Authors looking to get some help might wonder what their options might be. I get a few emails a month asking, “How does ghostwriting work?” Truthfully, no true two projects are alike because no two clients are the same. A good ghostwriter must remain flexible.
Having said that there are some commonalities. Knowing these elements can help you prepare.
A ghostwriter needs your notes
Different clients present me with notes in different ways. Some clients will drop 60,000 words in my lap and ask me to write a book. Others will give me a rough concept of a story or nonfiction book and let me “have at it.”
Which do I prefer?
I love both!
The first option gives me a wealth of information, allowing me a jump start on the project. I always must do extensive research in order to fill in gaps, but with a good, complete set of notes, I get a good idea of the client’s needs.
The second option gives me complete creative freedom, and there’s something very appealing about that.
Either way, I’ll need to write the actual book from scratch, as the notes need to be sculpted into the proper form required for a memoir, novel, or business book. Sometimes the notes are presented to me as a manuscript, but it’s rare that a simple edit will turn it into a book.
A ghostwriter’s fee
Different ghostwriters charge differently. My cost is very straightforward and easy to calculate. I charge a dollar per word for ghostwriting work. So a 200-300-page book, which would be 50,000 – 75,000 words, would run $50,000 – $75,000. A shorter book costs less.
Other ghostwriters may charge differently. Less experienced writers might charge as little as fifty cents per word, while those who work with celebrities can run six figures.
It takes time to write
The standard ghostwriting contract gives me eight to eighteen months to complete a full-length book project. Even a short, 100-page book, requires a lot of research. It’s rare that I can commit to completing even a mini-eBook in under a half a year.
Most books require a few hundred hours to complete. If you ever receive a quote with a promise to finish your book in under a month, be suspicious. This writer is probably plagiarizing and as the author of the book, you’ll be liable.
You will need to invest a bit of time
Every author does need to be somewhat involved in their project. i warn my clients that they should plan to spend a couple hours a week on average answering questions within emails and reviewing pages that I send.
I sometimes interview clients over the phone or through email. I always appreciate detailed written notes. To save time some clients use speech recognition software, so they can send me notes on the road or from their balcony as they sip Chardonnay. Punctuation and spelling never matter, as long as I can understand the message.
A fast turnaround time by my clients helps me complete their books faster.
One of the things I love about ghostwriting is that I get to work with many different people on many different projects. Each relationship is truly unique, and the process is always fun and challenging!
Over the years quite a few people have approached me asking, “Should I write my memoir?” So many individuals have shared with me their ideas and dreams about writing a book. As a ghostwriter, I truly enjoy helping people fulfill their lifelong goals. It’s quite rewarding.
However, when most new writers sit down to share their life story, they get overwhelmed. They don’t really know how to go about starting.
Does that sound familiar?
If so, here are a few questions to consider:
What makes a good memoir?
This is a question many people fail to ask themselves. A book that seeks revenge or shares a horrific upbringing as its theme isn’t a book that should be written. That’s a common memoir mistake. Please write a book that you will still be proud of in five years.
Here are some elements to think about as you consider writing a memoir:
Will my book uplift others? Really, at the end of the day, you want to create a book that will inspire others toward greatness. You want to encourage them to live their lives to the fullest and to learn from your experiences.
Do I have an interesting story? A story is made up a series of incidents tied together by an overall theme. If you really only have an anecdote, even if it is hilarious, moving, or powerful, it isn’t enough for a book. It could make a good short story, though!
Is my story enlightening? If you have a powerful viewpoint and a story with lots of action, you have the makings of a riveting book. But it’s equally important that you have done something which would intrigue and educate the reader. Adventures are fun, but memoir readers expect to take something positive away from your life experiences. They want to learn from your example.
Should I self-publish?
If you’re a celebrity or have been the topic of a strong news story recently, you might be able to write a good proposal, find an agent, and get a good advance from a publisher. Otherwise, it’s unlikely (but not impossible) that you will land a decent publishing contract. The other thing to keep in mind is that this publishing route will take about two years. Then, in the end, most likely you’ll receive a 10 – 15% royalty, which will only kick in once the book starts selling.
In this day and age, especially with the advent of eBooks, you can do very well as a self-published author. You’ll have to learn a little about the industry, but if you can pull together a marketing plan, you can sell your book on Amazon and make money.
Should I hire a ghostwriter to write my memoir?
The answer really boils down to time, money, and skill. Writing a book on your own requires not only a few hundred hours of work, but quite a bit of experience. If you don’t feel you have that time or skill set, and you have a good budget, hiring a ghostwriter is a good option. To learn more about what a ghostwriter charges, check out my article: A Ghostwriter’s Fees.
If you want to be a great writer and create a best-selling novel or memoir, you must learn how to edit your own book.
As an author, you are probably adept at magically weaving words together to create worlds and entice your readers, but keep in mind that you are also in charge of making sure your words communicate. The editing process will help you accomplish that.
When you learn to edit your own book, you will become a stronger writer. Your first drafts will become better and better with each subsequent book because you will spot your weak points and correct them. Not only will you improve your ability to structure plot, create characters and highlight themes, but you will reduce the number of spelling and grammatical errors.
Edit your own book before you publish it
It’s important to note that after you edit, and before you publish, you will need to hire outside editors to make sure everything works. Most authors hire at least a developmental editor and a copy editor. If you have questions about this area, please check out my article about the different kinds of editors available to you.
However, before you turn over your work to a professional editor, you will need to make sure it is the best you can make it. That way the editor can do a better job for you.
The editing process begins with you
Your editor can do a much better job if he doesn’t need to wade through a super rough draft. It’s a little like hiring someone to clean your home after a party where litter and lampshades are strewn around the floor. While some may feel it is silly to clean up for the cleaner, it actually makes sense.
With the obvious mess out of the way, he can spend his time doing a detailed cleaning. It’s the same with your manuscript. When you clean it up, it will save your editor time, which will save you money.
The editing process ends with you
When you hire a professional editor, she will give you a lot of comments. Some will be elements that you must change, while others will be an opinion. You need to recognize the difference and act accordingly.
If you misspelled a word or misused a comma, you’ll need to make those corrections. However, sometimes the editor might not quite get your voice, your style, or your meaning. In those cases, you need to know not to make those changes. If you plan to develop a long-term relationship with an editor, communicate directly with her about those points so that she can understand how to better edit your work. If she is defensive, find another editor. There are many good ones out there.
While it’s true that traditional publishers provide in-house editors for all the books they have under contract, you still need to get in the front door. It’s vital to present the best draft you can. Otherwise, they will ignore your manuscript and reach for one of the many thousands that grace their inbox.
Most authors opt to self-publish. Although you can self-publish anything these days, the last thing you want is to publish a book full of plot holes and riddled with typos and errors.
You can never erase the bad reviews you’ll get.
Proper editing will go a long way to encouraging a slew of five-star reviews, which will help you to develop a following.
Edit your own book with the big picture in mind
It’s a mistake to focus on grammar and editing when you first sit down to edit your own book. This isn’t a good place to start. Instead, begin by looking at the overall structure and flow of your book. Later you can work your way down to the fine details. When you tackle the big picture first, many of your words and sentences will change, thereby possibly eliminating the need to correct spelling and grammatical errors.
To get a sense of the big picture, I find it helps to find a one-line answer to the question, “What is my story about?” The answer you come up with will help you align your book around that central concept.
For instance, let’s say you determine that your book is about how you struggled through adversity to become a successful business owner. Skip the late-night stress-baking scenes or the irrelevant tiffs with in-laws. Unless the scene directly relates to the purpose and thrust of your book, delete it.
Let’s examine various key elements of the big picture.
When you first start to edit your own book, I suggest that you examine the plot. Make sure it hits all the areas you need it to hit:
If you haven’t outlined your book, now might be a good time to analyze the purpose of each incident within your story. If you can’t find a purpose for the scene, delete it.
The next step is to scrutinize your characters carefully from a big picture viewpoint. Do they each have a purpose in the novel or memoir? If not, cut them out. This can be the hardest part of editing for an author, I know. Writers tend to get attached to the people they created.
While you are sharpening your editing sheers, keep in mind that a character’s role can be small, yet significant. For instance, the barista who serves Joe a cup of joe every day might be a sounding board for his new ideas. Or Clarissa’s strict piano teacher might help the reader understand why she is such a perfectionist as an adult.
The main characters should all follow character arcs. In other words, they need to have some sort of transformation through the incidents of the story. Look over a few of your favorite books. Can you identify the character arcs within the stories?
If you’re writing a memoir, keep in mind that you are the main character of your story.
Themes are the main ideas that tie your story together. Universal themes deal with ideas about Love, Friendship, War,Faith and the like. More specifically, you can have themes such as “Persistence always wins in the end,” “Family is important,” or “Being true to oneself has rewards.” For more information about themes, read my article, Great Memoir Themes.
Your book should explore one or more themes. I like to think of it like weaving gold thread through tapestry to make it shimmer. You never want to hit your reader over the head with a theme. Instead, you want to suggest it and have the readers recognize the concept for themselves. Or not. Readers never like to be told what to think. I mean, who does?
As you edit, make sure your story aligns with your theme. For instance, if you want to promote the idea that kindness wins in the end, you might not want your lead character to succeed by gleefully hurting others around him with no consequence.
Zoom in to edit your scenes
Now that you have all the big picture elements the way you want them, it’s time to closely examine your individual scenes one by one.
In the opening scene you want to grab the reader by the scruff of his neck and (hopefully) never let go. One way to do this is to drop him in the middle of the ocean and demand that he treads water to keep up. This is the make-break point of your book. The opening scene can be the most challenging to write, so some authors rewrite that first crucial scene after they complete their first draft. It can be easier to edit after the book is completed because you know exactly where the story winds up and you have all the story elements worked out.
As you review each scene, make sure it has a strong purpose in your story. It should move the story forward or illuminate an important aspect of your characters.
Also, determine if the scenes flow well the way you have them organized. You might need to switch them around and create new transitions.
If you’re a writer who writes by the seat of his pants rather than outlining ahead of time, this is a good time to sprinkle in a few foreshadowing elements. While plotters might have that covered, during the editing process they might have brilliant insights that inspire them to add in a few more.
This is also a good time to review your transitions. If they are too jarring, your reader will be flung out of your book and might never find his way back. Ideally, you want one scene to flow into the next like a long river.
Characters, a closer look
When you examine your characters, make sure they are believable and three-dimensional. Even if a character is secondary, she needs to have proper development and realistic motivations for her actions. Of course, a bank teller who appears once on page fifty-nine doesn’t need a back story, but consider that the third-grade teacher, who is featured in a quarter of the book, will need more than a mere physical description.
Continuity is something to look at in this phase. In the big picture you’ve gone over the character arc and made sure each main character has hit the highs and the lows that he or she should. But now it’s time to make sure each character is consistent in his speech and actions. If Matilda was angry and sullen in the first part of the book, but suddenly becomes cheerful halfway through, there needs to be a reason. Likewise, if you established that Terry wasn’t very bright, it wouldn’t make sense if you later have him wax intellectual about a scientific discovery.
First person – The protagonist is telling the story. He is part of the story and shares his experiences directly.
Second person (rare) – The narrator is telling the story of “you,” so that it seems like the action is happening to you (the reader).
Third person limited – The narrator shares some of the thoughts and experiences of the characters, usually just one character.
Third person multiple – The narrator shares the thoughts and experiences of several characters.
Third Person omniscient – The narrator shares the thoughts and experiences of all characters.
Make sure you are keeping the point of view consistent throughout the story. For instance, if you’ve chosen third person limited and are writing from Mary’s point of view, you can’t suddenly switch over to James’ in the middle of a scene. Find a way to show how he is feeling from Mary’s viewpoint.
For instance, you wouldn’t say:
James couldn’t believe his ears. How could she have said that?
Instead, you might say:
Mary took a step back as James advanced on her saying, “How could you say something like that to me?”
Dialogue should have a purpose. It should move the story forward by providing information, advancing the plot or giving insight into your characters. Dialogue can be a wonderfully subtle way to reveal your characters’ motivations, as well as their overall moral compass and viewpoints.
Each character should have his or her own way of speaking. For instance, someone who is angry at the world will speak in shorter sentences, whereas someone with a flair for the dramatic might wax poetic with long, flowery prose. In addition, people in the real world sometimes make up their own words or phrases.
As you edit your own book, read your dialogue out loud or maybe have a friend read it to you. Listen carefully to the words and see if they sound real. Bad dialogue stands out like a leech on your leg.
Make sure each character has a distinct voice which is consistent and predictable. Pay close attention to your main character’s voice, especially if he or she is the narrator.
Edit your own book line by line
Now it’s time to zero in on each line of your book. Again, you shouldn’t focus on this task until you have completed the big picture and the scene analyses. Here you’ll focus on the word choice and look for errors.
Line editing is an art and there are many, many ways to edit your words so that they communicate effectively and efficiently. There are too many areas to discuss in this article, but I wanted to highlight a few key ones.
Show, don’t tell
This is a writer’s mantra.
When you edit your own book and see that you’re explaining something such as an emotion or a thought, consider how you might show it. This allows the reader to see it and draw his own conclusions, making him an active part of the story.
For example, you wouldn’t say:
Susie thought of the way Barry broke up with her. This made her feel sad. She missed him so much.
However, you might write:
Susie saw Barry across the room. She turned with a sigh and blinked away a tear as she fingered the silver chain he’d given her the previous month.
For a more detailed explanation of this concept of show, don’t tell, please check out my article on the subject.
Minimize your use of adverbs
Adverbs can weaken your writing. They also tell the reader something rather than allowing him to experience it. So, it’s good to use adverbs sparingly. Instead, use strong verbs to show the reader what is happening.
“I’ll do it later,” he said tiredly.
Instead, use something like this:
John yawned and closed his eyes. “I’ll do it later,” he said.
Keep your language real
Never try to impress your reader with fancy vocabulary. Instead, focus on words that best communicate your ideas.
For example, please don’t say:
Katie was stultified as the lecturer pontificated.
Katie found the lecture boring.
Take out needless words
When you write your first draft, the emphasis is on getting your ideas on paper. You should just let your ideas flow. To do that, you’ll probably use a lot of words to give them form. Now it’s time to delete the filler words.
For example, you may have written:
Smith took over the empty pilot seat in order to navigate around the mountain peak.
You can tighten it like this:
Smith took over the pilot seat to navigate the mountain peak.
After all, we can guess that no one was in the seat when he sat down and of course you’d go around the mountain peak.
When you write your first draft, you may find that you’ve repeated yourself. This is the time to edit out those redundancies.
For example, it is not uncommon for writers to write:
…he thought to himself.
You can simply say:
You can only think to yourself.
Or if you wrote:
She kicked him with her foot.
You can edit it down to:
She kicked him.
We know it was with her foot.
Check your “trouble words”
These are words that give you difficulty. Maybe you just can’t remember the spelling or the grammar rule. No worries, everyone has them.
For instance, some people struggle with the difference between “your” and “you’re”. Or they have trouble remembering when to use “it’s” and “its.”
Luckily, there are plenty of online resources and tools to help you with trouble words. But nothing beats finding these errors for yourself. So, keep a list of your trouble words handy and look out for them as you line edit your own book.
You’ve made it through the editing phase of your book project. Now you can turn over your manuscript to one or two professional editors. Then it’s off to the printing presses, virtual or otherwise.
If you have any questions or need help as you edit your book, please feel free to comment below or write me directly. And if you’re in the market to hire a ghostwriter, please check out my book: Your Guide to Hiring a Ghostwriter.
When most people sit down to write their life stories, they often don’t consider various literary elements. After all, isn’t the book just going to be a series of events that happened in real life? While that’s true, you still need to follow the rules of writing. You must find a theme for your memoir. This theme is the fundamental idea that ties your story together.
Over the years, I’ve discovered several approaches that might help you find your theme:
Look for obstacles you have overcome
Overcoming obstacles to win against all odds is a favorite theme in books and film. Most memoirs involve a triumphant victory over a major life hurdle. This makes for a great theme because the readers can root for you while identifying with the theme as it relates to their own life.
Perhaps you battled a major illness and came out the other side healthy, or maybe you had a particularly challenging childhood and found success through forgiveness. Through sharing your experiences and achievements, you can inspire others to take action and make changes in their lives for the better.
Find lessons you’ve learned
Your readers might identify with the life lessons you have learned along the road to success. As you write your memoir, you’ll probably reveal a few personal imperfections along the way. If these flaws resolve as your story unfolds, these could become a powerful theme for your memoir.
For instance, one client of mine realized she’d been a little too trusting of unsavory characters and learned to stand on her own two feet by the end of her book. Other themes that might come from life lessons could include realizing that complacency won’t help you achieve your goals or that sometimes you need to face evil head-on to survive.
Summarize your story in a few lines
A writing mentor once advised me to answer the question What is my story about? before beginning the outlining phase. This direction was incredibly helpful to me as a budding writer because it pointed me in the direction of a good theme for my book.
This question should always be answered in a few lines, like an elevator pitch. Keep it short and sweet. From this, you can often glean your theme. For instance, if your pitch is about how you managed to escape a suppressive government, your theme might be how perseverance overcomes all odds.
I find that when I drill down to the core of the meaning of the book, I can find a theme easily.
Ask for help
If you’re too close to the story, it can be hard to pick out the theme on your own. In that case, you might try sharing your history with others and get their feedback. Getting that outside perspective can be invaluable to finding the unifying idea.
In addition, you might discover a few truths that you hadn’t uncovered before. I remember working with an elderly client who had become a successful entrepreneur. After a few in-depth interviews with me, he realized that the teacher he’d idolized as a child was, in fact, a serpent in disguise, denigrating and abusing his students. As we continued to talk, we discovered other destructive people who had caused him difficulties throughout his life. These conversations brought out a powerful theme for his memoir.
Finding a theme for your memoir doesn’t have to be difficult. Simply look for the universal ideas and takeaways you want you reader to receive. Once you have a theme for your memoir, you might just find that the words flow effortlessly as you share your life story with your readers.
If you’re browsing the internet looking for a ghostwriter, you are probably curious about our process. Through my blog I do my best to clarify all aspects of the ghostwriting (and writing) process so that this subject no longer is a mystery for authors looking for help. This particular article zeroes in on the steps I take when someone reaches out to me to write their book. I’ve been a ghostwriter for over twenty years, so I thought it made sense to share my ghostwriting process with you. That way there are no surprises.
If you’re interested in hiring me as your ghostwriter, your first step will be to fill in my online form to request a quote. I will reply via email with a few questions to determine whether we are a match. After all, this will be a long-term relationship. To that end, we will need to discuss several key elements. Although each client is unique, there are various aspects of my ghostwriting process that hold true for any project.
If you’d like to get a jump-start on that process, please address these points in your initial query:
The content of your book
The word count you desire
Your proposed budget
The deadline for the project
When it comes to selecting a project to take on, you should know that I prefer to work on uplifting fictional stories, inspiring memoirs, or nonfiction material that will help others in some way. Though I would be lost writing a steamy romance novel, I do love writing a variety of fiction. Memoirs are my favorite genre. I’ve written dozens over the last two decades. I also really enjoy writing prescriptive (how-to) nonfiction. My ghostwriting process is essentially the same for any genre.
After this email exchange, if I feel that I am able to become your ghostwriter, I will offer you a free 30-minute consultation. That initial phone call is important so that we can both be sure that we’d make a good writing team.
Our initial interview
I recommend that you begin by writing down a list of questions you might have for our initial conversation. We can discuss these so that you have a better understanding of how things work. There are no strings attached. I’ll give you this time for free. Honestly, I want to help you whether you hire me or not.
We will discuss your project in greater detail than we had in our email exchange. However, this isn’t the time to pour out all the details of the story to me. That will come later. Just summarize for now.
I will also want to discuss your goals for this book. As a heads-up, if your primary objective is to make a lot of money, you’ll need a top-notch marketing plan. It’s tough to make a profit as a first-time author, but it helps if you have an existing avenue for selling a book. For instance, if you have a strong online presence, a large mailing list, and an existing store, you’re in a good position to sell your book. Amazon only works if you support your book with one or more of the above tools.
Most of my clients aren’t interested in turning a profit; instead, they have a strong desire to simply publish a book within their lifetime. They have a powerful message they wish to share, and they feel they can do some good for others. Most aren’t looking to make money or recover their expenses. And some only wish to share their story with close friends and family.
Your goals are important to me. Part of my ghostwriting process is to make your goals my own and to make sure they are met.
Signing my contract
I work on a first-come-first-serve basis. Once you and I have determined that I’m your ghostwriter, the next step will be for you to read over my contract, sign it, and send it back to me with the first payment.
I structure the payments so that you pay the total fee in four installments, each due before the work is to be done. The four milestones are:
The research and outlining phase
The first half of the first draft
The second half of the first draft
The final draft
You and I will determine the milestone deadlines. Each milestone usually takes me three months to complete. Depending on the project, sometimes the research and outlining phase might take a few more months.
It is important to put all our agreements in writing before we start your book so that you and I are clear about the arrangement throughout the project.
Researching your project
When I begin to research your project, I like to collect most of the information in writing. Once I have a foundational understanding of your story, my ghostwriting process will include asking a lot of questions via email. Your answers will allow me to establish a written voice for you. I will also need to speak to you on the phone. By listening to your words and how you phrase things, I gain a deeper insight into how you use language.
I realize that some clients are not confident in their writing ability. So if you are more comfortable chatting with me on the phone, I’ll adjust my ghostwriting process to meet your needs. Although I have my preferences, the client’s needs always trump that.
It’s worth noting that I must also do my own independent research to gain the information needed to write your story. That’s an important part of my ghostwriting process. For instance, if you’re writing a memoir about your time in Hungary in the 50s, I would comb the internet for historical accounts of that time. Or if I’m writing about the ins and outs of running a chain of restaurants, I’d need to make sure I understand the subject well enough to portray it realistically and accurately.
Outlining your book
Once I have most of the information needed, I’ll put together an outline for you. This will act as our roadmap for our project. The format of this outline varies from client to client, depending on the needs of the author. Some prefer that I summarize the story in a few pages, while others prefer a table of contents outline. Sometimes I use my own technique, where I delineate all the incidents that will form a novel or memoir. I’ve found this to be a workable system since any story is really a series of events.
I feel strongly that the outlining phase is an integral part of my ghostwriting process and contributes greatly to the success of any project. Honestly, it would be a waste of your money if I were to move forward without your agreement as to how the book will be structured and what the precise content would be. I’m not one to drive down a remote road for many miles, unsure if I’m traveling in the correct direction.
Writing the first draft
Writing your first draft is the most time-consuming segment of my ghostwriting process. As mentioned earlier, I divide this phase into two milestones. That means, if you hire me to write a 200-page book (which is approximately 50,000 words), I’ll deliver 25,000 words to you for the second milestone, and the final 25,000 as the third.
While some ghostwriters will only deliver the complete first half of the first draft at the end of that phase, I prefer to get feedback along the way. I wish to consult with you as I write to be sure that you approve of the pieces. This avoids unpleasant surprises.
Editing your manuscript
Once I have completed the first draft, I will collect all your notes about what you like and don’t like. Then, after I incorporate your changes, I’ll work to polish the manuscript. This is an internal phase of my ghostwriting process, one that doesn’t involve you as much. I need to read over your book a few times, making adjustments to flow, continuity, and style with each read.
Once I’m finished with my edits, I’ll hire an outside editor to do a comprehensive review. I feel strongly that objective eyes should always look at your book before I turn it in as a final draft.
My editor will need at least four weeks with your book. Once I get the notes back from her, she and I will discuss various points. I’ll ask questions and sometimes debate a few issues. But I will make the final call.
When I feel it is as perfect as it can be, I’ll submit the completed manuscript to you.
Although I don’t publish, I do know people who can help you prepare your manuscript for self- publication or write a killer proposal to land an agent. I will refer you to them if you wish.
Some people ask me if I have a secret backdoor to agents and publishers. I don’t. Anyone wishing to submit to an agent needs to apply through their official channels. There are no short cuts.
Now, this is my ghostwriting process. Over the last twenty years, I’ve talked to a number of ghosts and have observed that each has a different way of handling the various steps of writing a book. Be sure to fully understand any ghostwriter’s process before you hire her. Ask questions and do some research to make sure the book you receive at the end of the undertaking fulfills all your goals.
If you’re interested in hiring me, please request a quote and I’ll get back to you within the day.
When writing a memoir, it’s important to stick to one subject and one time period. In order to do that you really need to consider the story. If your book is too general, it won’t make for a good read.
A good friend and fellow ghostwriter attends many writer’s conferences teeming with agents and publishers. He once gave me some excellent advice. He said, “If a writer goes into a pitch with: ‘Hey, my book is about my life in the field of education,’ the agent is going to glaze over and start thinking about the conference lunch buffet. The best way to sell a book is to state the book’s focus upfront.”
I’d add that you should know the purpose of your story. When you understand why you’re writing the book, you’ll be able to begin to write your memoir.
Know your story
Each author will have a different reason for writing their book. In the example above, perhaps you are a high-school teacher in the inner city and you’re writing a memoir to encourage parents to be more active with their child’s education. Well, if that’s your purpose, tell that story. Make sure all the scenes of the book align with that message.
If your own educational path helps to illustrate your book’s purpose, by all means share it. You can do so with flashbacks or by starting the book at that period, if there is enough material to carry the story forward. However, if your past doesn’t really relate to your memoir’s purpose, skip it. For example, if you had supportive parents and went to expensive prep schools and Harvard, it just might not fit into this book, which is about working with inner city kids.
Know your options
It might make more sense to open your memoir with a particular high school class and finish with their graduation. Follow those students. Include various gnarly parent teacher conference meetings that show what you wish to share with your readers and conclude with a result, one way or another.
Or your book might span two decades, showing your breadth of experience and many examples of neglect with final resolutions that all exemplify the problem.
Another option could be to focus on one family. Perhaps that one child made it out of the ghetto and into the sunlight. In that case, your story might just span one year, showing how that mom and dad took a strong interest in they boy’s education, while other parents failed to do so.
Note: We just discussed three versions of one life story. You can see how these three books would be very different. It’s the same life, told through different lenses. Each story would be shared with your voice but would make the reader feel and experience very different things.
Whatever you decide you must pick a lane and stick to it.
Know your readership
It’s important to define your readership before you begin writing a memoir, so you can communicated effectively to that group of people.
In the above memoir example, your reader would probably be parents of high school students because you wish to influence them to be more a part of their children’s education.
However, your reader could potentially be written to other teachers and school administrators. If that is the case, your book would have a very different feel. Is this a David vs Goliath story, concluding with your victorious battle to make improvements within the school system? If so, you could potentially help others forge an improvement in a system that can seem impossible to penetrate.
Whatever you do, you must select your readership and write to them.
When writing a memoir, remember that you get to tell the story you wish to tell. Include what you want and toss the rest. Most likely you’ll find that you have a few books within you. Select one and start writing!
If you’re reading this because you have a great idea for a book but aren’t sure how to go about writing it, you might need a ghostwriter.
I know quite a few people who spend a lot of time tossing around book ideas, but for one reason or another they have trouble getting started. Does this sound familiar?
If you wish to write a book, but don’t have the time or the discipline to do so, it can be frustrating on many levels. Some people aren’t a huge fan of research while others just don’t enjoy writing. Whatever the stumbling block, it doesn’t have to keep you from finishing your book. A ghostwriter can help you take your idea from conception to fruition.
Here is a handy checklist to help guide you through the steps of hiring a ghostwriter:
Decide on your budget
Before you begin searching for a writer, it’s a good idea to determine your budget. What can you comfortably afford? Don’t go into debt when hiring a ghostwriter.
Pricing for ghostwriting can span a broad range. You should know that you will get what you pay for. Some ghostwriters advertise extremely low rates, which can be appealing. However, if you’re interested in producing a high-quality book, written by an experienced author, you’ll need to pay them what a good writer is worth.
Be ready to answer basic questions
In order to get a bid from a ghostwriter, you need to be able to answer various questions. A ghostwriter will need to know:
How many words your book will be
Your publishing and marketing plans
The general subject matter or genre of the book.
It’s also wise to ask your prospective ghostwriter about their fee before you get too far in the conversation. There is no sense in pouring out your heart and story, only to learn that the writer is way out of your price range. It’s worth noting that most ghostwriters share their price on their website.
Find a good fit
It’s a good idea to do a little homework on a ghostwriter before you interview them. Start with their testimonial page. After all, it’s more important to read what others say about them than what they say about themselves. Also, review their writing samples to see if you like their style.
Once you’ve determined that they have the experience and writing expertise, It’s important to find someone who you will mesh well with throughout the ghostwriting process. Writing a book is a financial investment, but also an endeavor of the heart; there is a balance.
Pay your first installment and get started
Once you have made your momentous decision, plan to make the first payment and sign the ghostwriting contract so you begin working on the project. Any professional writer will require these. Don’t wait too long to make your decision. If you love a particular writer and know you want to hire that individual, don’t dawdle. Authors book the more popular ghostwriters quickly.
Plan the time to work with your ghostwriter
As your project unfolds, it’s important to answer your writer’s emails and phone messages promptly. After all, you and your ghostwriters are partners in this project. Your ghost needs you, assisting them to achieve your goals. For that reason, don’t allow too much time to go by without communication.
When I work with a client I love to shoot emails back and forth throughout the week. I also find myself picking up the phone to talk to him or her at least once a month.
Before you hire a ghostwriter, it is a good idea to conduct an in-depth interview with several candidates. This will be a very personal journey, so you want to make sure the writer you pick is the best ghost for you. However, please don’t stress. Interviewing a ghostwriter doesn’t have to be difficult.
Ask about her experience
While interviewing a ghostwriter, watch out for writers who are interested in cutting their teeth on your book. Unless you’re a gambler by nature, it is better to stick with a writer who has written at least a few books. Completing a full-length book takes a certain dedication, knowledge, and follow-through. Some writers aren’t cut out for it.
Ask your candidate ghostwriters to share titles of books that they’ve ghostwritten or authored. While this can be difficult for some, the writers who’ve been around the block will have a few titles that bear their name (as well as dozens they can’t share because of confidentiality agreements).
Request client testimonials
If a freelance writer has been in the business for any reasonable amount of time, he or she has probably collected a few testimonials. Reading these over will give you a feel for what others have to say about the ghostwriter’s work. Most will be signed only with initials or a first name. I’ve been fortunate over the years to have generous clients who happily gave me a testimonial including their full name.
In addition, if the ghostwriter has authored a book or two, it is probably selling on Amazon. Check out the reviews there to see how readers feel about her writing. Read the content to learn more about the ghostwriter’s abilities.
Find out what the ghostwriter enjoys writing
Not every ghostwriter excels in all genres. For instance, I have written nearly two dozen memoirs, but have never touched a historic romance novel or a true crime book. Some writers specialize in fiction, while others are business book experts.
Ideally you want to find a writer who is passionate and knowledgeable about your subject. However, this is not always necessary. When writing nonfiction, I feel I have an edge when I don’t know anything about the topic as I can easily put myself in my readers’ shoes and write to them with reality.
Talk about pricing and schedule
It’s a good plan to talk about a ghostwriter’s fee upfront. If she is out of your price range, there is really no point in continuing the conversation. The interview should be over. Having said that, it doesn’t hurt to ask the ghostwriter if she has anyone she can refer to you.
The same applies to the ghostwriter’s schedule. If you need the book done by a certain deadline, ask the ghostwriter early in the conversation if she can help you. Keep in mind that the average book takes eight to twelve months to write, depending on the content, research required, and the length of the book. If you need the book expedited, offer to pay a little more. That may encourage the ghostwriter to clear her calendar to take on your project.
Interviewing a ghostwriter will help you find a good match for your project. Find one with whom you can communicate well from the start. This road is best traveled with an experienced friend.
Bestselling 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 characters. The stage is set, a conflict is established, and the main character’s goals are revealed. After that, the protagonist encounters an incident that compels 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 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, because they don’t 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, they aren’t my cup of tea. I prefer to stick with uplifting plot lines.
Positive character arcs
If 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.
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. These books were successful because the reader believed the characters’ journeys. They 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
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 because perhaps it comes in the form of a disagreement. Or it can be splashy, as 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. Firstly, give her strong characteristics. Then, 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
By 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.
Perhaps you’ve lived an interesting life and wish to tell your story. So many people have overcome adversity and are now succeeding in life. If you fall into that category, there are many who would like to read about your successful actions. Wouldn’t it be a great feeling to help others who are going through similar situations?
Or maybe you’re a CEO or expert in a niche area and wish to share your knowledge with others. This is also an admirable goal, one your readers will appreciate.
Some writers have a fictional story that has been on their minds for years. It needs to be written because not sharing it with the world just isn’t an option.
When authors have a burning desire to publish a story, but know they can’t write it themselves, they often reach out to me for help. When that happens, I’m moved. It’s truly an honor for me to help a writer achieve his or her goal.
If you can’t shake the desire to complete your book, and it’s all that you can think about, it’s time to take action. Understand that if you wait a week, it will turn into a month, which will turn into a year. The majority of people who contact me tell me that they have been sitting on their book project for five to ten years. It’s at that point that they realize they need to do something different from what they’ve been doing, or the book never will be written.
There are various phases every author must go through to write and complete a book. The primary phases are:
Writing the first draft
Although each author is different (and each will have their own process), I can tell you that these are the four main steps involved in writing any book.
Each stage tends to flow into the next. As an author and ghostwriter, when I complete most of my research, I am itching to organize all the information into a chronological outline. Then as I am outlining, there comes a point where I’m just dying to start writing. When that urge hits me, I pen a few pages for my client as a sample. This becomes the start of the first draft and helps me begin to establish the style and voice of the book.
The research phase
Research is crucial for any book project. Even when you write a memoir, you still need to do extensive research. After all, you will require accurate details of the time, location, appearance and historic events.
While the bulk of the research is done at the beginning of a project, I find that I continue to research as I write. Questions do come up and I need to look up the answers. This is especially true when I am writing about any period in the past. What was a popular rock song of the era? What kind of clothes were people wearing? These authentic particulars help set the tone of the story. Remember, readers will spot inaccuracies.
There are many resources for research: your relatives, the library, and, of course, internet search engines. There are so many data bases accessible by the public. For instance, when a client provides the street address of a home he lived in or a place where a significant event took place, I can easily look it up and see what it looks like from the street. Sometimes I can even find photos that give me a sneak peek inside.
The outlining phase
If you get a chance to review my blog, you’ll see that I’ve written extensively about how to write an outline. That’s because I feel it is a vital first step for writing a book. Honestly, I wouldn’t recommend that you take a writing step forward without a good, detailed flight plan for your book. It’s the best way to avoid mid-air collisions. The last thing you want to do is waste time on a story line that just doesn’t fit into your book.
Having said that, I know some of you might be groaning at the very thought of sketching the story out before writing. Maybe you work best on a free flow basis. That’s totally okay. Do what’s right for you.
The first draft phase
Once you have the outline completed, you may find that the book is pretty well written—in your mind. Now you need to get words on paper.
Budding writers will often try to edit as they crank out the first draft. I urge you not to do that. Please allow yourself to just get the rough draft completed. It might not be brilliant. That’s OK! Fine tuning your manuscript happens during the editing phase.
Set up a regular time to write each day and stick to that schedule. If you hold yourself accountable for a certain word count, you will make steady progress on your story.
If you find yourself continually discouraged when you sit down to write, or if you tend to avoid writing in general, revisit your outline. There might be a flaw that needs fixing. Perhaps one of the incidents not quite working for you. That can happen if it doesn’t really have a strong purpose in your book. Also, take a look at the people in your book. Does every character have a reason for being? Are they realistic? Once you have these issues sorted out, you’ll know it because you’ll be excited to write again.
When helping a client craft his memoir, I often need to counsel him to not include certain people. While it’s fine to mention Daisy the barista in your personal journal, she might not warrant a mention in your life story. Stick to the characters that matter and move the story forward.
The editing phase
When you complete your first draft (Bravo, by the way), it’s time to edit. I’d recommend putting your manuscript down for a few days or a week before starting this phase. Give yourself a breather from the project. Fill that time slot by reading books in the same genre.
The next step is to read over your manuscript from beginning to end and see if there are any issues with continuity. Sometimes you start out with one idea and end up with another. When that happens, you need to go back and make adjustments.
You will also pick up on issues with flow as you read it through. Some scenes will flow right into the next, while other transitions will be choppy. This is the time to fix that.
Dialogue is another element to focus on. If you’re just starting out, I’d recommend reading your book out loud, especially the conversations. You’ll immediately know if they ring true or fall flat. If you find you have trouble in this area, take a break and go out and listen to how people speak. Watch a few movies you enjoy and really listen to the words. It’s interesting how informal and “improper” the dialogue can be!
Once you’ve worked out the major kinks, you can review your manuscript for errors in grammar and punctuation. I’d recommend hiring one or two editors to look at your story with fresh eyes. It’s always good to have a detached person review your work. If you’d like to learn more about the different kinds of editors, check out my article Different Kinds of Editors.
When you need a little help writing a book
People reach out to me when they can’t write a book on their own. It isn’t easy to pen a 200 page manuscript. For first-time authors the task can seem mammoth. People sometimes start out strong, then get caught in the middle of one of the above stages and falter. They find that writing a book is much harder than they had anticipated. If this happens to you, don’t despair. There are options, steps you can take to complete your book.
Hire a writing coach
The process of writing a book is not really taught in high school or college. If you talk to seasoned writers, you’ll find they uniformly say they learned their craft from experience. I believe that authors learn how to write a book by reading and writing and reading and writing and…(you get the picture). When you’ve written a few hundred thousand words, that’s when you will find your voice.
There is another popular theory that suggests that if you want to gain expertise in a subject, you must put in 10,000 hours. There is no way around putting in the time to gain the needed experience.
One option is to hire a writing coach. She will charge by the hour to assist you to organize your thoughts and ideas and break through the mental blocks that are stopping you from making forward progress. This is a great solution for writers who are doing well overall, but just need an occasional helping hand. I charge $145 per hour to coach.
Hire a friendly ghostwriter
If you are having great difficulties and it seems as if you may not be up to the task of writing your book, consider hiring a professional writer, a friendly ghostwriter like me, to help you. I charge one dollar per word to ghostwrite and will get the job done for you.
On the other hand, if you are a writer who just needs a little assistance, hire someone to edit and make minor rewrites. A professional ghostwriter can also act as a manuscript doctor, helping to troubleshoot your book and debug any issues. For instance, he or she can assist you with character development and story line, while keeping your voice intact.
It isn’t cheating to hire a ghostwriter
Some feel that it’s cheating to hire someone to write a book for them. After all, their name will be on the cover, right? How can it be ethical to take credit if someone else wrote the book for them? Although I understand the concern, let me assure you, it’s done all the time. Hiring a ghostwriter is an accepted practice and you have the right to put your name as the author. After all, it’s your idea and really should be your book.
Having an experienced professional to help guide you through the book writing process will help you grow as a writer. It will give you an experience boost that will carry through to your second and third books. Your next literary adventure won’t be fraught with the perils of inexperience since you will have traveled these waters already.
If you need help writing a book, here are a few additional articles: