Dear Friendly Ghostwriter,I’ve never hired a ghostwriter, and I have no idea how I go about any of this, but I really would like to write a book on my life. Please could you give me some advice on the ghostwriting process? Also, do I need to know how to write a book first? – Larry
Dear Larry, Whenever I take on a new client, the process is unique, because the author and written content are unique. However, I can share with you a few aspects that seem to occur with every book project I’ve worked on for the last two decades. To learn about my process, please read my article: My Ghostwriting Process.
As a first step, the ghostwriter you hire will collect all the information required to write your book. In the case of a fictional novel, that could simply be understanding your core idea. However, with a memoir, your writer will need to know everything about you and your life that is relevant to the book. Your writer will probably interview you over the phone. Personally, I find it is effective for the client to send me a lot of written notes (in rough form). After I study these carefully, I can follow up with emails and phone calls to clarify.
Please understand, when you hire a ghostwriter, you don’t need to write the book; you just need to provide notes. All your notes will be rewritten, so don’t worry about spelling and grammar. Now, some people prefer to work with the ghostwriter and write their book alongside them. That works, too! Again, each relationship is unique, but never feel you have to be a good writer to hire a ghost.
Don’t edit your book before you complete your first draft
Dear Friendly Ghostwriter, I need help and inspiration in surpassing the first eight pages of my book. I am sooo stuck… It feels as if I’m writing the same thing over and over, so I delete and delete, while continuously whittling my pages away. Also, I am constantly unsure of my grammar and punctuation.– Ennayt
Dear Ennayt, Stuck in the mud? You know, I hear this a lot! You’re not alone; not by a long shot. The fact is, a lot of new writers make the mistake of cutting out words, then pages, as they produce their first draft. It’s important to let yourself go and just write. I implore you not to waste any time (and words) editing in the beginning. Allow yourself the freedom to create! Trust me, once you get to the end of your first draft, you’ll be better equipped to sculpt your draft into a book.
I’d also recommend that you not worry about grammar in this phase. Just let the words pour out of your mind onto the page. If you’re interested in learning more about the English language, I’d recommend reading a simple grammar book or checking out an online source like Grammar Girl. Start by learning one rule, then applying it. Then select another and so forth. Take it step by step. You may just find the learning process fun!
How to write a book about real people
Dear Friendly Ghostwriter, I would like to write an autobiography/screen play. This is something I have thought about for many years, but I’m extremely nervous how to approach this because of safety issues. I am not sure where to start. I would appreciate a consultation if possible.– Gen
Dear Gen, You bring up an excellent point. Honestly, I do think you have a right to be concerned. Once you put your story out there, you can’t take it back. I believe there are many instances when it just isn’t wise for someone to write their memoir. And it isn’t always safe.
Another point to consider is how a book will affect the people in your life. When writing a memoir, your characters are real people. They might not like what you have to say about them and if it isn’t handled correctly, the whole situation can blow up.
I always advise my clients to hide the people in the book as much as possible. For instance, it’s fine to change their names and physical appearances. The story will still be true even if the details are changed to protect the people involved.
Thank you all for your questions! Please feel free to write more in the comment section below or write me privately and I’ll do my best to answer!
Dear Friendly Ghostwriter,Hi Laura, I am 48. I need someone to write my life story. I read your article about hiring a ghostwriter and didn’t understand when you said that I would need to prepare work and research. What sort of research would I need to do? After all, it’s my real life story? How do I research a memoir? Thanks, Vi
Dear Vi, What a great question! Let me explain what I meant in that article. Whenever I ghostwrite a memoir, I always do a lot of research on a number of subjects. That way I can get the background information I need to tell the story with authenticity.
While it is helpful for an author to provide research information to their writer, the ghost will also need to do extensive research on top of that. Ideally the author and ghostwriter will work together as a team to uncover needed information on a variety of subjects.
Memoirs take place in the past, often in a period long gone. For that reason, I like to research the culture of that epoch to ensure I describe it accurately. For instance, cell phones wouldn’t have been used in the 1980’s, so your characters would need to find payphones or use landlines to call one another. By the same token, the internet would have been in its infancy, so there would be no “surfing the web” day and night. Of course, you’ll also need to reflect the correct clothing styles of the era. When I write a book, I find myself looking up the details surrounding the scene so that I depict them realistically.
In addition, it can be helpful to refer to the current events of the time. For instance, if I’m writing a memoir taking place mid-September 1959, most households would probably be talking about the moon landing. Or if your book centers around a key moment at the end of 1989, you might mention the Berlin Wall falling, as that would have been a hot topic. Discussing those major milestones would be a good way to help the reader orient himself to the time periods in your story.
Establishing the location is always important in any scene because it takes out the guesswork for the reader. That’s why I sometimes need to research places my characters will go. For instance, I had a client who described running down a major street near Miami. I wanted to get a feel for what the area would have looked like, so I used Google Earth and zoomed in to view the actual street. I learned it was an eight-lane highway and found there were lots of residential neighborhoods nearby. It helped me fill in the description.
Sometimes I will explore the homes I write about on the internet or through photos. Learning the layout helps me realistically put the kitchen next to the family room and the bedrooms upstairs (or not). Discovering the architectural style allows me to properly paint the picture with words. Sometimes I’ll do a search online to sneak a peek at the exterior of the home to get a feel for the front of the house. Of course, if the client has a photo of the place, that is very helpful.
When I can truly grasp the location, it helps me put myself in the space of the characters, which helps me write the story in an authentic way. I could make up details (and sometimes do), but it is wonderful when I can draw on researched facts.
Diaries, scrapbooks, and newspaper articles
When I research a memoir, some details comes in the form of firsthand recorded information. As a ghostwriter, the pages of personal diaries are like nuggets of gold. The words recorded years before provide information in a very organic way.
Likewise, newspaper clippings can help fill in missing pieces of important events, allowing me to understand more fully what happened. For instance, a wedding announcement would give the exact time and day of the event. This information allows me to look up the actual weather on that day. I’ll tell you, a wedding in the middle of a June thunderstorm is quite different from one that takes place in a heat wave.
One client had very little information about his ancestors, but wanted a story written about what could have happened. Through some online websites, I was able to determine the exact boat on which his grandfather arrived in New York in the mid 1800’s. My client had known the rough time period, so it was a joy to be able to discover the precise day, as well as the name of the ship. Then it was easy to research the boat to learn its size, crew compliment, and passenger list, all of which I could use to write faithful descriptions of the event.
Research in important in any memoir
So, Vi, research is a vital part of any memoir. If you and I worked together, we’d be a team, tackling this crucial area. So, consider collecting journal entries, newspaper clippings, photographs, and perhaps short biographies of the main players that will be featured in your book.
I’d love to hear from other writers on the subject. How did you research a memoir?
If you’re interested in writing a memoir, here are a few other articles you might enjoy reading:
Writing a memoir requires the skill sets and virtues of a knight.
The author needs unparalleled bravery and must possess an honest and true heart. He or she has to show humility and be generous to the others mentioned in the book (even if they have done harm to our hero).
But how do you find the theme of the tale you want to tell?
Start with the end to find your memoir theme
A good memoir takes the reader on a journey of the courageous hero (you). Your path should lead to growth or accomplishment of a goal (if it doesn’t, please rethink writing the book). This growth or accomplishment will point you in the direction of your memoir theme.
While the spoils of war, the victories, are the focus of your memoir, lessons will be learned along the way. Keep in mind, that means your mistakes will be exposed for all to see. But in the end, you should be the conquering hero.
And the reader will be by your side, sharing in your victory.
For instance, if you are a successful businessperson and wish to share your story, your theme might be how you slayed your personal demons that threatened to hold you back in order to rise up in the business world. I’ve written quite a few memoirs with this message.
Or perhaps you survived a life-threatening illness. In that case, your memoir theme would be centered around the successful life changes that guided you to health.
So, look carefully at your story. Where did you win? What did you do to get there? That’s where you’ll find your theme.
Summarize your book in one or two sentences
When you complete your book, you’ll often be asked “What’s your story about?” It’s good to tackle this question right at the start. When you first sit down to write out an answer, it might take you a few hundred words to summarize your 50,000-word book. That’s normal.
Remove the extraneous words and explanations and work to pare the description down to a single line or two. Thoroughly examine what your story is about. I know. It isn’t easy, but you have to edit it down.
This description will come in handy when you need an “elevator pitch” later. And in the short run, it will help you uncover your primary theme. For instance, if your book is about your grueling escape from a communist country to find success in America, your memoir theme might be: Persistence wins in the end.
Step back and look at the big picture
It can be hard, when you review your life, to find a theme. After all, it was your life and it can be hard to be objective. That’s probably why a lot of people reach out to me to help them ghostwrite their memoirs. It’s often tough to do on your own.
If you’re writing your book yourself, try telling someone who doesn’t know your story about your life story. This may help you sort it out because they’ll probably ask questions and make comments. Note these. If you are not ready to share your story quite yet, try stepping back and asking yourself questions you think your reader would ask about your story.
“Why did you make that choice?”
“What was your mindset when you traveled that path?”
“What would you do differently now that you know what you know today?”
These kinds of questions can help you formulate a good memoir theme, because your answers are really the successful solutions you developed. They brought you to the place you are today!
Your readers may be able to resolve their issues and be victorious in whatever battles they are fighting when they follow in your brave footsteps and apply your successful solutions. That’s the beauty of a good theme. You, the fearless knight, can really inspire and help others.
Please feel free to email me if you need a little help!
Dear Friendly Ghostwriter, I have an amazing story to tell, but don’t know how to start writing a book now. I have so many things all jumbled up in my head and I don’t know how to get it out on paper. Help! -Art M.
Dear Art M.,
When I received your question, I did a little search on the internet: “How do you start writing a book?” I was curious to see what other writers had to say.
Up popped a dozen articles that made the process seem ridiculously easy. Unfortunately, these articles paint a false picture. Writing a book is far from simple. Trust me, you’re not the only one to have difficulties in this area.
I don’t want to answer your question with a cookie-cutter twelve-step to-do list. Instead, I would like to give you some broad-stroke advice.
Make a list of incidents
When you consider a movie, it is made up of hundreds of scenes. They flow together to tell the story. With a book, these scenes can be better described as incidents. Basically, think of these incidents as the things that will happen to your characters (or if you’re writing a memoir, they are the experiences that have happened to you).
Some people like to make flashcards. They write the individual incidents out onto three-by-five-inch cards and put them into the order they think will work best. I prefer to open a word processing document and write out the incidents there. I don’t number them, but just get them out of my head in the simplest way possible. For example, it might look like this:
Incident: Bob discusses breaking up with Mary in a coffee shop.
Incident: Terry says good-bye to her parents before entering her new college dorm for the first time.
Each incident just needs to have enough information to jog your memory when you create a more complete outline later on. Don’t worry about putting the incidents in any order. You’re just trying to get the information out of your head and onto the paper (or computer document). It simply is a list of what happens.
Note: Some incidents might be super short. That’s fine!
Give each incident a time stamp
You should end up with dozens of incidents (perhaps even hundreds). Next, go through and give each incident a time stamp, which tells you when it took place. Some time stamps might be simply a month and year. For example:
Incident: Sam starts high school: September 1979.
Incident: George gets a job at Mercury, Inc.: May 1983
Sometimes, the time of the incident will be relevant. In that case, be as specific as you can. If you know the exact date, mark that down. For instance:
Incident: Bernice gives birth to her daughter: June 17, 1988, 4:30am.
Incident: Lonny graduates high school: May 25, 1999, early afternoon.
Again, these are notes for you. Don’t get bogged down. If you don’t the exact date, just put in the year.
Put the incidents in order
Now that you have the time stamps, you can put the incidents in chronological order. It’s possible that some incidents will serve as a flashback. If you know that will be the case, you can group them after the appropriate incident. For example:
Incident: Joe waits for Sally at their favorite park bench: September 2002.
Incident: Flashback: Joe and Sally share their first kiss on the bench: August 1994.
Flesh out your incidents
Now that you have all your incidents in order, it’s time to drill down and examine each one. I find it helpful to use a kind of journalistic approach with each incident.
Here are some questions you can answer:
Who is in the incident? (Name all the characters, even minor players.)
Where does it take place? (Be as specific as you can.)
When does it happen?
Describe what occurs (very briefly)
What is the purpose of this incident? (Why should it be included?)
You might have other points to mention, but it is important to keep it very brief. Don’t indulge in lengthy descriptions. It’s not time to start writing your book quite yet. For one thing, some of these incidents might not make the cut!
Note: The most important element on this list is the last one—the purpose. You must have a strong purpose for including this incident in your book. If you can’t come up with one, cut the incident immediately.
If you feel inspired to write a scene from this list, go for it. You might need to rewrite it later, but that’s OK. I understand the need to get the ideas/images out of your head! Sometimes I just write a few notes under the incident description. This helps me free up my attention and move on to the next incident on the list.
The next step
After you finish creating your master list of incidents, you want to make sure they flow one into the next. Once you have them all in sequential order and you’ve weeded out ones that don’t fit or have a real purpose, take a step back and review it. Read the list over a few times to make sure it works for you. This is one way to create an outline. If you want to change the format, it will be easy to do so, because you now have all the information you’ll need.
You may just find that the book is pretty much written! Yes, it’s still in your head and you’ll need to write the 50,000 (or so) words, but now you know where you’re going.
The incident list is a great tool to help you sort out the ideas that are jumbled in your head. And it will act as mile markers for you on your journey, helping you make sure that you’ve included all the important occurrences and events. It’s much easier to start writing a book if you have a well-laid plan. Enjoy the process!
As you begin your new adventure, you might find yourself hitting a few distractions. If you’d like some tips on how to avoid these, read my article on the subject. And, of course, if you have any questions, please feel free to email me!
If you’re contemplating writing your memoir, you should understand that it won’t always be an easy task. Most likely there will be a lot of emotion behind many of the events that have shaped your life story. Collecting these incidents together for your readers will take strength, time, and patience. Knowing this upfront will help you plan and complete your book.
Many people have reached out to me over the last two decades asking advice about how to write their life story. Here are a few tips to get you started:
Writing your memoir takes time
Writing a book isn’t an overnight undertaking. For a professional writer, I’d estimate it will take two hundred hours to complete. If you’re new to the process, plan for it to take longer.
It’s important not to rush the process. Even if you have plenty of time, give yourself some breathing room.
Eight months to a year is a good timeframe for completing a book. Set daily targets and hold yourself accountable to making them. Your memoir will be the better for it.
Character flaws are key
Even if you have lived the life of a hero, you will need to take a step back and look for a few non-optimum personality traits to share.
The reason for this is that the rest of us, your readers who have flaws, will never be able to relate to the story of a perfect superhero. Include the mistakes you’ve made in your life when writing your memoir. Find a few lapses in judgment and delve into them. Anecdotes showing how you overcame barriers and errors will enhance your book.
Humor goes a long way
When an author can poke fun at his or her situation and enliven a story by bringing out its comical aspect, it makes for a more enjoyable and memorable read. While it is best not to make fun of others in your book, there are still plenty of other ways to include humor.
For instance, funny dialogue snippets lighten the mood nicely. There might also be times when you can uncover an absurd moment then expand on it. Don’t be afraid to shine a spotlight on certain aspects of your life that might make others laugh out loud.
Don’t expect to make much progress if you only type a few pages on the weekends. Great writers write every day. It keeps ideas flowing and the creative pump primed.
Feel free to embellish the details
No one expects you to remember every single little detail of your life perfectly.
For example, can you recall what you had for breakfast on October 20th, 1974? If you’re writing a breakfast scene and want to put Eggs Benedict on the table, go ahead. Your readers will accept it.
The situation is similar with dialogue. If you are writing about an important conversation, your readers don’t care about the exact words spoken. They just want to know the gist of the conversation.
The truth is, even if you have a photographic memory, you will want to change up the words a bit to improve the flow of the story. However, never invent fictitious and unflattering words for a real person you’re mentioning by name. He or she might not appreciate your creativity.
Although you’re delving into the viewpoint of one character, you, you need to have the ability to pull back from your perspective.
This might mean that you don’t come out the winner in every argument. And, please don’t resent me for saying so, but you might turn out to be wrong on occasion. It happens! Remember, flawless characters aren’t very believable.
One of my biggest tips for writing a memoir is to be truthful with your readers. It’s possible that they might learn a lesson and avoid making the same mistakes you did. Wouldn’t it be good to know that your book changed the life of just one person?
Read other memoirs
I read a quote today that I loved. It said:
“Reading and writing cannot be separated. Reading is breathing in. Writing is breathing out.” (I wish I knew who wrote it.)
Writing a memoir is difficult if you’ve never read one by another writer. Reading a lot will help you learn about what works and what doesn’t.
You can also learn to spot the memoir themes, which might give you ideas for your book’s theme.
With these tips for writing a memoir, you are ready. Now start writing. Continue to write. Then write some more until your first draft is completed.
Don’t edit, just write.
Enjoy the experience.
Personally, I love ghostwriting memoirs because I get to meet new people and help them share their life stories with others. While doing so, they usually remember new details about their lives that they’d forgotten for decades. And, in the end, they always learn a lot, as do their readers. The process is so rewarding!
Dear Friendly Ghostwriter,I won’t call myself a writer by any means, but I wrote a book because the idea was stuck in my head. I had ten people read and edit it. Then I self-published it through Author House. I know it has potential, but I was told I need more descriptions in a book. I wrote for a fast read and people say it’s too fast. So, now I’m lost and know I need help. What do I do?
Congratulations on writing your first book!
You are absolutely a writer. Don’t sell yourself short.
As I’ve stated in a few places on my blog, I truly believe that everyone has at least one book within them. It takes a lot of courage to take that idea that you have stuck in your head and put it down on paper. By sharing our stories, it brings us all closer, making the world a little brighter.
Your question is wonderful. Let’s get into the subject of the art of storytelling through using descriptions in a book.
The importance of descriptions in a book
As an author, you want to help people feel they are smack in the middle of the adventure you’re sharing. For instance, when you’re sharing a memoir experience, proper descriptions will allow your reader to feel what you felt, see what you saw, etc. If you don’t help set the stage, people will be lost.
If you’re spinning a yarn (telling a fictional story) good description helps the reader visualize what you create. After all, as a novelist, you are often creating new worlds to explore or transporting people to a different era or culture. It’s fun!
Don’t overdo it
In this fast-paced world we like to keep things moving along. This especially applies to books. Readers really need you to get to the point. If the author spends two pages describing the food at a buffet, readers will often skip over those pages. If that happens too often, they’ll put the book down. Very few people have the time or interest to read through pages or even paragraphs of flowery explanations of the way things look.
Find a way to give just enough descriptions of the people, places and things in your story to help your reader truly understand what you are sharing. Too little and they’ll be confused, too much, and they’ll get bored. I know, it’s not easy. Writing takes experience. You’ll get the hang of it!
Identify the mood
I like to break my stories into incidents. In each scene there are characters that perform specific actions to accomplish a goal. So, read over your story and isolate all the individual incidents.
Now, select one. What is the mood of that event? Is a married couple arguing over money? Is a corrupt businessman afraid of the intern who is threatening to expose him? Name the mood, then look for places where you can amplify it with some descriptive words to complement your intention.
For instance, you can punctuate angry scenes with shorter sentences and violent gestures. People tend to cross their arms, their faces become flushed or red involuntarily, and they sometimes clench their jaw. There are a ton of mannerisms you can describe. These help the reader understand the emotions involved.
Use your senses
Writing instructors often recommend that you make a chart of sensory words you could use to describe something. So, let’s say you want to describe that corrupt businessman. List out some of your senses and find words that describe your character or environment. For example, smells associated with the corrupt man might be stale cigarette smoke, musky cologne, or old sweat. Sounds could include a raspy cough, or the clink of the coins he rubs together when he’s nervous. You get the idea.
It’s a good idea to hone your senses so you can write more vivid passages. Go out to a variety of places (eg: the mall, a forest, a busy street intersection, a supermarket, etc.) and just observe. How do they make you feel? When you close your eyes, what to you hear? What do you smell? Use all your sense and keep notes in a log.
Show, don’t tell
I know I’ve mentioned this axiom (show, don’t tell) a zillion times in my blog (not exaggerating), but honestly this is a cardinal rule in writing. Your readers want to see the story unfold. When I write, I imagine my story as a movie. This helps me avoid explaining things or being too vague. After all, when I write a screenplay, I can’t “explain” anything with descriptive passages. It all needs to be told through action and dialogue.
To illustrate, I’ll continue with the corrupt businessman example. Let’s say you want to show that he’s scared. You could just write, “He was scared.” However, that really doesn’t help the reader slip into the moment with you. Here’s another approach: “His throat was so dry, he could barely swallow. Small beads of sweat dripped down his back as he clutched his hands in his lap to stop them from trembling.”
Which do you find more effective in putting you smack dab in the middle of his fear?
Which one shows the emotion properly?
Descriptions in a book should show rather than tell the reader what you wish to share.
You have already done the hard work, D.T. Bravo! It sounds to me like you have the action down. Now you can round it out by adding a few descriptive details. Have fun with it!
If you’re sitting down to write your life story, you’re probably considering your options. When I offer prospective clients a free consultation, one of the questions I usually field is whether they should write a memoir or an autobiography.
Many people think they are the same thing.
While there are commonalities between the two genres, they are quite different in style and voice. This is a point of confusion for many. So before you begin writing your book, you must decide which option works best for you.
What a memoir and an autobiography have in common
Both types of books discuss the author’s life, as shared by you. For that reason, you would tell it in the first person. This type of storytelling differs from a biography, which you would write in the third person. This distances the reader from the author while memoirs and autobiographies tend to put the reader into the author’s shoes.
Although a memoir or an autobiography can be written in diary form, they aren’t actually a personal journal. For one thing, an author writes in a diary for himself, but would pen a memoir for someone else. It’s important to remember that a memoir or an autobiography must follow the rules of literature; both must read like a novel no matter the format.
How a memoir and an autobiography differ
While both feature a person’s life and are told in the first person, the tone and voice are often night and day. An autobiography is usually more of a formal work, which often begins at birth (or early childhood) and chronologically carries through the entire life. While there are exceptions, these books often have a dry feel, focusing on facts while just touching on emotion.
A memoir, on the other hand, dives headfirst into a sea of emotion. It tends to be intimate and passionate, highlighting a portion of the author’s journey through life. Remember, a memoir pulls out an era of the author’s life to examine and spotlight, making the story’s scope limited.
Which one is right for you?
When you’re selecting the style for your book, think about how much you wish to share with your reader. If you know you want to write only about a particular period of time, and you plan to share the emotional journey of that era with your readers, a memoir is a good choice for you. If you’d like to explore the entire scope of your life from a more detached perspective, I’d recommend an autobiography.
Not to throw a monkey wrench into your decision-making process, but I would be remiss if I didn’t reiterate the third option I mentioned earlier. You might consider telling your life story in the third person as a biography. I had a client who chose that option because she was a toddler during the major event of the book. Her personal memory of the event wasn’t strong, but she had a lot of details of the historical incidents, so a biography made sense.
Whether you choose to write a memoir or an autobiography, I encourage you to write your life story for others to read. Readers can gain so much from your experiences. Think of how rewarding it will be when people write in to say how much you’ve touched their lives with your book.
You’ve made the leap—you’ve decided to author a book this year. Bravo! This is a wonderful goal. If you’re similar to many other busy successful people, you may need a little help. If so, you may find you learn a lot just from a simple interview with a ghostwriter.
Over the years I’ve discovered that authors sometimes aren’t aware of everything that goes into the development of a book. Some have a vague idea of the ghostwriting process, but most have a lot of questions about structure, format and content. That’s completely normal. I’m more than happy to share this information with you during our initial interview.
The initial interview with a ghostwriter
Naturally there are questions you want to ask to determine whether a particular ghostwriter might be qualified to take on your project. I cover this topic extensively in my article, Interview Questions for a Ghostwriter.
However, while you are interviewing her, she is also gathering information which will help her decide if she is the best ghost for you. Through this initial interview with a ghostwriter you will take the first step toward understanding what will be required to complete your book.
Hit upon the genre of your book
The three most popular book requests I receive are: fiction, business nonfiction, and memoir. Within those classifications, there are many subcategories. For instance, if you’re writing a fictional story, you have various choices of genre: drama, science fiction, fantasy and young adult, to name a few.
If you’re writing business nonfiction, there are a wide variety of subjects as well as a few choices of styles of presentation of the facts and information. Some authors prefer text only, while others opt to include many photos. When I wrote Chess Is Child’s Play, we included many fun text boxes with tips and anecdotes for the reader to enjoy.
Memoirs are pretty straightforward. They are typically written in the first person and look and feel like a novel (even though they are true stories). However, some are presented as a diary or journal.
Keep in mind, there is some cross-over, too. For instance, you can have a memoir that is only loosely based on fact but is primarily a novel. Or a novel that feels like memoir but is actually completely fictional. In addition, many entrepreneurs who have important lessons to impart will write a nonfiction how-to book and sprinkle many humorous anecdotes throughout. Another option is to write a memoir and include many tips and tricks of the trade to educate the readers.
When you interview with a ghostwriter, make sure to know your book’s genre so you can hire the best ghost for the job; most writers specialize in certain genres.
Uncover your readership in an interview with a ghostwriter
One of the biggest errors a new author can make is to try to write his book for “everyone.” While some books are very popular with a lot of people, you always want to direct your creative energies to a certain demographic.
For instance, a how-to book giving practical parenting advice for single parents will be written very differently than a science fiction novel aimed at the young adult market. The voice and style will vary depending on the readers you wish to entertain or educate.
During your interview with a ghostwriter work to determine the right readership for your book and make sure your ghost can capture the style and voice required to resonate with them.
Talk about your goals
A good ghostwriter will ask you to reveal your goals for your book early on. Over the last twenty years, I’ve heard a variety of goals from many clients. Some are interested in financial gain, while others want to share their story or wisdom with others. Many simply wish to complete their books for their loved ones.
Another popular goal of many is to see their name on the cover of a book. I understand—it’s a bucket list item. As an author, I know there’s no better feeling than seeing your story in print.
I love to work with clients who wish to share their expertise or life lessons with others. I have seen that sometimes books written with a strong purpose to help, enlighten or entertain others also result in fame and fortune. On the other hand, fame and fortune seldom come when the author is purely money-driven. Your ghostwriter must know what drives you to write your book so that she can help you achieve your goals.
Discuss your publishing plans in an interview with a ghostwriter
It’s a good idea to share your publishing goals early on as well. While this information is not vital when it comes to writing the outline of a book, it does help to bring the ghostwriter in on the overall strategy. We’re a team, after all.
If you don’t know yet, don’t worry. You have time. I always suggest my clients decide about halfway through the writing process. That gives you time to make a more educated decision and prepare a query letter if that’s what’s needed.
The next interview with a ghostwriter and the next
After you complete your initial interview with a ghostwriter, you will probably immediately know if this writer is the right one for you. A rapport and bond should form quickly. If you have to “think about it,” the answer is probably no. Interview another writer.
Once you sign the contract and send the down payment, the next step will be to send all the written information you might have to your new ghostwriter. For me, one of the best sources of research is in written form. This gives me a great foundation to start learning what I need to know to write your book.
Some clients have a first draft that needs a complete overhaul, while others have a lot of detailed notes. Some provide journal entries or articles, while some have notes or documents written on cocktail napkins. Gather up all these pieces so you can send them to your ghostwriter. These written samples are invaluable, as they will help your ghostwriter capture your voice.
I always tell my clients that they can never give me too much data. It’s a bit like creating a sculpture from a large block of marble. You need a lot of material to start so you can carve out a beautiful piece of art.
After your ghostwriter has reviewed all your written material, she will need to continue to interview you. I often conduct these over email and phone. Sometimes clients send me audio or video files, which I transcribe.
Please know that these ongoing interviews are vital. They help your ghostwriter get the detailed information she needs to fully and accurately capture your style and written voice.
Get personal in an interview with a ghostwriter
If you want your writer to accurately portray you to your reader, it’s important that you participate in each interview with a ghostwriter fully.
That means if you’re writing a memoir, you must share your most personal experiences, thoughts and feelings sincerely and honestly. While you don’t need to include everything in your book, you can’t hide from all the negative events that happened.
Don’t try to make out that your life is wonderful all the time. You need to show your flaws and share your errors. Readers need to be able to identify with you. They need to see that you’re human. If you portray yourself as perfect, the reader will know that you’re lying.
And your book will be boring.
Just like life, a good story must have conflict to be interesting. So, you must be willing to open up to your readers. That begins with your ghostwriter. Your ghostwriter will help you by asking broad questions. If the questions spark an idea, feel free to elaborate. It’s fine to go off-topic for a bit because that may open the door to more ideas and even bring up interesting incidents which might have been a bit buried. Most of my clients remember many details when they interview with me, their friendly ghostwriter.
One word of warning: if you’re thinking of speaking ill of someone, be aware that her or she may read your book. Consider carefully if you are willing to face the consequences. After all, anything you put in writing is permanent.
If you’re writing a fiction book or a prescriptive nonfiction (how-to book), keep in mind you still need to interview with your ghostwriter. She will need to coordinate closely with you and collect all the pertinent facts. In addition, she’ll require regular feedback on her work.
Each interview with a ghostwriter will help her hear how you put together phrases, learn more about your philosophies on writing and life, and better understand your ongoing thoughts and goals for the project.
What a ghostwriter needs
My clients usually wish to write their book with me. I always embrace this partnership and strive to teach them about the process every step of the way, if that’s what they desire. However, some authors prefer a more hands-off approach. In those cases, I simply write pages and submit them on a regular basis.
There are various key research elements a client can provide that make my job a lot easier.
Biographies of characters
No matter what the genre, it is always helpful to collect biographies of the people mentioned in the book (whether they be fictional or not). If I’m writing a memoir for a client, I like to know the following information so that I can write a truly three-dimensional character:
Birthdate (month and year)
Birthplace and residences
Hair and eye color
Hobbies or interests
This is a good starting point, but, really, there is a lot more that can be added to this list. Consider all the things that make this person truly unique.
A detailed list of incidents
Any fiction book or memoir is really comprised of a series of incidents. It’s a timeline of the events that happen to your characters.
In order to get started on your outline, I need to know what happened. This list doesn’t have to include a lot of information. In fact, when you’re just starting out, it can just be a list of key words that triggers the right concept for you. Then, during your interview, your ghostwriter will pull out the relevant details to understand the scene as well as you do.
For instance, if you’re writing your memoir, you might jot down:
The time I got food poisoning in LA
The first horror movie I attended with a boy
The time I flew to Paris to meet my sister
Once you make a giant list of all these incidents, you can even delve in a little further and add a few more pertinent facts:
Who was involved?
Where did it take place?
When did it happen?
What was the significance for you?
Snippets of dialogue
When you’re writing a memoir, it is very helpful to note down any actual conversations that you might wish to recreate in your book. Of course, your ghostwriter will change it around to work for your book, but these words will give her a sense for how you and others in your story speak and interact with one another. If you think about it, you speak very differently with the different people in your life. I know I don’t talk to my mother-in-law the way I speak to my children or my neighbor.
The same goes for fiction if. If you have a good handle on the characters you wish your writer to portray, I’d recommend that you provide a little sample dialogue. That way your ghostwriter can build from that and meet your expectations easily.
I find it extremely helpful to get the addresses of former homes, offices, schools, etc., so I can research details about the locations various characters visited throughout the story. This helps me set the scenes accurately, especially if the research turns up photos of the interior as well. I love to pore over local maps to get a feel for the area.
Of course, if you have any pertinent photos, those help tremendously because they give a complete picture of how people, places and things looked.
Use your senses in an interview with a ghostwriter
As you are writing down all the above information, do your best to fully describe everything so that your ghostwriter can see and feel what you did. Use all your senses. For example, if you’re describing your first girlfriend, mention the color of her hair, the sound her high heels made as she clicked across the floor, the way her perfume reminded you of the rose garden at your grandma’s house, or the silky feel of her dress when you held her as you danced.
If you’re writing a memoir, each interview with a ghostwriter may bring out a lot of emotions. Let them out. Be honest about how you felt when certain things happened. Open up and share the fear that gripped you when your car spun out of control on an ice patch, the raw anger you experienced when your brother teased you as a young child, or the pure joy you felt when you held your first-born child.
And through it all, seek the themes that you wish to impart. Share the messages you wish to communicate through your book.
Enjoy each interview with a ghostwriter. You’ll learn a lot and, through the process of working with a ghostwriter, you both will create an excellent book.
After you finish the first draft of a manuscript, you need to edit your book. There are multiple phases in the editing process. You start by looking at your book as a whole, then move on to reading the manuscript line by line, and finish by correcting the errors and typos. Each step requires different experts trained in their area. I’d recommend that you hire independent professionals for each phase so you can get several fresh sets of eyes on your book. Start with developmental editing and be prepared for a shift in viewpoint.
What is developmental editing?
Developmental editing will vary depending on the type of book that you’re writing. If you’re penning a novel or a memoir, this kind of editing would include pointing out poor character development, unrealistic or confusing dialogue, continuity issues, plot holes, and other big-picture items.
If you’re writing a business book, the focus will be more on consistency of message and facts. Your editor will make sure that the message on page 10 matches that on page 199.
Once you get back the initial developmental edit, you’ll probably need to do some rewriting. This is why you always want to do the developmental editing prior to line editing and proofreading. There’s no sense in tidying up the typos before you do the rewrites.
Have the right attitude
You must be patient and open during this process. You’ll be looking at the manuscript as a whole and focusing on the big ideas to make sure the main pieces of the story work well. This isn’t a time to zero in on details.
A lot of new authors dread developmental editing because they don’t want to face making big cuts or major changes. This is part of the reason why it is important to hire an outside editor. A first-time writer might be a little too close to the project to be objective. It’s tough to scrap a character because he doesn’t have a real purpose or delete a scene that fails to propel the story forward.
When you undergo a developmental edit, be prepared to make some large changes to your manuscript. You might need to shift your viewpoint a bit and let go of some pages, replacing them with new ones. You can’t be a successful author while clutching every word you write to your bosom.
A good developmental editor is worth her weight in gold. She will help you get your book ready to publish, and her notes will strengthen your manuscript in ways you wouldn’t have been able to imagine. Sure, she might not be your best friend at first, but trust me, you’ll thank her when you’re done.
For more articles about writing a book, please check out these articles:
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.