Category Archives: ghostwriting techniques

Ghost Writer For Hire: Help Writing Your Book

One of my hats is ghostwriting, and I just made a little promotional video about this service. (For those of you thinking of creating videos of your own to promote your work, I made this using iMovie software, stock photographs, and royalty free music, for under $20: check out www.FootageFirm.com for music and video clips, and www.istockphoto.com and www.bigstockphoto.com for photographs. I began with a script, looked for photographs to illustrate my core ideas, and found appropriate music from my collection.).

Ghostwriting is a skill that requires you to be attuned to your client’s voice. When I ghostwrite, I fuss over transition words (would that client say “then too” or “moreover”?), adjectives, sentence structure, first- versus second- or third-person, and the rhythms of a person’s spoken voice. I read samples of their past writing and talk to them about what they liked or didn’t like about their voice in those samples. I have no defensiveness when they tweak my writing, and I encourage them to tell me, “I wouldn’t use that word” (oops, my bad!) or “I wouldn’t say it quite that way; there’s a nuance I have to explain to you.” I remember one client telling me years ago, “I am gentle with my readers because they have a great deal of embarrassment about their situations, so I never say ‘You should’ or start a sentence with ‘Don’t.'” Wow, was that helpful feedback!

 

I think that to be a good ghostwriter, you have to have a firm grasp of voice in your own writing.

 

Who is your audience, and how would you like them to perceive you? Voice should reflect the relationship you want to create between you, the writer, and your reader. It is not simply about what you want to say and how you want to say it. As a developmental editor, I’ve been known to point out places in an author’s book where I think his tone is a little off and needs to be tempered. I know some people think that if you write books using your own voice, you can’t successfully switch over to writing in someone else’s voice. This simply isn’t true. It’s really a matter of setting aside your ego and tuning in to the other person’s energy, personality, and styles of speaking and writing.

One of the advantages of having me ghostwrite their books, my clients have discovered, is that when they are suddenly asked to write something short-form on a deadline, I can jump in easily to do it for them, not just because I know their ideas and material but because I know how they like to sound on the page or screen. For a busy professional running workshops and seminars, having a ghostwriter available can be an incredible asset even after the book is written. Jumping in to that role when you don’t know a person and his voice well is much harder, I am sure!

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Hire a Ghostwriter to Write Your Book? 4 Questions to Ask Yourself

You’ve dreamed about writing a book someday. You believe you have a story inside you that will amaze and inspire people. You’ve tried to write it down, and have sketched out some ideas here and there. Maybe you have notebooks or computer files that are filled with writing but you’re realizing that all these bits and pieces aren’t adding up to a book. Do you need to hire a ghostwriter?

Perhaps, but first there are four crucial questions to ask yourself:

1. Do I understand what a ghostwriter can do for me? A ghostwriter, or “work-for-hire” writer, writes for other people but does not receive public credit and her name won’t appear on the book jacket or the book’s copyright notice. She’s a “ghost” because she works invisibly, behind the scenes. A ghostwriter for a book structures and shapes the book, including its scenes or sections, and renders the expert’s ideas on the page in a way that is true to her client’s vision. Her client, not the ghostwriter, retains the claim to the book’s copyright and takes responsibility for the material in the pages. A professional ghostwriter can alert her client to potential legal issues, but ultimately, the book she will ghostwrite will be her client’s baby. In fact, you might think of a ghostwriter as a professional midwife for books.

2. Do I secretly want to be a writer, or do I simply want my story and ideas told in my voice? An excellent ghostwriter will listen to how you express yourself in person or over the phone. She will notice the complexity of your sentence structure, your pet phrases, and your tone. Then, as she begins to ghostwrite your book, she’ll create a voice that sounds as if it were yours. She knows that if you’re serious and dignified, your voice on the page should be different than if you’re playful and whimsical.

If your heart tells you that it’s you who must write every word of your book, you must be willing to master the craft of writing a book. Hire a writing coach, take writing classes, and read books on writing. Commit to the time it will take to master your craft and write your book. If you hire a ghostwriter when you truly want to be the writer, you’ll find it difficult to create a good partnership with her. You need to trust the ghostwriter to capture your voice and ideas or she won’t be able to do her job properly.

A ghostwriter or developmental editor may be key to getting your book written

3. Do I have the money to hire someone to interview me and write a book based on my life or ideas? It can take hundreds of hours of a ghostwriter’s time to interview you and ghostwrite a quality book for you. You’ll need tens of thousands of dollars to hire a professional ghostwriter to ghostwrite a memoir, self-help book, or novel based on your ideas and synopsis. If you procure a book contract and an advance against future earnings from a publisher, you can use that money to hire someone to ghostwrite or coauthor your book. If your budget is too tight to pay a five-figure fee to a book ghostwriter, remember that you get what you pay for. Will you be content with a book that isn’t well structured or well-written, a book that doesn’t have rich ideas and a narrative flow that’s engaging and entertaining? If you don’t have a publishing contract and paying a ghostwriter will be a problem for you, see question #1 and rethink whether you might be willing to learn to write the book yourself rather than hire someone to ghostwrite a book for you.

4. Do I know what I want to say? Everyone has ideas and stories to write about, but you may not have enough to say to fill a book unless you work with a professional ghostwriter who can draw stories out of you, find the narrative arc to your book, and help you develop your ideas. In fact, if you want to write your own book and you have good writing skills, but are stuck on what to say, you may not need a ghostwriter so much as a developmental editor. A developmental editor can help you flesh out your ideas and structure your book.

Whatever your goal, don’t let fear, insecurity, or embarrassment influence your decision about whether to write your book yourself or hire a ghostwriter to ghostwrite it for you. If you honor your strengths as well as your weaknesses, you’ll come to the right decision for you regarding who should write your book. Know what type of assistance you need and you won’t regret your decision, whatever it turns out to be.

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The Word on Word Count and Length

How do you determine word count and length for a book and its chapters?

First, study other successful (key word: successful!) books in your genre to discover what length they are. For example, a typical self-help book is between 60,000 and 80,000 words in length. Don’t worry about pages for now. Editors, publishers, and agents usually think in terms of words, not pages because a page of a book or manuscript could have anywhere from 200 to 500 words on it. It’s more accurate to think in terms of word count. In fact, if I’m asked to work on a book “of about 200 pages,” I will ALWAYS question what that person means in terms of actual word count.

 

To determine the word count of a book, count up the words on a typical page and multiply by the number of actual pages (don’t count the copyright page, title page, index pages, etc.). I use the Chisanbop method of counting on my hands to 100  to quickly calculate page numbers, shouting aloud “one hundred!” or “two hundred!” to ensure that I don’t forget what hundred I’m on (most pages will hold 200 to 400 words). I suppose I could just write a hash mark on a piece of scratch paper too but that wouldn’t be as much fun now, would it?

 

Anyway, to determine the word count of your Microsoft Word document (or a highlighted section),  go to the Toolbar and from the TOOLS pull-down menu choose WORD COUNT.

Once you’ve determined what your book’s chapters will be, you will have to figure out how many words you’ll need per chapter to meet those word count parameters.

Let’s say you’re aiming at 70,000 words and you’ve come up with 14 chapter ideas. Assign a few thousands words to the front matter and back matter (which consist of the title page, copyright page, contents page, and the like, as well as  extra sections such as the a preface, introduction, foreword or afterword, epigraph, resource section, and endnotes). That leaves you with about 67,000 words. Divide that figure by 14 chapters and you end up with  4785 words allotted for each chapter.

 

Typically, a self-help book will have at least ten chapters but less than twenty, and most chapters will be approximately the same length.  If you have several 15-page-long chapters and one that’s 36 pages long, consider whether you could split it into two different chapters, or whether you’ve simply written too much on that topic and need to save it for another book. (It’s common for an author to realize this unwieldly chapter can be tamed and serve as the seed for his next book, which will look at that topic in depth).

When in doubt, look at successful books. How many chapters do they have? How long are the chapters? How much of the book is devoted to the “action plan” versus background material for understanding the book’s fresh ideas? Novelists and memoirists should be looking at length, too.  If you aspire to write the next Eat, Pray, Love or  Twilight series, how long should your book be? Remember that while the brilliant Harry Potter series ended with some hefty tomes, the first book was a more standard length publishers and readers are familiar with.

So take a few good books off your shelf and take a look at their word count. Familiarize yourself with your genre’s most typical length and think long and hard about breaking the rules and writing a book that’s very short or very long compared to its buddies on the bookshelf.

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How to Cut and Paste to Organize a Rough Chapter

I do this type of rough cut-and-paste, old-school editing when I ghostwrite or whenever I work on a chapter that’s in really rough condition. Check it out!

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Color Coding and Scissors and Tape: Best Editing Tools!

At the moment, I’m in the early stages of ghostwriting a book based on a manuscript with only bits and pieces of ideas that are salveagable and notes from conversations with the expert. So, I’ve been using my favorite tools for editing a lot these last few weeks: color coding in Word and scissors and tape.

First, I type an all-caps header above each paragraph or section that describes the main idea in short. Then, I color code these paragraphs or sections based on what chapter they’ll probably slot into. For instance, Chapter 1 is coded turquoise while chapter 2 is coded navy blue (in Word, you can go beyond the main colors and actually access a color wheel that gives you many hues; I don’t like to use a color on color background, which is another option, as it’s very tiring on the eyes to look at). When I’ve coded a big manuscript or section of notes, I simply cut and paste into chapter files: All the turquoise text goes in c. 1, all the navy in c. 2, etc.

Next step: Print out in doublespace 12-pt type and grab the scissors and tape. Cut up sections and put them in order, fastening them with tape, and penciling in headers and transitions that come to mind. Eventually, I end up with a long scroll that I can use as my template for constructing the chapter. Sections that are simply ideas, not crafted text, I just read and rewrite as I go.

Will this process work for you? Try it and see!

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