the distraction of trying to set up phone meetings. There is a cost to using the phone, and that cost is paid in both time (money) and distraction (manuscript quality).

BE PHONE ACCESSABLE: Yes, this contradicts what I said in the point above. Except that some question just are not simple enough to answer by email; sometimes the writer will have to probe. If you are easy to access by phone, you can cut down on telephone tag (and if you are email accessible, it is much easier to set up phone meetings).

LISTEN: Listen to your ghostwriter when she suggests a new story direction…it may cost you less in revision in the long run! You might have a good reason to go in another direction, but a professional ghostwriter also has a pretty good pulse on what publishers are looking for.

Many thanks to Debra, Heather, Kristin and Kathryn, four of our senior writers, for their assistance in putting this list together.

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High Blood Pressure Hits

Our ghostwriting and editing team has helped another expert travel that exciting and challenging road from expert with important advice to published author. Dr. Chad Rhoden’s new book Bringing Down High Blood Pressure is now available for pre-ordering from .


Learn straightforward solutions you can incorporate both immediately and in the long term. Focusing on lifestyle factors readers can change, Dr. Rhoden weighs in on alternative therapies for reducing blood pressure, while Sarah Schein brings her dietary expertise to the table with practical advice on nutrition, tips for healthy food selection and preparation, and 70 tantalizing recipes each with its own nutritional breakdown.


Kristin Johnson was the writer helping Dr. Rhoden find the right words to express the ideas and information he is conveying – vital information that everybody should read for their own health.

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Editing gone too far

In the previous post, Kristin itemized ten key things to tell your editor.  A good editor is important to your success.  You want to make sure your words, tone and method of rolling out the story are consistent.  You want the action to feel real.  You want the characters to feel real.  And you want to remove unnecessary words that far too many people put into their writing. 

However, please don’t take this to government-secrecy extremes…

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Social Bookmarking – the indispensable tool for writers

Whether you write novels or blog posts, marketing materials or business books, articles or self-help books, the Internet provides a wonderful resource for writers, and no aspect of the Internet provides such a versatile writer’s toolset as social bookmarking websites like Digg and Propeller and Zoomit. Some of the uses of social bookmarking website might be obvious to you; others I am sure you have never thought of. Without further ado, here are the ways a writer can harness the tremendous power of social bookmarking.

Understand how people think – headlines

You don’t have to spend very long on a website like Digg to see that there are certain headlines that attract more attention than others. There are a number of variables in the Digg algorithm, but obviously the headline plays a big role in a site where users vote on the popularity of the content. Take a look at the stories that make it “popular” (on the home page of Digg or on the main page of any of its major categories) to see what really works. 

Study the chapter headings of the posts with the most votes, and you will understand how to pique people’s interest. A few of my own observations:

  • First ever items attract interest
  • Precision attracts interest (“Seven ways to…” works better than “How to…”
  • Sex sells
  • Shock sells
  • Titles that appeal to topics of interest, even if the topic of the item is a little off
  • See what other patterns you can discern

These lessons will be most useful to marketing writers and blog writers, but really they are important for anyone writing a book or article on pretty much any subject. Headlines always have been critical to drawing the reader into the article or chapter.

Understand how people think – comments

It’s one thing to understand how people react to headlines, it’s another to see how they react to the content. For that, it’s worth reading the comments they leave at websites like Digg, because members often feel safe in their anonymity to say what’s really on their mind. Sometimes this leads to great thoughts; other times to pure rudeness.

If you want full-fledged, raw rudeness (say that ten times fast) try Reddit. There is more anonymity there (no avatars, less internal communication and relationship-building) and you’ll find sharper comments. I was going to post an image here, but let’s just say that if you are sensitive about language, you’ll thank me for not doing so.

For more polite option, try Propeller. But don’t get caught up in judgments; understanding the full range of reactions to various types of topics is a great way to understand your audience or even to develop characters (in the case of fiction). Uncensored feedback is gold.

If you are a blog writer, you’ll probably have encountered some reactions to your writing. Studying the comments on websites like Digg, Reddit and Propeller gives you insight into a wider range of reactions to a wider range of writing. It’s worth spending the time.

Research topics

Want to know what topics are of interest to a certain audience? Study the topics that make it popular within various categories at Digg and Reddit, or at specialty social bookmarking websites, such as Tipd for financial topics.

Research details

I won’t tell you that everything you find on social bookmarking websites is the most accurate; writer beware. But I will tell you that the most exciting and most popular sources are all there, and you might as well use information that the people have said they like – the stuff that really engages the reader – when you do your research.

Research reactions

Not to get too repetitive, but just as reading comments can give you an understanding of how people react to various kinds of information, studying comments on specific topics can give you an idea of how people will react to specific things you might write. Yes, you may now take out the eraser and rewrite that paragraph that might draw ridicule.

Seek feedback

I know writers who have built up a bit of a feedback circle. They post their poetry and prose, usually to Digg, and people let them know what they think. This extra feedback from people beyond their real-life circle helps them improve their writing and know when they have a winner. Here’s an example of feedback that MyscticDave received for one of his works (Click the image for the complete submission).

Promote your writing

And social bookmarking websites are the ideal place to promote your writing. This is obvious for blog writers, but you can also promote your book, chapters of your book, poetry and articles. Here is an example of an article that EnglishChick was able to share with social bookmarking (Click the image for the complete submission).

There are a number of other great social bookmarking websites, like Zoomit for Canadians and Mixx and Plime. For research, you don’t need to even join any of these websites. However, to really promote or get a decent amount of feedback for your writings, you need to get involved by voting for and commenting on the submissions of others and marking people as friends.

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Political Speechwriters Must Leverage Authenticity

What is the most important feature of a political speech?
  • Ideas?
  • Vision?
  • Alliteration?
  • Emotion?
  • Leadership?
  • Credibility?
No. No. No. No. No. No.  Authenticity is the key on which all of the above rest.  Our speechwriters capture the essence of who you are.  This is the one key ingredient that makes a political campaign successful – an ingredient most candidates overlook. 
Consider these two examples:
George Bush became President of the USA despite sounding hokey, despite malapropisms, despite the mockery of the media elite.  Why did so many people vote for a man that, even to this day, faces scorn and derrision in the media?  Why did they vote for him twice?  Because his hokey style was authentic.  People felt they could trust him, that he was revealing himself to them.  He was not pretending to be someone he was not.
Barak Obama was not supposed to succeed George Bush as President of the USA.  A lot of people forget this, but two years ago everyone was asking whether the United States would have its first female President.  Not to take anything away from Hillary Clinton, but she failed the authenticity test.  People felt she was trying too hard and was not revealing her soul to them.  Barak Obama, however, bared his soul.  People felt he was real.  People felt he was authentic.  Even people who usually didn’t vote, even people with racial concerns, even people with differing views warmed up to him — enough to make him President.
Not every speechwriter can create authenticity.  For that, the writer has to be able to capture the “you” in you.  She will need more than just information, she will need to understand you. Our speechwriters take the time and effort, and they have the skills to craft a speech the displays not just vision and leadership, but your authenticity.  Your audience will feel the connection and will warm up to you, not just to your message.
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Bigger royalties on their way?

I am reminded of the note I read about this a couple months ago.  Publishing giant Harper Collins rolled out a new imprint called Harper Studios, including ten books planned for celebrity chef Emeril.  What is unique about this imprint is that even for a fancy name like Emeril, they are not paying advances.  Instead, they plan to increase royalties to as much as 50%.  Royalties have traditionally been around 15%.

This is a big change, and if other publishers cleverly follow suit, it will dash a lot of dreams of big up-front advances.  Of course, every couple weeks we are told by a prospective client that they want us to find them a publisher who will provide a hefty advance…

1.  We write, we are not literary agents.

2. Publishers are doing you a favor by risking their necks on an unknown author.  They are not going to give you a big advance.

As Harper  Collins spokesman Robert Miller says, “Advances have skyrocketed but sales haven’t grown.”  Authors will have to convince not just the publisher of the value of printing their manuscript, but also the public of the value of reading it.

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A tale of two clients – so you want to get published.

A lot of clients seem to think that when their book is written, it will get published, and that’s a wonderful idea too. It’s what we all hope. Note the operative word – hope. It won’t get published if you don’t get out there and hunt a publisher down, or indeed have one lined up before hand.
No one will publish your book if they don’t know it exists. Take two clients of mine. Both books were similar in that they dealt with the same topic – child abuse. Both were deeply distressing stories and affected each client differently. One was determined that others should not suffer as she did and immediately did the rounds to get her book published. It will be in the shops come February. The other wanted to prevent such abuses occurring again, but her whole life was so affected by her experiences, that once she had used up her energy telling her story, she had no more for the exhausting business of attracting a publisher. Her story languishes for the moments when she can be bothered to do something about it, which is a great shame, because although there was little to laugh about in these two histories, the as yet unpublished client managed to find some wonderful humour in hers.
Sure, I try to help her with advice etc. whenever I can, but I am a writer, not an agent, and I write for a living, which leaves little time for me to run around after someone who doesn’t make the effort to help herself.
So what’s required after you get your manuscript back from your ghost?
First, know thy publisher. Send it to as many publishers whose interests are appropriate to your story. You wouldn’t send an ‘adult’ book to a children’s publisher, so why send your fictional work to an academic publisher? Why send your memoir to a publisher of science fiction? If you cannot find an appropriate publisher at home, try another country.
Second, consider hiring an agent. The ones who are well established with the biggest mainstream publishers take a cut of the book’s profits. They take no up-front payments. They can be as hard to find as a publisher, so make sure they represent your genre of book before contacting them. Again some of them can be unimaginative, yet others can be wonderfully helpful.
Third, be prepared to accept rejection. I had a rather snooty publisher say of one of my books that the characters were flat, yet the same book was snapped up the very next week by another publisher who found the same characters ‘fulsome and rounded’. Remember publishers are people too, and one man’s meat and all that …
There are some very famous writers who will tell you about all the reject slips they got. Shall I just slip in the name J. K. Rowling? Yep! Harry Potter’s creator! Some unimaginative publishers cringe every time they hear her name. So don’t give up. I heard of a very famous writer of scary books who apparently had to wait for five years before someone took him on.
Fourth, there are e-publishers, many of whom are pretty good. Just make sure that you find one that doesn’t mess with your rights to the book. There are a few who magically make your copyright theirs, so be aware of the problem.
Finally don’t give up trying to get your book published. If it was worth your paying a ghostwriter to knock it into shape for you, why would you not seek a publisher just as energetically? Fortune favours the brave!

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Mercedes – another ghostwriting success

We are celebrating another ghostwritten book off to the publishers: Mercedes, by Alan Truax.  This one is a thriller epic set in the…oh, why not just read the official synopsis below.  Kristin, one of our best ghostwriters and a frequent blogger here, helped Alan bring this novel to life.

MERCEDES is a multi-generational epic which begins in Germany at the brink of WWII and ends seven decades later in the California Napa Valley wine region. Several memorable characters contribute to this intriguing saga of the human spirit, but the primary protagonist is Mercedes Steinberg, who is born in the backseat of a new 1934 Mercedes Benz Tourenwagon.  The life of this resilient woman, and the car in which she is born, become entwined as she escapes Nazi Germany for a life in London, Paris and California, all the while pursuing her unrelenting quest  to love a daughter the way she was once loved by her parents.  Her dream is simple, but its achievement is not.  But despite many challenges such as living as a Jew in Nazi Germany, a failed marriage, and the deaths of loved ones, Mercedes Steinberg never gives up her dream.  While her story involves the drama of life’s injustices, it also presents the joy that comes from being with those you love, and confirms that the love of family and friends is the best cure to healing the wounds of life’s hardships. And it reminds us that it is never too late to realize one’s dream.

If you wish to pre-order a copy and be one of the first to read Mercedes, just complete the form below and send it to Alan Truax at allynntruax [a]  (replace the [a] with @, of course).








E-mail Address: 

Order Quantity
Please send me _____  copy/copies of MERCEDES 

Bill me a total of $_______ for the quantity of books above at $20 each (includes shipping)

Referral Acknowledgement.
Mercedes was recommended to me by ___________________________
Signing Option

No author’s autograph___

Author’s autograph only___

Please address signing to (person’s name):___

Please include specific message (1-3 sentences):
[Example:  Your good friend Mary thought you would enjoy this story.  She and I both wish you a very happy 45th birthday!]

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Would you do it?

Often would-be clients come to me with ideas for books they would like me to write. After several discussions about the whys and wherefores, we come to the point where fees have to be discussed. It is then that they tell me sweetly, that if I write their books and find them an agent or publisher (which requires considerable expenditure of time and money – for postage, materials such as printer ink, paper for say 300 page books, envelopes etc. multiplied by how many tries you make before you are finally accepted), then I would have dubious honour of getting a ‘percentage’ of the books’ profits.

Okay, imagine that the ghostwriter really believes the project is hot, spends three to six months writing a book, and is willing to fork out to have it seen, lets look at some of the logistics. Many agents are as hard to engage as the publishers themselves. They and publishers often will not consider a manuscript, which has been sent elsewhere so you have to wait for them to reject you before you can try someone else. Many will tell you to expect their answer from anything between three and six months time. In other words just approaching 2 publishers or agents can mean a wait of six months to a year!

Lets say we get lucky and find a publisher within six months, many will want amendments which can add perhaps another couple of unpaid months to the ghostwriter’s time. Then the publisher rolls into gear in a process that can see your book take another year before it hits the shops. That means the best part of two years has passed since the book was completed!

Unfortunately, when your book is released, it clashes with a momentous event! Elvis, who has been hiding in the desert while he wrote his wonderful epic, which is very similar to your own, has been published just a fortnight before your book is in the shops. People flock to buy his. Your opus, over which the ghostwriter slaved over in anticipation, gets left on the shelf and earns exactly nothing. For giving up a large chunk of his or her life, the ghostwriter earns a percentage of air … which I grant you might just be fresh, but even so, not nourishing.

So tell me, if you were a ghostwriter, would you do it?

Harlan Ellison sure wouldn’t and to see why, watch this video.

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Why quality counts

We were approached by a potential client with the following proposition:

Over the past couple of weeks I have been talking to a lot of writers from different parts of the world. But none of them have been able to provide what I need.  What I need are very unique, highly informative, gripping article. I had some individuals and companies write for me some sample articles.

They wrote articles on subjects like “What is Outsourcing”, What is Inbound Call Center” etc. Everyone knows all this.

I need a more researched article which focuses following issues:

- Some unique facts about the Call Center / Customer Relationship management industry

- Some interesting stories / incidents of this industry

- Some eye-opening problems solving approach specific to this industry.

That’s why we are here.  We can work with you to develop a marketing plan and then write the articles that fit into the plan.   Articles that just repeat drivel are pretty useless.  Even if the same information can be found in many other places, the article has to be written like the information is unique, like it is the first time anyone has thought of it….like “What color is outsourcing?” or “When the call center phone rings…”

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Beware self-help authors

Sorry, but this will be just a little humorous.  I am a self help author, among other things, and I think I received a backhanded complement recently, which I just blogged about at my happiness blog.

Just because I feel like it, I will reproduce that blog post, “Happiness books versus real books“, here:

Lloyd Garver of the Norwich Bulletin is obviously not a big fan of happiness books, but at least he refers to mine as… ”Some of these popular happy books include, ‘Climb your Stairway to Heaven: The 9 Habits of Maximum Happiness’“.

The problem with Mr. Garver is probably not so much his grumpiness, but his poor sense of direction.  See what else he says, “The reason you can’t find the kind of book you’re looking for is that all the self-help books about how to be happy fill up the shelves. Ironically, this makes some of us quite unhappy.”

Fortunately for us and for the sake of clarity, he does specify what kind of book you’re looking for.  A real book.  Hey, those are his words, not mine.

If books about happiness and self-help are not what he is looking for, why is he looking in the self-help section?  I have to assume he is simply lost, because obviously he won’t find any real books there.  Either that, or he is a very grumpy man with a great sense of theatrics (not to mention irony).  And nothing makes a grumpy person grumpier than a happy person saying to him, “Smile!”  (Yes, grumpy people really, really hate happy photographers!)

If the bookstores would kindly provide visitors with maps when they enter the store, people who don’t want to be happy can avoid accidentally finding themselves surrounded by all those threatening smiley faces.  And they can get on with the business of finding “real books”, which apparently bookstores don’t seem to stock anymore.

That oughta solve the problem.

Hmm…I wonder what he would think of a happiness blog.  

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Dead end ghostwriting projects

In a recent post on how even ghost writers need to eat, I mentioned that:

In fact,  if the insurance companies had access to my statistics, it would be justifiable cause for them to cancel your insurance right now on the spot, as well as the insurance of everybody related to you. 

I feel that I should expand on this a little.  So far this year, we have had four books writing projects that have hit dead ends for various reasons…

  1. Divorce
  2. Bankruptcy
  3. Indecision (Does he really want to proceed with the book?)
  4. Inertia (To be fair, this one has stopped a few times and with a lot of prodding we have been able to get it back on the rails, which hopefully we will be able to do again).

2008 has been a fortunate year.  No clients have passed away part way through.  None have gone missing in action, disappearing into thin air without a trace. 

However, some almost-clients have disappeared.  We’ve entered into discussions, chosen the best writer for their project, put them in contact with the writer, negotiated the contract and then, POOF! nothing more.  In fact, there are several contracts that have never been signed sitting on our computers.  One of them was an MIA from 2007 who has returned and we are very hopeful to begin work on his project within the next month, because he really has a fascinating concept.

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What’s your story?

You want to write a book and you have a great story running around your head, but writing it is not as easy as you thought. You need a professional to prepare your manuscript. So what’s your story?

For any book to be interesting, it needs a good plot. Plot is what gets the reader’s attention … what’s it all about? And plot is what keeps it … what happens next?

The following is true, unbelievable but true. I once had a would-be client contact me with an idea for a children’s book – and that was all he had.

“What is your book about?” I asked him.

“These children run away and save the world from itself.” He replied.

“Okay, so what’s the plot?”

“They run away and save the world from itself.”

“That’s your idea. Why do they run away? Why do they need to save the world? What do they do?”

“Er … what do you think?” He asked.

“There a few things you have to before you employ a writer.” We chatted for a while of his need to think about the action he wanted in his book. I gave him a few tips about how to proceed and added,

“ … and while you’re at it, you also need to think about the children’s characters.”

“Character? What character?”

So we went through the notion of character.

“Well what do you think they should be?” He asked.

“This is your book. Therefore you have to know what you want in it.” I added as gently as I could. “If I conceive of and develop your plot, characters, location and everything you wish me to, it would be my book. Now why would I write a book of my own and give it to you?”

Finally we agreed that while he would think of some of the children’s characteristics (one of whom was the son of the king), I would help him to develop them as the plot itself developed.

“So where does this action take place?” I asked.

“Erm … they run away to the snowfields so it has to be somewhere with lots of snow.”

I suggested a few countries.

“It has to be a republic and the …”

I interrupted him. “This country is a republic with a monarchy?”

“Yes, and I have an idea for one of the children who all go to the same private school. He is the hero of the book. He is the white adopted son of a black woman, who works at someplace like McDonalds.”

Needless to say, this story had no chance for I was left with a group of children who have to save the world from some unknown calamity. In addition, a black waitress at a fast food outlet, whose son was white could afford to send him to an expensive private school attended by royalty. This boy and a group of his chums, including a prince used only to the lap of luxury, run away to the ‘snowfields’ in a republican monarchy, where they presumably manage not to freeze to death while finding nourishment in all the snow and ice around them. Perhaps they might find a polar bear to hunt and eat, or catch a whale through a hole in the ice. (I didn’t suggest that to the young man).

He had no idea of how to move his vague idea forward. He couldn’t develop his characters or his story because he had no plot. The very least a ghostwriter needs is an idea of the nature of the book (for example is it a mystery, comedy, etc.), a believable plot written in outlines (starting from the beginning of the story and proceeding in an orderly fashion to the end), some idea of the characters, and location. This applies whether you wish to write fiction or non-fiction. It is then up to the ghostwriter to craft the manuscript, moving the reader fluidly from one chapter to the next.

So what your story?

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Ghost writers need to eat, too!

Every week or so, a potential client asks me whether one of our writers would be willing to work on spec, to accept payment when the book gets published, to work as a partner, or some other euphemism for assuming the risk of the client’s project.

For anyone considering asking me this question, here are my top reasons why this makes about as much sense as investing in the moat-digging business:

  1. The writer is your supplier.   Would you ask a plumber, landscape architect and roofer to accept payment on when — and if — your house sells?
  2. Asking a supplier to forego payment in the hopes of making a bigger ROI when you publish is essentially asking them to invest in your idea for a book.  These are writers we are talking about.  They have dozens of their own ideas they would rather invest in.
  3. It takes time for a book to get published.  Unless you happen to be a former president or major league MVP, your writer could starve while waiting for you to publish.
  4. The reality is that most books will never see the light of day.  What?  Does the writing suck?  Not with our writers!  Does the idea suck?  Actually, almost everybody who comes through the door with the greatest idea ever…has a pretty good idea for a book.  Maybe not the greatest idea ever, because the Bible and The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy have already been written, but nevertheless the ideas are pretty good.  But it takes perseverance to keep knocking on doors, like the folks at Chicken Soup for the Soul did, year after year until finally a publisher agrees to give it a go.  And our writers don’t feel like gambling a couple months of pay that a client might just be the rare gem able and willing to do that.
  5. Believe it or not, life gets in the way.  Clients disappear all the time.  Seemingly reliable clients.  It’s really amazing how often people who decide to write a book get stricken by disease, get surprised by divorce, lose a very close relative or simple vanish without a trace (Yes, this has happened several times!).*  In fact,  if the insurance companies had access to my statistics, it would be justifiable cause for them to cancel your insurance right now on the spot, as well as the insurance of everybody related to you.  Your writer doesn’t want to do a month of work for you and hope you’ll stick around, ignoring everything else in your life.
  6. If you are writing a book hoping to sell it, you are undertaking a business venture.  Every business venture requires start-up capital.  Even a hot dog stand.  What makes this business venture so attractive is that $10,000 or $20,000 is peanuts.  You won’t get a fast food franchise for those pennies.
  7. Our writers are professionals, not part-time college students looking to puff up their CVs.  Please treat them like professionals.

There probably are many other reasons why our writers don’t want to work for free, hoping that at some point in the future they might get paid.  I fact, I suspect that when they read this post, I might get a few more ideas.  And I might add them here. 

* One client who vanished into thin air, a really nice gentleman, popped up again eight months later.  A car crash, a marital breakdown, a move to a new city…and he was ready to start up again.  But most MIA clients never turn up again.

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The Ghost Writers Blog is Ready

We have been planning this for some time.  It just made no sense to occasionally post about writing on the SEO blog, so now we have a dedicated ghost writers blog, which will be run by some of the writers we have been working with the longest.  This is an opportunity for them to dazzle you with their brilliance, provide tips on how to make the most of your ghostwriting project and give some insight into the life of a ghost writer.

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