All posts by Kristin

Wreck-It Ralph and Character Jobs, Part I

Although I haven’t watched “Wreck-It Ralph,” I have read the (highly recommended) screenplay, and it sparked some musings about characters and their jobs.

“I gotta say, it becomes kinda hard to love your job… when no one else seems to like you for doing it.”

–Wreck-It Ralph

Wreck-It Ralph, as an anti-hero and video-game villain in his day job, is in fine company. In his book What Foreigners Need To Know About America From A To Z, Lance Johnson provides surveys that list some of the service industries and related jobs Americans rank as lowest and complain about the most:

  • Oil companies
  • Real estate agents
  • HMOs
  • Tobacco companies
  • Auto dealers
  • Cell phone companies (contracts)
  • Collection agencies
  • Banks
  • Auto repair
  • Mortgage brokers

If your characters hold a profession everybody hates, that makes your job as a writer more challenging, but in the case of Wreck-It Ralph, it can also be a rewarding journey.  Everyone (including, ahem, writers) can relate to days in which no one appreciates what you do. Yes, Wreck-It Ralph is about Generation X, the video game and most maligned recent generation, but it is also about our jobs and our livelihoods.

Does the job define the character? 

Does the job define the person? In our society, yes, it does.

Does the job define the character?  In the case of cop dramas, legal dramas, political dramas, hard-boiled police procedurals, stories about sex workers, stories set in the entertainment industry, stories about teachers, even family dramas in which Mom and Dad are the (toughest of all) job titles (what parent hasn’t felt unappreciated at some point?), the answer is yes.

Whether it’s Detective Olivia Benson on “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” who lives for the job, Sherlock Holmes, Captain Kirk (when the movies prompted him to admiral and took him away from the Enterprise, that sparked major character conflict and a four-movie arc), there are many examples in which the job defines the character. But it’s also the character’s relationship to the job that creates drama and conflict.

FREE help to describe your characters!

In Wreck-It-Ralphs’s case, he just wants to be a part of society and be valued. His external goal is to get a medal, but in the course of “going turbo” and leaving his game, he develops other relationships.

This works for true stories, too: If your client has a job that the public has preconceptions, especially negative, about, such as the mortgage industry (Confessions of a Subprime Lender), IRS agents, Hollywood agents (sorry), salespeople, or politicians (if you land such a gig), your job is to make the case as to why the reader should care:  Is it a tell-all?  A personal struggle with illness?  A friendship or love story that changes lives? A how-to book on consumer advice?  A cause that’s bigger than the job?

Yes, it is hard to separate people from their jobs, because one of the first questions we ask is, “What do you do?” Why would your characters, including in nonfiction, be any different?  Also, other than their stated job title, characters have different jobs to do in your story.  Hero, comic relief, best friend, messenger, shapeshifter, mentor, sidekick…

Don’t knock the villains (even though we all love to). In my follow-up post, I’ll give some love to the antagonist/villain’s job and why, in Ralph’s words, “I’m bad, and that’s good. I will never be good, and that’s not bad. There’s no one I’d rather be than me.”

Back to the job!

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Thank You to Our Blog Tour Hosts!!!

These Golfing Geese Are About To Ruffle Some Feathers at Penny Ehrenkranz’s Blog

Meet Sami DeMani, a Canada gander with a legendary golf game. He’s on track to win the prestigious Waterfowl Tour — and put his nemesis, the ruthless Pete Swan Lake, in his place once and for all. But right as Sami prepares to take a critical swing, a surprise scare changes everything — ruining the shot and putting Sami in the hospital. What happens next dashes any hopes for golf glory — or does it? No longer able to play, Sami throws himself into coaching his nephew, Myles, in the game he loves. Then the golf pro hatches a plan to help his nephew win a tournament with the aid of the specially designed Gooseneck Putter. This breakthrough device has the potential to change everything — including the confidence of the golf prodigy who uses it. But none of them are prepared for what’s about to occur as the tension rises on the course. Along the way, Sami and Myles will learn a powerful lesson regarding sportsmanship, perseverance, love, and what really matters in the game of life. A heartwarming and inspirational tale, The High-Tech Gooseneck Putter is about the power of golf to boost self-esteem, change lives, and bring a community together.

This is the latest Happy Guy Marketing success–my collaboration with artist, singer and Laughter Yoga leader Samuel DiMatteo. I am excited that Sami listed me as co-author because Samuel is one-of-a-kind. He, along with the colorful cast of golfing geese, sportscasting squirrels and business-minded beavers in the book, has won over several lovely lady authors–and I am thankful to every one of them.

It is Thanksgiving this month, after all!



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As part of the “High Tech GooseBlog Tour,” we showcase author and tour host Karen Cioffi…

Wang bound the last bunch of wheat stalks as the sun beat down on the field. Sweat poured from the back of his neck drenching the cotton shirt he wore.

I hate doing this work. He hurled the bundles on a cart. “Father, the bales are stacked. I am going home; it is too hot.”

Twelve-year-old Wang longed to be an Eternal. He craved wealth . . . and power….

So opens Walking Through Walls, Karen Cioffi’s retelling of a classic Chinese fable. In just a few sentences of this 40-page children’s book, she establishes the main character, a disgruntled twelve-year-old boy, and the conflict, his dreams of a life away from unending hard work on his family farm. She also hints at a mystery: what is an Eternal?

In short order, Coiffi-Ventrice also introduces us to a bit more of Wang’s personality. Like any 12-year-old, he fights with his sister and his father. He knows his father wants him to work on the farm rather than daydream about learning magic and being “the richest man in all of China”.  When he receives a dream visitation from the dragon illustrated on the cover—think ERAGON set in China—Wang decides his father can’t keep him on his peasant farm any more.

After Wang goes to the Elder of his village, a lemon-loving mystic, and asks the way to the Eternals’ home, he ends up more confused than ever. In typical martial-arts movie fashion the Elder speaks in cryptic messages before scolding Wang for seeking wealth and power for their own sake: “I cannot give you the information you seek. Your heart has already spoken. Go home and set your sights on learning patience and virtue.”

Oddly, Wang’s younger sister helps him, because of her sweet nature—or perhaps she wants to teach the arrogant Wang about a girl’s worth. The true value of a person—character, kindness, integrity—is a common theme in this story and Cioffi-Ventrice brings it out quite well. She also subtly highlights the Confucian society of the time, where “respect your elders, especially males” is paramount, and the Asian ethos, in which the group is much more important than the individual. Wang, like many child heroes, rebels against his family and society to seek his own way—and learn a lesson. You have to give Wang credit for pursuing what he wants and for undertaking his perilous journey to the distant mountaintop to find the Eternals (This is what you want: you must follow through, he thinks). While Wang’s journey may seem reckless, he shows some guts and courage in leaving his family to pursue his dream.

There’s a lovely moment in which Wang’s father gently touches him and asks him to stay. It’s an understated and in-character way of showing that Wang’s father is concerned, for the first time, about his son leaving home—a deeply human emotion.  Wang does not understand until much later—he is too excited about seeing the mystical temple of the Eternals materialize after his long perilous trek.

Wang’s impressions of the temple capture my own awe whenever I visit Asian temples such as Wat Pho, Senso-Ji, Sanjusangendo, and shrines in Taiwan, even though in keeping with a fable like this, the temple’s plain exterior belies its grand interior (representing, perhaps, the richness of the Eternals’ spiritual life). Although I have never met an Eternal Master, I imagine he (she?) would be just like the one in Walking Through Walls (many of the Buddhist rimbans and reverends I’ve met have senses of humor to package their lessons). The Eternal Master is the equivalent of a magical drill sergeant—not what Wang expected. Everything about the Eternals, from their strict regimen of simple food and hard work to their habit of appearing and disappearing, confounds Wang—although he begins to understand a bit more of the world when he meets his roommate Chen and hears of Chen’s quest to help his village and rescue his sister by becoming an Eternal. Chen’s story kindles compassion in Wang’s heart, but not enough to make him gain patience. With all the magic around him, Wang is hungry to become an Eternal himself, especially after he sees the more advanced students walking through walls after a midnight feast. Is it a dream? Is it a test? Wang decides he must learn to walk through walls.

Wang endures his peculiar education for a year before deciding to leave, despite his best friend Chen’s hope of having an ally in his quest. The Eternal Master teaches him the longed-for spell of walking through walls, even though he lectures Wang about not being pure of heart or worthy of the Eternals’ great power. Of course, Wang does learn the spell—and faces a test of his character once he returns home. During that test, I bit my nails and then screamed, “Don’t do it,” when Wang was about to make the wrong choice. Cioffi-Ventrice makes us care about Wang in spite of, or perhaps because, of his character flaws. In addition to the magic of the storytelling, the sense of wonder never lets up—enchanted snakes and other creatures follow Wang as he chooses his destiny, and we learn that the Eternal Master is even more extraordinary than he appears…

In addition to the story, Cioffi-Ventrice provides dragon lore, a brief, easily readable history (and cultural facts) of the Ming Dynasty during which the story is set, and activities and questions for young readers.



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Guest Blogger: Karen Cioffi–Is Your Character One, Two, Or Three Dimensional?

Ghost Blogger Kristin Johnson’s Note: As we announced, Walking Through Walls author Karen Cioffi is one of the hosts for the “High-Tech GooseBlog Tour”. She is also honoring us with a post that speaks to the advice my fellow Ghost Bloggers and I have provided previously. If you read Karen’s book, which I will review in a subsequent post, you will glimpse her 3D Character System at work…and you don’t even need 3D glasses!

Thanks for this wonderful article, Karen.

Is Your Character One, Two, Or Three Dimensional?

By Karen Cioffi

Between your characters, the plot, and the other writing elements, you develop a story. If the mix is right, and the characters are believable, you can create a story worthy of publication.

Creating believable characters is an essential part of writing, and they need to be as life-like as possible. To accomplish this, you need to have a three dimensional protagonist.

So, which is your protagonist?

Is your protagonist flat – lacks any type of emotion and action, like the simple and safe kiddy rides at a children’s amusement park, the carousel horse that goes round and round, but does nothing else? Then you have a one-dimensional character on your hands.

Is your protagonist a little bumpy – he has some quirks, life and emotion, but no real depth of character or history, like the carousel horse that goes round and round and up and down at a steady easy pace? Then you have a two-dimensional character struggling to break into the world of believability.

Is your protagonist a full blown amusement park – a roller coaster, full of ups and downs, knowledge, emotion, character, quirks, life, and history? Now you have it; you have a believable three dimensional character that is strong enough to bring your story through to the end.

Now the question is: how do you create a wonderful, believable life-like three dimensional character?

There are a number of methods you can use that will help you create a believable character, here are two:

1. Create a character sheet or use an index card before you begin.

On your sheet, list all the characteristics, quirks, moods, mannerisms, physical attributes, artistic attributes…you get the idea. Keep this sheet handy as you’re writing your story. If you tell the reader Pete has blonde hair in the beginning of the story, and then you describe it as black, unless he dyed his hair as part of the storyline, stay true to the character. Readers pick up on errors very quickly.

The more detail you add to your character sheet the easier it will be to know what your protagonist will do in any given circumstance. This will take the element of wondering out of your writing process and save time: Pete finds a bag of money next to his neighbor’s car. Hmm . . . will he keep the money or try to find out if it’s his neighbor’s? Oh, wait a minute, on your character sheet you wrote he’s an honest guy! Simple.

2. Add characteristics and attributes to your protagonist as you write your story.

Write your protagonist’s characteristics, quirks, moods, mannerisms, and so on, on a character sheet as your story evolves. There are some writers who use different methods to create a story. Maybe you’re using the ‘seat-of-the-pants-method’ and your character evolves as your story does. With this method, you want to be sure to note each new development in your protagonist’s character or being.

Let’s go back to Pete again. Pete scratches a car as he’s parking. Does he leave a note on the car he damaged? Does he quickly leave the scene? Does he just ignore the incident as if it didn’t happen? Whichever one of these actions he chooses will establish another element to his character – be sure to make note of it.

No matter which process you use, remember to add life-like qualities to your character. Readers need to develop a relationship with the protagonist. If they feel Pete is three dimensional and they are drawn to him, they’ll be sure to read to the end of your book.


Karen Cioffi is an author and ghostwriter. Her new MG/YA fantasy book, Walking Through Walls, is based on an ancient Chinese tale.

Wang longs to be rich…and powerful. At twelve-years-old, he already knows more about the Eternals and their way of life than many of the adults in his village. Learning about these mystics takes his thoughts away from the possibility of working in the wheat fields all his life, like his father. Wang has far grander goals.


Walking Through Walls should now be available through online retailers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and book stores. If it’s not yet listed, it will be very soon!
You can also order the book today at:

To learn more about Walking Through Walls, its touring schedule and contest, and purchasing information visit:

To learn more about Karen and her books, visit:


Please be sure to stop by Eylsabeth Eldering’ site on July 19th for the next stop on the Walking Through Walls Tour.



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The High-Tech Gooseneck Putter Blog Tour–Christmas in July!!!

These Golfing Geese Are About To Ruffle Some Feathers

Meet Sami DeMani, a Canada gander with a legendary golf game. He’s on track to win the prestigious Waterfowl Tour — and put his nemesis, the ruthless Pete Swan Lake, in his place once and for all. But right as Sami prepares to take a critical swing, a surprise scare changes everything — ruining the shot and putting Sami in the hospital. What happens next dashes any hopes for golf glory — or does it? No longer able to play, Sami throws himself into coaching his nephew, Myles, in the game he loves. Then the golf pro hatches a plan to help his nephew win a tournament with the aid of the specially designed Gooseneck Putter. This breakthrough device has the potential to change everything — including the confidence of the golf prodigy who uses it. But none of them are prepared for what’s about to occur as the tension rises on the course. Along the way, Sami and Myles will learn a powerful lesson regarding sportsmanship, perseverance, love, and what really matters in the game of life. A heartwarming and inspirational tale, The High-Tech Gooseneck Putter is about the power of golf to boost self-esteem, change lives, and bring a community together.

This is the latest Happy Guy Marketing success–my collaboration with artist, singer and Laughter Yoga leader Samuel DiMatteo. I am excited that Sami listed me as co-author because Samuel is one-of-a-kind. He, along with the colorful cast of golfing geese, sportscasting squirrels and business-minded beavers in the book, has won over several lovely lady authors. Suzanne Drazic will host us for Christmas in July on her blog to kick off our tour! A schedule:

And of course any of these lovely ladies has a standing invitation on this blog.

Our tour has a special significance: each date corresponds to golfing events in honor of our hero. A sample of the events:

  • July 18, Karen’s stop–Ernie Els’s charity golf tournament Els for Autism Golf Challenge, TPC Deere Run, Silvis, Illinois
  • July 24–Skins and Pins Shootout, Strategic Fox, Fox Hills Golf Club, Plymouth, MI
  • August 5–36th Junior PGA Championship, Sycamore Hills Golf Course, Fort Wayne, Indiana
  • August 22–Las Vegas PGA Expo, also Boy Scouts of Omaha Invitiational
  • November 5–PGA Tour President’s Cup in Australia

We have teed and shouted “Fore!”

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A Ghost Writer Reviews “Ghost Writer”

Finally! Our profession gets its own movie, thanks to a novel written by Hannibal Lecter creator Thomas Harris. We should be flattered that the mind responsible for one of the most compelling characters of all time thought of our profession as worthy of a novel, and that Hollywood finally gave us our due.

I finally got to see “Ghost Writer” on a recent flight and thoroughly enjoyed it. For one thing, it adds a little glamour to what we do, and in the movie, the titular ghostwriter, played with wry perfection by Ewan McGregor, gets a nice hefty paycheck of ten million pounds to ghost the memoirs of former British PM Adam Lang, played with heavy creep factor by Pierce Brosnan. Famous client, great pay, and the manuscript is already written…by the previous ghost, who died mysteriously.

This is where fiction and fantasy enter in. The movie, while true to the spirit of what we do, is about as realistic as TV cop or medical dramas.  I personally have never gotten an assignment because the previous writer died. (In fact, as a previous blog post points out, clients are far more likely to do a vanishing act.) I also have never gotten such a notorious client as Adam Lang, who’s under investigation by the International Court for war crimes in the Iraq War. (But who’s to say it couldn’t happen?) I do have clients with stories that can tear you up, but I’ve never been thrown into an international controversy. Or been the potential witness to dirty deeds. (Thank God.)

However, I found that “Ghost Writer” treated the profession with respect and accuracy in many ways. To wit…

1. Tough deadlines. The Ghost is given a month to polish and finish what his predecessor started. Granted, this month of intensive exclusive work includes complete in person access to the client. After the media frenzy reaches the remote American island where Lang stays, the ghost writer gets to sleep and work in Lang’s residence. Useful for meeting deadlines…even if The Ghost may literally face life and death meeting his.

2. Research. Although my research has taken my projects down unexpected paths, with the clients along for the ride, I’ve never gone to the extremes The Ghost does. His efforts in piecing together what happened to his predecessor efforts prove the value of researching a client…Also, his insistence on clarifying the timeline of his client’s political activism prove to be the kind of tenacity you need as a ghost writer.

3. NDAS. I have been under a code of silence, but never been told, “the manuscript is not to leave this room. It is not to be copied.” Still, client confidentiality is a hallmark of the business.

4. Bad openings. Lang’s manuscript starts with his family history! McGregor’s utter frustration and disbelief are spot on when he reads the opening.

5. Personal entanglement. So many of my clients become my friends, and in many respects it’s like adding a dozen or more family members. However, there’s something sinister and codependent in the way that McGregor’s character gets entangled with Lang, his wife, and Lang’s admin/mistress.

6. Reading between the lines. The Ghost meets with Lang’s enemy, an MP who advises him the previous Ghost coded a hidden message in the manuscript. Proof positive that an eye for detail is necessary in this profession!

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Top Ten Tips To Make Sure This Sign is Not About Your Screenplay

While this is an “only in L.A.” billboard, having your screenplay unsold is a worldwide reality for many anguished writers. We know your pain. We offer you our hard-earned bits of wisdom to make sure you can prove Chase Bancorp’s marketing and advertising department wrong.

1. Read screenplays., the Internet Movie Script Database, and all have a plethora of screenplays. You can learn as much from reading the scripts for B-movies as you can “Chinatown”. You’ll see how screenplays are constructed. A tip: Don’t put camera angles in scripts just because you saw them in shooting scripts. That happens once the producer buys your script and/or hires you to write another script. Similarly, the long blocks of description in, say “Spartacus” may have worked in 1960, but not today.

2. Proofread your script or hire someone to do it. This may sound obvious, but typos indicate a lack of professionalism.

3. Learn structure from Syd Field, Robert McKee, Linda Seger, Aristotle, and Chris Soth.

4. Too personal? Don’t assume everyone cares about your alcoholic parents or that you were raised by circus midgets — unless you can make it funny and commercial. “A boy starts his own circus to escape alcoholic circus midgets,” on the other hand, might inspire an agent or development executive to laugh. “But that’s not how it happened” shows a lack of imagination. Give yourself permission to rewrite your life — or someone else’s, if you have the rights to the story.

5. Have a clear protagonist (hero) with a clearly defined goal. Who is your lead character and what does he/she/it want? If you have an ensemble piece, you still have to have one main character — at least for casting purposes.

6. Don’t have your antagonist drown puppy dogs and steal money from orphans. A great villain, or even a great antagonist who’s not necessarily a villain, has motives for what he/she does. For example, Bill of “Kill Bill Vol. 1″ and “Kill Bill Vol. 2″ keeps the Bride, aka Black Mamba, alive instead of having her murdered by stealth because of his honor code. Although this gives the Bride time to plot her revenge against the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, Bill has his own motives for allowing her to do so.

Similarly, in “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” Vice-Principal Gene Wolters doesn’t decide to cut Mr. Holland’s music classes because Vice-Principal Wolters hates music and teenagers or wants to hurt Mr. Holland (although he admits to jealousy). His stated motive (supported by hisactions) is, “I care about these kids just as much as you do. And if I’m forced to choose between Mozart and reading and writing and long division, I choose long division.” Even if Mr. Holland (and the viewer) feels that the decision is wrong, Vice-Principal Wolters has a motivation that stems from who he is: an administrator who feels he is doing is best with the resources he has.

7. Assume your audience is intelligent. Remember your alcoholic circus midgets? Don’t have your hero sit around and talk to his circus buddies (unless they’re circus animals) about how unhappy he is with his situation. Show us in a brief scene or two why the hero must change his circumstances, why he must start the circus. You don’t need to show us scene after scene of the circus midgets mistreating your hero. Give your hero other obstacles and smaller goals that complicate the quest — he needs to smuggle his favorite elephant out of the circus, for example–but watch the budget, you may have to change the elephant to a dog that wants to be an elephant.

8. Write more than one script. Your first screenplay is usually practice. Your second, third and fourth scripts are, most likely, practice. It’s usually a good idea not to send out your first screenplay.

9. Nonhuman characters must have their own personality and motivations. Pixar does brilliantly at this. “Wall-E” takes a nonhuman robot that barely speaks, and creates an endearing character who wants to escape his loneliness. The rabbits in “Watership Down” are far from happy, cute and cuddly bunnies. Some of them scheme and some behave like tyrants.

10. Hire a pro. To make sure your screenplay hits the right beats, that the format looks perfect, and that you have your pitch, e.g. alcoholic circus midgets, hire a professional ghostwriter who can (a) edit your dialogue/formatting or (b) polish your screenplay. Get an independent evaluation.

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The Frugal Book Promoter: Review

Authors who help, support and educate other authors are to be admired. This is the aim of the Book Publicists of Southern California IRWIN Award-winning book The Frugal Book Promoter by Carolyn Howard-Johnson, a wonderful author and friend to authors who understands the need for authors to maximize their resources, especially in today’s economy.

I had the honor to review the book for, and the review, reprinted for this blog, has become popular., founded in 1998, is a high-traffic and award-winning Web site that does a tremendous service to reading, literature, readers and writers. The dynamically designed and attractive site offers a plethora of thoughtful and thorough reviews (by a passionate corps of volunteers, several of whom have publishing credits and a desire to contribute their talents)  and Holiday Reading Lists, as well as monthly columns that explore literary genres and subgenres.  Each month it brings the love of the written word into homes and businesses with a newsletter and a network of discussion lists that are no doubt eager for their dose of’s literary magic. Many thanks to and to Carolyn Howard-Johnson!

The original review also included an Author of the Month interview.

The Frugal Book Promoter
How To Do What Your Publisher Won’t 
By Carolyn Howard-Johnson
August 2004
ISBN: 1-932993-10-X

When Joyce Spizer’s Irwin Award winner Power Marketing Your Novel debuted in 2000, writers everywhere realized how much they didn’t know about book promotion.  How effective is Spizer’s book?  Even stellar promoter/self-publisher Dan Poynter gave it raves. After reading Spizer’s book I thought I’d need no other book on book marketing.

I was wrong.

Novelist/poet/columnist/reviewer Carolyn Howard-Johnson’s new book, The Frugal Book Promoter: How To Do What Your Publisher Won’t, picks up where Spizer leaves off.   Armed with both Spizer and Howard-Johnson, writers can actually capture book sales.

Do you know about writing book reviews and articles–often for free–to get your name and your book out there in the press and, more importantly, into the minds of the vampire fans/bodice-ripper devotees/true crime aficionados you want to capture? 

Harlan Ellison once famously said, “Don’t give it away!”  As Howard-Johnson explains, you aren’t giving anything away, although with mailings, you’ll be spending your own money.  Oh, and creating a press kit.  And doing your own Web site.  Don’t have one yet?  Get one.  Send out advance review copies–your publisher won’t.   For that, you’ll need your own media contact list.

Howard-Johnson offers a hot tip that even seasoned writers forget: Meet the media face to face, from the crime beat reporter to the lady who writes a gardening column–for that matter, you can start your own column.  Or blog.  (If you’re working up to that, Howard-Johnson advises doing the next best thing, using to promote yourself, by writing reviews, lists in Listmania, and “So you’d like to…” guides, features I only began using as marketing weapons after my third book came out).  But when you take a breather from all this promoting, invite your neighborhood reporter to lunch. Howard-Johnson makes the point that relationships sell books.

Oh, and when you’re writing articles and reviews, don’t forget to add your tagline with information about your book, like my sample tagline in this review.  Free publicity may not be free, but you can start spending your publicity dollars wisely by buying The Frugal Book Promoter.

For more information, visit

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Ten Critical Things to Tell Your Editor

“Black eyes” have been around forever. EEI Communications’ Editorial Eye newsletters feature reader-submitted black eyes, or mistakes in print. Imagine those mistakes on your cake, and you have the inspiration for 10 Unfortunate Cakes, which in turn inspired this blog post.

A birthday cake with a misspelled name or worse can be eaten without too much fuss (it is a cake, after all), but a manuscript filled with errors and contradictions is quite embarrassing. When you’re working with an editor, such as the ones here at The Happy Guy Marketing, or with a book editor, here are ten crucial ingredients to ensure that your book turns out in a way that does you and your subject credit.

Always tell your editor:

  1. The exact spelling of your name, or any important name in the book – especially in nonfiction. Just ask Geri in the article.
    Many ways to spell Geri

    Many ways to spell Geri

    The spelling of the name should be consistent throughout. The exception might be if you’re tracing a family name or noting errors in the recording of a name over time, in which case the editor should be alerted.

  2. Any important dates that need to be kept consistent.
  3. Precise place names. Angola, Indiana is different than the African nation.
  4. Foreign-language words, which can be embarrassing if misused. For example, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used the wrong Russian word with her gift of the “Reset” button. (As an aside, Opechatka is Russian for ‘typo’).
  5. Any obscure term thrown in, such as a German beer law in a food article.
  6. Correct quote attributes. For example, a writer could write, “John Wayne said, ‘Give me liberty or give me death.’” Actually, the famous quote by Patrick Henry reads: “It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”
  7. Any information from the Internet that is not yet verified.
  8. Whether or not your controversial scientific book has been peer-reviewed (vetted for accuracy). Medical terms always need to be checked.
  9. Photo captions that need to be checked. has some fine ones.
  10. Any copyrighted material that you need permission to use. You can slip in a poetic quote, but the editor might not realize that you’re copying Ella Fitzgerald’s lyrics. No joke. “Fair use” is misunderstood.

I can’t guarantee that writing and editing your book will be a piece of cake. However, communicating with your editor (and proofreader) will ensure that when you’re showing off your book to agents and publishers, you can feel proud of your book. A publishing contract will be…the icing on the cake!

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New Year’s Resolutions for your Ghostwriting Project

Today on New Year’s, everyone makes resolutions for self-improvement. This year, more people are making resolutions that involve helping others.

One of the resolutions on your mind this year may be: I will write my novel/memoir/how-to/screenplay/business ebook, even if I’ve never written in my life and don’t particularly enjoy it. And after all the champagne and celebration, you might just add enthusiastically, “And I’ll hire a GHOSTWRITER! That will make it easier!”

By hiring a professional, you have just followed one of the experts’ tips about keeping New Year’s resolutions: Be realistic.

Think of it this way. If you want to get fit and toned/lose weight/stop smoking/get organized, you hire a personal trainer, consult your doctor or call a professional organizer. A ghostwriter is no different. Ghostwriters are the personal trainers of the written word.

After you make that resolution, however, I strongly suggest reading the following articles from The Happy Guy Marketing:

  1. Are You Ready For a Ghostwriter?
  2. Working With your Ghostwriter
  3. How Ghostwriters Can Help You Get Published

The next step is to resolve to gather your thoughts and any materials you’ll need. Here’s a tip: If you think you don’t need to tell about the murder suspect in a mystery or what the hospital smelled like when your identical long-lost twin, who you’ve just reunited with, was born, write that detail down.

Some experts recommend making a list of a series of small steps to achieve your goal. Your list might look like this:

  1. Read about ghostwriters
  2. Investigate ghostwriting agency
  3. Begin gathering thoughts and any documents (for fiction as well as nonfiction)
  4. Contact ghostwriting agency
  5. Discuss project with ghostwriter by phone or e-mail
  6. Organize ideas with clustering techniques
  7. Ask your ghostwriter about publishers, agents, producers

While it may sound like a lot of work, the steps you’ll put in (according to my experience) will bring you closer to your goal within weeks or the first two months of 2009 than you would be if you hadn’t made a list of steps and if you hadn’t resolved to hire a personal trainer for your manuscript.

Whether your project is a mystery plot you’ve been dying to write or something that will benefit mankind (or at least help someone through a difficult time), the goal is important to you. So make your New Year’s resolution specific, actionable. Investigate ghostwriting services or put your thoughts down on paper. Then you can look back on next New Year’s Eve and say, “I did it.”

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In teaching a virtual seminar for the Muse Online Writers’ Conference about “Writing the Short Screenplay from Concept to ‘Fade Out,’” I’ve read the following comment in online forums: “I wrote this as a short story/novel, but I think it would be better as a screenplay.”

I’ll talk about adaptations of books to movies in another blog post. Everyone out there has an opinion of books on film. Sometimes the movie actually improves on the book, or at least offers a true translation–by that I mean it keeps to the essence of the book without reproducing it word for word (the “Harry Potter” films, especially the last one, “Order of the Phoenix, accomplished this magic.)

What about the reverse—the novelization of a screenplay? It’s a growing business. “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry himself wrote the novelization (with curious academic-like footnotes) of “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” from 1979, the one every critic has panned. Studios hire writers to novelize popular movies such as the “Batman” franchise. Then there are all those kids’ adaptations of kids’ movies such as “The Incredibles,” “Cars,” “Underdog” and ”Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” the movie that launched the new animated series on Cartoon Network.

 It’s difficult enough to transmute a publicly beloved property into fiction. For a ghostwriter, the pay may be great and the challenge satisfying, especially if you happen to be a fan of the franchise, because after all, the characters are the stars. Nobody cares who transcribes the words of Anakin Skywalker (or his feisty female apprentice Ahsoka Tano), Lightning McQueen or Captain Kirk.

However, when the script in question is personal, when a ghostwriting client hopes to have both a book and movie based on characters he or she has created, the challenge is greater, and in many respects even more rewarding despite the long hours at the computer.

David Leonhardt made the announcement last week about our client Alan Truax’s novel Mercedes being published. Alan has been a delight to work with. I rarely meet ghostwriting clients, but I had the privilege of dining with Alan and his wife last December. It was a wonderful evening. Alan is a remarkable man who believed in his story enough to condense a 300-page screenplay trilogy to a two-hour movie and to transform it into a novel.

As both a screenwriter and a novel writer who has adapted my own novel to a screenplay (and award-winning short story to a play), I understood the specific demands of the project. I understood that:

  1.  Not everyone enjoys reading screenplays—especially not producers and agents. This is because they usually have a stack of scripts to read and each year 50,000 scripts are registered with the WGA (Writers’ Guild of America). I do enjoy reading screenplays.
  2. Screenplays have to be minimalistic. Emotion has to be conveyed through dialogue and action, unless you have voiceover. Plot is sometimes conveyed through details—a sign, a phone call, a UFO suddenly descending. In that respect, writing a screenplay teaches you how to write fiction: show, don’t tell. However, novels can have diversions, side trips, and moments that, because of tiem constraints, wouldn’t make the cut.
  3. There are many times when telling/painting what a character is feeling and thinking is important. Example: Carrie Bradshaw from “Sex and the City”. What would the TV show and movie be without Carrie’s voiceover columns dishing about her friends’ adventures? In a novel, you can be Carrie Bradshaw. Nicholas Sparks and J.K. Rowling convey characters’ interior emotions and thoughts—in J.K. Rowling’s case, usually all Harry Potter’s.
  4. A novel gives you the opportunity to explore characters beyond the confines of a movie frame. In the case of MERCEDES, we could explore the thoughts and motives of some unsympathetic characters such as the title heroine’s first husband Dirk or another character named Helga, a Nazi supporter in 1930s Germany. We could add chapters and scenes in a point of view other than the heroine’s. A screenplay is told chiefly through the protagonist’s POV. By that I mean everything revolves around the protagonist. The screenplay is about the main character wanting something and achieving or failing to achieve it. The antagonist (not necessarily a villain) or group of antagonists (in Mercedes’ case, her ex-husband and the Nazis) acts against the protagonist, but is not the star of the story—even though the antagonist must be compelling, such as the shark in “Jaws” or Major Strasser in “Casablanca” (although you could argue Rick Blaine is his own antagonist), or even, in a comedic sense, Robert De Niro in “Meet the Parents”. Robert De Niro, as the father of the woman Ben Stiller loves, is the antagonist who threatens to keep them apart. In a novel, you can explore other POVs. Fantasy epics such as the Wheel of Time series by the late Robert Jordan excel at this.
  5. A novel allows you to “connect the dots” and talk about what a screenplay doesn’t express—within reason. After all, “Chinatown” says plenty when Jake Gittes confronts Evelyn Mulwray and produces the explosive revelation, “She’s my sister and my daughter!” However, many people get frustrated and think, “What was he thinking? Why did she do that? They never explored this, they never explained that,” and so on. Having sat through many movies with some of my friends, these are the questions I frequently have asked and heard. We don’t need to be spoon-fed, but some movies just defy understanding. Much of that may not be the scriptwriter’s fault. The editing and directing play a huge role. The studio certainly plays a role. In a novel, you are the producer and director—even though you may have to answer to a publisher and certainly you follow the client’s wishes. In MERCEDES, we could explore the relationship between the heroine’s father and his best friend. We could get into the head of Rick Willson, the man who wants to interview Mercedes for (surprise) a screenplay, and learn why he is doing what he’s doing.
  6. With freedom comes challenges. For example, we decided against a passage I had written regarding one of the characters’ experiences as a driver in post-WWII London. I spent too much time on incidental background that didn’t ehance character or story. It’s easy to get sidetracked, although explorations can sometimes yield different possibilities that a ghostwriter might pose to the client. However, the client is, as always, the one who has final say.

In a future blog post I’ll talk about “Identity Crisis: Helping the Client Decide If It’s a Novel or a Screenplay”.

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Yes, Even Warren Buffett Can Be Boring for a Writer

I was reading BARRON’S over the weekend and came across a book review of a Warren Buffett business biography, to which the book’s author was apparently assigned.

Buffett’s Great, This Book Isn’t

What? How could a book about the philanthropist Oracle of Omaha, who saves companies, advises Barack Obama, and refused to get sucked into buying bad mortgage CDOs, be boring?

First off, I am a book reviewer as well as a writer and ghostwriter. Like Andrew Bary, I have struggled in the past to like some books that should have been good. An example of this is BAD BOY BALLMER, an exploration of Microsoft CEO Stev Ballmer. The anti-Microsoft bias damaged the book in my opinion. The author took exception to my review even though I attempted to be positive—because I’ve been in the trenches. I know what a feat it is to complete a book, especially one with a complex subject. One memorable line from the book “Ballmer is large. Ballmer contains multitudes.” I also know what an even bigger coup it is to get a book published, by a major publishing house at that.

And when the subject, such as Buffett, has been extensively written about, and by his own admission doesn’t have any outside interests or juicy stories (the article by Bary admits this), writing an 838-page book (an even more Herculean achievement) is bound to be an uphill task. You are going to annoy some people with the way that you do it and never mind the hours of wishing that you’d never chirpily agreed to take it on, because after all, how hard could it be with a famous subject?

What, you may be asking, does this have to do with ghostwriting? As ghostwriters, we often start out with a subject we think is going to be fabulous, phenomenal, the stuff of dreams and blockbusters. David Leonhardt notes in his post “Ghost writers need to eat, too” that clients often come to us with an idea they think will make a bestseller even though there’s no money now.

I’ve taken on pro bono work because I believed in the cause.

I rarely do it now. 

It’s all too easy to spend hours getting carpal tunnel syndrome and backaches and ignore the outside world, then lose the fire and stubbornly continue because you’re stuck. It happens in our own projects, except we can usually set those aside without guilt. When there are other people involved, it’s harder to clear all moorings and push off from the desert isle of No Name where all once-glittering novels and screenplays languish. I’ve had a few clients/friends realize on their own that they weren’t ready for prime time.

Was the Buffett book this author was commissioned to write ready for prime time? I’m going to reserve judgment, as I haven’t read the book.

I can speak in defense of the author from a purely practical standpoint, however. Once again, I have been there.

I have written about subjects I had no attachment to and could care less about (coin collecting, for example), but had fun with them at times. I have done writing jobs that were so obscure only five people who knew about the subject would be interested. This does not describe any current THGM clients.

Word to ghOStwriters and ghostwriting clients: The most exciting and glamorous subject or personality in the world can become as difficult a project as, to use David’s example, ditchdigging. There are several reasons for this.

  1. The subject is already completely well-known, as with Warren Buffett, Elvis, “Star Trek” (with its legions of love-to-argue fans), Bill Gates, Martha Stewart, Marilyn Monroe, Eleanor Roosevelt, or Marie Antoinette (Antonia Fraser’s book, which inspired a movie, is reputed to have broken new ground). An essay of mine, “Abraham Lincoln, YouTube and History Reconsidered,” excerpedt in a forthcoming Lincoln Bicentennial anthology (NLAPW), reexamines Honest Abe in the context of modern politics. But chances are that your subject has been so well-covered that you might have difficulty finding something new to say–unless you’re interviewing Abe’s ghost.
  2. The subject is completely controversial, or the angle is opposite to the accpeted view, and you are certain to risk offending people, to the point of death threats, government interference and, even worse, media/publisher ostracism. My dear friend Joyce Spizer Foy and Claude Rogers wrote THE CROSS-COUNTRY KILLER about serial killer Glen Rogers, Jr–Claude’s brother. I won’t go into the eye-opening experiences Joyce had in writing and promoting this book that she calls “a blueprint for how to raise a serial killer”.  Joyce and Claude didn’t pull any punches, but many people, faced with a controversial subject, may water down the book or shrink from revealing details that would ruffle feathers. The ghostwriter may be forced to fill pages with regurgitated facts, unless the contract and the personal rapport (and the publisher and/or agent, if applicable) allow the ghostwriter to push for more flexibility.
  3. The subject or the subject’s representatives won’t tell certain facts, or try to impose their own ideas about a book, which may not always be interesting to write, let alone read, and therefore may not be marketable. I’m aware that some poorly written and ho-hum books  have been marketed and sold to publishers and the public because of successful promotion and a sexy subject. However, as ghostwriters and clients we want to aim above that. Right?
  4. The people bankrolling the project or producing/publishing the project have their own agendas, and by the time they’re through designing a horse by committee, the writers are completely burned out and just want to move on to the next gig (or do their own writing on a tropical beach with no cell phones). This is why so many movies start out with a dream cast and a great story and end up boring you to death and/or being panned by the critics (these are not always connected).

I’m not saying that the above apply to the process of writing the new Buffett book.  The BARRON’S article simply struck a chord in me. I hope it’s of some help to my fellow ghostwriters and their current and prospective clients.

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Should You Self-Publish?

You have a great idea for a book—or a book you and rewritten/polished by a ghostwriter. You have the visions of touching people’s lives, of being mobbed with adoring fans (or people who care passionately enough about your book to argue the inconsistencies endlessly in online forums), of being on “Oprah”.

However, the idea of dealing with submissions, agents and publishers may make you think twice. You don’t want a cast of thousands involved with your book. You want the final say, you want the control over marketing, publicity, book covers and, of course, profits. Yet self-publishing has a stigma attached to it, based on the faulty thought, “Well, if a book is any good, surely a publisher will buy it.”

The stigma persists and ignores the story of a man who wrote a book for his daughters, submitted it to agents and publishers, got the brush-off and self-published it. When he persuaded local bookstores to take the book, the booksellers found that the book became a local bestseller. Simon and Schuster snapped up the book we now know as The Christmas Box by Richard Paul Evans. The book is good, and a publisher did buy it—but only because Richard Paul Evans persisted and believed in his book.

You might want to self-publish your book for a variety of reasons, even though you’ve hired a ghostwriter to make the book perfect. As good as the best ghostwriter is, the publishers, even the small presses, and the market dictate what gets bought. It’s selelection, not rejection.

The ghostwriter’s job is to make sure people want to read your book once it’s in their hands and they’ve opened the cover to look at Page One. The ghostwriter may or may not, depending on your contract and the agreement you’ve reached, help you with publishing or self-publishing advice. As a ghostwriter, however, my potential reasons for self-publishing are:

  1.  You want a greater share of the profits, bearing in mind that you’ll also assume all the costs (including the ghostwriter fees).
  2. You only want to pay for the books you plan to print.
  3. You want to “test the waters” and see how much demand there is for your book—a limited-release rollout beta-test, as it were.
  4. You want total control over which groups you speak to and what publicity you do (bear in mind that if you want to sell books, 100 percent of the responsibility for publicity is on you, as it usually is for everyone but the big-name authors).
  5. You want total control over the content of the book, right down to whatever proofreader you hire (a proofreader is different than a ghostwriter or editor, and is essential to the finished product). You also assume the risks there, even if you publish under a pseudonym.
  6. It’s your family history or other material so niche-oriented that a publisher wouldn’t accept it.
  7. You can’t wait for a publisher because the material is time-sensitive. For example, if you or someone you love have a life-threatening condition and you want to tell your story to ask for help or to help someone else, you might not want to go through the delays of submitting the book to a publisher or agent. Or the material is about some personal nightmare you’re suffering—for example, medical malpractice (documented) and you want to win public sympathy. (Be certain to check with an attorney.)
  8. You intend to start your own publishing company.

You are probably asking yourself, will a ghostwriter take me on if I announce firmly and decidedly that I want to self-publish? That depends on the ghostwriter. In my case, it’s a firm yes. Other than the satisfaction of completing a job that you’re happy with, I have no ego stake in your book.

In fact, a ghostwriter will probably be pleased to help you prove that old chestnut about self-publishing somehow being inferior wrong, wrong, wrong. To quote screenwriter William Goldman on the movie industry, “Nobody knows anything.” Today’s self-published book may well be tomorrow’s hit or life-changing vehicle.

Don’t assume that a ghostwriter won’t work just as hard to get your book right if you’re self-publishing as if you’re submitting to the William Morris Agency or HarperCollins. Ghostwriters will ask the same of you in return. If you’re determined enough to publish your book yourself, to get an ISBN number, to obtain distribution, to file for copyright and to incorporate your own publishing company, the odds are good that you’re determined to make your book the best it can be by working with us and getting at least three separate people to proofread it. You can be a success.

 And we’ll even coach you the night before you appear on “Oprah”.

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Organizing Your Book: Clustering

Let’s say you work in marketing or you are a manager. Your job calls upon you to write presentations, convincing letters and reports every week. You have a great idea for a business book (or even a sports book, let’s say, if you’re a Yankees fan). However, books are entirely different animals than business communications. Science fiction writer Ben Bova calls writing a book “the long siege”.

You know that you don’t have the time or the motivation to write anything longer than a marketing presentation, so you hire a ghostwriter to spin your marketing, managing or baseball vision into (you hope) bestseller gold. At a minimum, you want your book to connect with people, to affect them in some way and to entertain or inform them.

The problem is, you don’t know how to get started. And after phone calls, e-mails and maybe even a face-to-face meeting, your ghostwriter, who may be juggling several projects simultaneously, has only a vague idea of what you want to say and what the content of the book is.

While ghostwriters have a spooky sort of intuition and a supernatural ability to inhabit your voice so that the words on the page sound exactly like you, ghostwriters are not omniscient or mind-readers. Your ghostwriter will need some direction, some signposts to mark the path from idea to finished book.

As a businessperson, you have probably participated in brainstorming white-board sessions. You can do this on your own, for your book, without a committee looking over your shoulder, thanks to a technique called clustering.

Writers Tristine Rainer (The New Diary, Your Life As Story) and Ellen Sandler (“Everybody Loves Raymond,” The TV Writer’s Handbook) discuss clustering in their books on how to write diaries/nonfiction and television scripts, respectively. Clustering helps you free-associate and gather together all the ideas associated with your main idea.

Here is how I explained clustering recently to someone who sought my advice about how to get started writing a book.

  1. Get a piece of paper — letter size will do, but a long sheet is preferable.
  2. Draw a circle in the center and write your main idea or subject inside it. For example, you might write “baseball marketing” if you decide to combine your passions, say if you use baseball as a metaphor for marketing, or talk about marketing of baseball as a case study,
  3. Without stopping, write down as many ideas as you can that relate to the subjects of baseball marketing, baseball or marketing. They may seem silly or irrelevant. That’s all right! The whole point is to get you thinking. Circle each idea and draw a line from it to the main idea. Sometimes these smaller ideas will relate to each other, so you can connect them with lines or arrows.
  4. When you’ve filled the paper with ideas or you can’t think of any more ideas, review the ideas that you’ve written down. Some of them simply may not make sense or you may not be able to use them. You thought, for example, that you could use all the RBIs (runs batted in)  for your favorite players to illustrate a point about marketing, but it doesn’t work on paper.  Odds are that will save a ghostwriter considerable time and energy in writing that section only to have it slow down the work.
  5. Take one of the ideas, for example “Boss Coach”. This could a be a former boss who always used stories about the Yankees to illustrate points in meetings. Use a separate sheet of paper and repeat the exercise for “Boss Coach”. Your cluster of ideas could help you develop a chapter that shows “Boss Coach” was the leading marketing manager of your company and a motivator of people. “Boss Coach” could even be a main subject of your book, or maybe a clever hook for each chapter who introduces the marketing concepts.
  6. Sometimes those ideas will lead you to the meat of your book. For example, you might discover that Boss Coach’s favorite player was Mickey Mantle. What does Mickey Mantle have to say that can apply to marketing? Could you marry Mickey Mantle with marketing and use that as the focus of the book? Anecdotes about Mickey or highlights from Mickey’s career could serve as the subject for each chapter. If you have Mickey Mantle written down on your original clustering sheet, do another mini-clustering exercise for Mickey Mantle—all his plays, all the marketing wisdom that might be related to those plays, and even low points in his career. You might have to consult an attorney to see if you can legally pursue the Mickey Mantle angle, but if you can, you have the focus for your book.
  7. Consider showing your clustering exercise to the ghostwriter (writers love to learn). You might work with the writer to create an outline based on your Mickey Mantle mini-clustering exercise, and the writer might spot other subtopics in your original cluster.  Or you might produce a rough outline yourself and show it to the ghostwriter. Either way, now the ghostwriter has a clearer, more specific vision of what you want.

One last point: Clustering might help you in your working life while you consult with the ghostwriter. You may find yourself using the technique for marketing presentations when you’re hard-pressed for inspiration and material. It’s something to keep you energized and motivated while you wait for your big break into publishing.

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