Category Archives: writing a book

Getting Started on a Memoir, Novelization, or Self-Help Book Based on Your Experiences

Many people contact me about help with writing a book based on what they’ve learned as a result of their experiences. They want to help others by sharing their story, wisdom, and advice in a book but don’t know how to get started.

Now, I am all for writing your book  solely for the sake of catharsis and self-expression, and I think more people who are in a healing process should write about their experiences. That said, writing for an audience that has its own needs is different from writing for yourself. Don’t confuse the two. Your needs and desires have value, but they are not always the same as a reader’s needs and desires.

Maybe you already are certain that you want to write a self-help book and weave your story, and other stories, into the book and use it as a sort of credibility card for your work but also as a key tool for your clients and followers. Maybe you feel strongly that a memoir is the best way to get your story out there and inspire and educate others.  If you’d rather not use real names, or you would like to explore what might have happened instead of just what did happen, you can think about turning your story into a novel. You can also consider writing a book of life lessons, with advice based on your story, and don’t offer any specific advice to readers.

If you’re struggling to conceptualize your book, here are some tips.

* Write. Notice I didn’t say “write your book.” Some people free write until they reach hundreds of pages of material and there’s nothing wrong with doing that, but it’s easy to get attached to what you’ve written, and what’s on the page may not work as the basis of your book. Start small. Write a blogpiece, a scene, or a chapter. Play around with it: Write it in first person, then second, then third. Write it as fiction or as a memoir, or as an anecdote illustrating a point, like you would find in a self-help book. Explore your story and your message from various angles to get a feel for how you want to tell it.

* Look at your goals. What audience would you like to reach, and why? What other types of books are they reading? Where do they hear about those books? Do they buy books based on advertisements, word-of-mouth recommendations, Facebook posts, bookstore displays–what is the main way of reaching them? Why do they trust the authors of those books? Are they drawn in by the power of the author’s personal story? Are they impressed by the author’s work as a therapist or coach? These are the kinds of questions that will help you to put yourself in the shoes of your potential reader and know how to write for that individual and how to get him or her to know about your book. You’ve thought about what you want to write. Now think about who wants to read it.

* Look at comparative books. Know what other books and information are out there. What is your fresh idea, take, or spin? If you know you want to write a self-help book on a particular topic, be aware that your idea probably isn’t completely unique but that’s okay. Give it your own take.

* Check in with your gut. Does it feel right to do a memoir, or even a novelization, of your story? Do you want to share life lessons, or give advice? Do you want to create exercises that will help the reader to learn what you learned, only in a more pleasant way? Get in touch with your instincts about the book you are meant to write–and think about whether you might be meant to write more than one book!

 

How do you get started writing your story?

* Consider collaborating or procuring a foreword. I knew I wanted to write a practical guide for parents whose children had sensory processing disorder because it was incredibly difficult to access that information back when my son who has SPD was two years old and newly diagnosed. There were NO practical books that could help me figure out how to brush his teeth or calm him when he was having a sudden tantrum. I teamed up with my son’s occupational therapist, who was not only treating him for SPD but who had also done some writing herself, to create Raising a Sensory Smart Child, a book that offered two valuable perspectives and appealed to parents and professionals. If you’re thinking you don’t have the right credentials to write your self-help book, find someone to team up with as a collaborator, or ask this person to write a valuable foreword for your book. I ended up with both a collaborator and a foreword writer with an important name in the special needs community (Temple Grandin).

* Start your outreach now. Begin building your author platform. Get a Facebook page and a blog if you’re going to create a memoir or a nonfiction book. If you want to write a novel, start writing regularly and working with a writer’s group to receive and give feedback and support (your fellow writers may well become your loyal readers!). If you’re blogging or on Facebook, ask your followers for feedback. Ask them questions to get them involved in a conversation, and respond to their answers. Encourage them to subscribe to your blog, like your page, and give you their email addresses so you can contact them in the future (you should offer a free gift, or a just a promise to send them information but never to sell their email address to anyone). Think about building a community of followers who talk among themselves and to you about your topic. These followers will not only buy your book when it’s ready, but they will also spread the word about the book or any other products or services you want to promote–not because you pay them but because they believe in you and your work and message.

* Make a habit of learning a little more every week. Notice I didn’t say make this a goal: I said make this a HABIT. Every week, schedule time to learn more about your topic and your audience and more about using social media, creating webinars and teleseminars, marketing, doing workshops and lectures, and getting the word out. If you don’t make time to do it, you will become overwhelmed by all there is to learn once your book is actually written. Set some boundaries so you don’t get sucked in to using social media so often that you don’t get any writing done–it can be addictive!

* Talk to a book publishing consultant or developmental editor early on in the process. It can be invaluable to toss ideas around with a knowledgeable publishing insider. It’s energizing to have a clear picture of your overall strategy and clarity about what you can do write now to get started creating your book. If you are going to contact me, do give me some details about your book project and whether you’re leaning toward self-publishing or building your platform then aiming to get a book deal. We can schedule a brainstorming session and focus in on your brand, your plan, and your action steps for getting closer to your goal right now. Email me at Nancy at nancypeske dot com and check out the services page on my website, www.nancypeske.com.

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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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Book publishing tips, the editorial process, and more on Let’s Talk About Books

Did you miss Let’s Talk About Books today? I addressed:

–getting over the perfectionism that keeps you futzing endlessly, and why this will trip you up

–why you should NOT try to get instant feedback on what you’ve written

–the stages of book production in a traditional publisher: How many changes can you make before “it’s a wrap”?

–using YouTube in your publicity efforts and to sell yourself to TV producers

–why you don’t have to be a celebrity or have a huge platform to sell a book these days

And more!

You can listen to the archive at LET’S TALK ABOUT BOOKS on Blogtalk Radio at any time; it runs 30 min.

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BlogTalk Radio Show: Let’s Talk About Books with Nancy Peske and Stephanie Gunning

My dear friend and long-time colleague, Stephanie Gunning, had a great idea the other day: The two of us should do an online radio show in which we could share our insights about the book industry, writing books, marketing them, and building platforms. Stephanie and I always have lively conversations and I always come away from them with fresh insights. The two of us have known each other since the early 90s when we were both in-house acquisitions editors at HarperCollins Publishers, back in the days before email and laptops. And now we’ve got so many ways to reach out and help authors learn from our insights I can hardly keep track of them all!

The half-hour show will be broadcast every Thursday morning from 11:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Eastern Time and you can listen online at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/letstalkaboutbooks  This morning’s show went great considering an unexpected technical glitch and me being a newbie to broadcasting online (I did a lot of radio in my Cinematherapy publicity days, though, so that helped). This week’s newsy topic was the closing of Borders’ bookstores and the future of brick-and-mortar stores (Is there one? Stephanie and I think so!). We also talked about garnering endorsements for your book at the early stages–even before it’s written, and before you have an agent! Next week, we’ll be talking about the eReader Revolution and will be interviewing Allison Maslan, a life, career, and business coach who will talk about her bestselling book Blast Off! (Learn more about Allison HERE).

Feel free to call in with questions and give us feedback on our Facebook page for the show: Let’s Talk About Books. You can also follow the show on Twitter: We’re “4BookWriters” and the hashtag is #BookBiz

Developmental Editor and Ghostwriter Stephanie Gunning joins Nancy Peske for Let's Talk About Books, a new weekly radio show on BlogTalkRadio.com every Thursday

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Know Thyself: Be True to Your Vision as a Writer

Last night’s American Idol was a wonderful example of what happens when an aspiring artist looking to achieve success takes the risk of saying “no” to the so-called experts and trusting in his inner vision.  Both Casey Adams and James Durbin rejected the well-meaning, “play it safe” advice of musical consultant Will I. Am and music producer Jimmy Iovine and performed songs they felt were right for them regardless of how big of a risk they were taking in the competition. The results? Check out the reactions of the audience and the judges (click on their names above to reach their April 13, 2011 performances of Nature Boy and Heavy Metal respectively).

As a writer, you have to accept that staying true to your vision may mean saying no to a potential book publishing deal. It may mean that a literary agent will drop you from her roster.

Let me tell you just one more encouraging story. On request from an in-house editor who knew our work, my coauthor and I wrote a proposal for a book called Mood Movies, which was a guide to something called “cinema therapy.” The editor loved it but later informed us that his in-house colleagues discovered that “cinematherapy” is a genuine form of therapy so therefore, in their opinion, they couldn’t possibly publish a humorous book about cinematherapy by two women who were not clinical psychologists. Our literary agent at the time felt the proposal was unsalable too, although he did say that as a favor to us, he’d send it to a few houses just in case he was wrong. We stuck with our proposal, found a new agent, found an in-house editor whose book publishing house loved it, and the rest is history. Cinematherapy has sold over 340,000 copies in all editions through out the world and we sold TV rights to Women’s Entertainment (formerly Romance Classics) which turned it into a prime time television show.

We could have been wrong. It’s possible that no agent would have agreed to represent the book project. And it’s possible that no publishing house would have bought it—in fact, we were turned down by every house but one. My coauthor and I could have avoided the terrific term “cinema therapy” (or “cinematherapy”), which we’d mistakenly believed was something we coined, in order to avoid confusion with actual cinematherapy—but we didn’t. We stuck with our vision, to great success. And wouldn’t you know that actual therapists ended up using and recommending our book to their patients?

So if you have a strong vision and your gut instincts tell you to stick with it despite the very well-meaning advice or feedback from professionals who supposedly know better than you do—go with your gut.

Cinematherapy, movie therapy for women: a vision turned into a successful book series and television show

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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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