How Much Does It Cost To Hire A Ghostwriter?

How much does it cost to hire a ghostwriter?

“I need help writing my book! How much does it cost to hire a ghostwriter?”

This is a very popular question. I’d imagine shopping for a writer is a bit like walking into a gallery with the hope of acquiring a special piece of art. You peruse the beautiful paintings on the walls and wonder about their cost. However, it can be intimidating to ask the artist, because the price could be well outside your budget.

When you buy a car or a house, you have a rough idea of the expense involved, but what does a ghostwriter charge?

Here’s a little skit to help answer that question:

I’ve noticed that some ghostwriters don’t like to tackle this subject on their websites. Maybe they’re worried you’ll just click away or fall into a dead faint. Well, allow me to address the question upfront. I charge one dollar per word to ghostwrite. I mean, why bury the pricing in some dusty corner of my website? There really is no need to dance around the subject.

As you’ll discover, writers have different fees and some price in different ways. For instance, some writers may charge by the hour or the page. I run a dollar per word to ghostwrite. While manuscripts vary in length, a short memoir or novella will be 25,000 words and a full-length book will be 50,000 – 75,000 words. Some authors prefer to publish mini-eBooks, which can be 5,000 – 10,000 words in length. These can be a good option to get one’s feet wet and learn the art of marketing books on Amazon.

Occasionally I’ll run into a client who actually needs a cross between an editor and a ghost, because he has already written most of the book and the first draft is in decent shape. If that’s the case with you, I’d charge much less. But first I’d need to see what you have before I could give you a proper bid.

Inside Secret: How to reduce a ghostwriter’s price

There are a few factors that can help reduce a ghostwriter’s cost (at least with me). Firstly, I’m always impressed when a prospective client has taken the time to really research me and find out the steps he should take to work with a ghostwriter. I know this is a client who understands me and how I work, which is a great place to start the relationship.

Here are some key ways you may persuade me to reduce the amount I charge:

Pitch me an inspiring book

Idea for a bookWhile some ghostwriters will write about any subject matter, I’m rather picky. I prefer to write about uplifting subjects that help people in some way. Of course, the book doesn’t need to be happy-go-lucky throughout, but if you’re looking to get back at an ex or wish to delve into the horrors of your abusive past, I’m not the writer for you.

I’ve written a couple dozen books over the last two decades. Here are a few examples of projects I’ve completed from different genres:

  • The story of a man who immigrated to the United States with only a few dollars in his pocket and became a multi-millionaire
  • A nonfiction book about a how to run a specialized niche market business
  • The fictional story of a deadly family feud that spans generations and worlds, highlighting the importance of family loyalty and the overcoming of seemingly impossible obstacles
  • The heroic journey of a man who escaped communist Hungary on foot to become an affluent businessman in Canada

There are times when someone approaches me with a story that truly appeals to me. I find that I can’t stop thinking about the project. I really want to help the author, even though he or she can’t pay my full price. If you’re on a tight budget and need help, let me know what you can afford. I can almost always make suggestions to help reduce your cost. Or I might be able to work with a student writer and supervise her work. When I do that, I can charge less.

Be flexible with your deadline

Normally, I need eight months to a year (or more) to complete a book project. If you need a fast turnaround time, I will need to increase my price. However, if you are flexible on deadlines, I can sometimes give you a price break, as I can take on other projects.

I routinely try to come in ahead of my deadlines, but it’s nice to have some leeway if it’s needed. Flexibility is worth its weight in gold.

In addition, there are times when my clients need to take a few months off, too. I always juggle projects to accommodate authors.

Reduce your word count

Since a ghostwriter usually charges on a per word basis, you can reduce the price tag by lowering your proposed word count. As I mentioned earlier in this article, the average length of a book is 50,000 – 75,000 words (or 200 – 300 pages), but some stories can be told in 25,000 words (or 100 pages). This is an acceptable length for a memoir. So, if a shorter book is more realistic for you, know that I can make it any length, within reason. Just be aware that we might not be able to include all the incidents that occurred.

Quality is always better than quantity in writing.

Show you communicate well

man communicating on laptop with ghostwriterI need my authors to be available to review pages I send or answer questions that come up as I write. Understand that you’ll need to put in a couple hours a week on your project with me.

I seek out clients who communicate well and respect my time. From experience, I know that working with these clients will be easier, because they will respond to my queries and be a true partner on the project. Of course, I will always do the heavy lifting for any book project I take on, but the client’s contributions are vital to the success of the project.

On the flip side, if a client needs me to send five emails before answering a question or doesn’t make a scheduled appointment, it takes me longer to complete a project.

I will sometimes give discounts (or add words for free) to a client who communicates well and respects my time.

Three Categories of Writer

If you’re willing to pay the cost to hire a ghostwriter, it’s good to know that there are three main categories of writers:

  • Cheap writers
  • Mid-range professional writers
  • High-end celebrity writers

Cheap writers

ghostwriter's costPrice range: $2,000 to $15,000

How to locate: Fiverr, Upwork, Guru or other freelance websites

Pros:

  • Easy to find
  • Many writers in this category
  • Very low cost

Cons:

  • You need to watch for plagiarism. It’s rampant in this category.
  • The writer will often have little to no prior experience. You’ll need to be patient.
  • Because of this writer’s lack of experience, she may miss deadlines or run into unexpected difficulties.
  • The writer will probably have a full-time job, which may cause delays.
  • Be prepared to rewrite her work.

Advice:

  • Ask for references and contact each one.
  • Get writing samples. Be sure to check each using plagiarism software.
  • Make sure they include outside editing within their fee.
  • Never pay the entire fee upfront; give an industry-standard deposit of 25% down.

Summary:

If you have a very small budget (and you can’t write your book on your own), a cheap writer really is your only option. Your biggest risk is that you’ll wind up with an unusable manuscript that will need to be rewritten. Also, you really need to watch for plagiarism with this class of writer.

Mid-range professional writers

Hire a Limo-class ghostwriter

Price range: $15,000 to $100,000

How to locate: Internet searches, blogs, and word-of-mouth

Pros:

  • You will get personalized attention from a professional writer.
  • The process will be an enjoyable experience.
  • Through the interview process, you’ll probably remember new details of past incidents and might put together some interesting pieces to your life puzzle.
  • Your ghostwriter will have years of writing experience, with at least a few books under her belt.
  • You will learn a lot about how to write along the way.

Cons:

  • The price tag is higher than a cheap writer.
  • Since there aren’t many ghostwriters in this category, it can be hard to get on her calendar. We book up fast.

Advice:

  • Review the ghostwriter’s website. Look for a testimonial page and a blog, as these will tell you a lot about the writer’s experience and viewpoint.
  • Compile a good list of questions before you interview her.
  • Make sure you sign a professional contract. Have it reviewed by your lawyer before signing it.
  • Plan to pay 25% – 40% when you begin the project.
  • Don’t restrict your search to local ghostwriters.

Summary:

This level of ghostwriter will make the project an enjoyable and educational experience for you. It’s a bit like hiring a limousine instead of calling an Uber. If you can afford a professional ghostwriter, you’ll wind up with a quality manuscript that you can either market and sell or pitch to an agent or publisher.

High-end celebrity writers

These ghostwriters are usually hired by actors, politicians, musicians and other famous personalities who will sell books just by virtue of their names. The writers for these celebrities are well-established ghostwriters and authors, who have a lot of experience in this area.

The cost to hire a ghostwriter for a celebrity usually runs $250,000 or more and often works through New York agencies.

Which category is right for you?

questions relating to ghostwritingMost people recognize that they would like a mid-ranged professional writer. And, honestly, the cost to hire a ghostwriter is actually reasonable when you consider that a lot of time, energy and hard work goes into writing a book. An excellent professional writer will often spend up to a year or two researching, writing, and editing a book for you.

As you can see, the cost to hire a ghostwriter fluctuates greatly from writer to writer.

Bottom line: you get what you pay for!

Tip: Give your ghostwriter a trial run

If you’re uncertain about the cost to hire a ghostwriter and are nervous about plunking down a large deposit, propose a trial run. Of course, you’ll need to pay for the service. If you don’t pay her, she will have to fit it in around her paid work and won’t be able to grant it the proper importance. Also, if you pay for the piece, you’ll own the rights to it and can use it anytime.

This trial run will allow you to find out how well the writer meets the agreed-upon deadline and you can really determine the quality of her work. At the end, you will have a good idea of what to expect if you hire her.

Now, some people get the “bright idea” that they can piece together a manuscript by asking many different ghostwriters to provide samples for free. This won’t work. Trust me, it will look more like a patchwork quilt than a book. This is not a good way to get around the cost to hire a ghostwriter.

When I do a trial phase, I allow my client to pick the word count, then I charge my standard dollar-per-word fee. If someone is writing his memoir, I select a story from his past to write. If I’m trying out for a nonfiction piece, I usually write an essay or a blog article. These few pages give the new client a good idea of what to expect from our budding relationship.

A Little Warning

Man is upset about hiring the wrong ghostwriterHave you received a lowball offer to write your book?

While it might sound attractive, it rarely works out for you in the end. I have received calls from a number of prospective clients who made “excellent” deals hoping to save money, only to find they had to shell out a lot more cash to have everything re-written. It’s frustrating for the author, as well as for the ghostwriter who must now take over the project.

If you’re paying a fraction of the usual price, you often get a fraction of the quality.

If you have questions and need help,  don’t hesitate to contact me! Check out my testimonial page to see what my clients have to say about me and my work.

Additional articles you might find helpful:

What You Need In a Ghostwriting Contract?

Write Your Family History in 2020

Four Different Ghostwriting Methods

How to Conquer Writer’s Block

Understanding Characters

What Is It Like to Be a Ghostwriter?

Write and Publish a Book in 2020

“When my partner and I decided to write a book, we interviewed many ghost writers. Some were very inexpensive, while others were too pricey for our budget. Laura wasn’t the least expensive writer, but we chose her because she was so passionate about writing. Laura went above and beyond our expectations. I am very pleased with all her work and will continue to use her for my future writing needs.” Edwin Carrion

Memoir Mistakes You Should Avoid

Avoid memoir mistakes and avoid frustration

Most people who contact me wish to write their memoir. It’s an extremely popular genre with readers, too! We all love to step into the shoes of another person and learn about their world for a few hours. However, readers will put your book down if you fall into certain traps and commit basic memoir mistakes.

If you want to avoid frustration in writing and marketing your book, avoid these common memoir mistakes.

What is a memoir?

A memoir is a very personal story, told by the author from his or her viewpoint, which shares a certain period in the author’s life. While it can be confused with an autobiography, it actually has a different feel. An autobiography reads more like a biography but is told from the author’s perspective. It typically commences with the author’s birth and spans through their entire life. This book a bit more clinical in style, whereas a memoir is all about emotion.

Reading memoirs allows us to delve deeply into the lives of people who have done something remarkable in their lives. Perhaps they overcame incredible odds to reach success in some aspect of their life, or they fought an illness and survived, or maybe they lived through an extraordinary moment of history. We can learn so much about others and ourselves through memoirs.

Popular Types of Memoirs

Within the memoir genre there are a host of categories to choose from. Of course, there is bound to be some overlap, but here are a few options to consider when writing your memoir:

Transformational stories

Stories of transformation can be popular memoir themes

As a ghostwriter, these are my favorite memoirs to write. These are the stories where the author has overcome some great obstacle in life and wishes to share the details of his or her redemption or recovery. This can encompass overcoming an illness such as cancer, surviving a traumatic childhood to achieve success as an adult, recovering from an addiction, leaving a country with an oppressive government to flourish in a new place, or the classic rags to riches story, which can take many forms.

Success in business stories

When you talk to most successful entrepreneurs, you’ll discover they faced numerous daunting obstacles as they climbed the ladder to victory. People in power will often tell you that they failed many times before they figured out how to make it. They wish to share the lessons they learned and their triumph with others, and a memoir is a natural vehicle for their story. This type of memoir is also a favorite of mine (and there is often crossover with the transformational memoir).

Travel stories

Some memoirs take the reader on a journey through an exotic land, sharing all the details of that location. These stories usually encompass another theme, so they aren’t only about the new foods the author ate or the striking vistas he or she viewed. Rather, they are usually about a spiritual, emotional, or transformational journey for the author as well.

Memoir Mistakes

After talking to hundreds of first-time authors, I’ve discovered there are some common misconceptions about how to write a memoir. If you’re considering writing your life story, you’ll want to avoid these very basic memoir mistakes. Don’t worry, they are easy to sidestep.

Memoir Mistake Number 1: Focusing on the trivial rather than the big picture

Focus on the big picture to avoid memoir mistakes

When you write your memoir, you aren’t recording your life’s trivial events in detail. This is high on the list of memoir mistakes because your readers are not interested in what you ate at each meal or which bus you took to work. Toss most of the trivia and focus on the big picture.

This is fairly easy to do. Before you begin writing your memoir, ask yourself, “What can the reader learn from reading my story?” You might need to dig deep and really mine for the gold that’s there. The lessons you have learned over the years will form the backbone of your book.

It might help to zero in on a theme. This will provide focus. There are a wide variety of great memoir themes to choose from. Here are just a few examples:

  • Hard work pays off
  • Self-pity is a trap
  • A positive outlook helps you attain your goals
  • Change can be a good thing
  • Life is too short not to forgive

When you determine what your book’s theme is, your next step will be to find incidents that illustrate these ideas for your readers. Of course, you wouldn’t want to come out and tell your readers what the theme might be within the pages of your memoir.

Instead, you should show your readers your message through the incidents of your book. Delve into the emotional sacrifices, mistakes and triumphs to share the journey you took. They’ll get the message!

Memoir Mistake Number 2: Covering your entire life rather than focusing on a specific time period

Remember, you’re not writing a school essay or an autobiography. A typical memoir mistake for new authors is to want to start at birth and move forward chronologically. You’re writing a memoir, which will focus on a certain period, one that would fascinate a reader and teach him or her something new about an area of life. It’s a slice of your life, rather than the whole pie.

Now, it’s worth noting that a memoir is usually not written in diary form. Journaling can be a wonderful and beautiful expression of one’s deepest thoughts, but it usually doesn’t translate directly into a book. For one thing, the target reader of a diary is, well, you; a memoir is usually written for others to read. Having said that, one client recently hired me to help her compile her life story into a book that she could then have and read. If you are the sole target reader, you should write your book the way you would like to read it.

If you hire a ghostwriter to write your memoir, keep in mind that diaries always have a strong place in the research of a memoir. Having been a professional ghostwriter for twenty years, I can tell you that a client’s diary is a rich source of color when I write a memoir for a client.

Memoir Mistake Number 3: Not considering the feelings of the real people mentioned in your book

It's a memoir mistake not to consider the feelings of others when writing your book

Memoirs are not a good avenue for retribution for past wrongs done to you. Writing a book for revenge is a sharp-edged weapon which can do permanent damage. Besides being a morally questionable action to take, remember that you can open yourself up to lawsuits.

When you write your memoir, you can’t avoid discussing the lives of the people around you. They will become the main characters in your book. Sure, you can change the attributes a bit—maybe alter the name of the grouchy neighbor or make the schoolteacher a brunette instead of a blond. These minor modifications can go a long way to hide the characters in your book.

However, it will be impossible to completely conceal certain pivotal people in your life. For instance, your parents or siblings will recognize themselves.

The safest approach would be to ask all your friends and relatives who might be in your book how they feel about that. If they agree to be featured in your memoir, take the additional step and ask them to sign a release. You can find examples of a legal release online. If any friend or family member refuses to sign, it might be best to keep them out of your memoir.

The bottom line is that whenever you put something in writing, it becomes permanent. While you might feel fine with airing your family’s dirty laundry today, will you be all right with it two years from now? How about twenty years? To avoid these memoir mistakes, it’s best to write about everyone in a good light now to prevent potential upsets later.

Memoir Mistake Number 4: Writing for every reader rather than settling on a specific demographic

Don't write for every reader; pick a demographic.

Before you even outline your book, you need to determine who your reader is. When I’m working with a first-time author, I’ll ask who the ideal reader might be. Many times a client will say, “all readers.” Writing for “everyone” is high on the list of memoir mistakes because you need to pinpoint a demographic and write to them. The more specific you can get, the better.

Some examples of your audience might be:

  • Teenage boys who are addicted to video games
  • Medical professionals who are open to holistic cures
  • Parents who have lost a child to cancer
  • Fans of Star Trek

Consider that you might be at a dinner party. You have a story to share, something amusing that happened to you last year. How would you share that anecdote? I would imagine that you’d tell it differently if you were visiting the White House, seated with dignitaries, than if you were sitting with your bowling buddies or your teenage children. You’d use different vocabulary and your tone would probably change a bit. That’s because you’d want to create the biggest impact with your storytelling; you’d want your audience to receive your communication on a level that they would enjoy.

So when you write, you need to keep your specific type of reader in mind, as if they were in front of you. Of course, even though you’re writing to that reader, that doesn’t mean others won’t enjoy your book. You may accidentally discover a new category of reader as you begin to market and sell your book.

 

When you write your memoir, it can offer your readers a peek into your soul and universe. They will relish this. Memoirs are an important genre of the literary world. Just avoid the common memoir mistakes and you might just make a difference in someone’s life.

Enjoy the journey!

Check out these additional articles:

Write and Publish Your Book

How to Write Great Dialogue

How Much Does It Cost to Hire a Ghostwriter?

Understanding Characters

 

Tips for Self-Publishing Your Book

Author completes a novel and begins self-publishingSelf-publishing a book is the logical next step after having completed your manuscript. Unless you’re satisfied with being the sole reader, you probably want to find readers who appreciate your writing. I understand. You wish to have your communication heard, and rightly so.

At least once a month I receive an email from a prospective author with a similar message to this: “Please help me write my book. Call me. I have this amazing idea for a book that will make us both a lot of money!”

The problem is that writing a great book is only part of the equation. After talking to other successful writers, I’ve learned that the only way to succeed is by investing energy in marketing a book. Writing a great book just isn’t enough anymore.

Publishing: A changing industry

In the mid to late twentieth century, an author could just be an amazing writer and sell copies with little to no effort or attention put on sales. He or she could just write up a storm and make money because the publisher would handle everything for their authors.

In those days, self-publishing was not well respected. It seemed synonymous with failure. People assumed self-publishing authors printed their own copies because they couldn’t get a traditional publisher. Self-publishing authors were pretty much resigned to selling a few hundred copies to their friends and family, if they were lucky. No profit was made. More likely, they would wind up with boxes of books in their garage collecting dust and mildew.

Then Amazon dramatically changed the self-publishing industry.

Self-publishing authors can download their manuscripts easily

As Amazon grew, it became easier and easier for anyone to download a manuscript onto the Amazon platform and publish his or her work. Then Amazon advanced their print on demand capacity so that authors no longer had to purchase thousands of books and store them in their basements. Suddenly, customers could order copies directly through Amazon.

Today self-publishing is an acceptable, and even preferable, way for authors to release their books. Not only can they get their books into the hands of their readers quickly, but they retain all the creative control of the material and can keep most of the profits. Many authors who previously had no outlet to sell their books are now able to make a good income.

Setting yourself up for success 

When self-publishing your book, there are a few things you need to create in order to have a successful release.

Create an attractive cover

It’s easy to find someone to design a cover for your book. I recently used Fiverr with success. Although this freelance marketplace got its name by offering services for five dollars, that is not the typical price any longer. Still, the price is often reasonable, and sometimes you can find a great deal. My ghostwriting logo was purchased for a little over a fiver.

Write a compelling blurb

The back cover blurb or online tease is an important tool for enticing new readers. Writing a compelling one is an art form. You can study up on different techniques to find a good way to communicate your book summary in a few lines.

Of course, if you have received any endorsements or editorial reviews, include them front and center within your Amazon description.

The importance of reviews

A five star review for a book written by a ghostwriter

Before I hit the purchase button on any book or item on Amazon, I always check the reviews. I’m not alone. Most people want some reassurance that they’re spending their hard-earned dollars wisely.

Reviews should be honest. Never purchase a review. However, it is the norm to offer free copies of your book in exchange for a review.

Verified Purchasers

Amazon will tag a reader who has purchased the book through them as a “Verified Purchaser.” This is important. If you collect too many reviews without that title, your collection of reviews will be flagged. Amazon might assume that you have asked your friends to post reviews without having purchased or read the book. This would be unethical.

As a side note, if you list your book on Kindle Unlimited, readers can pick it up for free. You get paid based on the number of pages they read. However, don’t think you can shortcut the system by having people pretend to read it. Yes, Amazon has an algorithm that will detect if someone just flipped through the pages quickly and will flag the review accordingly.

Also, if the self-publishing author has the same last name as the reviewer, Amazon will object. They will assume that the reviewer is a family member. Amazon doesn’t allow your close family and friends to review your books since, understandably, your mother would probably not be an objective reviewer.

Every ninety days, Amazon allows you to post your book for free for five days. That’s the time to get people to download your book for reviews. They will be considered a “Verified Purchaser.” It’s within the framework of the rules.

How to get a good number of reviews

If you want people to show up to your party you need to follow up

If you were throwing a big party, how would you go about making sure the bash was a success? You’d probably start by setting a date and sending out invitations. You’d ask for RSVPs. People understand that you need to predict the number of guests to make sure you have the right amount of hors d’oeuvres and eggnog.

So, let’s say you invited fifty people and forty agreed to come. Would you expect all forty to show up without any prompting or reminding? Well, maybe if this was your first party, but you’d learn a lesson after that. If you invited them on Dec 1st for a party on the 20th and never sent any sort of follow up, you’d probably wind up with five guests on the day. If you were lucky.

In order to get a good turnout, you need to follow up a few times before the day of the event. Then it’s probably a good idea to remind everyone again two or three days before.

In sales, follow up is the key to success. I know, throwing a party doesn’t seem like a sales activity, but it is more relevant than you realize.

The importance of follow-up for self-publishing authors

Follow up to get reviews for self-publishing authors

Now, how does throwing a party relate to a self-publishing author getting reviews? Well, the principles discussed in the previous section definitely apply. When you set your free days for your book on Amazon, it’s a good idea to personally invite everyone you know to pick it up. Ask them for an honest review in exchange for the copy.

Then follow up. Yes, it’s a free book, but you still want to make sure they download your book during that period. Otherwise you’ll have to get them to buy it, which is much harder.

Once they have the book, there is no time limit for the review. The next step is to get them to read your book. That might take time. Two weeks is a typical expected turnaround, but keep in mind that most people are busy, and reading isn’t always high on their priority list.

Again, follow up. Ask them when they think they can read it, then mark that date on the calendar.

There is a fine line between being a follow-up expert and a nuisance, so you’ll need to judge that carefully. If your friend keeps setting dates but never begins to read your book, chances are she won’t read and review your book. That’s OK. Let it go. Maybe she will surprise you later.

When a friend says they have read your book, that’s a good time to ask them for an honest review. Make sure they know how to post a review on Amazon. If they don’t, walk them through the process. It’s easy, but it can help to have someone by your side guiding you.

Summary

So, if you’re a self-publishing author and you wish to get a good number of reviews, there is really a three-step process. You need to get people to:

  1. Download your book
  2. Read your book
  3. Write an honest review

Take one step at a time and follow up. Before you know it, you’ll have dozens of reviews.

Marketing

Don't be an island. Promote your book!Putting a book up on Amazon without any thought to marketing is a bit like putting up a hotel on a deserted island in the middle of the Pacific. No one will know you are there. No one will buy your book. It doesn’t matter how beautifully written or captivating your story might be, no one will read it.

In order to sell beyond your friends and family, you will need to find a way to promote. Here are a few ideas:

Create your own blog

It’s always a good idea to purchase the domain name of your name (or your pen name) as well as the title of your book. Even if you aren’t ready to create a website, buy the name so that it doesn’t get snapped up. There are probably a number of people with the same name, so you might have to use your middle initial.

When you are a few months away from releasing your book, start blogging about the subject matter to build interest among your readers. You might also offer a free eBook in exchange for a reader opting into your mailing list. You can create a monthly newsletter to keep in touch with these people.

Create a social media presence

There are many social media platforms. It can be overwhelming. I’d suggest starting with one site, one that you like, and expand from there. A lot of authors choose to create an author page on Facebook. Start by inviting your existing friends to follow you, then expand your followers as best you can. Post content daily. Promote your blog now and then, but not too much. People won’t follow a slew of advertisements.

Instead, share relevant content. For instance, I recently ghostwrote a book called Discovering Kindness and received a cover credit (a nice bonus for a ghostwriter). I have been working with the author to create interesting content. One thing I do is to often share videos and articles about random acts of kindness. These relate to the message of the book and uplift our followers. It’s a win-win. I also feel that humor goes a long way, so I include funny memes and cartoons on his author’s page, keeping the style of the author in mind.

 

There’s a lot more to marketing and selling your book on Amazon. These are just a few tips from my personal experience as a ghostwriter. You can learn more from the many resources available in the library and online, including classes you can take. You also might consider investing in Amazon ads to boost sales, but that’s a subject for another article.

Congratulations on writing your book. Now go out and market the heck out of it!

5 Tips to Help You Prepare to Write Your Novel

A woman begins to write a novel

You’ve been dreaming of writing a novel and now have the time to do so. You sit down at your computer and stare at the blinking cursor on the blank screen. You know the story concept you want to write but have no idea how to start.

Instinctively, you know that “It was a dark and stormy night” probably isn’t the right beginning. But what is? To ensure that you communicate your concept effectively, you need to prepare to write your novel.

Here are a few tips to get you started.

1. Outline your story idea before you write your novel

A budding writer recently asked me for advice. She was having trouble writing the ending for her book and was stuck. The problem was that she had set off without a plan and then found she’d written her character into a situation she couldn’t resolve. While some people feel that they can write a novel by just typing away with no preparation, that approach can be difficult and frustrating for a new writer.

It is true that magic is created when you’re engrossed in the writing process, but I find that it’s most effective to prepare to write your novel before letting your story flow from your fingertips. I find that when I am properly set up, the process is smoother because I have guideposts and mile markers to help me find my way.

Without a plan you might wind up in a ghost town

Writing without a plan is a bit like taking a road trip by just choosing a compass direction and taking off. It could be a brilliant choice, or you might drive for two hundred miles to discover a small town that doesn’t even have a motel. Sure, it can be an adventure, and I’m sure you’d get something out of it; but if you’d done a little research, you may have found a National Park two hundred miles in a different direction with glorious waterfalls and amazing views. Similarly, outlining before you write will save you from wasted time and words. It will save you from the disappointment of tossing thousands of words later.

There are many ways to outline. One way is to write a rough summary. It’s a bit like sketching the image before you apply paint to the canvas. Just summarize your story in a few pages. Don’t worry about grammar. Do be sure to include all major plot points.

Another system I like to use involves a journalistic approach to each incident in the book. I like to jot down:

  • The title of the incident
  • The characters who will appear
  • When it took place
  • Where it happened
  • The purpose of this scene in the book

 

For instance, I might create an incident like so:

  • Title: First day of college
  • Who: Theon, George, and Mikey
  • When: Sept 5, 1983
  • Where: North Dorm of Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, CA
  • Purpose: Introduce college setting and show Mikey living away from home for the first time.

Since the outline consists of notes from you to you, the form it takes really doesn’t matter. What’s important is that the method helps you to prepare to write your novel.

2. Shape your story

Shape your story with structure as you write your novel

Now that you have a list of incidents or a basic outline of the story, it’s time to shape it into a format that will work. If you’re not familiar with the three-act structure, it’s worth looking into. Once you understand it, review a few of your favorite books and movies and see how they incorporate the three acts into their story. Then consider how your story can fit into that structure.

In addition, it’s time to consider the arcs your characters will follow throughout the story. The main characters need to follow paths that make sense for your book. Although you might decide to work out the details of their journeys as you write your novel, you should have a rough idea of where they’re going and where they’ll end up before you start.

Conflict is a key element for any story. Throughout your book, your main characters should encounter many conflicts and difficulties along the way. These serve to raise the readers’ heart rates as they turn the pages or swipe forward. Suspense and mystery help keep readers interested.

As you take these factors into consideration, your outline or summary may need adjusting. That’s normal. At this phase, your story is a bit like clay that you can mold and squish into the shape you desire. After all, you’re the creator.

3. Get to know your main characters

A great story has strong, believable characters. As you prepare to write your novel, you can get a head start on creating characters that your readers will identify with and cheer for. Start by jotting down notes about your main character. If you feel stuck, imagine that you are interviewing him. Prepare questions ahead of time. It might help to start with a detailed physical description. Then write down basic information about him, such as:

  • Occupation
  • Marriage status
  • Number of children
  • Hobbies
  • Mannerisms

Create fun, realistic characters when you write a novel

After you have an idea of his basic attributes, you might delve into his ideology, general life philosophy, religious preferences, etc. Continue with this exercise until you feel you can answer any question about him with confidence. In other words, you know him inside out. Take the time to get to know each of your other characters in a similar way. When you know your main characters this thoroughly, many of the scenes will write themselves because you know how your people will act in any given circumstance.

If you still feel that your characters are disconnected strangers, imagine putting two characters into a room together. Set up the scene and watch how they interact. Take notes. Observe their mannerisms as well as their dialogue. Write it all down. You’ll learn a lot about them in this way.

Don’t worry about bit players in a scene. Although adding a few words of description can help set the scene, you don’t need to create a biography for the ballroom dancing instructor who appears only on page 39.

4. Build the world

If you’re writing a science fiction or fantasy story, you’ll need to spend some time building your world. This is a lot of fun! The laws of physics might not be the same, nor will the native plants and animals necessarily resemble those of Earth. Consider the history of the races that inhabit your world. What makes them distinctive?

One writing coach suggested to me that it helps to keep the setting somewhat familiar for the reader and change up only a few key things. If everything is completely different, it makes it hard for people to relate easily. They’ll get confused and put the book down. Also, you can wind up spending a lot of time explaining the nuances of the world, which can be boring and pull the reader out of the story.

world building is a key part of writing a bookAs you prepare to write your novel, think of all the aspects of the world that you will need the reader to understand. Sometimes it works to create intricate background stories that delve into the history of the society. Of course, it’s never a good idea to dump this data in a prologue or the first few chapters, as it clogs up the story with a lot of facts. Instead, talented authors weave information seamlessly into the story. However, you, the creator of this world, must understand the basics of the universe that you’re building so that you can craft your story within the rules and guidelines of it.

For instance, for the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling spent some time working out the rules of the magical people. She had to do that to keep everything consistent throughout all the books. Part of that process would involve sketching out the characteristics of the basilisk, the boggarts and the dementors ahead of time.

Some authors enjoy creating detailed maps of their worlds to orient the readers with the layout of the land. You’ll also sometimes find detailed genealogy tables for a family of characters in the book. There are many ways to build a world. Select the ones that work for you and your story.

5. Set yourself up for success

It’s easy to say that you want to write your novel. It’s another matter altogether to create a plan to actually do it. I’m reminded of the “Just Do It” motivational video that circulated a few years ago. There’s some truth in that statement. Sometimes you just need to bypass all the distractions that inevitably will crop up and decide that you’re going to complete your book. However, there are a few things you can do to set yourself up for success.

Find a comfortable spot to write your novel

find a good place to write your novelThis might be your bed or your dining room table. It might be a lawn chair in your back yard. Or it could be a bench at a nearby park. It helps to have a steady and established spot, where you know what to expect in the environment. Comfort is important. Make sure your seat is comfortable, giving you the back support you need.

Your space should be as free from distraction as possible. Definitely don’t put yourself at the center island of your kitchen when the children are all home and running around. You’ll get interrupted in multiple ways. Ideally you have a room where you can close the door (and maybe lock it).

Find your writing time

When I was younger, I did my best work at midnight. Honestly, I couldn’t think with doing anything meaningful before 10am. Nowadays, I like to write in the mornings. I have  three kids and find that I write the best before everyone gets up. 6am is a great time!

I recommend selecting the right time of day for you, then working consistently at that time every day. If you’re serious about writing a book, you’ll need to put in at least one hour. Remember, it takes a while to get into the groove, so giving yourself a 20-minute window will just be an exercise in frustration.

Set realistic targets

Some people might find it more productive to set a word-count writing target each week than a time goal. If you are a daydreamer by nature, time targets won’t help. After all, sitting in front of your laptop building castles in the air for thirty minutes isn’t going to help you write your novel.

So, how many words should you plan to write a day? That really depends on you. You can estimate that 250 words is about a page, so I’d encourage you to write a few pages each day. When I get going (and I’m well set up with an outline), I tend to max out at 5,000 words. After that, it becomes an unintelligible jumble of syllables.

Set a daily, a weekly, and a monthly target. Also, decide on a final deadline for your book. Then make those targets, or better yet, beat them!

 

Being a mother of three children, I’m a planner at heart. I believe that if you really want to write your novel, you need to properly prepare and follow through with the targets you establish. Set yourself up for success and don’t accept failure as an option. If you’re embarking on your first book and want a few tips, please check out my blog or write me for advice. I’m always happy to help!

How to Select the Right Ghostwriter for You

How to find the right ghostwriter for youIf you find yourself eager to complete a book project that has been on your mind for years, but know you need help, it might be time to hire a ghostwriter. After all, if you haven’t found the hundreds of hours required to write a book in the last few years, chances are you won’t have the time today…or tomorrow. So, how do you find the right ghostwriter for you? That’s the challenge I wish to tackle with you today.

Research candidate ghostwriters

You can easily determine whether a candidate writer can help you with your story by researching her. Any qualified professional ghostwriter will have a website with testimonials. You can also throw her name into a search engine and see what you find. It’s a good idea to verify how reputable she is by checking her out on Google.

For instance, try typing “Laura Sherman Ghostwriter” into Google and see what you find. The first page will have various entries from my blog, but you’ll also see mentions of me from other professional writers.

You can also type in various key words that interest you and see what pops up. If you search for subjects like “memoir themes,” “help writing a book,” or “ghostwriting contract,” you’ll find a variety of writers that show up (myself included). That’s because we blog and guest blog a lot about these topics and have experience in these fields.

Now, it’s worth noting that a ghostwriter doesn’t need to rank well on Google to be a good match for you. However, a reputable ghostwriter should have some kind of web presence (other than social media).

Nail down pricing

Discover your budget to hire a ghostwriterWhen you begin searching for the right ghostwriter for you, there are different ways to narrow the field. I suggest that you determine your budget before you start interviewing. Some ghostwriters won’t post their rates, while others are upfront about their fees on their websites. If you can, ask for the rate before you begin the interview process. It will save you a lot of time and aggravation.

For instance, if your budget is $5,000 for an average-sized book, I wouldn’t be a good candidate for you. I charge one dollar per word (or $50,000 for a 200-page book). No matter how much I fall in love with your project’s concept, I can’t take a 90% pay cut.

If you have a small budget, I’d recommend that you scour one of the many freelancer websites to find someone within your price range. Just please be warned: you will get what you pay for.

Professional ghostwriters usually charge somewhere between fifty cents and two dollars per word.

Discover the ghostwriter’s preferred genre

Select the right genre for your bookOnce you find a ghostwriter within your price range, you’ll need to make sure your story is one he or she can write. The genre should be within the ghostwriter’s wheelhouse. Writers often specialize. For instance, I write memoirs, business books and novels, but I will only take on projects that are uplifting, inspirational or educational. Other writers don’t have such constraints on topic, while some only write books in a specific genre. For instance, I’ve seen certain ghosts who only write romantic comedies, how-to books, or screenplays.

The right ghostwriter for you will have prior experience writing a book similar to yours. So, if you’re writing a memoir, I wouldn’t recommend a writer who has only done scientific textbooks or who specializes in cookbooks.

Read up on the ghostwriter to discover his or her area of expertise. If you have trouble finding this information online, simply ask the ghostwriter about their preferences in an email or during the initial conversation.

Summarize your story to the ghostwriter

A ghostwriter doesn’t need all the details of your story to determine if she is the right ghostwriter for you. The broad strokes are enough for her to make a decision. With this in mind, don’t download your entire story to the writer in the initial conversation. Instead, find a way to summarize it in a few paragraphs. I recommend that you prepare this before you contact a prospective ghostwriter.

I can tell you that after twenty years in the industry, I can quickly determine if I can do justice to a client’s story.

For example, here are two excerpts from recent requests:

  • “My husband of 25 years abandoned me and our children to take up with another woman. I want to write a book to get back at him and her.”
  • “I’m a successful real estate investor and businessman. I want to share my story of how I overcame various challenges to inspire others to follow their dreams.”

Both wanted memoirs written, but each had a very different purpose. Since I specialize in uplifting stories, I knew I wasn’t the best ghostwriter for the first person and told her this immediately. However, the second project was well within my wheelhouse and I was chomping at the bit to start writing that book. I didn’t need all the details to be interested.

Hire the right ghostwriter for you

Find the right ghostwriter for youFollowing these guidelines, you can quickly narrow down the candidates who could potentially be the right ghostwriter for you. Once you’ve done this homework, set up a time to talk to the writer about your story. You want to be sure that you are able to communicate easily and that there is an immediate and budding chemistry between you two about the project. That’s important as this will be a long-term relationship.

If you’re interested in learning more about the steps that follow, check out my article on How to Effectively Work with a Ghostwriter. It’s a fun and rewarding adventure.

And please feel free to email me anytime to learn more about the process of working with me.

How to Effectively Work with a Ghostwriter

By Laura Sherman

how to work with a ghostwriterTime is ticking away and you have a great story to tell or wisdom to impart and wish to write a book. However, your demanding schedule leaves little time to put pen to paper. In addition, this is new territory for you, and you might not be fluent with all the rules of writing and storytelling. This is the moment where most people reach out to me as they realize they need to work with a ghostwriter.

A ghostwriter is a professional writer who specializes in helping her clients bring their stories to life. She writes the book and you own the rights—you’re the author. Although you’ll need to be involved, she will do 90% of the work and will help see your project through to completion in a timely manner.

Over the last twenty years, I’ve had the pleasure of partnering with many different clients on over three dozen memoirs, novels, and business books. While each relationship was unique, I’ve picked out some common steps you can expect to take if you decide to work with a ghostwriter.

Finding the right ghostwriter for you

Your first course of action is to interview and select the best ghostwriter for you and your project. The most popular way to find ghostwriters by searching for them online. You’ll find there are a lot of choices, but you can begin whittling down the list by determining three important requirements before you start interviewing.

First, know your budget. At least know your range. For instance, if you wish to write a 100-page (25,000-word) book and have a budget of $12,500, that’s fifty cents per word. Don’t contact someone who charges two dollars per word. Find writers within your range. This will save you a lot of time and frustration.

Second, know the genre of your book. You don’t want to waste your time on interviewing a writer who specializes in novels when you intend to write a business how-to book.

And, third, prepare a brief summary of your book. I can’t tell you how many clients spend over an hour sharing their entire story with me during our initial conversation. It’s draining and exhausting for the author and the writer. While you need to share the overview of the story to determine that the ghostwriter will be a good fit, it should be an elevator pitch lasting only a few minutes so that you have enough time and energy for the rest of the interview questions.

After you’ve determined that the potential ghostwriter is qualified, has a lot of prior experience, and is within your price range, it’s time to interview her on the phone. Prepare a list of questions ahead of time. For a little advice about the kinds of questions to ask, please read my article: Interview Questions for a Ghostwriter.

When you speak on the phone, make sure that you and your ghost can talk comfortably and easily. You want a ghostwriter who listens well and asks intelligent questions. Ideally, she will engage in your story right away. And there should be an immediate bond; it should feel like you’ve been friends for years.

Signing with a ghostwriter

when you work with a ghostwriter have a good contractOnce you’ve found your perfect match, it’s time to make it official. Your ghostwriter should have a ghostwriting contract for you to sign. Always put all the important details in writing so there are no confusions later.

Your contract should include the following:

  • all milestone deadlines and payments
  • the expected word count of the book
  • all the services that will be provided
  • a clear agreement that the author will hold all copyrights
  • the permitted number of revision requests
  • a confidentiality agreement
  • a contingency plan in case there are disputes.

Plan to pay 25% of the total fee upfront. This covers research and outlining, which in my experience is often the most time-consuming phase. I work on a milestone approach so that my clients always know what to expect with each payment. For example, with the first payment they will receive a detailed outline within two or three months.

Work with a ghostwriter to gather research information

Now that you’ve selected your ghostwriter and have signed the contract, it’s time to gather all your research information and notes. Don’t worry if your notes are messy and disorganized. Personally, I never mind if the notes provided are riddled with typos and grammatical errors. All I’m interested in is the information, so that I can begin formulating the outline for your book. Then I’ll set up an interview schedule to fill in the gaps.

Notes can come in a variety of forms. Over the last twenty years, clients have given me:

  • Diaries
  • Website links
  • Newspaper clippings
  • Handwritten notes
  • Audio or video files
  • Photographs
  • Rough drafts of chapters

research when you work with a ghostwriterIf you want to work with a ghostwriter, but don’t have any written notes prior to signing the contract, that’s completely fine. Your ghost will be able to guide you, so that you can give her the information she needs.

For instance, if you desire to write a memoir, I’d ask that you jot down a list of crucial incidents. This list can be very basic. The wording should be designed to help you remember what happened. For instance, you might write “the time I met Mary on the subway,” or “graduation day,” or “the big argument with my brother two years ago.” You know what each phrase means and can instantly remember all the details. Of course, if you’re so inclined, you could also note a few details at this time.

In the case of a non-fiction book, your notes would take the form of chapter titles for a preliminary Table of Contents. Under each chapter title, you would list out the subheads you plan to incorporate into that chapter, along with a few comments about what you want to say.

As you work with a ghostwriter, she will take these notes and use them as a starting place to create her interview questions. These questions will help her get more details to flesh out your story.

Settling a few important details

As you pull together the research notes, consider these important aspects of your book:

  • the genre
  • the readership
  • your goals

select the right genre for your bookWhile you determined the general genre of your book before starting your search for your ghostwriter, now you can get more specific. This will help your writer when she begins outlining.

For instance, if you’re a successful businessperson, you might have a choice between writing a memoir or a how-to book in which to share your hard-won knowledge. Or if you have led an exciting life, you might choose between writing a memoir or creating a fictionalized version of your story, turning it into a novel.

Next, you need to determine the readership of your book. This will help you choose which incidents to include in your story and the style in which they will be written. After all, a college textbook would be quite different from a romantic comedy. Or a World War II memoir would be written in a very different style from a space opera science fiction novel.

And finally, you need to clarify your goals. Do you hope to gain financially? Do you wish to share your wisdom and experience to help others improve their lives? Or do you simply wish to record your family history for your loved ones? When you know why you wish to publish your book, you can work with a ghostwriter to realize those goals.

Interviewing with a ghostwriter

Some people I speak to seem to have the impression that a ghostwriter is someone who follows a celebrity around all day, perhaps living in the guest house or in a spare bedroom. While I have seen this portrayed in movies, in real life it isn’t terribly practical.

I find that it is most effective to interview clients over the phone and via email. It’s rare that I ever meet them in person (although sometimes I have had the pleasure). In-person interviews aren’t necessary and don’t make the process easier.

During these interviews a ghostwriter will gather details on all the incidents in your memoir or novel. If you’re writing a how-to book, your writer will want to interview you to gain insight into the information, techniques, and tips which will be featured in the book. In addition, successful nonfiction books include amusing, illustrative anecdotes to hold the reader’s interest. These are usually best communicated through interviews.

As you continue to work with a ghostwriter, an effective way to pass on important information is through written materials, such as documents, notes, emails, etc. But ongoing oral interviews are key to a successful outcome because they give her the opportunity to master your voice. Becoming familiar with the way you express yourself will allow the writer to convincingly write in your style. After all, this will be your book and your name will be on the cover.

Tips on interviewing

When you are interviewed, be prepared to be honest and candid. Don’t try to hide things. Take responsibility for your actions. If you attempt to blame others, your readers will lose respect for you and interest in the book. Embrace what happened, no matter how embarrassing or messy it may seem to you. That’s important. Then be sure to express how much you’ve learned from your mistakes. This will resonate with your readers. After all, we’ve all been there.

use your senses when describing a scene in a bookAnother tip is to consider all of your senses when you describe a scene. People typically default to their sense of sight and describe what they saw. While these descriptions are crucial, it’s important not to forget all the other perceptions.

For instance, let’s say you’re sharing the story of your tenth birthday with your ghostwriter. Think about the sounds of the outdoor party. Were there birds singing or perhaps cicadas buzzing and clicking? Then try to remember the smells of freshly mown grass or grilling hamburgers. You should probably also delve into the emotions of the day. Were you excited or disappointed? There are so many possibilities. The more sensory details you add, the richer your story will be.

And finally, I’d suggest that you and your ghostwriter limit each conversation to about an hour. While an hour and a half can be fine, I wouldn’t recommend marathon three-hour talks. You’ll get worn out, and your ability to recall the details might diminish.

Planning your schedule

Plan your schedule when you work with a ghostwriterWhen you work with a ghostwriter, she will do the heavy lifting for your book, but remember that you also have a key role in your project. Some ghostwriters collect all the information upfront, learning as much as they can, and quickly deliver a first draft for the client to review. They basically complete the book without continued input from the client. Once the rough draft is finished, that’s when they request feedback and make adjustments accordingly. I feel that is a potential recipe for disaster.

Personally, I want to make sure to be delivering the style of writing the authors expect. To that end, I send pages to my clients for feedback on a regular basis, as I write them. That way I can be sure to be on the right track and deliver what my clients envisioned.

It is important to be upfront with your ghostwriter about your available time. In the beginning, you should plan to spend minimally a few hours a week on interviewing, answering questions, and providing feedback. A good ghostwriter is flexible and, with some forewarning, can work around your schedule.

Giving feedback

When you work with a ghostwriter, she will require feedback. It’s important to be specific in your comments, so that she can learn and improve. For instance, don’t simply say, “I didn’t like that.” Rather, explain what you felt was missing from the passage or what nuance you felt wasn’t correctly captured.

It’s also key to point out what you felt your ghost got right. Good feedback is just as helpful as correction. We learn from both equally.

It’s a good idea to give a quick turnaround on edits to your ghostwriter, as that will speed up the process and help her learn faster. Ideally, you can tell her when you’ll be able to review the document so she can schedule around it.

I like working with MS Word. I find Track Changes a helpful editing tool because the client can make changes within the document and I can immediately spot the edits. Plus, he or she can write comments that help explain the changes made. It’s a great tool for any writing team.

 

Work with a ghostwriterYour story is important and deserves to be heard. If you don’t have the time or know-how to write a book yourself, having a ghostwriter help you is a real option. Knowing how to pick a ghostwriter allows you to find the person who is best suited for you and your project. And understanding how to work with a ghostwriter allows you to two to become a strong team, one that works together smoothly and effectively to bring your story to life so that you can share it with the world.

Writing Tips: Show, Don’t Tell

Show don't tell when you write to engage your readersThere are quite a few rules for writing, but one of the more senior commandments is show, don’t tell. I know this can be a baffling concept to new writers. Honestly, I’d hate to see a lack of understanding of this golden rule stop anyone from putting pen to paper.

As with most new skills, show, don’t tell simply takes a little practice to master. With practice you’ll find that soon you’ll begin to apply the rules almost instinctively. While honing this skill, I’d recommend that you read some of your favorite books over again and observe how the authors bring their stories to life by showing their readers various details. You’ll find there are many ways to accomplish this goal.

The meaning of show, don’t tell

Show, don’t tell simply means that you allow your readers to experience incidents through storytelling rather than overtly tell them what happened. Showing is often done through character development, in which you thoroughly share sensory details, action, and dialogue.

The reason showing is so effective is that it puts your readers directly into the shoes of the main character and lets them to see things through his or her lens. It’s a much more immersive experience for the readers, allowing them to lose themselves in your book.

An example

In order to illustrate the difference between telling and showing, here are two passages:

Terry had a fear of spiders.

Or:

As the spider crept along the tartan quilt, Terry’s body convulsed with an involuntary shudder. His heartbeat quickened as its eight legs inched toward his arm. Would that he could move it away, but none of his muscles would obey his silent plea for escape.

 

Which version did you prefer? Did one make you feel the emotions along with Terry?

Most people would agree that the second example plops the reader in the middle of the scene and adds layers to his terror. And it’s possible that the reader might experience a shudder of his own.

Use dialogue to show feelings

Characters express emotions through dialogueWhen attempting to show, don’t tell, dialogue can be a powerful tool for a writer. You can show emotions and reveal the deep relationships between characters in an engaging way. Body language also gives the readers insight into what’s going on.

Keep in mind that people have various ways of communicating. Based on their past relationships, they will speak to each other in different ways. Consider how you speak to and interact with your grandmother. Now think about how you speak with and interact with your sibling or your best friend. Each relationship is very different, right? We all have different behavior codes for the variety of people in our lives who are important to us. Well, the same would apply to the characters in your book.

It’s also worth mentioning that people aren’t cut-out duplicates of one another. We all have different traits that create our personalities. Examine all the people you know. Do they each speak in the same way? My guess is that they have slightly different accents, use different words to communicate ideas (probably with a variety of slang terms), and sometimes slip into half-sentences. Use these personal experiences when you write. It’s through your characters’ idiosyncratic ways of speaking that you can reveal their emotions, intentions and purposes.

Sometimes I find it helpful to see the incidents of my story as scenes in a film. Screenwriters have to show what the characters are experiencing through their actions and dialogue. In a film you couldn’t say, “Joe was angry” unless you included a narrator in the script, which would be awkward. No, you’d need to show that he was angry.

Same goes when writing a book.

Example

So, you could write:

Sally decided to leave her husband of twenty years. When she confronted him about it, he became very angry.

Or you could write:

Sally stood at the doorway and studied her husband. “Joe?” she said as she fidgeted with the hem of her shirt.

Joe crumpled the newspaper onto his lap with an exaggerated flourish. “Yes? What is it?”

“I…” she faltered, then took a deep breath. “My bags are packed.”

Joe glared at her. He grabbed his cane and slowly eased himself out of the chair to a standing position. “You’re really doing this?”

She gave a quick nod. “Yes.”

Sally watched as Joe’s face turned a familiar shade of purple. If he’d been a cartoon, steam would have been coming out of his ears right about then. She took an involuntary step backward.

“Twenty years of my life wasted,” he said through gritted teeth. “Get out. And don’t bother to come back.”

Avoid overusing adverbs

Show don't tell when you write a bookWhy is it that we hear seasoned writers warn against using adverbs? After all, they are an important part of speech, modifying not only verbs, but adjectives and other adverbs. Pretty universal, right?

Well, Stephen King wrote in his book On Writing:

“I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops. To put it another way, they’re like dandelions. If you have one on your lawn, it looks pretty and unique. If you fail to root it out, however, you find five the next day…fifty the day after that…and then, my brothers and sisters, your lawn is totally, completely, and profligately covered with dandelions. By then you see them for the weeds they really are, but by then it’s—GASP!!—too late.”

Dramatic? Yes. But that’s Stephen King’s signature style.

So, is it wrong to use an adverb? Nah. Just don’t overuse them because they can become a crutch. After all, tossing in a ready-made adverb can be easier than investing the time to show the reader how a character feels. Maybe that’s why Mark Twain warned us that “Adverbs are the tool of the lazy writer.”

An example

“I wouldn’t if I were you,” Becky said condescendingly.

Or:

Becky folded her arms across her chest, her lips curled into a smug smile. “I wouldn’t if I were you.”

 

There is no doubt about it, writing is a balancing act: You want to find your unique voice while obeying all the agreed-upon rules of the craft. If you’re new to writing, give yourself some time to develop your own style. Don’t worry too much about all the rules like show, don’t tell until you begin editing your own book. And remember, while it’s good to know the rules of writing, they aren’t intended to become a straitjacket. Keep writing and enjoy the process!

How to Create a Compelling Character Arc

Your protagonist needs a powerful character arcBestselling novels and memoirs have believable and memorable characters who carry the reader through the story. Think of your favorite books. Consider the main characters. They probably followed a compelling character arc, which encouraged you to follow them loyally and happily on their adventures.

What is a character arc?

A character arc is the journey the character follows through the story. This path usually parallels a traditional three-act structure. As you develop the first act, your reader is introduced to your main character. The stage is set, a conflict is established, and the character’s goals are revealed. Then the character encounters an incident that incites her to begin her journey. This catapults her into the second act, where she follows her personal call to action. Then in the third act, she encounters the climactic confrontation and has her triumphant victory.

There are four main kinds of character arcs used in literature:

  • Transformational
  • Positive
  • Flat
  • Negative

Transformational and Positive arcs are somewhat similar. At the start of the story the character is in an unfavorable situation, but, by the end of the story he winds up in a far better position. Flat character arcs have no change. The character stays the same throughout the story. This type of arc is usually reserved for superhero-type protagonists, who have no need to change. They start out good and end up good. It’s worth noting that often minor characters don’t change much. In a negative arc the character ends up in a worse position than when he started.

As a ghostwriter, I specialize in transformational or positive character arcs because I feel strongly that these make for a better reading experience. Although stories like Breaking Bad, where the main character becomes a meth dealer to solve his problems, can be very popular with viewers, they aren’t my cup of tea. I prefer to stick with uplifting plot lines.

Positive character arcs

transformation of a character in a book you writeIf your story has a happy ending, this is probably the character arc you’ll want to choose. A popular example of this would be Harry Potter. He starts his journey as an abused boy, confused by his special abilities. Along the way he blossoms into a confident hero of both the magical and muggle worlds. It’s worth noting that many of the other major characters go through their own arcs. For instance, by the end of the series, Hermione and Ron are quite different, because their personal stories are very different.

If you’re writing a memoir, you are the protagonist of your piece, and your experiences will determine your character arc. Most likely it will be a positive one, otherwise why would you write your book?

Over the last twenty years I’ve worked on seventeen memoirs. Each one told the story of my client’s fierce battle to overcome nearly impossible odds. The reason these books were successful was that the reader believed the characters’ journeys and could identify with the authors on some level.

One client shared his story of growing up in an impoverished community which lacked running water and electricity. He had a happy childhood, but there were many challenges and a lot of conflict. As he grew up, he overcame many obstacles. By the end of the book, he found his way to America and became a successful entrepreneur. The story is powerful, riveting, and relatable to many. Not surprisingly, this book is currently being made into a movie.

A few tips for a successful character arc

Tip #1: Conflict is key

You need conflict in your bestselling book!Any story worth reading will start off with a bang (ie: it will throw the protagonist into a heap of trouble early on). Honestly, I always do my best to drop my readers into the deep end of the pool so that they have to tread water to keep up.

Now, in order to produce this kind of an effect on your reader, you need to create conflict throughout your book. Your main character needs to struggle and fight his way through whatever circumstance life throws at him. Sometimes this conflict can be quiet; perhaps it comes in the form of a disagreement. Or it can be splashy, like the beginning of a war or an invasion. A story without conflict will become a book that collects dust in a forgotten thrift store.

Tip #2: Develop strong characters

Your goal is to create a main character your reader will want to follow. This can be difficult if she isn’t well developed. You must introduce your main character to the reader early on and make her intriguing and captivating. Give her strong characteristics. Be clear and certain in your presentation of her attributes and personality.

I recommend that before you begin writing your first draft, you create bios for each of your major characters. Flesh out their back stories, work out their motivations, and make sure their behaviors are believable. Really understand who they are. Know them just as well as you know your real-life best friends. Once you have realistic three-dimensional characters, you can create compelling arcs for them to follow.

Tip #3: Show, don’t tell

Show, don’t tell is a popular phrase among writers. It means that you need to show elements of your story through action rather than through narrative. Keep this in mind as you create your lead character’s transformational arc.

For instance, how boring would it be if your protagonist announced out of the blue that he planned to turn over a new leaf and stop selling drugs. Where is the conflict and drama? Your character needs a reason to make a change. And you must show that to the reader.

Tip #4: Determine the correct character arc for your story

Select the right character arc for your bookBy choice I have never written a book with a negative or flat character arc. But that doesn’t mean that these are not viable options. You will determine the correct path for your character based on your story and the message you wish to impart.

For instance, if you’re writing a high-action adventure story along the lines of Indiana Jones, it might not work to have your main character undergo too many changes. A flat arc could work. In addition, it’s possible to tell a powerful story with a positive message through a negative arc illustration. The Godfather comes to mind as a good example. Michael Corleone starts out as a good guy, but by the time the door closes at the end of the first movie, you can see that he’s undergone a transformation for the worse.

Not every character arc needs to see the protagonist through from complete failure to complete success or have a complete one hundred-eighty degree shift in viewpoint. Not every protagonist needs to be an Ebenezer Scrooge who turns from a miserly grump into a philanthropic benefactor by the end. No, the change might be a bit more subtle.

 

As you work on outlining your book and creating the protagonist for your novel, consider the arc he or she will follow. Choose one that works for the story and the message you wish to write. Create an engaging character and a compelling arc, keeping in mind that you want your readers to relate to and understand them. Using these tips, you will find your readers rooting for your main characters and happily and loyally following them on their adventures.

Being a Ghostwriting Nomad

I'm a ghostwriting nomad who loves to write books for authors

Recently, I was interviewed by Letty Tippins, a popular YouTuber. She found it interesting that I earn a living on the road as a ghostwriting nomad and felt her viewers might be interested in what I do.

I have to admit that traveling with our family in our RV inspires me to write. It’s the ideal way for me to earn a living and I’m always happy to share my business model with others who might be interested in following in my footsteps.

Living Life with Letty

Letty has a fascinating channel about her exciting travels around the country in her van. This free spirit hasn’t allowed her rheumatoid arthritis to stop her. Instead, she chronicles her adventures, good and bad, so that others can learn.

People love her.

I love her.

I am one of her biggest fans, so I was thrilled when she asked if she could interview me for her viewers.

What I do as a ghostwriting nomad

Over the last two decades, I’ve written a wide variety of books for my clients. I love how unique each project is. To date, I’ve worked on seventeen memoirs, eight business books, and ten fictional works. The average length of the books I’ve written is 50,000 words. But the word count usually depends upon the budget of the client (I charge one dollar per word to ghostwrite).

My clients live all over the world. Currently, I have clients in New Zealand, Puerto Rico, Wisconsin, and California. People often ask if I have to fly out to meet my clients. The answer is no. Even when my client happens to be in a neighboring town, I rarely interview him or her in person. It’s much easier for both parties to simply chat on the phone and use email.

My purpose as a ghostwriter is to write a book that matches the creative vision of the author. I help my client find his or her written voice (which will be a bit different from the spoken voice) and create a style that matches his or her unique viewpoint. That way the author can really get his or her message out there and help others.

I can’t think of a more rewarding vocation!

The benefits of being a ghostwriting nomad

Our family has criss-crossed the country three times now. We’ve seen many of the National Parks and have met many wonderful people. It’s fascinating how each state has its own character, culture and style. There is no better way to experience that than in person. After all, written accounts and TV shows are just two-dimensional representations of the real thing.

One of the benefits of being a ghostwriting nomad is that I can open my door to a new vista each day. I breathe in the air, take in the flora and fauna and talk to the people. I immerse myself in new adventures. As a writer, I can tell you these experiences are truly helpful because they broaden my horizons and expand my base of knowledge. I can add to my ever-growing personal database of information.

Bottom line, my books are enhanced by this lifestyle.

How you can become a ghostwriting nomad

Become a ghostwriting nomad

I wrote an in-depth article about how to become a ghostwriter for all who are interested. In it, I tried to cover all the bases. If you have further questions, please don’t hesitate to write me. I do sometimes coach new writers.

Many prospective ghostwriters have asked me for tips about how to find clients. This is one of the biggest challenges for many writers. My advice is to start a blog.

My blog is my one and only lead source.

It works because people use their search engines to ask questions about writing and ghostwriting, and my website pops up. Why? Because my content is current, relevant, and helpful.

There’s no secret sauce required for success. Hard work and a willingness to share information helped me get where I am today. You can do it, too! Now, I understand that a blog takes a while to build. You just need to start. Today. Write once or twice a week. Answer questions that you know your readers will have. Be a valuable resource for people online. It will take time, but in the end, people will be knocking on your door asking you to write their books for them.

Other articles you might enjoy reading:

Now Is the Right Time to Write a Book

How to Edit Your Own Book

What to Expect in an Interview with a Ghostwriter

 

 

 

Common Word Errors — Part 1

Every writer battles word errors. You know the words I mean. Yours might not be the same as mine, but I would imagine you have common word errors pop up in your writing just as I do.

These trouble words can lead to nightmare scenarios that are enough to keep some people from ever writing. Imagine your embarrassment when you find out the query letter you sent to an agent was riddled with common word errors. Or your chagrin when you learn about all your mistakes from various poor reviews after you finally publish your first book on Amazon.

As a writer, you know the power of words. The words you choose leave a lasting impression on your reader. You want the impression to be good, but the incorrect use of words can spoil the effect you work so hard to create.

Unfortunately, common word errors happen more often than would be expected, especially in these days of self-publishing, when some authors cut costs by skipping the editing phase of a book project. Learning how to edit your own manuscript is key to minimizing common word errors.

I’ll be discussing various kinds errors in this series, but in this article I wanted to zero in on homonyms.

Tricky homonyms

Homonyms are two or more words that sound the same (and are sometimes spelled the same), but they have different meanings. When you fully understand each word, and the differences between the homonyms becomes clear, then it’s easier to use them correctly. Here are a half-dozen of my favorite trouble words.

There or Their or They’re?

common word errorsThese three words mean completely different things:

There indicates a location: Put the pot of petunias there.

Their shows possession by people or things previously mentioned: Put their pot of petunias there.

They’re is a contraction ofthey are”: They’re putting their pot of petunias there.

Tip: If your trouble word involves a contraction, try expanding it out into two words. For example: “they’re” becomes “they are.” It can help you determine the correct choice.

It’s or Its?

This one is probably top on the list of common word errors. The confusion lies in the apostrophe. That mark is used to indicate either missing letters (a contraction) or a possession. In this case, the apostrophe signals a contraction.

It’s means “it is,” as in: It’s a beautiful rose.

Its indicates that something belongs to “it”: It’s a beautiful rose that lost its petals.

Again, if you expand “its” into two words you can quickly see if the contraction or the possessive is the right choice. For example:

The child stood on its (or it’s) head.

Expanding out the contraction, you’d get:

The child stood on it is head.

Nope! That makes no sense. Must be:

The child stood on its head.

Your or You’re?

The misuse of these homonyms leads to funny statements. Your indicates that something belongs to “you.” And you’re is a contraction of “you are.”

For instance, there is a big difference between:

Your dinner!

And

You’re dinner!

The first one means you’re about to eat, and the other means that you won’t be around long enough to worry about grammar anymore.

Than or Then?

Then is used in relation to time, while than is used to show a comparison.

So, you’d say:

Barry went to lunch at noon. I’d like to go then.

Or

I’d rather go to lunch with Barry than later at 2pm.

Now, it can get really confusing if you’re comparing two time periods, as in:

I’d rather go then than then.

But that’s a different story…

Farther or Further?

Both words indicate distance, but it’s the quality of the distance that makes it tricky.

Farther indicates physical distance, whereas further implies a more figurative concept of distance.

So, you’d say:

I’m farther down the road than she is.

And

I’m further along in the book than he is.

Tip: Farther has the word “far” inside it. This can help you remember that it has to do with physical distance.

I hope this helps make it far more clear so it won’t give you further difficulty.

Complement or Compliment?

Sometimes, it’s just one little letter that makes all the difference.

To compliment is to praise something or someone and to complement is to complete or enhance.

So, you’d say:

He complimented her on her new dress.

Or

He complemented her so well they got married.

Remember that scene from Jerry McGuire?

“You complete me.”

“Shut up, you had me at hello.”

Yes, they complemented each other nicely. No compliments necessary.

As you can see, understanding the meaning of the words helps in choosing the right ones so that you can avoid common word errors in your writing. If you find these confusing, I recommend keeping a little journal of your personal trouble words so that you can refer to them whenever needed.

Understanding The Three-Act Structure

Writing a book using the three-act structureToday I’m pleased to present a guest blog from Erick Mertz, author and ghostwriter, who is an expert when it comes to structuring a book. I asked him to write this article to give my readers a good foundation in the three-act structure.

Writing a good book, one that connects with readers, requires the mastery of story fundamentals. You must understand characters, the “who” of your book, as well as the setting, the time and locations where your story takes place. No element, however, is more richly rewarding than the plot.

The plot describes the series of events that take place throughout the course of your story. It is the action, those challenges your character faces on his or her path toward achieving their end goal.

A lot gets written about how to properly formulate a plot. Structuring the events in a story the right way leads to a higher degree of readability, meaning your readers will simply enjoy the book more. Getting the right events in place is important, but the right events in the wrong order will leave your readers confused, or unsatisfied, which ultimately leads them to put your book aside in frustration.

Don’t let that happen. Once your readers get into your book, you must do everything that you possibly can to keep them engaged. Getting the right events in the right order is critical to achieving this. One of the ways you give yourself the best chance of achieving this is to follow a classic story structure that has been around and engaging readers for nearly two thousand years.

What Is The Three-Act Structure?

The three-act structure is used in books as well as playsThe first thing you may have thought of when “three-act structure” was mentioned was the theater. Stage plays breaks into acts, usually two or three, with an intermission between them. This is the time when the stage changes form and you can go out into the lobby for a quick breath of fresh air.

Using a three-act structure in a book or a screenplay is not indicated by a roadblock break in the action. There is no end of Act I break written on the page. In a book, structural shifts are seamless. While some changes may come in the form of a chapter break, there isn’t a callout anywhere that says, commencing Act II, as there would be in a stage play script.

Rather than roadblocks, a writer signals changes in the act by way of subtle shifts in the focus of events. Instead of being told the act change has happened, the reader senses it through the events that unfold. Events in a three-act structure build off of one another, behaving like emotional building blocks. Early scenes set the tone for future events, always narrowing in focus and increasing in intensity until the very end when the main character — your protagonist — reaches their goal.

Three-Act Structure & Character

Before diving into the elements of the three-act structure, it is important to establish a fundamental understanding of core character archetypes. In the most rudimentary terms, characters break down into three main types: protagonist, antagonist, and ancillary characters.

The main character, or the protagonist, is the central focus of the story’s central journey. They are the person (or creature, force of nature, or animal) whose path of change we are following. Change comes to all characters, but the protagonist’s change is the one we really care about the most.

Opposing the protagonist is the antagonist. This is the story’s villain, the force putting up the resistance to the main character’s change. Their actions are focused on holding back, slowing down, or stopping the protagonist on his or her way toward their goal.

By and large, ancillary characters are along for the ride. They attach themselves to either protagonist or antagonist (although sometimes they act alone) and are the ones helping achieve those ends. Think of them as the cast of fun, interesting, helpful, or hindering partners that move the story along.

When we refer to events within the three-act structure, they come in reference to what the protagonist is doing and where they are. In rare instances, those events connect to what is being done to them. You will see that the other character roles are usually there to affect what the protagonist is doing.

Act One

During the first act, setting and character are established. This is what writers call the ordinary world, where the main character has their roots planted before the real story starts. We see this is how they were living before the “inciting incident” an event that happens during this section.

Act One is important for a couple of reasons. First, it provides the necessary context. We need to see who our hero or heroine is before the adventure. At some point in this story they are going to change — hopefully drastically, in the direction toward a better self — so this is our chance to see their life before.

The other reason Act One is important is because it is where the “inciting incident” occurs. Every hero receives a call and it usually comes in the ordinary world when they least expect it.

Act Two

Gears in motion as you write your bookThe demarcation between Acts One and Two is the moment when the story’s hero chooses to accept their call to action, something they may have denied before. They’ve debated about the ordeal long enough. They’re no longer thinking about doing something extraordinary — they’re on the path to doing it.

Act Two is the book’s longest section. It comprises roughly 50-60% of the length. This act comprises most of the action, from the early part of the adventure to the introduction of antagonist forces to the set-up for the final conflict.

Every hero is faced with a unique challenge all their own. In Act Two, they are meeting that obstacle, learning about the mountain they must climb, and actually climbing it. This is where they stumble and fall down, before getting strong enough to make the push to the end

Any storyline can be thought of this way, from fiction to memoir to business book. All of our lives and journeys, real or imagined, are filled with conflicts that require acceptance, practice, and trials before the climactic moment on the path to ultimate success.

Act Three

Act Three commences moments before the final challenge is breached. It is arguably the shortest section of a story, centered around the climactic confrontation and falling action.

What is the climactic confrontation? Think of the moment in the story when the hero meets the villain, opposite forces facing off against one another. The protagonist has been moving steadily toward meeting their goal and the antagonist has been pushing back. This is when push comes to shove, the moment when someone has to triumph.

What constitutes the falling action is everything that happens after the climax has been resolved. Maybe the antagonist is vanquished, and the protagonist receives the proper laurels. In one way or another, the journey of transformation has been completed and the hero can return home.

The Three-Act Structure In Action

DumboPerhaps the simplest visualization of a three-act structure is through the Disney classic, “Dumbo”.

In Act One, our protagonist, a baby elephant with ears too big, is born into an unforgiving world. He is an outcast in the circus and struggles to find his worth in a world cruel to misfits.

Act Two begins when Dumbo works to find his place in the circus. His journey is to find his means of fitting in despite an outcast status he is helpless to do anything about. At first, he fails in his big change, but with some grit and determination (and the help of his guide Timothy Q Mouse) he works to find a place for himself. Through this process, he learns that he may have the ability to fly.

At the beginning of Act Three, Dumbo on the edge of trying out his new trick of flying in front of a packed entire circus tent. After much trepidation, he is successful, which ultimately solidifies his place in the circus as an equal to his peers. The antagonist of prejudice has been vanquished.

The Three-Act Structure — In Conclusion

Understanding how to employ the three-act structure is an invaluable tool for reaching your readers. While the idea of a structure might seem rigid, it actually works quite the opposite way. Knowing where certain events should fall makes structure intuitive and leads to happy readers.

Biography:

Erick Mertz, Author and ghostwriter

Erick Mertz is a ghostwriter/editor/manuscript consultant from Portland, Oregon. You can read more of his thoughts about the business and craft of writing at his website here.