Recently, I was interviewed by Letty Tippins, a popular YouTuber. She found it interesting that I earn a living on the road as a ghostwriting nomad and felt her viewers might be interested in what I do.
I have to admit that traveling with our family in our RV inspires me to write. It’s the ideal way for me to earn a living and I’m always happy to share my business model with others who might be interested in following in my footsteps.
Living Life with Letty
Letty has a fascinating channel about her exciting travels around the country in her van. This free spirit hasn’t allowed her rheumatoid arthritis to stop her. Instead, she chronicles her adventures, good and bad, so that others can learn.
People love her.
I love her.
I am one of her biggest fans, so I was thrilled when she asked if she could interview me for her viewers.
What I do as a ghostwriting nomad
Over the last two decades, I’ve written a wide variety of books for my clients. I love how unique each project is. To date, I’ve worked on seventeen memoirs, eight business books, and ten fictional works. The average length of the books I’ve written is 50,000 words. But the word count usually depends upon the budget of the client (I charge one dollar per word to ghostwrite).
My clients live all over the world. Currently, I have clients in New Zealand, Puerto Rico, Wisconsin, and California. People often ask if I have to fly out to meet my clients. The answer is no. Even when my client happens to be in a neighboring town, I rarely interview him or her in person. It’s much easier for both parties to simply chat on the phone and use email.
My purpose as a ghostwriter is to write a book that matches the creative vision of the author. I help my client find his or her written voice (which will be a bit different from the spoken voice) and create a style that matches his or her unique viewpoint. That way the author can really get his or her message out there and help others.
I can’t think of a more rewarding vocation!
The benefits of being a ghostwriting nomad
Our family has criss-crossed the country three times now. We’ve seen many of the National Parks and have met many wonderful people. It’s fascinating how each state has its own character, culture and style. There is no better way to experience that than in person. After all, written accounts and TV shows are just two-dimensional representations of the real thing.
One of the benefits of being a ghostwriting nomad is that I can open my door to a new vista each day. I breathe in the air, take in the flora and fauna and talk to the people. I immerse myself in new adventures. As a writer, I can tell you these experiences are truly helpful because they broaden my horizons and expand my base of knowledge. I can add to my ever-growing personal database of information.
Bottom line, my books are enhanced by this lifestyle.
How you can become a ghostwriting nomad
I wrote an in-depth article about how to become a ghostwriter for all who are interested. In it, I tried to cover all the bases. If you have further questions, please don’t hesitate to write me. I do sometimes coach new writers.
Many prospective ghostwriters have asked me for tips about how to find clients. This is one of the biggest challenges for many writers. My advice is to start a blog.
My blog is my one and only lead source.
It works because people use their search engines to ask questions about writing and ghostwriting, and my website pops up. Why? Because my content is current, relevant, and helpful.
There’s no secret sauce required for success. Hard work and a willingness to share information helped me get where I am today. You can do it, too! Now, I understand that a blog takes a while to build. You just need to start. Today. Write once or twice a week. Answer questions that you know your readers will have. Be a valuable resource for people online. It will take time, but in the end, people will be knocking on your door asking you to write their books for them.
Today I’m pleased to present a guest blog from Erick Mertz, author and ghostwriter, who is an expert when it comes to structuring a book. I asked him to write this article to give my readers a good foundation in the three-act structure.
Writing a good book, one that connects with readers, requires the mastery of story fundamentals. You must understand characters, the “who” of your book, as well as the setting, the time and locations where your story takes place. No element, however, is more richly rewarding than the plot.
The plot describes the series of events that take place throughout the course of your story. It is the action, those challenges your character faces on his or her path toward achieving their end goal.
A lot gets written about how to properly formulate a plot. Structuring the events in a story the right way leads to a higher degree of readability, meaning your readers will simply enjoy the book more. Getting the right events in place is important, but the right events in the wrong order will leave your readers confused, or unsatisfied, which ultimately leads them to put your book aside in frustration.
Don’t let that happen. Once your readers get into your book, you must do everything that you possibly can to keep them engaged. Getting the right events in the right order is critical to achieving this. One of the ways you give yourself the best chance of achieving this is to follow a classic story structure that has been around and engaging readers for nearly two thousand years.
What Is The Three-Act Structure?
The first thing you may have thought of when “three-act structure” was mentioned was the theater. Stage plays breaks into acts, usually two or three, with an intermission between them. This is the time when the stage changes form and you can go out into the lobby for a quick breath of fresh air.
Using a three-act structure in a book or a screenplay is not indicated by a roadblock break in the action. There is no end of Act I break written on the page. In a book, structural shifts are seamless. While some changes may come in the form of a chapter break, there isn’t a callout anywhere that says, commencing Act II, as there would be in a stage play script.
Rather than roadblocks, a writer signals changes in the act by way of subtle shifts in the focus of events. Instead of being told the act change has happened, the reader senses it through the events that unfold. Events in a three-act structure build off of one another, behaving like emotional building blocks. Early scenes set the tone for future events, always narrowing in focus and increasing in intensity until the very end when the main character — your protagonist — reaches their goal.
Three-Act Structure & Character
Before diving into the elements of the three-act structure, it is important to establish a fundamental understanding of core character archetypes. In the most rudimentary terms, characters break down into three main types: protagonist, antagonist, and ancillary characters.
The main character, or the protagonist, is the central focus of the story’s central journey. They are the person (or creature, force of nature, or animal) whose path of change we are following. Change comes to all characters, but the protagonist’s change is the one we really care about the most.
Opposing the protagonist is the antagonist. This is the story’s villain, the force putting up the resistance to the main character’s change. Their actions are focused on holding back, slowing down, or stopping the protagonist on his or her way toward their goal.
By and large, ancillary characters are along for the ride. They attach themselves to either protagonist or antagonist (although sometimes they act alone) and are the ones helping achieve those ends. Think of them as the cast of fun, interesting, helpful, or hindering partners that move the story along.
When we refer to events within the three-act structure, they come in reference to what the protagonist is doing and where they are. In rare instances, those events connect to what is being done to them. You will see that the other character roles are usually there to affect what the protagonist is doing.
During the first act, setting and character are established. This is what writers call the ordinary world, where the main character has their roots planted before the real story starts. We see this is how they were living before the “inciting incident” an event that happens during this section.
Act One is important for a couple of reasons. First, it provides the necessary context. We need to see who our hero or heroine is before the adventure. At some point in this story they are going to change — hopefully drastically, in the direction toward a better self — so this is our chance to see their life before.
The other reason Act One is important is because it is where the “inciting incident” occurs. Every hero receives a call and it usually comes in the ordinary world when they least expect it.
The demarcation between Acts One and Two is the moment when the story’s hero chooses to accept their call to action, something they may have denied before. They’ve debated about the ordeal long enough. They’re no longer thinking about doing something extraordinary — they’re on the path to doing it.
Act Two is the book’s longest section. It comprises roughly 50-60% of the length. This act comprises most of the action, from the early part of the adventure to the introduction of antagonist forces to the set-up for the final conflict.
Every hero is faced with a unique challenge all their own. In Act Two, they are meeting that obstacle, learning about the mountain they must climb, and actually climbing it. This is where they stumble and fall down, before getting strong enough to make the push to the end
Any storyline can be thought of this way, from fiction to memoir to business book. All of our lives and journeys, real or imagined, are filled with conflicts that require acceptance, practice, and trials before the climactic moment on the path to ultimate success.
Act Three commences moments before the final challenge is breached. It is arguably the shortest section of a story, centered around the climactic confrontation and falling action.
What is the climactic confrontation? Think of the moment in the story when the hero meets the villain, opposite forces facing off against one another. The protagonist has been moving steadily toward meeting their goal and the antagonist has been pushing back. This is when push comes to shove, the moment when someone has to triumph.
What constitutes the falling action is everything that happens after the climax has been resolved. Maybe the antagonist is vanquished, and the protagonist receives the proper laurels. In one way or another, the journey of transformation has been completed and the hero can return home.
The Three-Act Structure In Action
Perhaps the simplest visualization of a three-act structure is through the Disney classic, “Dumbo”.
In Act One, our protagonist, a baby elephant with ears too big, is born into an unforgiving world. He is an outcast in the circus and struggles to find his worth in a world cruel to misfits.
Act Two begins when Dumbo works to find his place in the circus. His journey is to find his means of fitting in despite an outcast status he is helpless to do anything about. At first, he fails in his big change, but with some grit and determination (and the help of his guide Timothy Q Mouse) he works to find a place for himself. Through this process, he learns that he may have the ability to fly.
At the beginning of Act Three, Dumbo on the edge of trying out his new trick of flying in front of a packed entire circus tent. After much trepidation, he is successful, which ultimately solidifies his place in the circus as an equal to his peers. The antagonist of prejudice has been vanquished.
The Three-Act Structure — In Conclusion
Understanding how to employ the three-act structure is an invaluable tool for reaching your readers. While the idea of a structure might seem rigid, it actually works quite the opposite way. Knowing where certain events should fall makes structure intuitive and leads to happy readers.
Erick Mertz is a ghostwriter/editor/manuscript consultant from Portland, Oregon. You can read more of his thoughts about the business and craft of writing at his website here.
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.
Now, I’m a huge fan of Star Trek. Doctor McCoy would often say, “Damn it, Jim. I’m a doctor, not a _______!” (fill in the blank with brick layer, engineer, etc.) I have the feeling that some writers might identify with that sentiment. I can just imagine them saying, “Damn it, Laura. I’m a writer, not an editor!”
I hear you.
I get it.
However, I beg to differ. There’s no getting around the fact that you need to know how to edit your own book.
While you are a writer and can magically weave words together to create worlds and entice your readers, 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 probably 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
Think about it.
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 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. If you do, be aware that you may need to 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. If you’re a plotter, these may be covered. However, while editing, you might have brilliant insights that inspire you 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 murmured.
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.
I belong to a few online writing groups. I love to answer questions that new writers have about how to write and encourage them to continue on their writing adventure. Writing takes practice. And to be able to write dialogue requires a good ear. Check out my article on How To Write Great Dialogue for a more in-depth analysis on the subject.
In this video, I wanted to highlight a few key points to remember.
Tip#1: Write dialogue that sounds real
Have you ever read a book or watched a TV show and just found yourself snapped out of the story? Chances are that the dialogue didn’t sound real to your ears. When characters speak in a way that sounds artificial, the readers can lost interest.
When I was in high school, I remember watching General Hospital. Soap operas are notorious for having poor dialogue. I couldn’t watch one nowadays. There’s no purpose for the interchanges half the time. Or the purpose might have been to prolong the scene.
You’re writing a book. You’re interested in drawing in the reader and keeping him or her engaged. In order to do that, you need to make sure your dialogue is tight and sounds real.
Tip #2: Delete unnecessary pleasantries
The only way to learn to write great dialogue is to start somewhere. I remember when I first started to write stories in grade school, I would begin at the beginning. It made sense. Mary walks into the room to talk to Joe. Wouldn’t Mary greet Joe? Then wouldn’t Joe greet Mary?
Well, sure, in real life you might hear:
“Hello, Joe,” Mary said.
“Hello, Mary. How are you?”
“I’m good. How are you?”
“I’m good, too.”
In a book, these pleasantries are a bit painful to read. Most of the time you can shorten them and cut right to the purpose of the dialogue between the characters like so:
“Hey, Joe,” Mary said. “How’s it going?”
“Great! I got a new job.”
That’s better. It leads into an interesting conversation.
Tip #3: Add humor into dialogue when possible
Now, I’m not saying you should force humor into every scene. That would be awkward.
However, I know that when I really know my characters, when I’ve truly developed them, they tend to create their own dialogue. Some of my characters are good friends. And when two friends get together, they usually crack jokes. This lapse into comedy often includes inside jokes that others on the outside might not get. As an author you need to make sure the reader is in the loop, so that he can understand the banter.
Tip #4: Write dialogue for your readership
Remember that not everyone is always going to get every joke. Some readers won’t get your sense of humor. That’s OK. They aren’t your readership!
In the above scene with my daughter, we throw in a reference to Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Will everyone know the film? Probably not.
You don’t need to write dialogue so that everyone in the world will understand each joke on the first pass. It’s hard to create inside such a tiny box. Simply go for communicating to your readers.
It’s important to identify your readership before you start writing, then write to those people. Teenage boys will probably have a different sense of humor than middle-aged mothers. Maybe.
Simply consider your readers as you write dialogue between two characters. And remember, you can perfect dialogue when you edit your book! Don’t stress about it too much in the first draft phase.
I hope you enjoyed this video and found these tips helpful.
When two characters struggle for conversation in a book, the dialogue stands out like a blooming weed in a garden of tulips. The reader’s attention is quite suddenly ripped from the story and shifts to the awkwardness of the passage. Bottom line, if you want to be a writer, you need to learn how to write great dialogue so the reader feels like he is eavesdropping on your characters.
If you look back at all your favorite books, you’ll discover that you probably got lost in the conversations. The words flowed naturally as they might if you got together with your best friend or sibling.
Honestly, writing dialogue isn’t hard. It just requires a bit of understanding, study and practice.
How to recognize great dialogue
Dialogue is a tool that can breathe life into your story. It must always have a strong purpose, or it will fall flat and be boring. Never have two characters chat for the sake of filling a page with words.
When you write great dialogue, it allows the reader to see how a character feels and what motivates him to do the things he does. It defines his relationship with other characters. In addition, dialogue allows you to move your story forward, provide background information, foreshadow events, or set the mood for a scene. If it doesn’t do any of those things, those passages probably need to be cut.
One of the best ways to learn to write dialogue is to study the dialogue within other works. Sounds simple enough, right? Well, it’s true.
Definitely read lots of books. When you find one which captivates you, go back over the scenes you liked best and observe how the author conveyed his or her message. Look for style points that you might be able to use.
I also suggest that you glance at screenplays you like. After all, scripts rely on dialogue to tell the story. By studying these you can see what works and what doesn’t.
In addition, watch movies or television shows and pay attention to how the screenwriter tells the story through the people. Each main character should have his or her own way of speaking, which helps us understand their personality better. For instance, Tyrion Lannister (from Game of Thrones) uses off-color humor and intelligence to overcome potential prejudice. Or when Teal’c from SG1 lifts an eyebrow and says, “Indeed,” it speaks volumes about the stoic Jaffa warrior. Both characters are beloved by fans.
If you’re anything like me, you were probably brought up to never listen in on the conversations of others. Well…I’m going to ask you to break that rule. I know it sounds weird, but if you eavesdrop on the conversations of strangers, it will assist you in your quest to write great dialogue.
Airports are good places to find interesting people from diverse backgrounds. Malls and cafeterias are other hot spots. If the place is too crowded, the ambient noise might be overwhelming, so pick a place where you can zero in on one group of people.
Really listen to how people naturally chat. Take notes. What slang do they use? Keep in mind that slang and pop culture references will date your piece. This can be helpful. “Groovy, Daddy-o…” would put us in a different era than “Gag me with a spoon.” “Wassup?” was huge in the 90’s, whereas the term “newbie” only became popular this century.
Really observe others as well. Conversation isn’t just about the words; it also involves gestures, facial expressions and vocal tones. Note these down. You can sprinkle them into your story later to make your dialogue more realistic.
Great characters use great dialogue
The best way to write great dialogue is to truly know your characters. To do so, I recommend writing character biographies. Besides physical description, background, hobbies and the like, you can do a deep dive into the characters’ personalities. Is Sam angry because he was overlooked for a well-deserved promotion? Perhaps Georgia is grief-stricken by the death of her husband and Luke is so self-involved that he doesn’t even see another’s point of view.
Give your characters distinct voices
By knowing your characters, you can jot down phrases, physical mannerisms or speech patterns that reveal their true natures. Following the examples above, you’d probably find Sam speaking in short, clipped sentences, while Georgia might speak more hesitatingly. And Luke might have trouble answering a question directly because he doesn’t really care what anyone else is saying.
Make the speech realistic
Some new writers might wonder about contractions. As a child, I was taught that a good writer never used them in formal writing. Later, I learned that isn’t always true.
Sure, there are times when a character might shout, “I will not do that!” If you read that line out loud, you’ll probably find yourself punching each word individually. “I…Will…Not…Do…That!”
However, most of the time, in a normal (not yelling) conversation, the character would use a contraction. “I won’t do that!” It is more casual. And that’s often the right way to go.
Also, consider if characters completely spell out their thoughts or do they sometimes trail off mid-sentence. I think you’ll discover that in real life we often don’t speak in complete sentences. And we don’t always say what we mean.
For instance, you wouldn’t write:
Darla approached Sam uncertainly.
“Go away, I’m mad at you!” he huffed angrily.
This on-the-nose exchange is boring. Instead, here’s another option:
Darla tiptoed over to Sam, biting her lip. “So, I was thinking…”
Sam folded his arms across his chest and glared at her. “What?”
The reader can see that Darla is uncertain and Sam is angry. We don’t have to spell it out.
Like your characters
Whenever you invest yourself (and the reader) in a character, you have to be sure to like him or her on some level. Otherwise the character probably won’t be authentic.
Robert De Niro said in an interview that he must really like every character he plays—even the evil ones. He explained how he had to be able to relate to each character he portrayed in some way in order to get the audience on board. I have to say, that was very enlightening for me, as that concept applies for writers as well as actors.
If you look at it, evil people rarely consider themselves to be evil. They have a reason for their actions, just like anyone else. It’s just that their purpose is often self-serving and contrary to agreed-upon moral codes, making it disturbing for the rest of us.
When you write dialogue for a bad guy, get his or her viewpoint fully; think as he or she would. Otherwise your character won’t be believable.
Tips to write great dialogue
If you want to improve your technique, I recommend doing exercises geared towards writing dialogue. Here is an article with a few writing prompts. Personally, I like to put two developed characters in a room and just listen to them converse.
Then I write what they say.
It’s so simple it can feel like cheating.
Let it flow
While you are writing your first draft, just let the dialogue flow. Don’t worry if it matches your character’s voice or motivation. Don’t agonize over whether or not it’s relevant to the story. And please don’t fret over grammar, spelling or punctuation. Just let it flow.
When you do this, you’ll uncover some sparkling gems of conversation that you might never have discovered otherwise. Don’t worry, you’ll have a chance to fine-tune your character’s words during the editing phase.
Delete the boring stuff
In real life, we sometimes carry on mundane conversations.
“How are you?”
“Good. And you?”
This sort of dialogue is terribly boring for a book. No one wants to read it. As Alfred Hitchcock said, “Drama is life with the dull parts cut out of it.”
As a writer, you must be creative and work out how you can get your point across, forward your story, and develop your characters, all while trimming the humdrum.
Keep your dialogue exchanges short and snappy. Get straight to the point. You want to make an impact, so drop the reader into the middle of the exchange.
Watch the dialogue tags
When I was starting out as a writer, I loved to use any alternative to “he said” I could think of: “She argued” or “He pontificated” or “She moaned” (you get the idea). I went way overboard, and it became terribly distracting for my poor readers. Most of the time it’s much better to stick with the bland “he said.” Having said that, you can skip most of the tags, popping them in when needed for clarity.
For instance, you might write:
“Last night was rough,” Jane said.
Mary nodded. “You’re telling me. I’m sore all over.”
“Think we’ll be called in again tonight?”
“It’s Tuesday,” Mary said. “Nobody wants to see us wrestle on a Tuesday.”
Read your dialogue out loud
When you complete your book, leave it alone for a few days to a week before you edit. Give yourself time away from the piece.
Now, read your dialogue out loud.
Bad dialogue pops out beautifully when you do this.
Here’s a rule of thumb: if the words don’t slide off your tongue easily, your character will trip over them, too. As will your reader.
Note: If you’re bored as you read through the dialogue, you need to edit. Don’t worry, that’s normal! Ideally, even though you wrote your book, you should be just as enthralled by it when you read it over as your future readers will be. When it flows and you get drawn into the story, you know you have a winner.
If you need help with dialogue, email me and we’ll sort it out. Dialogue-driven stories tend to be my favorites.
Do you have a burning desire to write a book this year?
You’re not alone!
I believe that everyone has at least one book within them. Whether they wish to share a story idea that’s been simmering for years, sage business advice to help others succeed, a personal life story that just needs to be told, or a family history project that is time sensitive.
As a ghostwriter of twenty years, I’ve worked with many clients in each of the above categories. I love them all because each genre has its own particular challenges and its own rewards. And although they are all unique, each book project requires the same elements and preparation.
If you follow the steps in this article, you will avoid the common problems people face, which can cause writer’s block and cause them to fail in their goal to complete their books.
Before you can really get started on a book, you need to prepare yourself for the project. I believe the reason most people never complete their books is that they don’t set themselves up properly from the get-go.
Make a firm decision to write a book
Make the firm decision to write a book—no matter what. This decision will help you stay on track in the face of distractions. Give yourself a final deadline and target dates along the way for milestones to complete. That will help you finish your book.
Find the time
The best way to complete your book is to make regular progress. Find a time of the day when you won’t be disturbed. This may be early in the morning before the kids wake up, or late at night after all of your other responsibilities are done.
If you can only carve out a few hours a week on the weekends, that’s a good place to start. Just know that you might find you lose some time in reacquainting yourself with the material if you allow too many days to pass between writing sessions.
See if you can find even a little time to write every day. You’ll soon be immersed in creating your book and may even find extra time to work on it.
Find a place
Find a dedicated writing space. Somewhere around your home, with a door you can close, would be most convenient. I know some writers who are inspired by the great outdoors and settle down near a lake or in a meadow. They don’t even mind the occasional visits from beetles and spiders.
It doesn’t matter where you set up, as long as you can write without distraction.
Experiment, and find your place.
State your purpose
Over the years, my clients have voiced a variety of different purposes for writing their books. Many writers yearn to see their names on the cover of their books. As an author, I understand; I know there’s no better feeling than seeing your creation in print.
Beyond that, there are authors who crave financial gain, while others want to share their story or wisdom in order to help. Some simply wish to complete their books for the benefit of their loved ones.
Be clear about your purpose right from the beginning. It will allow you to better determine what direction you will take.
Determine your readership
One of the biggest errors you can make as an author is to fail to identify your readership. You can’t write a book to everyone. Trust me, you’ll fail. No, you need to target your words to a specific demographic.
It’s important to figure this out early, because the voice and style of your book will depend on the readers you wish to entertain or educate. After all, wouldn’t you write a how-to book for experts in your niche market differently than you would a science fiction novel aimed at a young adult audience?
Consider your themes
Simply put, the theme of your book is the glue that ties everything together. This idea often conveys a universal truth, such as Love, War, Forgiveness, Courage, Friendship or Faith.
For example, I think we can all agree that J.R.R Tolkien communicated courage beautifully in The Hobbit, as did J.K. Rowling in Harry Potter. Friendship was another theme in both these works.
Keep in mind a book’s theme is rarely stated outright. It’s more subtle. It’s a takeaway the reader will experience and consider for years to come when you express your viewpoint of the world and the human condition through your characters’ beliefs, actions, experiences and conversations.
Now that you’re fully set up to write a book, it’s time to organize your thoughts. A lot of first-time writers fall on their faces when they just begin to write without a strategy. After all, if you were to bake a wedding cake for your best friend, you’d probably do a little research and at least follow a recipe.
Create detailed notes
It is so helpful to jot down detailed notes before you begin to write a book. Get these ideas out of your head and onto paper. This process will help you envision your story and get the creative juices flowing.
I have found an effective way to collect notes is to create an idea folder. This could be a word processing document or a notebook. Any thought you have about your book should be recorded in this folder. Don’t worry about the order, grammar, spelling or anything else.
Just let your ideas flow.
Have fun with it.
Remember to research
Research is crucial for any book project. If you’re writing a memoir or recording your family’s history, you’ll need to provide accurate details as to time, location, appearance of the historic events. This also holds true if your novel is set in a past era.
Fortunately, you have many resources available to you for research. Many writers use the internet and the library, but don’t forget the treasure trove of information within the minds of your family members. Many of them lived through the decades past and can share experiences with you.
As you gather information, add it to your notes file. Be sure to always record your sources, so you can refer back to them.
Your story will take place in a location. If it is a real place, use the information from your memory or research to paint it accurately. If you are writing fiction and setting your story in an imaginary place, I recommend that you do some world building. World building consists of fully fleshing out the universe which your characters occupy. This includes the geography, history, scientific laws and developments, culture and customs of the inhabitants, etc. By having a crystal-clear idea of what these are, your story will flow, and your readers will happily come along on the adventure.
Know your characters
Regardless of your genre, you will probably have a cast of characters in your book. Even most business books include personal anecdotes that involve friends and family. These characters all need to be developed.
I find it helpful to create character biographies. Here I list each person who will be featured in the book and jot down their name, birth date and various other attributes that will help me write realistically about them. Some things to consider might be:
mannerisms or habits
At this point you have an excellent, solid foundation in place; you are well set up for success. Now it’s time to pull together all your notes and research into a cohesive plan. Then you can begin to write.
Create an outline
An outline allows you to organize your notes to create a good flow for your book. I am a big fan of outlining. It’s a road map that allows me to know the direction I’m going with my book. Without an outline it’s very easy to take a wrong turn and wind up in a dead end.
If you’re writing a novel or memoir, consider putting all the incidents in chronological order. That’s usually the best plan. Of course, you can opt to indulge in the occasional flashback, but don’t overdo it.
Your outline can take any form that works for you. After all, it is for your eyes only and is purely a tool to help you organize the content of your book.
When writing a business book, I suggest that you create a table of contents along with subheads. Jot down descriptions or bullet points under each to remind you about the content you wish to share.
For a novel or memoir, I prefer to use a different system. I create a large incident list which answers the following questions:
Who is in the scene?
Where does it takes place?
When did it happened?
What happened in the incident?
What is the purpose of the scene in your book?
Note: The last point is by far the most important aspect of this process. After all, if a scene has no purpose, it will just land on the editing room floor at the end of the project.
Write your first draft
Once the outline is completed, you may find that the book is pretty well written—in your mind. Now it’s time to get words on paper.
New writers often edit as they crank out the first draft. Try to avoid doing that. Just get the rough draft completed. I know, it won’t be great. That’s OK! You’ll fine tune your manuscript during the editing phase.
So just sit down and write…
If you’re writing a memoir, and find yourself sharing personal stories, be as detailed as possible so that you can help the reader feel as if he were right there with you. To do this, close your eyes and see the colors, hear the speech patterns, smell the odors, taste the food, and feel the textures in each incident.
The same goes for a novel. Use your senses when you’re telling the story. Draw on personal experience if possible. If not, use your world building notes to help guide you.
If you’re penning a how-to book, be sure to give step-by-step, detailed instructions for your reader. Put yourself in the shoes of someone who knows nothing about the subject. Imagine what questions he may have as he tries to do the steps, or any difficulties he may run into, and address them accordingly.
Edit your first draft
After completing your first draft, it’s time to edit. I’d recommend putting your manuscript down for a few days or a week to take a breather from the project.
The next step is to read over your manuscript from beginning to end and see if there are any issues with continuity. It can happen that you switch gears on a subject mid-writing. In that case, you’ll 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.
While doing this you may spot typos. Sure, fix them, but this isn’t the time to focus on grammar or punctuation. Instead, make sure the story sings. By the time you finish this phase, you may find that you’ve altered and rearranged the words so much that fixing typos doesn’t make sense.
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.
With these steps for how to write a book, you should be ready to start. Regardless of the decade and what is going on in the world at the time, there’s no time like the present to begin. If you have any questions or would like some help, please contact me. My greatest joy is in helping others achieve their dream of sharing their story in a book.
Author Bio: Laura Sherman (aka the Friendly Ghostwriter) has been helping authors write their stories for twenty years. When she’s not busy building worlds for her clients, she homeschools three children as the family travels the country in her RV.
If you want to write a business book, you’re certainly not alone. So many professionals get a strong urge to publish a book that highlights their niche market expertise. If you talk to PR experts, they will confirm that having a book with your name on it is a key element to any strategic branding campaign. It’s smart business to write a business book!
However, for most busy professionals the dream stops there. Why? Because writing a book isn’t an easy task. As you can imagine, it will take a few hundred hours to complete the project.
Most business owners don’t have that kind of time readily available. They are already overloaded with the day-to-day activities of operating their companies, working well beyond the normal hours of 9-5, usually an average of sixty hours a week. With little time to spare to write a business book, it gets put on the back burner. I get it.
Let’s see if we can make the process a little easier for you to tackle. And, of course, if you need help from your friendly ghostwriter, please don’t hesitate to write me.
How to begin to write a business book
Well, as Lewis Carroll said, “Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”
While that might sound a little simplistic, there’s a measure of truth to it, because implied in that advice is a drive to complete the project. So, I’d say the first step is to make that commitment: to write a business book, no matter what.
Once you’re sure you want to embark on this adventure, here is my advice on the next steps to follow.
State your purpose
You must know why you want to write a business book if you’re going to succeed. As a ghostwriter, I always ask my clients to reveal their main drive and passion behind the project. I’ll tell you, I’m most eager to help the CEO who wants to share his or her successful actions with budding entrepreneurs. Business owners who are willing to share their advice, to open up and to confide their errors, with the ultimate goal of paving the way for other business owners to succeed, are heroes in my book.
Some people write me with the sole goal of making a million bucks. It’s hard to get behind that purpose. Readers will sense that goal and will not be inspired to read your book. After all, their goal in picking up your book will never be to make you rich. Rather, they are looking for advice and actions that will help them achieve their own goals.
The authors who truly care about their readers will succeed.
The top business books have a deeper purpose than financial gain for the author. When you can reach out to the individuals reading your words on a one-on-one basis, they will respond. Your readers will be grateful for your insight and guidance. They will recommend your book to others, and more will purchase it. Soon you may even have a best seller on your hands.
Know your readership
If you know who your readers are, you can accurately write to them. Consider writing your book as if you were preparing a speech for a group. Wouldn’t you craft your message differently for a gaggle of middle school students than you would for a pride of CEOs or a pod of athletes?
Never write your book for “everyone” on this planet. It will fail. Remember, you are writing to one individual at a time. You’re writing to your reader, so that individual learns and benefits from your wisdom and advice.
Determine your format
Here’s where your homework starts. You need to settle on a style for your book, and the best way to do that is to read a few other business books. It’s OK to skim them. For now, you’re just trying to find a format that appeals to you.
The good news is that you have choices! Here are a few options for you to consider:
a memoir format with lots of sage business advice sprinkled throughout
a leadership book with many personal anecdotes
a step-by-step approach to accomplishing the goals of the reader
a workbook format with lots of practical exercises for the reader to do
There is no hard and fast rule here. You can pick the format that most appeals to you and will resonate with your readership. Again, get some ideas from other bestselling books out there and feel free to use that format for your business book.
Now it’s time to write a business book
Once you have the purpose, readership and format decided, it’s time to begin writing. However, there are a few more steps to take before you can begin putting words on pages.
Determine your focus
The first thing to determine is the focus of your book. Identify precisely the problem that you are trying to solve. Pick one. If you try to solve too many, your book will ramble and lose the interest of your reader.
For instance, let’s say you discovered an effective means of retaining customers in your online business. That’s the focus of your book. Or maybe you want to impart how to start and run a small restaurant in a big city. Whatever you decide, really explore the problem in depth, then present a concrete solution.
Create your idea folder
You might find it easiest to just pour out your ideas into a word processing document or a notebook. Don’t worry about order, grammar or anything but the ideas. This part should be fun.
It’s important not to stop yourself from putting a thought into your idea folder. All ideas should go into the file. You can edit them down later.
When do you stop this phase? The answer is a little like the instructions for making popcorn. There is a phase where the pan is heating up and nothing happens. Then the kernels begin to pop. They pop and pop and pop at a tremendous, almost deafening, rate. Then the popping starts to die out until you hear one pop every three seconds. That’s when you take it off the heat, right?
The same concept applies to recording your ideas. Once you allow yourself to put down ideas, they should flood onto the paper. Allow them to. Don’t stop the natural flow at all. When the new ideas dwindle to a trickle, that’s when you know to switch your attention to the next phase.
Tip: you might invest in speech recognition software or simply use your phone to translate your voice into the written word. That way, if you think of a brilliant segment for your book while you’re out, you can just email it back to yourself easily. A lot of my clients love this feature.
Organize your outline
Now that you have most of your ideas down in one document, it’s time to organize the thoughts into an outline.
There are writers who hate to outline. They prefer to write by the seat of their pants (some call them pantsers). If you’re a pantser, that might work well for fiction, but for nonfiction, it’s going to be a mess. You need an outline.
The format of your outline will depend on the format of your business book.
If you’re writing a memoir, you need to put all the incidents of your story in chronological order. That way you can start to see the flow of your story. Check out my article on Tips for Outlining a Memoir.
For most other formats you’ll create a Table of Contents with a lot of subsections. I’d advise you not to make any one segment too long. It’s best to break up each key element into easy to read sections. Once you have these down, simply put the contents of your idea folder into your Table of Contents. Everything should have a spot. If it doesn’t, create a new subhead.
Words on pages
Now that you have your completed outline, the book is practically written…in your head. That’s how it is for me! I know exactly what I’m going to say; now I just have to take the time to write it down. I need words on pages.
Don’t get overwhelmed.
It’s a good idea to set a schedule for yourself. After all, that’s probably how you got to be a successful CEO or entrepreneur. You set yourself targets and goals, then met them no matter what tried to get in your way.
Treat this project as you would any other. If you really don’t have the time, hire a ghostwriter to help you. Keep in mind that she will probably need to revisit your outline and help you flesh out the details a little more. She might also have suggestions for the format.
Whatever you do, hold yourself accountable for completing your project. Never lose your drive and passion to write a business book.
Why write a business book
I’ve written many business books over the last twenty years and love the genre. It’s exciting for me to help my clients achieve the many benefits that come from such an accomplishment. While you will certainly sell copies of your book, there are other tangible benefits in store for you when you write a business book.
If you’re a successful CEO, consider the response from your client base when they learn that you are a published author. Having a book with your name blazoned on the cover is one of the best ways to show credibility.
Think about it. Don’t people respond to published authors a little differently? Not only do new and old clients respect you, but your peers look up to you as well.
Write a business book and become an authority figure
When you have a well-written book with many book reviews and copies sold, various people will want to interview you. You will be asked to guest blog, speak at conferences, be featured on podcasts and quoted in other books and articles.
Your visibility will be catapulted into a new realm.
It’s wonderful when, year after year, new people discover your work and write fresh reviews for your book or quote you in their articles. You become a recognized expert in your niche market. This increased visibility will certainly organically increase your client base.
A feeling of peace and well-being
There is no better feeling than helping another. When you write a business book in which you share your successful actions, you might be aiding others who are just starting out and struggling through the problems you have overcome. Or you might be assisting your clients or future clients, complementing the services that you already provide.
Sharing your knowledge in a book will allow you to give advice to a large number of people that you might not be able to help on a one-on-one basis. Instead of helping dozens of people in a week, you can help hundreds or thousands. Take a moment and imagine creating that effect.
Not only will you make money each time you sell a copy of your book, but your customer base will rise exponentially as your book sales increase. As you market your book, you’ll come up with ways to collect new names and email addresses. Your readers could become new clients and be your best word-of-mouth referral sources.
For some, the money earned from increased sales far exceeds the cash received from selling the book. If you sell a high-ticket product or service, just one new client can make a huge difference.
There are many ways you can make money indirectly through your book. How you channel this resource is only limited by your creativity.
Mike Schultz, president of the Wellesley Hills Group and a well-known marketing consultant, surveyed 200 authors of business books and discovered that 96% experienced a positive impact on their business from writing a book. That doesn’t surprise me. It just makes sense!
Now is the best time to write a business book
Now that you know the value of a business book and have an inkling of how to proceed, it’s time to take the plunge. The best thing to do is to set aside a dedicated time every day when you write a business book. It may take a year to get it done, depending on the amount of time you spend on it. But like the story of the Tortoise and the Hare, it’s the steady progress that will get you to your goal.
But if you find the project overwhelming or just don’t have the time (or desire) to write a business book yourself, it may be time to consider hiring a professional ghostwriter.
A ghostwriter will interview you and assist you in all aspects of creating your book. She will collect your notes from your idea folder. She will help you find your focus, determine your readership, outline your book, and then write it for you.
Keep in mind that you’ll still be a part of the project and will need to dedicate a few hours a week to it. You’ve basically hired a silent writing partner who will do all the legwork for you. Still, you’ll need to review pages, give feedback, and answer questions from time to time.
I’m passionate about helping people create an engaging book with useful information that readers can’t put down. I have a special spot in my heart for entrepreneurs as I feel they are artists.
Would you like me to help you write a business book? If so, please contact me and share your idea. I’m here to help!
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 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 will be your ghost. 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.
Note: while I prefer to receive most of the information in writing, I also need to talk to the client now and then. Live conversations help a lot.
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, you and your ghost will create an excellent book.
Have you ever stared at a fresh, new document in frustration because the words just wouldn’t come? Not the dreaded writer’s block. No, anything but that. No matter how hard you try, you just can’t get your fingers to perform the chorus of taps you need.
These two little words evoke fear in the hearts of many brave warrior writers, causing them to spiral down into a swirl of anxiety and self-doubt. It’s a writer’s worst nightmare.
While some claim that there is no such thing as “writer’s block,” the fact is that if you’re reading this article, you probably feel it’s real and that’s enough for me. Perhaps your well of inspiration has run dry. It isn’t “all in your head” and it isn’t an imagined curse.
The good news is that there is a remedy.
I think of writing in terms of flow—a steady, continuous stream of ideas being put into a document. Now, sometimes a flow can get stuck, just like a river can be stopped by a variety of blockades.
Okay, I realized that might sound oversimplified. The truth is, solutions to problems don’t have to be complicated. The best ones are usually very straightforward.
If your creative well is dry, then you may need to prime the pump. Simply flowing words onto paper might just unstick you and pull you out of the stagnant doldrums.
Find something you can write about very easily and just let yourself go. Don’t think about your current project. Your job is to simply get words out so you can get the river of words flowing again.
A few ideas
If you’re stuck for ideas of things you can write about, here are some suggestions:
Compose an old-fashioned letter or an email to a close friend. Share a recent experience you know she’d enjoy.
Write in a personal journal you know no one will ever see.
Pen an article for a blog, sharing advice with your readers about something you know a lot about. If you don’t have a blog, now is a good time to start one.
Even short pieces can help you get back into the swing of writing. You can write out a detailed to-do list, post messages on your favorite social media sites, jot down notes for your roommate or spouse, etc.
It really doesn’t matter what you write, so long as you put words on paper. Remember, writers write.
It’s in their blood.
It’s in your blood.
Note: It’s worth mentioning that reading can also help you write. If you’re stuck, try reading a book you really enjoy. You may become inspired!
Plotters versus pantsers
I’ve recently learned that in the writing world there are “plotters” and “pantsers.” Yeah, this was news to me, too. These terms describe authors who “plot” out an outline or those who “fly by the seats of their pants” and develop their story as they go.
In case we haven’t met, Hi, I’m Laura Sherman the Friendly Ghostwriter, a dyed-in-the-wool plotter. I blog a lot about how to outline a book. I can’t even begin to write a short story without a detailed road map of where I’m going. It would be a hot mess. I’d be a hot mess.
I realize that not everyone is a plotter. Many great writers are pantsers. That’s fine. Some of my best friends are pantsers.
However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that you can always switch from one method to the other mid-stream. It doesn’t mean you have to give up your membership card to your team. No, if you are a pantser, you can secretly plot out the rest of the book and see if that helps you steer your way out of your writer’s block. Or, if you are a plotter, you can diverge from your outline to free flow a section just to get your creative juices going.
Plotters, adjust your outline
Now, if you’re a plotter like me and you find that you’re stuck, it could be that the writer’s block you’re experiencing is simply your common sense saying that you’ve headed in the wrong direction. If the words don’t fly off the keyboard, go back and make sure you’re on board with the direction of the story. It can be an easy fix; just make some adjustments to your outline.
A book can be boiled down to a series of incidents. I often create my outline by listing all the events that will occur in chronological order. However, where an outline can fail is when the purpose of each individual incident isn’t specified or understood.
With fledgling writers, I’ve found this to be a common problem. They’ve created a spectacular scene, but ultimately discover that it really has no purpose in the book they are creating. It just doesn’t tie into their themes.
If this happens to me, I toss it from the current project and save it in a file for future use in a different story.
As a side note, if you find that you’re bored with a scene, but it is vital for your story, just sketch it out and move on. You can spice it up in editing. Your immediate goal is to get a good rough draft under your belt.
Give yourself a break; it’s a first draft
I’ve seen too many new writers spiral into vortex of self-invalidation regarding their first drafts when they write a book. One of the biggest pieces of advice I have for them is to just bang out the first draft and don’t edit.
Your first draft is the rough draft. The goal is to get your ideas out of your head and onto the page.
The first draft won’t be perfect.
It might even be ugly.
Save editing for the editing stage of the process. Don’t edit as you write. The first draft should have tons of typos and errors. Mine always are littered with them.
You write, you fix, you write, you edit, you write, you go back three pages and re-read it all, maybe even deleting whole paragraphs.
You sit back and ask, “Is it perfect?”
Ack! Now what? Stop writing.
If this is what’s happening with you, it could explain your “writer’s block.” The above scenario can become very choppy very quickly, because the sequence of actions is confused. You should write, write, write, write the first draft until it is complete. Then, and only then, do you take out the proverbial red pen and edit. Or hire an outside editor to help you. I’ve written an article about the different kinds of editors you might consider hiring. There are quite a few.
Yes, writing a book calls for a leap of faith. So, close your eyes, let go of any preconceived notions, and just start typing. You’ll be amazed at what may come to you if you just allow yourself to create.
Can’t find the right word?
If you’re stuck on finding the exact word or phrase to describe something, don’t obsess over it. Sure, Google the word for synonyms or pull out your trusty thesaurus, but if nothing really works, put down something as a place holder and move on.
Personally, if a word eludes me, I know it won’t be for long. When I move away from it, it never fails to pop into my mind, sometimes in the shower. It’s kind of the same with recalling names:
Who was that woman at the party with the cheese plate?
You know, the one with brown hair and glasses…
Then, a little bit later, while I’m washing the dishes…bam! It comes to me. It was Sarah Jones.
So, whatever you do, please don’t waste hours staring at the blank screen, trying to retrieve the exact right phrasing now. It will come to you. Later.
Surround yourself with supportive people
Sometimes writer’s block goes deeper than the writing process. Some writers fall prey to their “inner critic,” which is basically the voice inside your head telling you that what you’re doing is not good enough. Being blunt, critics aren’t my favorite class of people.
If you’re taking on the role of your worst critic, it can paralyze you to the point where you can’t write at all. There is absolutely no benefit to cutting yourself into shreds. Show your inner critic to the door of your mind and ask it to leave.
One very real cause of writer’s block can derive from peers who discredit your abilities. If you have helpful friends who jokingly tell you, “Hey, Joe, don’t quit your day job!” this can be damaging to you as a writer. The only purpose of such comments is to get you to stop writing. Don’t seek advice from these people. Surround yourself with supportive people who have your best interests at heart, people who want to see you succeed.
This isn’t to say that constructive criticism isn’t very helpful to a new (or an experienced) writer. Every writer can always improve and grow. I personally LOVE it when some kind soul writes in to tell me I have a typo in a blog article or gives me tips on my writing. It’s quite wonderful!
When you’re trying to sort out whether someone’s feedback is helpful or not, the trick is to look at the intention behind the comment and really observe how it makes you feel. That will help you figure out where to file the suggestion. If the critique leaves you feeling good about yourself, listen to it. If you feel like you’re a poser who should never write again, toss the advice and the friend.
As a writer you are engaged in one of the most amazing activities in the world: creating. It’s a wonderful and impressive ability that you have!
Now, that’s not to say that writing isn’t hard work. It has its challenges.
Writer’s block can be a bump in the road. But rest assured that it is a small bump that can be handled fairly smoothly. With a bit of experimentation, you can find the actions that will help turn things around. And if the remedy works once, it will probably work again. Soon, there will be no stopping you.
If you need advice or help in the area of writer’s block, please don’t hesitate to email me!
Many writers wish to earn a living through their craft. Some choose to write their own books and sell them, while others prefer to become freelance writers who sell their wordsmithing services to others while still receiving credit for their work. If you enjoy helping others share their ideas with the world through the written word, perhaps you might wish to become a ghostwriter.
A ghostwriter is someone who writes for another and receives no author credit. If you’re a professional writer who wishes to become a ghostwriter, you should know that although there are some similarities between authoring and ghosting, a ghostwriter flexes different muscles.
I have been a ghostwriter for twenty years. During this time hundreds of experienced writers have emailed me, asking what it takes to venture into this world. I’m ever eager to encourage others to explore this unique writing opportunity. At the same time, I always caution that this move isn’t right for everyone.
A few drawbacks
I love being a ghostwriter. There’s nothing more rewarding than helping an author write a book. However, there are some aspects of the trade you might not like. It’s good to be aware of these before entering the field.
A ghostwriter works for someone else
As an author, you’re the boss. You decide what to write, how to communicate your ideas, and ultimately how the book turns out. When you’re ghostwriting, you give up this control. For example, if you’re building a world in a sci-fi story and want to develop the main character into a strong independent woman, but your client wants her to be less so, that’s how she’ll be.
I always tell my clients, “I’ll tell you what I honestly think, but in the end you’re the boss and I’ll follow your wishes. After all, it’s your book.” And I mean it. My job is to educate my client on the process and guide him to the best-possible book. It’s not my job to push a particular agenda. You need to be okay with the idea of following the course set by another if you want to become a ghostwriter.
You can’t share what you’ve written
Everything you write as a ghostwriter is protected by a confidentiality agreement. Although some clients are extremely generous and allow me to share portions of their books as writing samples, it was not always so. In the beginning, people had to hire me on faith or simply based on my blog or short stories. I can tell you from experience, it’s not always easy to encourage someone to take this kind of leap of faith. Lack of writing samples makes getting a new client difficult for new writers in the industry. Even now, after having written over two dozen books, I still can’t share the titles with others.
In addition, if your friends ask you about the projects you’re working on, you won’t be able to discuss the details of the book. So, when I’m delving into the history of a new cryptocurrency or uncovering the secret remedy for a disease, I can’t share much with my friends and family. And they know not to ask. Unfortunately, this can make for awkward silences when people are talking about their day around the dinner table.
Bottom line, you must be willing to keep mum about your work and find ways to promote your writing skill without samples if you want to become a ghostwriter.
Your name won’t be on the cover of the book you wrote
I think this is the toughest pill to swallow for most writers. Being a ghostwriter is a bit like being a surrogate parent. Once you finish the manuscript, your baby is out of your hands. The completed book rightly belongs to the author who hired you. This can be emotionally rough. For many this is a deal breaker.
After spending a year creating a masterpiece, you must be willing to hand over the project and disavow having played any part in its creation. You must be willing to silently step back and allow someone else to claim full credit. I honestly don’t mind this, but many do.
Having laid out all the drawbacks, I must say there are many perks for ghostwriters. Aside from the financial rewards, it’s an emotionally rich and satisfying career. We get to walk in the footsteps of many different people, learn their crafts, feel their emotions, and then share their experiences with the world. I wouldn’t trade it for anything!
Skills required to become a ghostwriter
If you’re a writer who wishes to become a ghostwriter, you might need to develop a few skills. These will set you apart from a solo writer.
Learn to listen
A ghostwriter is a great listener.
She not only listens to the words her clients speak or write, but she also listens to their messages, themes, and writing goals. A ghostwriter breathes with her client, gets in sync with him and does her best to fulfill all of his intentions and purposes for the book.
For instance, when I interview a client and discover she wishes to write a memoir chronicling how she became a successful entrepreneur, I’m jazzed. Not only can I help her share her life story, but I can help her help others follow in her footsteps. Now, if her goal for the book is also to gain new clients, that’s important to know, as I’ll need to write her book with that in mind. Since her readership will include her future client base, these people will be interested in how specific aspects of her business might benefit them.
If you wish to become a ghostwriter, but are concerned that listening is a weak point for you, don’t worry. It’s a skill anyone can learn. It just takes some practice.
A little exercise
Start with your friends.
Listen to them.
After they leave, write down what they said.
Can you recount what they said in the way they said it? Keep in mind, you’re not only listening to the content of what they’re communicating, but you’re observing the nuances of their language. Everyone has a different way of speaking. You need to hear how they put words together.
If you find yourself drifting off as your friends speak, that’s not good. You need to quit that bad habit. It’s like biting your nails. How would you handle that? Yes, you can just quit doing it.
Rein yourself in and really listen to what your friends are saying. Work on improving the accuracy of your perception of the conversation until you capture the full content and tone of it.
You also need to become adept at hearing what people don’t say. If you’re writing a memoir, you are hired by your client to get at the truth. When he says something that begs a question, bring out your inner journalist and ask for details. Or if you sense that he is hiding a pertinent fact, pry a little. Of course, he has a right to his secrets, but his memoir will fail if he doesn’t open up to his public. They will be able to tell if he’s not being genuine.
A good ghostwriter will find a way to get her answer. Interviewing clients is another necessary skill to become a ghostwriter. That sounds like a good topic for another blog article!
Become a good writer
It goes without saying that in order to be a ghostwriter, you must first be a writer: a competent, compelling, and confident writer. Writing comes from experience; you don’t need a college degree, nor must you be a published author. While both could help, neither is absolutely necessary.
Having said that, I believe it would be difficult to ghostwrite a book if you’ve never completed one yourself. There are lessons one learns simply by seeing a project through to completion. For instance, how do you overcome writer’s block? Are you able to edit out a cherished character that just doesn’t quite fit in? Every time you conquer an obstacle, you learn a lot. This helps you write a better book for your client.
I believe it will be helpful to you if you develop your own writing style and voice before you embark on the grand adventure of helping your client develop his.
Learn to capture another’s voice and style
One of the signature skills of a ghostwriter is to discover and bring out the voice and style of your clients. In order to do that, you’ll need to take a lot of notes and study all their current written work. Some clients will give you pages of a diary or blog articles they’ve written. You need to pick out the phrases they use, hone in on their style of communicating, and create a voice that will accurately portray them.
While you wouldn’t want to pass on the grammatical errors of your clients, you want their unique speech patterns and mannerisms to shine through. For instance, one client might use endearments for everyone around her, while another pauses dramatically between meaningful thoughts. You want to be sure to weave these into your book.
On the other hand, if your client has a lisp or stutter, you wouldn’t pass a speech impediment on to his character. Find the qualities that highlight who he is without amplifying the negative characteristics.
A little exercise
Capturing someone else’s style and voice is another skill you can practice. Jump on the internet and find a prolific writer who blogs. See if you can pick out her voice. What makes her uniquely her? Find those nuances.
Zero in on any cultural references. For instance, if the author is from the UK, he might use some colorful phrases unique to his region. “Blimey” or “dodgy” might be sprinkled into his dialogue.
As a ghostwriter, when you capture the author’s dialogue, you can even drop a few foreign words here and there, as long as their meaning is clear.
“Guten Tag, Herr Schmidt!” helps us know the character is of German origin.
When the foreign word’s meaning isn’t completely clear, define it within the text.
“She handed out the Stollen to her family. The buttery fruitcake was enjoyed by all.”
Ultimately, there are many ways a person communicates his thoughts and ideas. If you want to become a ghostwriter, know that it’s your job to spot these and create your client’s voice using their distinct style.
Capture your client’s viewpoints
People have a unique take on things; they see things from their particular point of view. Some will tell you outright how they feel and what they believe, while others won’t. For those who don’t, you’ll need to glean their viewpoints using interview questions. You must be able to identify these so you can help the reader see things from the author’s standpoint.
Recognizing the viewpoints of others is another skill that can be learned. You can start by observing others around you. Slip into their shoes and really see things from their perspective. Their point of view might not be yours. That’s OK. Simply understand how they feel and think about things.
In order to be a great writer, you must be able to adopt the various viewpoints of your characters. That’s one way they come to be three-dimensional (and beloved).
Another tip to differentiate characters in a book is to observe how different people react to the same situation. For instance, one friend might shriek when surprised, while another will do his best to suppress his reaction. Then there is the person who will laugh hysterically. These little details go a long way to creating believable characters.
The Business Side of Ghostwriting
One of the chief differences between being an author and being a ghostwriter is that when you’re a ghostwriter you’re running a business. That means that you’re in charge of everything—all aspects of the enterprise. You must:
Procure new clients
Complete all projects on time
Collect testimonials from existing clients
Write the entire book yourself
Ask for payments from your clients
Hire outside team members to help when needed
It’s important to be highly organized, to keep track of all your deadlines and to answer emails and texts from clients as quickly as possible. I have a policy of answering all incoming emails within 24 hours, but usually do so within hours of receiving them.
As with any business venture, you must be professional in all aspects of the business. Of course, you should never deliver any piece late; in fact, I recommend being early. Exceed expectations.
And above all, respect the confidentiality agreement as if you were a secret agent. Your word is your bond.
Always work with a contract
Don’t try to go into business without a good professional contract. Trust me, if you work on a handshake basis, it can become a disaster. Part of running a successful business is making sure to provide the services you promised your clients. In order to do that, you need to be clear about what your services are.
I outline all the pertinent details for a good ghostwriting contract in another blog article, but here is a summary of what a good contract should contain:
A confidentiality agreement
The rough word count of the book. Note: Word count is much more accurate than page count.
The deadlines for all the major milestones. This would include:
Confirmation that the copyright of the book belongs to the client
The number of revisions included in the price
While you can find decent contract templates on the internet, I highly recommend that you hire a lawyer who can draft one to fit your particular needs. An ambiguously worded agreement will cause you and your client trouble down the line in the event of a disagreement.
I find being a ghostwriter a very rewarding experience. Over the last twenty years I’ve worked on ten novels, eight nonfiction how-to books, and seventeen memoirs (along with a few children’s books and screenplays). I enjoy the diversity: getting to know all different kinds of people and stretching my writing muscles in a variety of genres. I have learned so much from each project and have found fulfillment in helping others meet their goal of creating a book. If you’re a writer who wants to become a ghostwriter, please don’t hesitate to contact me with questions. I’m here to help!