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.
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.
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!
Today I’m pleased to bring you a guest post from author, David G McDaniel. Dave writes in the sci-fi genre, with two book series to his credit.
His latest, a pentalogy (5 books), is the young adult series, Star Angel. Star Angel follows a girl on modern Earth and a boy from another world as they’re thrown into a fight for their lives, only to discover they may both be connected to events in the distant past far more epic than either can imagine.
As with any sci-fi or fantasy story, David faced a certain amount of world building in order to create Star Angel. Any time imaginary worlds are used as settings, when advanced technologies are introduced, when fictional races and governments become the backdrop, the author must build a new universe of rules
As the complexity of the story increases, more world building is required.
World building lays critical elements of your fictional world, which then gives you a strong framework on which to hang the rest of the story. I asked Dave to share his thoughts and experiences, when it comes to this important foundation of the story.
Happily he agreed to be my guest…
Hello & Welcome
Thanks to the Friendly Ghostwriter for having me. And thanks for the introduction! Laura, you’re awesome (insert smiley emoji here). Today, as mentioned, I’d like to talk a little about world building.
Most sci-fi and Fantasy writers do world building, some more than others, and in fact there have been heated debates about how much is needed.
I recently watched a video interview with George RR Martin, the author of “The Song of Ice and Fire” (Game of Thrones) where he was talking about the degree to which he builds out the underlying foundation — the world, the universe — for his characters and stories. He mentioned that there was another author (can’t recall his name) who was of the opinion that world building was overrated.
Martin was (rightly, I believe) disputing that view, pointing out the fact that the other guy’s stories had major slips in continuity. If memory serves, the other author believed the story was all that mattered and the rest was a waste of time.
In his opinion, the story would take care of itself.
I couldn’t disagree more.
World building is important. I can tell you from experience the story does not take care of itself, and without a clear idea of how everything fits, your characters end up living in a vague space with no real definition and, consequently, no guidelines for their actions.
Imagine a game (your story) played with no field, no rules, no setting, no guidelines — no world, basically. With you just making it up as you go along.
What kind of game would that be?
An unsatisfying one, that’s for sure.
With no creation of a world, your reader will feel disconnected from the story. They will be left with the feeling that anything could change on a whim at any moment.
But, you might be wondering, isn’t that what a story is? Something that could change at any moment?
Well, a story, yes. Of course and absolutely. But not the world. You don’t wing it, merrily making it up as you go, when it comes to the world. If you do, your readers will never be able to become fully invested in the story you’re trying to tell. That approach can create a sort of low-level vertigo with your audience.
Like life, a story needs a setting in which to exist.
My First Rodeo
I’ll admit to you that with my first series (not Star Angel, but one called the Saga of Ages) I had to stop early on and take the time to flesh out the full history and universe in which my characters were playing. I just kept getting hung up on all sorts of details.
This was my first time writing a series. Every time I tried to advance the story, I found that I kept going back to figure out the elements of the world that were influencing the actions of my characters. Finally, I realized what I had to do.
There needed to be something consistent to hang it all together.
That was my epiphany. My big realization. Instead of dreaming up the universe as I went, I needed to put the story on pause, go back and create the elements of the world first.
Once that realization hit me I felt a profound sense of relief.
By the time I was done, the write-up of my world turned out to be 60 pages. I had sketches, pictures, references, galactic maps and more. I covered everything from past races to current governments, along with the framework and mechanics that made everything click.
When I wrote Star Angel I knew to begin the process with a lot of research about that world I created an historical timeline from 100,000 years before the stories take place, along with write-ups for all major events. I call it the “Star Angel Companion”.
No one will probably ever read it.
Earth is easier
At the end of the day world building is a selfless thing. You’re doing it to save everyone’s sanity, not least of all your own. It helps. Greatly.
Especially in a fictional world.
Writers of stories in a modern or historical setting have it a bit easier, as their “world” is pre-built for them. Stories that take place right here on Earth, in the “real” world, have our entire existence to draw from. It’s the world we know. For instance, we all know the details of World War I. It’s there for anyone to access, and we all know exactly how it shaped our modern world and how it might lead to any character motivations.
That’s a huge advantage for any author and his readers. Everyone knows the world we live in.
This isn’t always the case if you’re creating a fictional universe. Depending on how “fictional” your universe is (is it a slightly alternate version of Earth? Or is it Star Wars fictional?), you may not be able to draw much from our shared reality at all.
That means you must craft your own.
A Few Ideas
For your story to work you need to at least have the basic elements defined. If you don’t your characters will be swimming in an ocean with no direction and no land.
World building is important. Did I say that already?
Here are some components you might consider taking the time to define for your story:
Legends and prophecies
Races and their cultures
Lineages and hierarchies
The physics of the planet
Rules of magic (and other fantastic knowledge)
Now, keep in mind, you may never use many of these factors in your story. But when you do, because you’ve got it all laid out, interconnected, it becomes very easy to write and your readers can easily lose themselves in what’s really important.
It’s Your Universe
Stan Lee, of Marvel fame, once said:
“The best way to rule a universe is to create it.”
Great quote. Great dude. Great message.
Take the time to flesh out your world, your back stories, your historical motivations and all else that shapes the universe in which your characters live. This can be work, no doubt. But the reward will become clear the further you forge into your story, when you see how easily things hang together, how well the pieces fit, and how much what your characters are doing makes sense.
Doing so ensures continuity. It removes distractions for the reader. And, if you take the time early on, it most definitely makes it easier in the long run for you, the writer.
Thanks again for having me.
As always, keep writing!
If you’d like to learn more about writing a book, here are some articles for you to read:
Growing up, I think many of us were intrigued by our ancestors. What were their stories? How did they make their mark in this world, and how did that pave the way for our arrival on the scene? Write your family history to discover and share your ancestors’ stories and nuggets of wisdom with future generations.
When we uncover how a family struggled through hardships to get where they are today, when we really understand their viewpoints, it often answers questions we’ve asked ourselves about them, such as why grandpa responds the way he does or what makes Great Aunt Trudy hold onto certain idiosyncrasies. In addition, this knowledge can also explain our roles in our family and community.
There are many different ways you can preserve family memories. If you have zillions of photographs, perhaps a scrapbook format would work. Some people build and bury a time capsule. Others gather all the recipes handed down through the generations and create a cookbook.
Now, if your family’s story is an action-packed adventure tale, a book is the only way to truly do it justice. I know that writing a book can be quite an undertaking, but it is the surest way to immortalize your family story for the millennia to come. And this is where I come in. When you need help to write your family history in book form, call on me, your friendly ghostwriter.
Here are some tips to you get started.
How to determine the focus and format
If you’ve decided to write your family history, you might not know where to begin. After all, you have generations of memories and anecdotes to choose from. The first step will be to determine the focus of the book.
Will it center around one ancestor sharing his or her story?
Or will it detail a single event that influenced the course of the entire family?
Or perhaps you want to share multiple viewpoints of a generation that set the stage for the present-day condition of your family.
Once you decide on the focus, the next decision is easier: the type of book to write. No matter which focus you choose, there are really only two main formats open to you:
If the story highlights one individual sharing an exciting adventure from the annals of her past, you’ll want to choose a memoir format. While other important people will be featured in your book, the story will be told through that one family member’s eyes. It will give the reader insight into her unique viewpoint.
I must say, by far the most common request I receive is to write a memoir. Each book is so different, because each client has his or her own voice, message, and purpose for writing their book.
For instance, one book I wrote a couple of years ago featured a young Jewish girl who needed to separate from her family in Europe and pretend to be a devout Catholic to escape the Nazis. Although the experiences of her brothers and sisters are shared throughout the book, they were told through the eyes of the preteen.
Tip: If you write a book in a memoir format, it will need to be written in the first person. This means that the main character will need to be present in each scene. After all, she couldn’t have experienced the incident if she wasn’t there.
If your family story is more of an ensemble piece, with many different people all playing an equal role, I’d suggest you stick with a narrative format. That way you can pick and choose the stories and people to focus on.
For example, I wrote a story for an author who escaped communist Hungary on foot with his family. Since he was a toddler at the time of the Hungarian Revolution, it didn’t make sense to write it as a memoir. Instead, the story revolved around his parents and older sister, but included him throughout.
Tip: When using a narrative format, you’ll write the book in the third person. Since you’ve chosen this format because you have multiple stories to tell, I’d recommend a multiple third person limited viewpoint (where you alternate between the viewpoints of different characters from segment to segment).
Know your goals for the book
If you find you need help and approach me to write your family history, I will start by giving you an introductory interview. One of my first tasks will be to get your true motivation behind the book project so that I can help you achieve your goals. After all, when I can truly understand my clients’ goals, their objectives become mine and we are able to form a writing team.
Over the years, clients who approach me to write their family’s story, have two main purposes in mind:
To share their story with readers around the world
To write a book so their children’s children will know what happened
I’ve worked with both goals and love to help families record their history. I am so grateful when I’m allowed into a client’s inner circle to learn their secrets and stories and get to record them for future generations—children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. It is an honor to become a family’s historian. It’s an important role, one that I cherish.
It might surprise you to learn that some clients hire me and have no intention of ever publishing their book. For instance, you might ask me to write your family history simply because you are afraid that your ancestors’ memories and the lessons they learned will get lost over time, especially after they pass on. Perhaps you want your future family members to never forget the events of the past.
This is a valid concern.
One advantage of hiring a ghostwriter to write your family history is that you leave the door open to publishing the book, if you choose to do so at a later time. After all, goals and purposes can change. When you work with a professional writer, you can be certain that you’ll wind up with a marketable manuscript which follows all the rules of literature.
Appoint a family historian
I would be honored if you considered hiring me to be your family historian. However, I recognize that not everyone can afford the fee. In that case, I recommend appointing a family member to write your family history and become your family historian.
Find someone who is eager to embrace the events of the past. She will need to be patient and willing to wade through records and documents and be able to organize all the information. In addition, she should be an excellent communicator, who is willing to interview every family member and dig deep to uncover all the pertinent facts and memories.
Here are a couple tips to help your family historian write your book:
Tip #1: Capture a person’s exact words
It is important that you capture each person’s exact words. After all, each member of your family will have a different way of expressing himself. Jot down any idioms the family member might use.
Never correct his or her grammar. You aren’t a seventh grade English teacher. If Grandpa says, “ain’t,” keep it that way. It’s real and it’s part of what makes him Grandpa, right? Keeping his dialogue intact will allow future generations a better sense of who he was. Record exactly what each person says as they say it.
In addition, make a note of their mannerisms so you can use these when you describe your family members in your book.
Tip #2: Collect more information than you’ll use
When you write your book, plan to collect twice the material than you think you’ll use. It’s a bit like carving a work of art from stone. You need to start with a huge block of marble. Then you chip away at it until you uncover your sculpture within. With a book, you’ll need pages and pages of notes detailing adventures, challenges, life lessons, observations and the like. Within these pages you will find the golden nuggets that will help you write your family history.
Tip #3: Be open to learning new things about your family
While on this journey you will likely discover that your elders have lived through some amazing times. Some children have no idea what adventurous lives their ancestors have lived, or the hardships they endured. Perhaps your great uncle was a flying ace who engaged in dog fights during World War I. Or, it’s possible that you never knew that your grandmother escaped a brutal dictator on foot with her valuables sewn into her skirt. Or maybe various family members traveled to a variety of exotic locations and never told you. Whatever the case, you’re bound to learn a lot about your family members when you write your family history. Ask questions and be willing to take the book in new directions.
Tip #4: Select your theme
As with any memoir or story, your book will need to have one or more main themes. The theme you choose depends on the message you wish to communicate. There is no right or wrong answer here.
A few powerful themes you might consider are:
Drive and determination can overcome obstacles
Families can come in many shapes and sizes
Sometimes the only way to survive is to fight back
Be grateful for everything you have in life
Never give up, no matter how painful the odds and opposition might be
Tip #5: Use your senses
Now that you’ve determined the theme for your book, you will probably find yourself approaching it from multiple angles. Not only will you have a variety of viewpoints to share, but through the multi-generational events, you can show your theme using all the senses and perceptions available to each character.
For instance, I wrote the memoir of a man who grew up in a small one-room hovel without running water and electricity before achieving great wealth. To this day, he remains humble and is grateful for the simple pleasures of that early lifestyle, as well as the loving upbringing his parents provided. Together, he and I brought the conditions to life by not only describing the vistas but giving texture to the mud walls and sharing the tastes of his mother’s simple, but delicious cooking. Later, when his mother and father visited his mansion in California, the readers experienced the contrasting luxury along with his parents.
Note: The theme of gratitude was consistent throughout the book.
So, when should you start?
I mean it!
Time isn’t always on your side, especially if members of your family are getting on in years. So now is the perfect opportunity to talk with them. Go for it! And have fun!
If you need help, feel free to contact me. I’d love to help you write your family history! Check out a few of my testimonials.
Do you need help writing a book? I find that most people I talk to have a strong goal to write at least one book within their lifetime.
Perhaps you’ve lived an interesting life and wish to share your story with the world. If you have overcome some obstacles and can share your successful actions, you might just help others who are going through similar situations.
Or maybe you’re a CEO or expert in a niche area and wish to share your knowledge with others. This is also an admirable goal.
Then again, it’s possible that you have a fictional story, which has been on your mind for decades. Not sharing it with the world just isn’t an option. Am I right?
When authors have a burning desire to publish a story, but know they can’t write it themselves, they often reach out to me for help. When that happens, I’m moved. It’s truly an honor for me to help a writer achieve his or her goal.
If you can’t shake the desire to complete your book, and it’s all that you can think about, it’s time to take action. Understand that if you wait a week, it will turn into a month, which will turn into a year. The majority of people who contact me tell me that they have been sitting on their book project for five to ten years. It’s at that point that they realize they need to tackle it or the book never will be written.
I’m here to encourage you. Now is the time to complete your book project!
Steps required to write a book
There are various phases every author must go through to write and complete a book. The primary phases are:
Writing the first draft
Yes, I’m simplifying things a bit. I know I am. However, truthfully, I can tell you that these are the four main steps involved in writing any book. If you are looking for help writing a book, just understanding these steps can make a difference.
Each stage tends to flow into the next. When I complete most of my research, I instinctively want to organize all the information into an outline (I recommend doing so chronologically). As I’m outlining, there often comes a point where I’m just dying to start writing. When that urge hits me, I pen a few pages for my client as a sample. This is the start of the first draft and helps to begin to establish the style and voice of the book.
The research phase
Research is crucial for any book project. Even if you are writing a memoir, you still need to do extensive research. After all, you need to provide accurate details as to time, location, appearance and historic events.
While the bulk of the research is done at the beginning of a project, I find that I continue to research as I write. Questions do come up and I need to look up the answers. This is especially true when I am writing about any period in the past. What was a popular rock song of the era? What kind of clothes were people wearing? These authentic particulars help set the tone of the story. Remember, readers will spot inaccuracies.
There are many resources for research: your relatives, the library, and, of course, internet search engines. There are so many data bases accessible by the public. For instance, when a client provides the street address of a home he lived in or a place where a significant event took place, I can easily look it up and see what it looks like from the street. Sometimes I can even find photos that give me a sneak peek inside.
The outlining phase
If you get a chance to review my blog, you’ll see that I’ve written extensively about how to write an outline. That’s because I feel it is a vital first step for writing any book. Honestly, I can’t take a writing step forward without a good detailed flight plan for my book, because I feel it’s the best way to avoid mid-air collisions. And by that I mean, wasting time on a story line that just doesn’t fit into the book.
Having said that, I know some of you might be groaning at the very thought of sketching the story out before writing. Maybe you work best on a free flow basis. That’s totally okay. We’re all different. Do what’s right for you.
Once you have the outline completed, you may find that the book is pretty well written—in your mind. Now you need to get words on paper.
The biggest problem that I’ve seen new writers get into is that they try to edit as they crank out the first draft. I urge you not to do that. Please allow yourself to just get the rough draft out first. Expect that it won’t be great. That’s OK! Fine tuning your manuscript happens during the editing phase.
Set up a regular time to write each day and stick to that schedule. If you hold yourself accountable for a certain word count, you will make regular progress on your story.
If you find yourself continually discouraged when you sit down to write or you avoid writing in general, revisit your outline. There might be a flaw there. Perhaps one of the incidents not quite working for you. That can happen if it doesn’t really have a strong purpose in your book. Also, take a look at the people in your book. Does every character have a reason for being? Once you have these issues sorted out, you’ll know it because you’ll be excited to write again.
When helping a client craft his memoir, I often need to counsel him to not include certain people. While it’s fine to mention Daisy the barista in your personal journal, she might not warrant a mention in your life story. Stick to the characters that matter and move the story forward.
The editing phase
When you complete your first draft (Bravo, by the way), it’s time to edit. I’d recommend putting your manuscript down for a few days or a week before starting this phase. Give yourself a breather from the project. Fill that time slot by reading books in the same genre. For example, if you’re writing your life story, pick up 700 Sundays or a memoir you enjoy. Reading another author might give you ideas to help you sculpt your own book.
The next step is to read over your manuscript from beginning to end and see if there are any issues with continuity. Sometimes you start out with one idea and end up with another. When that happens, you need to go back and make adjustments. For example, I’ve worked with clients who will share with me a pet name for a relative halfway through the story. So, only the second half of the book will have that character’s nickname. Fortunately, it’s an easy matter to insert the new name.
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.
Now, you’ll also spot typos. Sure, fix them, but this isn’t the right 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 quite a bit, so fixing typos doesn’t make sense.
Dialogue is another element to focus on. If you’re just starting out, I’d recommend reading your book out loud, especially the conversations. You’ll immediately know if they ring true or fall flat. If you find you have trouble in this area, take a break and go out and listen to how people speak. Watch a few movies you enjoy and really listen to the words. It’s interesting how informal and “improper” the dialogue can be!
Once you’ve worked out the major kinks, you can review your manuscript for errors in grammar and punctuation. I’d recommend hiring one or two editors to look at your story with fresh eyes. It’s always good to have a detached person review your work. If you’d like to learn more about the different kinds of editors, check out my article Different Kinds of Editors.
When you need a little help writing a book
People reach out to me when they can’t write a book on their own. It isn’t easy to write a 200- to 300-page book. For first-time authors (as well as well-educated and talented authors) the task can seem mammoth. People sometimes start, then get caught in the middle of one of the above stages and falter. They find that writing a book is much harder than it appeared when they first started the project. If this happens to you, don’t despair. There are options, steps you can take to complete your book.
Hire a writing coach
The process of writing a book is not really taught in high school or college. If you talk to seasoned writers, you’ll find they uniformly say they learned their craft from experience. I believe that authors learn how to write a book by reading and writing and reading and writing and…(you get the picture). When you’ve written a few hundred thousand words, that’s when you will find your voice.
One option is to hire a writing coach. She will charge by the hour to assist you to organize your thoughts and ideas and break through the mental blocks that are stopping you from making forward progress. This is a great solution for writers who are doing well overall, but just need an occasional helping hand.
Hire a friendly ghostwriter
If you are having great difficulties and it seems like you may not be up to the task of writing your book, consider hiring a professional writer, a friendly ghostwriter like me, to help you. I will get the job done for you.
On the other hand, if you are one of those talented writers who just needs a little assistance, hire someone to edit and make minor rewrites. A professional ghostwriter can act as a manuscript doctor, helping to troubleshoot your book and debug any issues. For instance, he or she can assist you with character development and story line, while keeping your voice intact.
It isn’t cheating to hire a ghostwriter
Some feel that it’s cheating to hire someone to write a book for them. After all, their name will be on the cover right? How can it be ethical to take credit if someone else wrote the book for them? Although I understand the concern, let me assure you, it’s done all the time. Hiring a ghostwriter is an accepted practice and you have the right to put your name as the author. After all, it’s your idea and really should be your book.
Having an experienced professional to help guide you through the book writing process will help you grow as a writer. It will give you an experience boost that will carry through to your second and third book. Your next literary adventure won’t be fraught with the perils of inexperience since you will have traveled these waters already.
As we embark upon the roaring twenties, you’ll find that it is easier to write and publish a book through Amazon. You can pick any length, set your price and start selling copies relatively quickly.
Having said that, you do need to actually sit down and write the book. As Shakespeare’s Hamlet said, “There’s the rub.”
By writing this article, my intention is not to minimize the challenges of your book project in any way. It will take time and you’ll encounter a few barriers along the way. However, since I’ve lived over a half a century now and have written a few dozen books, I thought I could possibly help lessen your frustrations a bit by offering a few tips.
Start by jotting down notes
It rarely works to start writing the first page without knowing where you’re heading. After all, if you’re planning a trip from San Diego to Topeka, I’d imagine that you’d probably pull out a map or GPS to help guide you. It would be tough to just start driving northeast and hope you arrive at Aunt May’s house.
So, begin by simply jotting down general notes and ideas about your whole book. This will give you a direction to head in as you develop the finer points of your story.
Personally, I open a Word document and organize my thoughts into short paragraphs. A former mentor once gave me a wonderful system that I still use today when I outline a book. I create a Who, What, When, and Where sort of format for each incident when I’m writing a novel. Then I always make sure to include the purpose of the incident.
This system works well for a memoir or a fictional piece.
It’s important to keep it simple. Remember, these are just brief notes so that you can create a road map for your book without getting lost on a side path to nowhere.
Example of an incident
Who: Marge and Stephen
When: Sept 6, 2002, their six-month anniversary
Where: Starbucks on Main St. (Where they first met)
What happened: Stephen proposes and Marge declines
Purpose: Show how Stephen’s heart was broken early in his life
If you have more to say, you can add another line and call it “Notes.” Here you can download your thoughts on this incident if you find it hard to continue without doing so. For instance, you might add to the above:
Notes: Marge and Stephen broke up soon after this. Over the next few years, Stephen dated a few women, but broke up with each of them after six months.
Adding notes at the end of the incident description isn’t required, but the other elements are important. The most important component is the purpose. If you discover that you can’t come up with a legitimate reason to include an incident, it needs to be removed. This can be difficult, I know.
Once you have your list of incidents, you can put them in the right order because each has a time stamp (the When). Typically, you’ll put them in chronological order, but once in a while you’ll create a flashback to illustrate a point.
This is simply one way to create and organize an outline. You can also simply write incident titles on index cards, with very little description (e.g.: Stephen proposes to Marge and is rejected). Later you can fill in the details. Some authors prefer index cards, as they can shuffle them around easily then pin them to a board. I prefer using Word’s old cut and paste function.
While this may seem a bit tedious, I promise you, it’s an important step if you wish to write and publish a book. And, as an added bonus, your themes for a memoir or fictional book will pop out when you create a good working outline.
Set a target and make it
Once you have your outline worked out, you should be eager to start writing. I know I always am! The book is pretty well written in my head; now, it’s time to get it down on paper.
I find it helpful to set myself a daily word-count target, but it might work better for you to have a weekly target. It really depends upon how much time you have to devote to your book project. Only you know what’s realistic for you.
Some incidents will roll off your fingertips onto your computer screen, while others will require a little more time. Keep in mind that you’ll need to do some research, which will take time away from actually writing. Give yourself enough time to be thorough.
As you settle into the routine of writing, you should become engrossed in the story. When this happens, you may find you can increase the amount of words you write.
It’s also a good idea to give yourself deadlines for completing sections of your book. Truthfully, making your deadlines is the only way to write and publish a book. As a professional ghostwriter, I break up my projects into four milestones for my clients in my contract:
The outline and research
The first half of the first draft
The second half of the first draft
Each milestone takes about two to three months for me to produce. This approach works well for me, but your process might be different. You may decide to break this down even further, perhaps setting yourself a goal of completing a chapter a week.
Schedule time to write into your day
If you have a full-time job but have a strong desire to write and publish a book in your spare time, I suggest scheduling a certain time each day for writing. Most people prefer the early morning hours, as they often have the whole house to themselves. However, the night owls among you might prefer a late-night hour.
Whatever time you select, make sure you’ve had enough to eat and that you’re not too tired. It’s also good to secure a little peace and quiet. When you’re starved and have three young children clamoring to sit on your lap, it isn’t the best time to write. Trust me, I know.
If it’s possible, find a dedicated space to write. This should be a quiet place, preferably with a door. If you don’t have room for a writing alcove, then at least pick a place that is comfortable and free of distraction. Some people like to turn off their Wi-Fi, so they won’t be tempted to check the sports scores or their Facebook feed. It’s hard, I know, but remember your goal: To write and publish a book.
Seek out helpful feedback
If this is your first book, it would be a good idea to get a little feedback along the way. Ask friends to read chapters and find out if they are interested to read more. Be open to their thoughts and suggestions, but don’t lose yourself in their viewpoints. There’s definitely a balance to maintain between your own vision for the book and what appeals to your readers.
If you find you can’t do anything with the suggestions you get, keep plugging away. For instance, if you’re writing an historical romance, but your best friend prefers space opera, there really isn’t much you can do. Don’t change your direction to please one person.
However, if you show your book to five people and they all comment that they had trouble getting to the end, you might want to ask them what they didn’t like and if they can identify what made them put the book down. Maybe it’s a simple matter of putting more action into the story. Or perhaps you need to create a little more depth to your characters.
Once you complete the final draft of your book, you will need to get feedback. Find people who are willing to read the entire manuscript. Some people aren’t into reading, while others just don’t have the time. These aren’t good candidates. Find friends who love literature and ask them to critique your book.
Find outside help
If you don’t have personal acquaintances who can help, you might want to join a writer’s group and swap critiques with other writers. Or you can hire manuscript doctors or editors to give you pointers. This feedback can be instrumental to your growth as a writer.
It’s important to find readers who will praise you for what you’ve done as well as point out the flaws. Some editors feel the only valuable feedback is negative. That can be demoralizing and confusing. Good constructive criticism makes you aware of areas you can improve, while praise validates and reinforces the good work you have already done. Both are important.
The last thing you want to happen is to publish a book and find that there’s a gaping hole in your plot or a character that doesn’t come off as realistic. Or perhaps you’re writing your autobiography and have left an unanswered question in the reader’s mind. Good feedback allows you to look at the book through the reader’s eyes. It gives you the opportunity to craft the best possible story.
Get reviews for you book
Once you publish your book, find people who are willing to write reviews for you. Amazon has new rules about who can write book reviews, so it’s good to study those. Close family members and friends aren’t allowed (because they probably won’t be unbiased), but you are still allowed to trade a free review copy of your book to those you don’t know well.
Amazon and Goodreads are both great sites for drawing attention to your book, because both attract avid readers.
In addition, Amazon has an Early Reviewer Program to help you find your first five reviewers. Your product must be sold for $15 or more and the program comes with a hefty fee of $60. However, for some this can be a good way to start out.
For all my readers who have the goal to write and publish a book in 2020, I commend you. It isn’t an easy task, but I can promise you it is a very fulfilling one. One for one, my clients have been thrilled when they hold their first books in their hands. While the journey can have a few potholes along the way, it also has amazing vistas and truly spectacular triumphs.
Are you debating whether or not to write your life story?
Well, you’re not alone. I have spoken with many people who are considering the same, wonderful endeavor. Some are certain of their course of action, while others are still mulling it over, trying to figure out if penning a book is the right decision for them.
I love helping people resolve this question!
More often than not, I will strongly encourage a person to write their life story. This is especially true if their memoir would have an educational or inspirational aspect.
Is that true of your story?
Did you travel and gain insights into another culture, thereby shifting your worldview?
Or perhaps you worked hard to overcome a physical challenge, thereby discovering your own personal strength and resilience?
Maybe you persisted towards a goal, facing and demolishing great barriers, thereby unlocking your hidden potential?
These are the kinds of memoir themes that enlighten and uplift others. These are the kinds of stories that others want to read. Wouldn’t you?
Consider your audience
When you do decide that you want to write your life story, one of the first things to consider is your readers. Who will be your audience? Maybe the book will be only for your immediate family. That’s completely fine. Recording your personal history for your children, and your children’s children, is a wonderful gift. More and more people are becoming interested in learning about their family heritage. Unfortunately, often the experiences that shape and influence the family are lost over time. By writing your life story, you are creating a legacy that can be enjoyed and cherished for generations.
Maybe you are one of those people who wants to share your story with a broader audience. That’s wonderful! There are a number of ways to do this. You could use a blog format, sharing anecdotes on a weekly basis, or you could write a full-length memoir.
As long as your life story has a good, inspiring message, you should find a way to share it with others.
Not every story should be told
Now this might sound strange, but it’s true: not every story should be told. Yes, there are times when I actually beg someone not to write their life story. As a professional ghostwriter, I know that might seem bad for business, but I feel strongly that writers should avoid certain themes in literature.
Here are some examples of potential projects that I have rejected over the last decade:
“I’d really like to get back at so-and-so.”
Revenge is a dangerous motivation for writing a book. It can backfire on you. Be warned that you might end up hurting yourself more than your intended target.
Remember, when you put something in writing, it becomes a permanent record. You can never completely take the harsh words back. Your unkindness is out there for all eternity, for many readers to view over and over again. Also, consider that you might want to make peace with the person you maligned. Will he be able to reconcile with the person who maligned him so publicly?
Writing a book to hurt someone else, even if you feel it is justified, is always a bad idea.
“I’ve lived a horrible life.”
This might surprise you, but I’ve received a ton of memoir requests from people who have lived a life of misery and despair. For instance, their childhood might have been filled with abuse. Then they married another abuser and continued the pattern. When I ask about the purpose of their book, they usually say that it shows how one can live through anything.
While this may be a decent message for some, it isn’t really one to hammer into those who are trying to escape abuse. It’s true that not every story has to have a happy ending, but most stories, particularly the memorable ones, inspire us in some way. And it’s hard to be inspired when you’re reading such a depressing account of someone’s life. Most people would have no interest in picking up and reading such a book. Would you?
Even when the message is inspiring, there are some projects I won’t take on because of other circumstances or problems. Here are a few from my files:
“I want to become rich from this one book.”
While it is possible to do well financially with a book, it is very hard to make that happen with your first one. It really comes down to your marketing skills. If you are experienced in this area, you could do well. If you’re not, you’ll need to learn. There’s no way around that.
A brilliantly written book will not sell well if the author fails to promote. Even a publisher will not be able to work his or her magic if the author isn’t actively marketing his or her own book. There is only so much any publisher can do.
Even if you’re a marketing guru, you must have a well written book to sell. If you publish a book that breaks all the rules of writing and is littered with grammatical errors, you will wind up with poor reviews and negative publicity.
“I just can’t remember much.”
I completely understand how difficult it can be to remember details of one’s life that happened decades ago. Don’t worry about that. Still, a ghostwriter will always need a sketch of the incidents that formed your life. What you ate for breakfast isn’t as important as the fact that you dined with the Ambassador to France one day in Switzerland or you visited your Aunt in the hospital over spring break.
A few times this year I received requests to write a book from people who truly couldn’t remember any relevant stories from their past. Without those stories, there is no book.
Having said that, don’t give up your dream to write your life story if you’re having some difficulty recalling your past. I can often help people remember details through the interviewing process. It’s a fun perk to hiring a ghostwriter!
“My family and close friends would kill me.”
This is a common fear. When I have talked to client prospects to learn more about their projects and give them advice, quite a few have mentioned that they were worried about hurting the feelings of loved ones. This is a very valid concern, one that should be taken seriously. People like to be seen in the best light, and once you put your story in writing, it’s permanent. A negative or hurtful portrayal may cause upset.
As a ghostwriter, I can hide the identity of most people in your life by changing their names. George can become Pete or even Alice. I can also change other details, such as locations or career paths. However, I really can’t hide Mama or that eccentric uncle that everyone knows. Those close to you will know whom you’re talking about, and they might not like what you have to say.
“I’ve lived a boring life, except for this one incident.”
If you had, say, a near-death experience, it might have been very exciting and worthy of a short story or a newspaper feature article. However, if the rest of your life was relatively ordinary, or “boring,” most likely that one event won’t make for a good memoir.
A good book has dozens and dozens of exciting incidents. Now, a near-death experience would probably have quite a few good incidents connected to it, but it’s probably not enough to sustain an entire book.
“I don’t want everyone to know what happened to me.”
Writing a memoir is essentially putting your personal life on display for all to see. If you are concerned about others knowing what happened to you, it’s probably not a good idea to write a book.
Having said that, some clients who don’t wish to share their story with the whole world opt to write it for their family. This allows them to accomplish both goals. I love helping people become their family’s historian.
Another option is to fictionalize your story. It wouldn’t be classified as a “memoir” anymore, but it would be a way to get your story out there. However, keep in mind that there’s a good chance your family and close friends could still guess that it has something to do with you and your experiences.
As a ghostwriter, I normally encourage others to write their memoirs because I strongly feel that people often have a book or two within them. It may be that your life story shouldn’t be the subject of your book. But that doesn’t mean you don’t still have something valuable to say. Maybe you can share your niche area of expertise with others, or perhaps you have an idea for a science fiction novel. Fantastic! I can help you write those kinds of books as well.
If you’d like to explore hiring a ghostwriter, please email me. I’ll give you my honest advice and direction.
You may be wondering if you should hire a local ghostwriter, someone who lives near you. This is a valid question, and I hear it a lot. I think it’s because whenever you see a ghostwriter in the movies, he is practically living with his client.
However, reality is much different than these fictional portrayals; none of my clients are local. They live all over the world. We correspond via email and talk regularly on the phone. Sometimes we Skype.
Having said that, if it is convenient to meet up with my client in person, I will. It just isn’t necessary for the project’s success. The fact is, when I’ve met my clients, it’s usually been with the book was finished.
Why limit your choices?
There are internet articles that advise you to always hire a local ghostwriter. I’m not sure why people suggest this, but there are people who fervently hold onto that idea. I’ve actually had prospects (potential clients) refuse to talk to me because I wasn’t in their area.
This concept of only hiring someone locally severely limits your choices, which could hinder your project. Truthfully, unless you live in a major city, you probably won’t find a qualified ghostwriter in your area. Most likely your ideal writer for your book lives clear across the country from you.
With nearly two decades of experience under my belt, I can tell you it just isn’t necessary for a ghostwriter to walk where you’ve walked, personally tour the towns or buildings where your story takes place. Locations can always be researched on the internet. Sometimes I find amazingly detailed photographs and videos of an area, which help paint the picture along with the descriptions provided.
Qualities to look for in a ghostwriter
Finding the right ghostwriter might take some time. It’s a very personal choice, one you shouldn’t feel pressured into making. When you do choose a writer, make sure that you really like her because you will be working closely with her for many months.
Since hiring a local ghostwriter isn’t important, I want to spell out attributes that do matter and that are keys for success. Here are some qualities to look for in a ghostwriter:
Great writing ability. Hire someone who writes in a way you enjoy reading.
Excellent communication skills. Make sure that you are comfortable talking with her.
Professional behavior. Some good writers have no idea how to run a business. Make sure she answers your questions and respond to queries quickly.
Reliability. Select a writer who can meet a deadline and work through difficulties.
Within your price range. The cost of a ghostwriter will vary from writer to writer. Find one within your budget.
If you absolutely feel you need to meet your ghostwriter in person (and Skype will not do), you can always fly out to her or fly her to you. It will cost extra, but it is a viable option.
Research your ghost
Some people feel they need to meet a person face to face to know whether or not he can be trusted. While I agree that this helps, internet research is much more effective for spotting a con man.
Someone who is trying to rip you off will have no internet presence. He will not have a website or a blog, nor will he have a media page. Testimonials are key to establishing trust in a ghostwriter. After all, what other people have to say about someone is more pertinent than what he has to say about himself, right?
Another trick is to type the ghostwriter’s name into a search engine with the word “scam” or “complaint” and find out if there have been problems with that person. Of course, there might be numerous people by the same name, but if you know where he lives and that he is a ghostwriter, it’s a good bet it’s the same person. I used this technique with a potential publisher before going into business with him. It saved me a heap of trouble!
So, what do you think – do you still feel you need to hire a local ghostwriter?