How to Write a Book
Yesterday, Jeannie shared in this writing blog that she’d been asked to ghostwrite a memoir and asked some advice about what to charge and what she might negotiate. Ghostwriting is a great way to write books and get paid right away. But it’s also easy to get burned when ghostwriting a book. Here are 10 things you need to know.
Almost all my points revolve around good communication and setting clear expectations from the get-go. Discuss everything you can think of ahead of time and you are much more likely to have a mutually satisfying experience.
1. Discuss whether your name will be on the book as an author. Will it say “with” or “and?” Sometimes you can negotiate a higher fee if your name is not on it. Be sure to ask if they will still provide a reference for you. If they are not comfortable crediting you as ghostwriter, would they call you “editor,” “book coach” or “consultant?” Would they provide a testimonial for marketing purposes if they are happy with your work?
2. Set a time line. If either of you is not able to keep to the schedule, make it clear by setting a new time line.
3. Get paid a significant amount up front (such as one third). Then get paid in additional increments so that you are less likely to find yourself in the situation that a client has run out of money and is unable to pay you for a significant amount of work.
4. Clarify any late fees up front and what is considered a “late payment.”
5. Clarify how much research you will do and how much data or information the client will provide.
6. Make sure your contract or agreement spells out how many revisions you will do.
7. Specify who will be the sole provider of revision requests. Ideally, you want to incorporate feedback from one person only. If several people offer changes and edits at the same time, you could find yourself doing much more work, and having an inferior product while you try to satisfy everyone.
8. Include a “kill fee.” Should the client decide to terminate the project, there should be a kill fee in the agreement for that.
9. Interview the person, even if you know them. Make sure you understand their goals, vision and expectation. What do they expect you to do and what will they do? Listen to your gut instincts–is this someone who will be easy to work with? If you get a funny feeling in your gut, pay attention. If it feels great, trust yourself, but still get references or try to talk with other people they’ve worked with in the past.
10. It’s a good idea to hire an entertainment lawyer to write or review the contract or agreement–but make sure you get glowing references from people who actually had the attorney draw up or review a ghostwriting contract.
Of course, none of the above should be considered legal advice–just practical experience from someone in the field. Consult an entertainment lawyer for your specific situation.
Have any questions about ghostwriting or other writing projects? Ask away and I will do my best to answer.
Many writers find it challenging to sit down and write at will. They might schedule the time in their calendar to write, but when the time comes, they suddenly notice the grimy buildup inside the stove (time for some steel wool) or they head to the fridge to fix themselves a snack–anything to avoid writing.
It can be even more challenging if you are writing a book that brings up emotionally challenging issues. My friend and colleague, Donna Montalbano, recently shared a terrific secret with me. After completing The Shop on Wickendon Street, her sequel to the local phenomenon (Providence and Rhode Island), The House on Benefit Street, Donna realized the sequel needed rewriting.
The problem was, it had been an arduous process to write the book through a challenging time in her personal life. The character’s experiences often wove together with Donna’s painful personal experiences. The last thing she wanted was to revisit such agony…and yet, she owed it to Angie’s fans, who begged for more.
At first, she tried the squirt gun approach to motivating herself to write: “If you don’t write now, Donna, your eyelashes are going to fall out.” Having experienced such effects from menopause, this actually did motivate her in the short run. Then she realized that her eyelashes didn’t fall out whether she wrote or not. Uh oh. Time for a new trick.
Donna decided to use her fan base for motivation. She serialized the sequel on her website. Fans come from all over the world–her biggest hubs of fans being Chicago, California and New York. Now she has to polish and publish a chapter a week or she’ll disappoint her fans. The motivation works.
You might worry that serializing your book could eat away at your reader base, but serialization can actually catapult a book to instant fame and blockbuster sales. A Gentleman’s Agreement came out in 1947, after being serialized in Cosmopolitan. The book sold out its first printing of 30,000 books in three days and was number one on the New York Times Bestseller list for weeks! Just one example in a long history of serialization success–from Charles Dickens to Stephen King.
How to Write a book in 2009:
You’ve pictured yourself on Oprah and run through the interview a million times. Now it’s time to actually write the book that’s going to prompt the interview.
1. Make the commitment: Hey, if you don’t commit, it won’t happen. Good intentions are like snowflakes. They eventually melt. Commitments can birth stars–you can count on them to sparkle for a few billion years or so–provided you follow steps 2-5, as well.
2. Enlist accountability: Who are you accountable to? Find a writing buddy (someone else who’s writing a book), a supportive family member, a writing group, a course, a writing coach or a social networking group online to help keep you accountable.
3. Make it fun, so you actually do it: Create a fun ritual around writing–envision your success before beginning the writing, light a candle, pick an angel card, treat yourself to a double latte or some simple luxury after you complete a couple of hours of writing, a few pages or a chapter.
4. Find the time: What will you cut out of your busy life to make it happen? Shorten e-mail time, chat less on the phone, cut out video games…you decide where the time will come from. Then schedule it into your calendar and make it sacred.
5. Write a plan: Put your plan in writing for added power. When will you start? When will you write each week? How much? When do you plan to have a first draft? How will you edit the manuscript or book proposal? How will you publish? Your plan should answer all these questions. Your plan may also include hiring an editor or book coach to help you polish your book or book proposal.
Now it’s your turn. Make the commitment for 2009 and post your commitment as a comment to this post!!!!
Have a question about any step above? Post it as a comment and you will get an answer straight from the writing coach!
The Wall Street Journal had an interesting article this weekend addressing the huge advances that publishers will pay for a title that goes to auction. Why, in this economy, are they taking such risks? And how can you have it work to your advantage?
Anita Elberse, author of the article and associate professor at the Harvard Business School, points to the fact that blockbusters often bring in the lion’s share of profits at a publishing house. If a publisher backs out of the big auctions, those agents who tend to find the gems won’t include them in the next big opportunity. In essence, they get shut out in the future.
Makes sense, but how do you capitalize on this opportunity? First, you need to gain access to those top agents. Second, you need to convince them that your book is a future hit. Your query letter and book proposal can accomplish this.
Elberse gives the example of Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched The World, a book by a first-time author that attracted a seven figure advance. The book was touted by the agent as “Marley and Me for cat lovers.” Is there a bestseller you can compare your book to?
You’ll need a combination of compelling writing, an entertaining and powerful story (think laugh out loud funny and moving at the same time) and a popular or intriguing subject. And that special ingredient that makes people talk about and share it with others.
It’s exciting to think in terms of blockbuster status–a book so exciting that the publisher will pay seven figures and then spend their own money to promote it heavily in order to recoup the advance and more. However, as a writing coach and book coach, I still encourage aspiring authors to stick to the basics that agents are looking for:
1. Work on your author platform: Grow your mailing list, create an internet presence, speak to audiences, get your articles printed in national magazines or get yourself some good national publicity on TV, radio, newspapers and magazines, if you can.
2. Make your book fresh and exciting: Research what’s already out there and find out what’s missing that your audience needs or wants.
3. Understand your audience: You’ll hit the mark if you know exactly who your audience is, where your readers are coming from and what they most want and need.
4. Create a powerful book promotion plan: Publishers are companies looking for a solid investment. If you show them a compelling book promotion plan for your book, you’re much more likely to get them excited about your book.
Let’s hear from you:
* Is there a bestseller you’d compare your story to?
* Do you have a question on how to entice literary agents and publishers with your book?
* Have concerns about whether your platform is adequate, or whether you really need a platform with your specific book?
Share your ideas and questions for this writing coach as comments to the blog. I’ll be sure to respond and would love to hear from you.
I have a great free publicity tip for you today and it can work whether you’re working on creating more of a fan base and platform before your book is even published, or you’re looking to promote your just-published book.
A new client recently called me for help with his book–an MD with prestigious credentials but not much of a “platform” in terms of mass media or internet publicity. His first challenge was in deciding whether to self-publish or traditionally publish.
He took my web-based course designed to help you make your Publishing Decision. The class made his decision clear–traditionally publish–but the course also made it clear he needed to have a following and some national presence.
His book concept is catchy and has huge potential, but in this market, that’s not enough. He needs national exposure in the press and/or the internet.
I planned to suggest that he do some work with my friend and colleague, Lisa Sussman. She could help him get articles published in national magazines. When I called Lisa, she pointed out an additional terrific avenue for free publicity.
The AMA, APA and other professional organizations all have PR offices. When a journalist is writing an article, particularly a young journalist with fewer connections, they often call the APA or AMA asking them to suggest a credible expert to interview. My client could call the publicity department of the APA, or whatever national organization he belongs to, and ask them to keep him in mind as an expert on his subject.
You don’t need to be an MD, PhD or psychologist to use this free publicity strategy. If you belong to any regional or national organizations, or even a local chamber of commerce, let the publicity folks know that you are available as an expert and resource to speak to the press on a number of issues (and give them a list of the possible areas and issues for reference).
Try out the strategy and let me know how it works for you!
Mary Beth asked, in a recent comment in response to my blog post Too Painful To Write:
“I know that some day I will write a book that will help ME, but I’m terrified that people reading this book would be very hurt by it. Just by telling my story from my point of view, people may feel that they aren’t potrayed in the best light. How do you be true to your feelings and not hurt the people that are a part of your life now or were a part of your life in the past?”
There is no easy answer to this question, but here’s your writing coach’s advice:
1. Write the book true to yourself. You can always decide to withhold some information later–but start out with your most powerful truth.
2. Weigh your decision. When it is time to decide, ask yourself how important certain details are to the story. Perhaps you can soften or leave out those details that don’t move the story along and would hurt others. Some “truths” may be very important to the story, in those cases, see number 3…
3. Communicate. Talk to those people you portray in the book. Let them know ahead of time if their “appearance” is not negotiable. Yet, let them know you’re contacting them first so that they’re not surprised by what they see in the book. Perhaps you do want to give them the opportunity to suggest a middle ground–but perhaps not.
4. Be clear of your subjectivity. You can begin your book with a note to the reader stating that this book is about your recollection and perspective, and that you don’t hold a patent on the truth. Acknowledge that others may see a situation very differently.
5. Talk it over with an objective colleague, mentor or writing coach. It may help to discuss your dilemma with someone who’s not involved in the situation. They may shed some light on an issue that may be too close to home to weigh.
Of course, you also have the option of publishing your book as fiction. In general, fiction is harder to sell and I don’t know how much it would truly protect anyone’s feelings, as they may still see themselves in the characters.
Recently a writing coaching client of mine mentioned a friend of hers whose memoir was published and shocked the author’s family members. This author had not let anyone know the details of the book ahead of time. Her family read sensitive information about themselves at the same time the press and the public received it. Now, that is a recipe for disaster in terms of relationships.
You’re walking a fine line of being true to yourself and your story and being sensitive to those who love. There’s no pat answer, but, as a writing coach, my instinct is this: if you keep asking the questions you’re asking, I think you’ll find your way just fine, Mary Beth.
I just ready Cathy Stucker’s blog on Writer’s block and she brought up a good point about fear being a common cause of writer’s block. And, of course, the thing to do to get rid of fear is to do it anyway.
However, As a writer and writing coach, I find that stress and depletion are two very big reasons that my writing clients and students experience writer’s block. When you come to your writing refreshed and in an open frame of mind, the writing can often flow with ease. But if you’re still breathing shallowly, thinking of the 10,000 things on your to-do list, you’re not very present.
Writing is about being present. When you’re present, you make your writing come alive for your reader. You paint a picture. You make it real. Which, oh-my-gosh, I’m not actually doing right now. I’m generalizing, pontificating, but I’m not showing (I’m telling). So I might not be blocked, but I’m not knocking your socks off, either.
Truth is, I just finished packing for a trip to my parent’s house in Sag Harbor early tomorrow morning. My husband loaded the boys into his Toyota Corolla for a quick trip to Home Depot. We’re due to go to a party in about a half our and I need a shower, a wardrobe adjustment, and time to turn my hair into something other than Medusa on a bad day. So I think I fell into category two–not blocked but not much fun either.
By now, I hope I’ve painted a picture and that brings me to some of the cures for writer’s block due to stress or fatigue.
1. Take a walk in nature and allow the autumn smells and cool, crisp air to replenish you. Breathe deeply.
2. Listen to your favorite music. You can lie down and take it in, dance or sing out loud–whatever it takes to energize you.
3. Bust through it by sheer will–write a bunch of blah until it turns into something else.
4. Do a few yoga postures, chi gong or even jumping jacks.
5. Meditate for a few minutes. You can even close your eyes and just picture yourself as the stress melts away. Then picture yourself writing with ease and feeling the exhilaration of inspired writing.
The challenge with my third suggestion is that sometimes it doesn’t turn into something else. In that case, those rejuvenating exercises are a whole lot better. Have fun with my suggestions and see if they get rid of writer’s block. I bet they will.
I also have a visualization I often take my writing coaching clients and students through. At my clients’ request, I’ve made a free recording of the guided visualization–so you never have to suffer from writer’s block again.
I recently received the brochure for the 2009 course, Publishing Books, Memoirs and Other Creative Nonfiction, which is offered March 26-28 at Boston’s Fairmont Copley Hotel. Several of my writing coaching clients have told me they’ll be there. Will you?
Even if you’re not a medical professional or health writer, I can think of a whole bunch of reasons for you to come:
1. It’s one of the most comprehensive courses on how to become a published author, including information on how to build your platform (and if you don’t know what a platform is, you really need to attend!).
2. You get to meet top literary agents in person with the opportunity to sit down and talk with them. They’ll tell you if they’re interested in your book and, many times, they’ll provide an author with ideas that would make the book more appealing to readers, agents and publishers–taking your book idea from interesting to marketable.
3. You can get expert feedback on your writing and your book concept during the Writer’s Workshop (you can request to work with your favorite writing coach if you want).
4. You can learn how to get into “The Zone” whenever you sit down to write (in the workshop taught by your favorite writing coach on Thursday and Friday).
5. You’ll learn from bestselling authors including, Herbert Benson.
6. You’ll hear cutting edge information from professionals in all walks of publishing: agents, authors, publishers, publicists, writing coaches and editors.
7. Copley Square (Hey, I went to MIT, so a trip to Boston is always a draw for me).
8. Shameless Pitches: Yet another opportunity to grab an agent or publisher’s attention.
9. You’ll learn secrets of compelling writing.
10. Dr. Julie Silver, the course director, over-delivers (Many people take the course year one, put it into action and attend the following year to pitch to agents and publishers, and also to learn more–each year offers new gems).
I’ve often heard aspiring writers complain about how hard it is to get published. Those people just aren’t doing the right things to get published. Attending this course is the perfect antidote. Not only do you learn exactly what to do, but you make those contacts that are necessary to get published. I know many people who attended the course and got an agent or publisher for their book within a year or so.
I am writing in response to Mary O’Connor’s comment/ question for the writing coach:
“What advice would give to someone with a fully formed book about addicted mothers of young children? I don’t know how to frame the format and include my personal story, my professional story and the macro effects of current policy on our culture and future.
“Hint – I want to testify before congress, but am not sure of my audiance. Thank you for this resource. I love it. Floundering in upstate Michigan.”
Mary, you bring up a very important point. You can’t write for EVERYBODY. What you can do, though, is picture your audience like a dartboard. Who is the core audience you’re writing for? They’re your bulls eye. What other secondary audiences would be interested in your book? They would form outer rings on the board.
Before organizing your book, or writing a table of contents, I would clarify the core audience, then maybe have a chapter each to address the needs of any secondary markets or audiences (or you can use appendices). Another option is to use sidebars in each chapter.
Let’s say, for example, if you decide your core audience is family members of the addicted moms, for lawmakers/policy issues, have blue sidebars [sidebars are those boxes that contain relevant text that is either too technical for many readers or might appeal to a subset of readers or provides an example story to illustrate points in the text]; for addictions counselors and professionals, yellow sidebars, etc.
Once you’re clear who the core audience is, ask yourself what they are most looking for and what format would be most useful to them. If the core audience is families of addicts, you might write more of a how-to book with memoir elements. The last chapter or two could include more societal/global issues. Or you can include sidebars with those issues in each chapter.
Make sure your first chapter or introduction captures the reader’s interest. Let the reader know what they’ll get out of your book and provide inspiring and motivating examples of people you’ve helped. Good stories always captivate-use anecdotes.
Now, if you’re asking, how do you decide who the core audience is, let me know and please provide a little more information on all your goals, and I’ll write up another blog post!
Does that help?
I am still dreaming about my writing coach’s writing retreat. One week to go.
How does one prepare for a writing retreat? In the past, I’ve packed up all my notes on the book I’m working on, maybe some research to read over, and thought hard about what I would accomplish.
This time, my writing coach (me) suggested I try something new. I’m clearing my mind in preparation. I’m not even sure which book I’m going to work on. I probably won’t take any of my preparatory notes for my works in progress.
I admit, this is my book writing experiment. I have no idea how it’s going to work, but I just love the idea of starting with a clean slate and allowing inspiration to work through me.
As a writing coach, I’ve recently suggested to several clients that they intend ease in their writing process. I’m expecting absolute ease, fun and speed, as well.
Thinking of planning your own writing retreat? What do you envision? How will you prepare? I’d love to hear from you.
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People often come to me with more than one great book idea. One thing I do as a writing coach is help them evaluate which book to write. Here are a few ways to evaluate for starters:
1. Goal based:
- Identify Your Goals.
- Evaluate each book project on how well it meets your goals.
- If there’s a tie, of the two or three that meet your goals best, which do you feel most excited about?
2. Passion based: On a scale of 1-10, ten being most inspiring, rate each potential book project. Which ones are a ten? If none is a ten, ask yourself, what’s missing? What could make this a ten?
3. Market based: Answer these questions:
- Who’s your natural audience?
- Who do you tend to work with or whom do you want to work with in the future?
- What are their biggest challenges or problems (in their eyes and their own words)?
- Which of your book ideas would help them solve these problems or address their challenges and offer the results or benefits they’re looking for?
I’ll often help them understand what factors might make the book more sell-able in the current market, but, ultimately, I also want them to look within. I often take them through a visualized journey where they connect with their muse. If their muse contradicts my advice? I say, go with your muse.