Today I am delighted to welcome author and fellow ASJA member, Kelly James-Enger, as my guest blogger. Kelly is the author of several books on writing including the brand new resource on freelance success, Writer For Hire. Comment on this blog or tweet about this post (include my Twitter handle @WriteNowCoach) by Sunday at midnight for your chance to win a copy of Writer for Hire. I’ll announce the winner next Tuesday on the blog!
Kelly James-Enger joins us today to talk about her gig ghostwriting for a book packager. Enjoy! -Rochelle, the Write Now! Coach
Writers at Work Post: Ghostwriting for a Book Packager
By Kelly James-Enger
How I Got the Gig This project came about after I heard that Jenkins Group, a book packager, was looking for a ghostwriter for a book. (A book packager works with clients—individuals, corporations, or book publishers—to produce books. The client typically pays a flat fee which covers the cost of a ghostwriter, editor, designer, production, etc. Then it’s up to the client to actually market the book.)
In this case, the client was a sales coach who had written a short manuscript designed to help sales managers motivate their salespeople. The manuscript was about 12,000 words but needed to be expanded into a book of 40,000-50,000 words. I created a letter of introduction, or LOI, aimed at the potential client, and emailed it to the packager. I’m not a business writer (I specialize in health, fitness, and nutrition), so I played up the fact that I write a lot about (and am fascinated by) psychology. And when it comes down to it, sales and motivation are all about psychology. I also gave some specific ideas about how I would expand and improve upon the book, if I were hired.
What I Got Paid The client, Bob, liked my LOI and contacted me directly. Jenkins had mentioned a writing budget of $9,000-12,000, but I said in my LOI that I couldn’t take less than $15,000 for the project. Bob liked my letter, and speaking with me, hired me on the spot, for my asking price. (This in unusual—usually the client interviews potential writers and then chooses the one he wants to work with, and then the packager contacts the writer.)
The Work Process After speaking with Bob, I contacted Jenkins and signed a formal contract with the company. The contract required me to set specific deadlines for the sections of the book, and my pay was tied those deadlines. I was also paid a small retainer upon signing the agreement itself. In the meantime, I contacted Bob to set up a time to talk about how we’d work.
Bob and I arranged to speak by phone every week or two. During those calls I’d interview him to get the information I needed to write the next chapter, and then we’d review the latest chapter I’d already drafted and sent to him for his review. The rest of the time we communicated via email. As he signed off on each chapter, I saved all of our work in one master document (the final book) and kept my contact at Jenkins informed of our progress. (Working for a packager adds an extra layer to ghosting work because while you’re working closely with your client to write his book, you also have to keep the packager in the loop and meet the deadlines you agreed to early on.)
I’m pleased to say that this was a storybook collaboration. My client was responsive, smart, and easy to work with, and we brought the book in less than three months. He was very happy with the finished manuscript, and I collected my last check after he signed off on the final chapter. A few months later, he sent me several copies of his hard-cover book.
A Few Take-away Points. If you’re planning to ghostwrite (regardless of whether you work with a packager), I suggest you keep these tips in mind:
Check for rapport. The first time we spoke on the phone, I thought, “I like this guy. I could definitely work with him.” Bob felt the same way, which is why he hired me. Ghostwriting a book requires that you collaborate over a period of months, so a feeling of connection is important.
Stay on schedule. I had agreed with Jenkins that I would meet certain deadlines. Using those, I created a specific work schedule for when the draft of each chapter would be completed, how long Bob would have to review it, and when I’d have the final draft of that chapter back to him. With this schedule, Bob knew what to expect and when to set aside time from his own career to review and comment on my work. This helped us meet an aggressive schedule.
Think big. People sometimes think that a ghostwriter relies only on his or her client for material for the book. I suggest you go beyond that. For example, Bob talked about the importance of being a good listener, but he didn’t explain how to do that. So I wrote a section about active listening, how to do it, and gave examples so readers would be able to implement his suggestion.
Capture voice. When I spoke with Bob, I took notes about certain phrases and words he used to make the book sound like him. I asked him for specific examples and anecdotes and worked those into the manuscript as well. The bottom line is that as a ghostwriter, you’re expected to write in your client’s voice. The ability to do that will help you produce a book that will make your client, and your book packager, happy.
About the Author: Kelly James-Enger has been a fulltime freelancer, ghostwriter, and author for 15+ years. Her books include the just-released Writer for Hire: 101 Secrets to Freelance Success (Writer’s Digest, 2012) and Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks: The Writer’s Guide to Making Money Ghostwriting and Coauthoring Books (CreateSpace, 2010). She blogs about making more money in less time as a freelancer at http://dollarsanddeadlines.blogspot.com, and lives outside Chicago with her husband, son, daughter, and golden retriever. Visit http://www.becomebodywise.com for more information about her.