Dreams do come true

Manuscript update: Started my new final round of revision yesterday. The last round was the make-every-word-great round, after going through plot and scene revision rounds earlier. So this is the polish, the I-want-to-make-sure-every-word-is-still-great-and-I-didn’t-type-something-weird-last-time round. I’m excited, and plan to be finished in a week or so. Fingers crossed.

With the economy the way it is and all the bad news that has been coming of the publishing industry the last few years, it’s great to see all the deals still being reported by Publisher’s Marketplace. But when it’s a deal for a debut writer, it’s even more wonderful, it’s inspirational.

As I was shutting down my computer last night, I saw fellow blogger Beth Revis had posted the news that her book, Deep Freeze, has been picked up by Razorbill, an imprint of Penguin, for a spring 2011 release. According to Publishers Weekly, Razorbill editor Bill Shrank “said he thinks the book will do for popular sci-fi what The Hunger Games did for postapocalyptic fiction.” Wow!

Beth also scored a three-book deal, which shows the confidence Razorbill has in her writing.

This is fantastic news for Beth, and I’m so excited for her. I also can’t wait to read the book, because it sounds wonderful.

But it’s also exciting news for all unpublished writers. It shows us that despite the layoffs and low financial quarters at publishing houses, editors are buying books, and they are buying books from unpublished writers.

Sure, I’ve heard over and over that manuscripts need to be really polished before they’ll even attract an agent nowadays — hence my new polish round — but if you put in the work, the rewards will come.

Go on, dare to dream, then get to work on making that dream a reality. It will take work, a lot of hard work, but it will be worth it in the end.

Write On!

Answers to your questions about ghostwriting

Author Laura Cross

Laura Cross

Today, I’m pleased to host Laura Cross, author of many ghostwritten books as well as her new Complete Guide to Hiring a Literary Agent: Everything You Need to Know to Become Successfully Published. In January, you posted great questions about ghostwriting (Thanks everyone!), and Laura has some eye-opening answers.

Before we get to them, though, we have a winner for the PDF copy of Laura’s Complete Guide to Hiring a Literary Agent book. The winning question came from Suzanne Pitner. Congratulations, Suzanne! Laura will be emailing you your prize. Enjoy!

And now on to the questions and answers:

DayByDayWriter: How much ghostwriting is done in publishing?

Laura Cross: It’s estimated that more than 80% of published books are ghostwritten.

Karen Strong: I was once approached by a company who wanted me to do some ghostwriting for them, but I wasn’t sure about how much to charge. What is the going rate and what should a writer beginning in ghostwriting charge for their work?

Cover of The Complete Guide to Hiring a Literary Agent bookLaura: Book ghostwriting fees range from $10,000 to $100,00 per project — $10,000 being the very low end and $100,000 usually paid to more established writers (“celebrity” ghostwriters earn $250,000+ per book). Many ghostwriters determine their rates based on how much they can command per hour (based on experience, portfolio and demand for their services). Once you determine your hourly rate, you can translate that fee into a per page rate, a per word rate, or a per book rate (based on how much time it will take to research, organize, outline, write, edit and revise a project.)

So how do you calculate the time needed for a project? Some writers can write one standard manuscript page in 30 minutes, others require three hours. Some can conduct research and organize a project on the topic of neurosurgery in 80 hours, while others need five months. You need to be aware of your own skills and strengths. Over time, you will have a good understanding of how much time is required for any given project. For instance, I know that for most 200-page prescriptive non-fiction books on the topic of business or finance, I require (remember, each writer’s requirements will be different) about 275 hours of time (around 60 hours of research, organization and outlining time, one hour of writing time per page, and one hour of editing/revising time per 15 pages).

Suzanne Pitner: How does a writer get a ghostwriting gig if he or she doesn’t have a published book yet? Are other writing credits enough to land a job?

Laura: I ghosted more than 30 books before my first “credited” book was published. You don’t need to have a book published under your own name to become a ghostwriter. Create a portfolio based on your magazine and newspaper articles. If you have not yet been published, collect your blog posts and expand them into full articles or book chapters, or use excerpts from your unpublished manuscripts. Define your specialty (business, health/fitness, memoir, etc.) and market specifically to those clients.

Anita Nolan: I’d like to know how to actually get a ghostwriting or work for hire job. I’ve actually done some work for hire, written for a magazine, edited a couple magazines, etc., but I don’t seem to be able to break through. (The WFH work I’ve done has come to me through friends of friends.) I apply for jobs, hear back that they’ll keep my info on file, but never hear anything more. What is the correct way to approach ghostwriting/WFH publishers, and what are the best ways/places to find out about this type of work?

Laura: I’m not sure what you mean by “ghostwriting publishers”? Most traditional publishers and imprints release books written by ghostwriters, though these publishers don’t often hire the ghostwriter directly. Some subsidiary publishers — who market themselves as “self-publishers” — and vanity presses (such as Authors House) offer ghostwriting services to their customers and keep a list of ghostwriters on file to hire on a per project basis. Approaching these types of publishers is not the best route for establishing a successful ghostwriting career or making a decent living — and is not a path I would recommend.

Most of your best ghostwriting projects will be referrals from literary agents working with experts or celebrities who lack the necessary writing skills to produce a compelling book. If you’re looking for quality, well-paying ghostwriting opportunities you need to connect with literary agents. (You can download a free chapter on “Finding and Selecting an Agent” from my book The Complete Guide To Hiring A Literary Agent at www.GetALiteraryAgent.com.) As a ghostwriter, you approach a literary agent just the same way any other aspiring author does.

Donna Maloy: I am assuming that most ghostwriters are paid a flat fee and therefore don’t have a claim on future royalties. But do ghostwriting contracts reserve any future rights at all — say after the acknowledged author passes away?

Laura: All contracts are negotiable, but with a standard ghostwriting agreement, you do not receive any credit or rights — one reason it’s important to be paid well upfront for your writing services.

Wendy Sue Rupnow: How do I try to get credit for ghostwriting and freelance copy and research on a resume? I was recently rejected because some of my freelance could not be verified. Also, I have attached copies of ghostwriting with applications and a few times was questioned… with authorship. Is this something people try to pull?

Laura: Never, ever disclose you are a ghostwriter on a project. It is unethical, and in most cases you put yourself at great risk for a lawsuit and a diminished reputation. Who is going to hire a ghostwriter who doesn’t stay hidden? If a potential client does not understand that you cannot disclose specific information, then you don’t want to work with that client — it’s never worth the risk. If the client is looking to hire a ghostwriter, he is going to have the same “issue” with EVERY ghostwriter he interviews, because no professional ghostwriter can (nor will) reveal authorship. If a potential client is questioning whether you actually wrote the writing you presented, then he’s questioning your integrity and you’re only going to have trust issues with the client throughout the project. Who wants to deal with that? You choose your clients as much as they choose you, and in this case I would say, “Run the other way… there’s many more choices out there.”  Respect yourself and know your worth — you’ll attract clients who feel the same about you.

Back to the portfolio question. For portfolio samples, you want to be very careful when using ghostwritten material due to non-disclosure agreements. My contracts specify that I may use up to five pages of ghostwritten content for portfolio purposes, without identifying the “author” or book title. You can also create a list of projects you have ghostwritten identified by topic and type of client — for example, “A how-to entrepreneurial book for a prominent business leader”, “A motivational self-help book for a respected psychiatrist”, “A loyalty-marketing book for the CEO of an Internet company.” Put together a client testimonial sheet to submit along with your samples.

Marion Steiger: How should I go about getting a good ghostwriter to help me finish a non-fiction book based on my daughter’s diaries when she was 14 and had cancer? I’m adding sections throughout the diary on thoughts from our family members and our experiences, so it will be a book for young adults and for adults also.

Laura: Hiring a good ghostwriter can be extremely expensive. My question to you is: what is your goal for the book? If you are planning to acquire a literary agent and attract a traditional publisher, then, in order to have the best chance at landing a book deal, you may need to hire a ghostwriter. If you are planning to set up your own publishing company and release the book yourself, then you may wish to consider completing the content and hiring a good developmental and line editor to polish the material — this path will help you save tens of thousands of dollars.

(Side note: I recommend this route because Marion is writing a narrative non-fiction manuscript. For anyone contemplating writing prescriptive non-fiction, a ghostwriter is not hired until after you’ve landed a book deal from your book proposal and received an advance from the publisher, which allows you to then hire a ghostwriter. Many of my clients hire me to ghostwrite their initial book proposals and then the full manuscript once they have a publishing contract.)

You can find qualified memoir ghostwriters through 2M Communications Ltd. and The Penn Group. I am not an advocate of “bidding” sites for finding quality writers. Yes, you can definitely find exceptional writers on these sites (I’ve found some great clients there myself), but the overwhelming majority of “writers” on bidding sites are utterly inept.

Liz Maxwell: How do you say a polite ‘no’ when someone asks you to ghostwrite for them?

Laura: Well, that depends on why you want to say “no”  — are you saying “no” to ghostwriting or “no” to the specific project? If you’re not a ghostwriter and simply have no interest in ghostwriting someone’s book, you can just tell them you’re not a ghostwriter and that the process does not appeal to you. If you are a ghostwriter but have no interest in the particular project, be honest and tell the client, “I don’t believe I am the right fit for your book.” To create a successful book, the client-ghostwriter relationship needs to be right for both parties.

Ivette Ebaen: Whether the work is fiction or non-fiction, how creative is a ghostwriting job since you have to work within a given structure, genre, style — another writer’s work?

Laura: Ghostwriting is a business – I don’t necessarily consider it a creative job, though there are creative aspects. To stay balanced and keep my sanity while working on ghostwriting projects, I try to include time for more creative personal writing projects. When you’re ghostwriting non-fiction books, generally, your clients are not other writers — they’re usually business leaders, entrepreneurs, or experts who lack the skill to craft a compelling book (that’s why they need you). When you move into fiction territory, you encounter a few author-clients. Obviously, narrative non-fiction and fiction ghostwriting are more naturally “creative” than prescriptive non-fiction writing because you’re creating scenes, and dialogue, and turning points, and crisis, and resolution — but at all times, your goal is to remain true to the client’s “voice” and idea. The job of all ghostwriters is to capture the client’s “voice” and effectively get it on paper (especially if you’re ghostwriting a book for an established best-selling fiction author).

DayByDayWriter: Wow! Great information, Laura. I had no idea such a high percentage of books are ghostwritten. And the pay does sound enticing. Anything else you’d like to add?

Laura: I’d just like to say thank you so much for having me. And thanks to your readers for all the great questions. I hope I’ve been able to offer some insights into the world of ghostwriting for writers who are looking to break into the field, and for those who are considering working with a ghostwriter on their projects.

DayByDayWriter: Thank you, Laura.

If you have other questions for Laura, please post them in the comments. You can also find out more about Laura below:


Laura Cross is an author, screenwriter, ghostwriter, freelance book editor, and writing coach specializing in nonfiction books and script adaptation (book-to-film projects). She writes two popular blogs, www.NonfictionInk.com and www.AboutAScreenplay.com, and teaches online writing workshops www.ScenarioWritingStudio.com/workshops. Her latest book is The Complete Guide To Hiring A Literary Agent: Everything You Need To Know To Become Successfully Published. You can download a free chapter, view the book trailer, read the full table of contents, and purchase the eBook at www.GetALiteraryAgent.com.

Anne Lamott's Bird By Bird DVD

Lovers of Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird book about her writing life, rush to the DVD store tomorrow. Docurama Films is bringing out Bird By Bird With Annie, a documentary (“portrait” according to the box cover) about the writer, whose Bird By Bird is often listed as one of the favorite books on writing. Look at how many times it pops up in answer to literary agent Nathan Bransford’s question, What are your favorite books on writing?

Lamott is very open and candid in the documentary, by Freida Lee Mock. Mock filmed Lamott in interviews, at book events, at church, during speeches and during personal, quiet moments, such as driving in her convertible.

Lamott talks about her childhood, her former alcoholism and her Christian faith with sincerity. It’s a touching, inspirational story.

She also talks about writing and being published.

“Publication is not any kind of solution. When you get your first book published, you’ll be so much more mentally ill than you are right now.”

Lamott gives advice to laughing audiences, but the advice is good. Like this prayer she says:

“Please God help me get out of my way so I can write what wants to be written.”

One of the things that’s so comforting in Lamott’s book and in this film is that Lamott is just as insecure as the rest of us. Here’s a quote from right at the beginning of the documentary:

“You’re always on borrowed time. None of your favorite writers, let alone your personal selfs, sit down in the morning and just feel great about the work ahead of them. No one sits down and feels like a million dollars.”

At the end of the documentary, Mock has treated her viewers to an entire talk by Lamott, one that’s exerpted in the film, but it’s great to be able to see it all the way through.

Bird By Bird With Annie is a funny, touching and interesting film that any fan of Lamott and her books, especially her writing book, will love.

If your video store doesn’t carry it, tell them it’s from Docurama Films and to order it. Or get it online. Amazon has it, as I’m sure others do.

And if you haven’t read the book Bird By Bird, do. It’s a good one. Again, Amazon has it, as I’m sure others do.

Write On!

Inspiration and pet peeves

My middle-grade novel revision is moving along, but not as quickly as I’d like. Part of the reason is that I’m editing faster than my critique group meetings. Sounds weird, I know, but I’ll explain. You see, we meet twice a month and can take up to five pages to each meeting. After each meeting, I edit the pages for which I got notes, then keep going. But once I’m past the next five, I feel like I don’t want to go on too much farther because I’ll only be taking the next five to the critique group. So I go a little further, then go back, then browse the Internet… I can’t get motivated to move on because I feel this resistance. Does anybody else have this problem? I should just keep going, shouldn’t I?

Anyway, onto the subject of this post. In my dawdling, I’ve been reading writing-related articles online and found some good ones I wanted to share.

First up, an article from NPR about a book called The Lace Reader and how it came to be. The author and her husband self-published the book and got the word out in book clubs with a particular interest in the book’s subject matter. In fact, the author even gave the book clubs pre-published manuscripts with a request for notes, which got them intrigued and gave them a feeling of being invested in the book (I would assume). After self-publishing the book and getting word out, the author got interest from an agent, who then got interest in a bunch of big publishing houses and finally signed a deal for $2 million. Wow! Now, of course, this is a-typical. But, it’s an example of what can happen if you’re passionate and smart and, most of all, if you follow through. Even without the $2 million deal, this story is great, because this lady had an idea, wrote it, was passionate about, built fans for it and made it a success. If she can do it, so can we. Click here for the full article. There’s an excerpt from the book too.

Second is a blog post from Writers Digest’s Guide to Literary Agents about agents’ and editor’s first chapter pet peeves. Some are purely subjective (Stephany Evans of FinePrint Literary Management says she’s turned off by protagonists called Isabelle who go by the name of Izzy, but I’d guess there are plenty of agents and editors who aren’t bothered by that), but most of them are good reminders or eye-openers for our own work. Too much or unnecessary exposition is mentioned by a few of them, for example. Best part, the magazine has a bigger list in the print publication, which will be online in a few weeks if you can’t get to your local magazine rack. Click here for the full blog post.

Third, I was turned on to this through agent Kate Schafer’s blog. Author Cory Doctorow has a great column in Locus magazine about writing for young adult, the pleasures and pit falls. He talks about it as a privilege because “it matters,” because through books, these young readers are finding out how the world works. As he says: “there are kids who read your book, googled every aspect of it, figured out how to replicate the best bits, and have turned your story into a hobby.” I can fully agree with this from first-hand experience. With my first Sir Newton book, Sir Newton’s Color Me Cayman, a 10-year-old reader (these aren’t YA by any stretch of imagination) said that after he had gone through the book, he went on his computer to Google the Cayman Islands. That’s one of the best compliments the books have received. Doctorow also talks about a great job one indie bookstore called Anderson’s is doing to get kids reading. We need to encourage all bookstores to be doing things like this. As Doctorow says, people who go into bookstores are already hooked; we need to go to them to get them hooked. Click here for Doctorow’s full column.

Fourth and fifth, two things from one of my favorite blogs (because it’s informative, inspirational and very entertaining), A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing by author J.A. Konrath. First, he has put up a message board where writers, agents, editors, fans can chat about the industry, books, etc. Click here for his message board. Second, Konrath has compiled his years of useful blog posts into an ebook about writing and getting published, which he is offering as a free download on his website. Click here for his website. There’s also lots of info about his books — he’s a master at marketing — so check them out as well.

Got any links you’d like to share?

Write On!

Review for Sir Newton's Color Me Hawai'i

“Sir Newton’s Color Me Hawai’i,” the second book in my line of children’s travel books, has its first mention on a blog. Check it out here.

With print publications having limited space and lots of news to fill it, websites and blogs are becoming a great way to promote your books.

J.A. Konrath lamanted the lack of print space in a recent blog post on his A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing blog, which I’ve read for a little while. (Lots of fun and interesting. Check it out.)

But online, there’s plenty of space, and plenty of people writing blogs and putting up websites. Our only hope is that people are reading those blogs. At a publishing seminar last year, a speaker predicted that the web will one day be saturated with all the online publishing, and at that time, the cream of the crop will rise up and take all the readers. Probably true.

But while there are plenty out there, the sampling is good. And from a promotional stand point, that means more opportunities to get your book in front of eyeballs.

Promotion is key whether you’re publishing with a big company, a small company or on your own. People won’t be able to buy your books if they don’t know they’re there. You can’t leave it to chance that readers will stumble on your book on the shelf at a bookstore. That will happen, sure. But will it happen enough to get another book published? Probably not, unless you’re a well-known author. But even they advertise and get reviews.

And even if you don’t have a book to promote, if you have an article or short story, do the same. Tell your friends, post links to it on message boards, blogs, organization forums. Getting your work into the hands of readers is important to help show the industry that you are someone who is dedicated and a writer to keep an eye on.

Oh, and if you liked what you saw on the “Sir Newton’s Color Me Hawai’i” blog post, you can buy it here. See? promotion. 🙂

Write On!

Keeping our focus

Tom Colvin has an interesting post on his Becoming a Writer Seriously blog. Called “Writing For an Audience of One,” the post suggests that instead of trying to write for the masses, to write for “success,” we instead aim to write passionately for an audience of one. Think of that one person who would be interested in what we have to say, and write for him/her (even if they are fictional).

It’s an interesting idea, and one that writers who are juggling other jobs as well as families can embrace.

All us of write with the hope of one day publishing. We walk into bookstores and dream of the day when our books are on the shelves. There’s nothing wrong with that, absolutely nothing, but focusing on that can stop us doing what we should be doing–writing.

Sitting in front of a blank page on a screen or a notebook is daunting if we’re thinking, “This has to be good. I have to write a good story. I have to write something everybody wants to read. I want to be the next J.K. Rowling!” I promise you, J.K. Rowling didn’t imagine the kind of success she would have when she started writing the first Harry Potter book.

No. Instead, when we sit in front of our empty page, we should be thinking, “I have a story I want to tell.” It doesn’t matter if it’s commercial or niche in its subject matter. It should be something we’re passionate about, something we will enjoy. Because before it can be published, before it can sit on bookstore shelves, it has to be written.

I lived in Los Angeles for a while, and there, I figured, when in Rome… So I did screenwriting. At numerous seminars, I heard agents, producers, etc., advise their audience to write what they are passionate about, not to write for the market. I have since heard the same thing echoed at children’s book writing seminars.

As I heard at one screenwriting seminar — and as you know from seeing what kinds of movies are in multiplexes — when one studio has a hit on one type of movie, that subject is suddenly what every producer in town is looking for. When Lord of the Rings surprised all the studios who rejected it and grossed millions upon millions, all the producers were calling agents saying, “Send me fantasy scripts.” So any screenwriter who had a fantasy script at the time, was in the perfect position to cash in.

It’s the same with books.

The problem is, that subject is then quickly saturated in the market, and the buyers are looking for something new. So, if when Lord of the Rings came out, or when Harry Potter came out, you decided, I’m going to write a fantasy book and cash in, by the time you’re done, the market has moved on.

Of course I’m not saying you should ignore what’s going on in the market. It’s always good to see what’s selling and what’s getting the best reviews.

But while you’re writing, while you’re trying to fit in a couple pages between laundry and making breakfast, focus on writing for that audience of one — you. Tell the story you want to tell. The rest will come later.

Write On!