You’ve made the leap—you’ve decided to author a book this year. Bravo! This is a wonderful goal. If you’re similar to many other busy successful people, you may need a little help. If so, you may find you learn a lot just from a simple interview with a ghostwriter.
Over the years I’ve discovered that authors sometimes aren’t aware of everything that goes into the development of a book. Some have a vague idea of the ghostwriting process, but most have a lot of questions about structure, format and content. That’s completely normal. I’m more than happy to share this information with you during our initial interview.
The initial interview with a ghostwriter
Naturally there are questions you want to ask to determine whether a particular ghostwriter might be qualified to take on your project. I cover this topic extensively in my article, Interview Questions for a Ghostwriter.
However, while you are interviewing her, she is also gathering information which will help her decide if she is the best ghost for you. Through this initial interview with a ghostwriter you will take the first step toward understanding what will be required to complete your book.
Hit upon the genre of your book
The three most popular book requests I receive are: fiction, business nonfiction, and memoir. Within those classifications, there are many subcategories. For instance, if you’re writing a fictional story, you have various choices of genre: drama, science fiction, fantasy and young adult, to name a few.
If you’re writing business nonfiction, there are a wide variety of subjects as well as a few choices of styles of presentation of the facts and information. Some authors prefer text only, while others opt to include many photos. When I wrote Chess Is Child’s Play, we included many fun text boxes with tips and anecdotes for the reader to enjoy.
Memoirs are pretty straightforward. They are typically written in the first person and look and feel like a novel (even though they are true stories). However, some are presented as a diary or journal.
Keep in mind, there is some cross-over, too. For instance, you can have a memoir that is only loosely based on fact but is primarily a novel. Or a novel that feels like memoir but is actually completely fictional. In addition, many entrepreneurs who have important lessons to impart will write a nonfiction how-to book and sprinkle many humorous anecdotes throughout. Another option is to write a memoir and include many tips and tricks of the trade to educate the readers.
When you interview with a ghostwriter, make sure to know your book’s genre so you can hire the best ghost for the job; most writers specialize in certain genres.
Uncover your readership in an interview with a ghostwriter
One of the biggest errors a new author can make is to try to write his book for “everyone.” While some books are very popular with a lot of people, you always want to direct your creative energies to a certain demographic.
For instance, a how-to book giving practical parenting advice for single parents will be written very differently than a science fiction novel aimed at the young adult market. The voice and style will vary depending on the readers you wish to entertain or educate.
During your interview with a ghostwriter work to determine the right readership for your book and make sure your ghost can capture the style and voice required to resonate with them.
Talk about your goals
A good ghostwriter will ask you to reveal your goals for your book early on. Over the last twenty years, I’ve heard a variety of goals from many clients. Some are interested in financial gain, while others want to share their story or wisdom with others. Many simply wish to complete their books for their loved ones.
Another popular goal of many is to see their name on the cover of a book. I understand—it’s a bucket list item. As an author, I know there’s no better feeling than seeing your story in print.
I love to work with clients who wish to share their expertise or life lessons with others. I have seen that sometimes books written with a strong purpose to help, enlighten or entertain others also result in fame and fortune. On the other hand, fame and fortune seldom come when the author is purely money-driven. Your ghostwriter must know what drives you to write your book so that she can help you achieve your goals.
Discuss your publishing plans in an interview with a ghostwriter
It’s a good idea to share your publishing goals early on as well. While this information is not vital when it comes to writing the outline of a book, it does help to bring the ghostwriter in on the overall strategy. We’re a team, after all.
If you don’t know yet, don’t worry. You have time. I always suggest my clients decide about halfway through the writing process. That gives you time to make a more educated decision and prepare a query letter if that’s what’s needed.
The next interview with a ghostwriter and the next
After you complete your initial interview with a ghostwriter, you will probably immediately know if this writer is the right one for you. A rapport and bond should form quickly. If you have to “think about it,” the answer is probably no. Interview another writer.
Once you sign the contract and send the down payment, the next step will be to send all the written information you might have to your new ghostwriter. For me, one of the best sources of research is in written form. This gives me a great foundation to start learning what I need to know to write your book.
Some clients have a first draft that needs a complete overhaul, while others have a lot of detailed notes. Some provide journal entries or articles, while some have notes or documents written on cocktail napkins. Gather up all these pieces so you can send them to your ghostwriter. These written samples are invaluable, as they will help your ghostwriter capture your voice.
I always tell my clients that they can never give me too much data. It’s a bit like creating a sculpture from a large block of marble. You need a lot of material to start so you can carve out a beautiful piece of art.
After your ghostwriter has reviewed all your written material, she will need to continue to interview you. I often conduct these over email and phone. Sometimes clients send me audio or video files, which I transcribe.
Please know that these ongoing interviews are vital. They help your ghostwriter get the detailed information she needs to fully and accurately capture your style and written voice.
Get personal in an interview with a ghostwriter
If you want your writer to accurately portray you to your reader, it’s important that you participate in each interview with a ghostwriter fully.
That means if you’re writing a memoir, you must share your most personal experiences, thoughts and feelings sincerely and honestly. While you don’t need to include everything in your book, you can’t hide from all the negative events that happened.
Don’t try to make out that your life is wonderful all the time. You need to show your flaws and share your errors. Readers need to be able to identify with you. They need to see that you’re human. If you portray yourself as perfect, the reader will know that you’re lying.
And your book will be boring.
Just like life, a good story must have conflict to be interesting. So, you must be willing to open up to your readers. That begins with your ghostwriter. Your ghostwriter will help you by asking broad questions. If the questions spark an idea, feel free to elaborate. It’s fine to go off-topic for a bit because that may open the door to more ideas and even bring up interesting incidents which might have been a bit buried. Most of my clients remember many details when they interview with me, their friendly ghostwriter.
One word of warning: if you’re thinking of speaking ill of someone, be aware that her or she may read your book. Consider carefully if you are willing to face the consequences. After all, anything you put in writing is permanent.
If you’re writing a fiction book or a prescriptive nonfiction (how-to book), keep in mind you still need to interview with your ghostwriter. She will need to coordinate closely with you and collect all the pertinent facts. In addition, she’ll require regular feedback on her work.
Each interview with a ghostwriter will help her hear how you put together phrases, learn more about your philosophies on writing and life, and better understand your ongoing thoughts and goals for the project.
What a ghostwriter needs
My clients usually wish to write their book with me. I always embrace this partnership and strive to teach them about the process every step of the way, if that’s what they desire. However, some authors prefer a more hands-off approach. In those cases, I simply write pages and submit them on a regular basis.
There are various key research elements a client can provide that make my job a lot easier.
Biographies of characters
No matter what the genre, it is always helpful to collect biographies of the people mentioned in the book (whether they be fictional or not). If I’m writing a memoir for a client, I like to know the following information so that I can write a truly three-dimensional character:
- Full name
- Birthdate (month and year)
- Birthplace and residences
- Hair and eye color
- Body description
- General mood
- Hobbies or interests
This is a good starting point, but, really, there is a lot more that can be added to this list. Consider all the things that make this person truly unique.
A detailed list of incidents
Any fiction book or memoir is really comprised of a series of incidents. It’s a timeline of the events that happen to your characters.
In order to get started on your outline, I need to know what happened. This list doesn’t have to include a lot of information. In fact, when you’re just starting out, it can just be a list of key words that triggers the right concept for you. Then, during your interview, your ghostwriter will pull out the relevant details to understand the scene as well as you do.
For instance, if you’re writing your memoir, you might jot down:
- The time I got food poisoning in LA
- The first horror movie I attended with a boy
- The time I flew to Paris to meet my sister
Once you make a giant list of all these incidents, you can even delve in a little further and add a few more pertinent facts:
- Who was involved?
- Where did it take place?
- When did it happen?
- What was the significance for you?
Snippets of dialogue
When you’re writing a memoir, it is very helpful to note down any actual conversations that you might wish to recreate in your book. Of course, your ghostwriter will change it around to work for your book, but these words will give her a sense for how you and others in your story speak and interact with one another. If you think about it, you speak very differently with the different people in your life. I know I don’t talk to my mother-in-law the way I speak to my children or my neighbor.
The same goes for fiction if. If you have a good handle on the characters you wish your writer to portray, I’d recommend that you provide a little sample dialogue. That way your ghostwriter can build from that and meet your expectations easily.
I find it extremely helpful to get the addresses of former homes, offices, schools, etc., so I can research details about the locations various characters visited throughout the story. This helps me set the scenes accurately, especially if the research turns up photos of the interior as well. I love to pore over local maps to get a feel for the area.
Of course, if you have any pertinent photos, those help tremendously because they give a complete picture of how people, places and things looked.
Use your senses in an interview with a ghostwriter
As you are writing down all the above information, do your best to fully describe everything so that your ghostwriter can see and feel what you did. Use all your senses. For example, if you’re describing your first girlfriend, mention the color of her hair, the sound her high heels made as she clicked across the floor, the way her perfume reminded you of the rose garden at your grandma’s house, or the silky feel of her dress when you held her as you danced.
If you’re writing a memoir, each interview with a ghostwriter may bring out a lot of emotions. Let them out. Be honest about how you felt when certain things happened. Open up and share the fear that gripped you when your car spun out of control on an ice patch, the raw anger you experienced when your brother teased you as a young child, or the pure joy you felt when you held your first-born child.
And through it all, seek the themes that you wish to impart. Share the messages you wish to communicate through your book.
Enjoy each interview with a ghostwriter. You’ll learn a lot and, through the process of working with a ghostwriter, you both will create an excellent book.
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How can I best help you?
You stare at a fresh, new document in frustration, but the words just won’t come. No matter how hard you try, you just can’t get your fingers to perform the chorus of taps you need. You are experiencing something very common for even the most seasoned authors. Writer’s block.
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.
How do you conquer writer’s block? 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.
So what is the solution?
Remove the barrier and get the flow moving again. Start by writing something, anything.
Write something, anything
My main remedy for writer’s block is to write.
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 have writer’s block, here are a few suggestions:
- Compose an old-fashioned letter or an email to a close friend. Share a recent experience you know she’d enjoy. Feel free to wax poetic.
- 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.
Keep in mind that 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!
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How Can I Help With Your Writer’s Block?
Dialogue is a key component for any memoir or novel. When two characters struggle for conversation, the dialogue stands out like a scraggly 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. Learn to write great dialogue so your characters come alive.
When you do it correctly, your readers feels as if they are eavesdropping on your characters. They forget they are reading because they are so absorbed in your plot.
If you look back at all your favorite books, you’ll discover that you probably got lost in the conversations. You might have even forgotten that you were reading. The words flowed naturally, as they might if you were conversing with your best friend or sibling.
If you’re a budding writer and wish to learn write great dialogue, I can tell you that it 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.
Understand your characters
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.
A few tips
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.
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Do you want to write a nonfiction book that will allow readers to learn about a niche market that only you understand well? Many people have a unique skill set and knowledge that sets them apart from everyone else in their field. If you’ve reached a level of success, it might be time to write a nonfiction book!
Help others achieve their goals in your given field of expertise.
Pick a topic
Some people want to write a book, but have no idea what to write about. Or they have a concept, but all their ideas don’t quite fit and the words just don’t flow. The first step is to pick a subject you have a specialized knowledge about.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself to get started:
- Is there a subject that you know about that others don’t?
- What really interests you?
- What could you write about that would help your business?
It’s important to pick a subject that will capture your readers’ attention and hold it. You can select a target niche market, but you will need to make sure your book will appeal to those people.
One day, about a year ago, a lady called and asked if I would help to write her memoir. After speaking to her I determined that her life story would not make a good book. Not everyone’s does. However, she had a wonderful niche market, a side business that was flourishing. I advised her to start working on a nonfiction eBook about that.
Determine the problems your reader needs to solve
The first step will be to determine who your reader is. “Everyone” is not a good answer. It’s way too general.
In the case of Chess Is Child’s Play – Teaching Techniques That Work, we determined that our primary reader would be parents who do not play chess. Yes, the book is applicable to grandparents and educators, as well as well-established chess coaches, but they weren’t our target reader.
With Joshua’s Missing Peace, the target market was parents of children who are having a medical crisis. Of course, I want all parents to read our book, but realistically parents of children in similar situations to Joshua’s would be searching for this book.
Find out who your reader is and then write the book to that person.
Create a table of contents
Before you start writing your book, you need to create an outline or table of contents. Consider what your readers will want to learn and put the information in an order that will help them gain the knowledge quickly, making sure that each concept builds on the previous ones.
Next it will help you to write down paragraph summaries for each chapter. Ask yourself, Why do I feel a certain subject deserves a spot in my book?
Once you have this written, note the subheadings for each chapter. Think about the best way to break up the chapter, so that people can easily understand and apply the information you are giving them.
Write and write and write
The next step is where some people fall off. You must roll up your sleeves and write. Make regular progress and do not allow too many breaks between writing sessions.
It might help to keep a log of how many words you write each day. Make a game of it! Create a target. See if you can write something each day, setting a minimum number of words to be written, such as 500 words per day?
Do not edit as you write, just get all the information out of your mind and onto your laptop. There will be time to edit later.
eBooks can be any length these days, but shoot for 50,000 words if you can. That will be around two hundred pages.
If that’s too much, go for a mini-eBook.
Hire an editor or ask your friends to read your book
After you finish your first draft you can go through and polish and edit. You’ll catch a lot of errors on your own, improving the manuscript through this process, but most writers need a second set of eyes on their work.
You may need to hire an editor. If you don’t have the money, try asking a few friends to read over your manuscript, looking for errors and typos. The more people you can get to read it, the better.
Don’t worry too much about learning how to write a nonfiction book. Just get out there and start writing. I bet you have a specialized area of knowledge that people want to know about. Start writing and don’t allow yourself to stop until you’re done!
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Congratulations on making the momentous decision to complete that book that you’ve been thinking about for years! Writing a book isn’t easy, so bravo! That decision is absolutely the first step. Now let’s tackle the next few.
I’m not here to tell you that writing a book can be made simple through a few steps. No, it will take time and patience. There is no way to even pen a short book in a few weeks. However, with a few preliminary steps I’d like to try to cut down on potential frustration!
Sum up your book in just a few lines
Before you can really start even outlining your book, you need to answer this fundamental question in a few lines: “What is your story about?” Then see if you can boil it down to a single line, a single breath. For example: This is a story about a young man, who rose from extreme poverty to become a successful entrepreneur. You know what the book is about, don’t you?
Why is this important? It keeps you on track. Plus, the themes, messages, and purposes of the book come out quickly from this simple one-line statement. It also keeps you from traveling down a divergent path. For instance, you might be tempted to devote three chapters of your business memoir to a failed marriage, designed to help budding entrepreneurs. Perhaps you’re hoping to get in a few good digs along the way. Well, that doesn’t really match your original concept, does it? So, toss it.
However, delving into an early business failure could definitely help your readers avoid the same pitfalls. Those stories would definitely be good to tell and would be important to your story.
Assignment: Write a one- to three-line summary of your story, answering the question, “What is your story about?”
What’s your purpose?
Why are you interested in writing your book? What do you hope your reader will gain from reading it?
As I’ve written a few times in my blog, if your purpose is to get back at someone, think again. That story just isn’t something worth reading. Another purpose that rarely works is financial. If you’re looking to make a million off of your story, and that is your primary goal, it won’t come out right.
By defining your purpose, you can help yourself stay on track. When you get into outlining, you can make sure that each scene, each segment aligns with that purpose fully. And if you find yourself straying, you can toss the paragraphs into a roaring proverbial bonfire.
Assignment: Write down your purpose(s) in writing your book.
What is your message?
It’s good to work out what messages you wish to impart to your reader early in the process. This will help you sort through all the information you’ll gather later, in order to figure out what will make the cut. It will also help you find your writing voice and determine how you want to tell your story (or share your wisdom).
For instance, one of your messages for your memoir might be about the value of perseverance. Another message could center around the importance of ethical behavior in business. So, the individual stories that will make up the book should center around these themes.
Assignment: Write down the messages you wish to impart to your reader.
Once you’ve finished these steps, you’ll be ready to start collecting notes, which you’ll use to create an outline. That will be the subject for the next blog article! Let me know how you did with the assignments above in the comment section below!
Thank you and keep writing!
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Dear Friendly Ghostwriter, I have an amazing story to tell, but don’t know how to start writing a book now. I have so many things all jumbled up in my head and I don’t know how to get it out on paper. Help! -Art M.
Dear Art M.,
When I received your question, I did a little search on the internet: “How do you start writing a book?” I was curious to see what other writers had to say.
Up popped a dozen articles that made the process seem ridiculously easy. Unfortunately, these articles paint a false picture. Writing a book is far from simple. Trust me, you’re not the only one to have difficulties in this area.
I don’t want to answer your question with a cookie-cutter twelve-step to-do list. Instead, I would like to give you some broad-stroke advice.
Make a list of incidents
When you consider a movie, it is made up of hundreds of scenes. They flow together to tell the story. With a book, these scenes can be better described as incidents. Basically, think of these incidents as the things that will happen to your characters (or if you’re writing a memoir, they are the experiences that have happened to you).
Some people like to make flashcards. They write the individual incidents out onto three-by-five-inch cards and put them into the order they think will work best. I prefer to open a word processing document and write out the incidents there. I don’t number them, but just get them out of my head in the simplest way possible. For example, it might look like this:
Incident: Bob discusses breaking up with Mary in a coffee shop.
Incident: Terry says good-bye to her parents before entering her new college dorm for the first time.
Each incident just needs to have enough information to jog your memory when you create a more complete outline later on. Don’t worry about putting the incidents in any order. You’re just trying to get the information out of your head and onto the paper (or computer document). It simply is a list of what happens.
Note: Some incidents might be super short. That’s fine!
Give each incident a time stamp
You should end up with dozens of incidents (perhaps even hundreds). Next, go through and give each incident a time stamp, which tells you when it took place. Some time stamps might be simply a month and year. For example:
Incident: Sam starts high school: September 1979.
Incident: George gets a job at Mercury, Inc.: May 1983
Sometimes, the time of the incident will be relevant. In that case, be as specific as you can. If you know the exact date, mark that down. For instance:
Incident: Bernice gives birth to her daughter: June 17, 1988, 4:30am.
Incident: Lonny graduates high school: May 25, 1999, early afternoon.
Again, these are notes for you. Don’t get bogged down. If you don’t the exact date, just put in the year.
Put the incidents in order
Now that you have the time stamps, you can put the incidents in chronological order. It’s possible that some incidents will serve as a flashback. If you know that will be the case, you can group them after the appropriate incident. For example:
Incident: Joe waits for Sally at their favorite park bench: September 2002.
Incident: Flashback: Joe and Sally share their first kiss on the bench: August 1994.
Flesh out your incidents
Here are some questions you can answer:
- Who is in the incident? (Name all the characters, even minor players.)
- Where does it take place? (Be as specific as you can.)
- When does it happen?
- Describe what occurs (very briefly)
- What is the purpose of this incident? (Why should it be included?)
You might have other points to mention, but it is important to keep it very brief. Don’t indulge in lengthy descriptions. It’s not time to start writing your book quite yet. For one thing, some of these incidents might not make the cut!
Note: The most important element on this list is the last one—the purpose. You must have a strong purpose for including this incident in your book. If you can’t come up with one, cut the incident immediately.
If you feel inspired to write a scene from this list, go for it. You might need to rewrite it later, but that’s OK. I understand the need to get the ideas/images out of your head! Sometimes I just write a few notes under the incident description. This helps me free up my attention and move on to the next incident on the list.
The next step
After you finish creating your master list of incidents, you want to make sure they flow one into the next. Once you have them all in sequential order and you’ve weeded out ones that don’t fit or have a real purpose, take a step back and review it. Read the list over a few times to make sure it works for you. This is one way to create an outline. If you want to change the format, it will be easy to do so, because you now have all the information you’ll need.
You may just find that the book is pretty much written! Yes, it’s still in your head and you’ll need to write the 50,000 (or so) words, but now you know where you’re going.
The incident list is a great tool to help you sort out the ideas that are jumbled in your head. And it will act as mile markers for you on your journey, helping you make sure that you’ve included all the important occurrences and events. It’s much easier to start writing a book if you have a well-laid plan. Enjoy the process!
As you begin your new adventure, you might find yourself hitting a few distractions. If you’d like some tips on how to avoid these, read my article on the subject. And, of course, if you have any questions, please feel free to email me!
If you’re interested in hiring a ghostwriter, check out my book: Your Guide to Hiring a Ghostwriter.
Authors looking to get some help might wonder what their options might be. I get a few emails a month asking, “How does ghostwriting work?” Truthfully, no true two projects are alike because no two clients are the same. A good ghostwriter must remain flexible.
Having said that there are some commonalities. Knowing these elements can help you prepare.
A ghostwriter needs your notes
Different clients present me with notes in different ways. Some clients will drop 60,000 words in my lap and ask me to write a book. Others will give me a rough concept of a story or nonfiction book and let me “have at it.”
Which do I prefer?
I love both!
The first option gives me a wealth of information, allowing me a jump start on the project. I always must do extensive research in order to fill in gaps, but with a good, complete set of notes, I get a good idea of the client’s needs.
The second option gives me complete creative freedom, and there’s something very appealing about that.
Either way, I’ll need to write the actual book from scratch, as the notes need to be sculpted into the proper form required for a memoir, novel, or business book. Sometimes the notes are presented to me as a manuscript, but it’s rare that a simple edit will turn it into a book.
A ghostwriter’s fee
Different ghostwriters charge differently. My cost is very straightforward and easy to calculate. I charge a dollar per word for ghostwriting work. So a 200-300-page book, which would be 50,000 – 75,000 words, would run $50,000 – $75,000. A shorter book costs less.
Other ghostwriters may charge differently. Less experienced writers might charge as little as fifty cents per word, while those who work with celebrities can run six figures.
It takes time to write
The standard ghostwriting contract gives me eight to eighteen months to complete a full-length book project. Even a short, 100-page book, requires a lot of research. It’s rare that I can commit to completing even a mini-eBook in under a half a year.
Most books require a few hundred hours to complete. If you ever receive a quote with a promise to finish your book in under a month, be suspicious. This writer is probably plagiarizing and as the author of the book, you’ll be liable.
You will need to invest a bit of time
Every author does need to be somewhat involved in their project. i warn my clients that they should plan to spend a couple hours a week on average answering questions within emails and reviewing pages that I send.
I sometimes interview clients over the phone or through email. I always appreciate detailed written notes. To save time some clients use speech recognition software, so they can send me notes on the road or from their balcony as they sip Chardonnay. Punctuation and spelling never matter, as long as I can understand the message.
A fast turnaround time by my clients helps me complete their books faster.
One of the things I love about ghostwriting is that I get to work with many different people on many different projects. Each relationship is truly unique, and the process is always fun and challenging!
If you’d like to know more about how to hire a ghostwriter, please check out my book: Your Guide to Hiring a Ghostwriter.
Getting a book published is not out of the realm of possibility. With the advent of new technologies, it’s easier than ever to be a published author. Here are some steps to follow:
- Answer the question, “What is my book about?” This may seem like a simple task, but it can be difficult. You should be able to answer this question within a few lines, as a sort of pitch. Once you have this down, you have a guiding light to see you through the journey. This answer will help you stay on track through the writing process.
- Create an outline or table of contents. This is a step that will give you the mile markers you need to get from point A to B then C and all the way to the end. Don’t spend too much time on the details, just summarize the sections.
- Write the rough draft. Get the words out of your mind and onto paper. Follow your outline, presenting your scenes as you go. Do not edit at this phase, just write and write and write!
- Take a break. It’s a good idea to walk away from a manuscript after you complete the first draft. It is much easier to edit if you can see it with fresh eyes. I usually give myself three to ten days before starting the editing process.
- Edit all the way through. Now is the time to play with the words and tighten your book. If you love a scene, but realize it doesn’t fit, scrap it. It might help to pretend it isn’t your book, but a client’s manuscript. Nothing is too precious to keep.
- Hire an editor or show the book to fellow writers. Now is a good time to get other feedback. What are you missing that someone else finds glaringly obvious? Get good feedback then make changes as you see fit.
- Read your book again. If this is your first book, I highly recommend that you read it out loud. There’s no better way that I know of for catching errors or stale dialogue. If you can, read it out loud to another person.
Next, you can brainstorm titles and a tag line. Write down candidate titles. I like to ask friends for their ideas, too. Once you have a few, you can survey them with many people, discovering the title that really communicates to your readers. That’s the one to pick.
Once you have your title and tag line, and if you’re self-publishing, you’ll need to hire a designer to create your cover art. It is important that it be professional and appealing. If you can get your artist to create three unique designs, survey those and see which is most popular. If it’s close, survey more people. You want the winner to stand out.
If you don’t have a blog, now is a good time to start one. Blog weekly (or biweekly) about your book. This will help promote your book. If you get an agent and publisher, they will be looking for a healthy blog promoting the book.
I would also recommend getting onto various social media sites. Start now, as it takes time to build a following. Keep your content relevant for you and your readers.
Writing a book is a huge undertaking. Finding a ghostwriter to help can aid the effort tremendously. Please feel free to email with any questions you might have about the book writing process or click here to submit a quote request.
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