Writing a book isn’t easy.
It’s also not rocket science.
My authors have high levels of life experience. They are also professional readers. Consider—the people who want to write a book are generally people who enjoy books. People who love libraries, book stores and have topped-up bookcases at home. They’re people who are smart enough to know they have stories to tell, because they know a good story when they see it, and they’ve gained much from the stories they’ve read.
Many pro readers are also professional writers. That is, your writing leads directly to income. You write important memos, emails—yes, emails, which result in huge sums being handed over. You are leaders who know how to move people with words.
You do it with blogs, articles, peer reviewed journals designed for the top echelon of your profession.
But there’s a long road between writer and author.
After completing my longest manuscript to date, a fabulous copywriter told me: “Congratulations, that’s a life accomplishment.”
Here was an excellent writer, impressed because the kind of writing that I do is very different from what she does. The lesson is that different writers write different. What the social media quipper writes to make millions as an influencer, is far different from what the copywriter crafts to make millions for BBDO.
· It’s one thing to write good and short; it’s like a sprint. Here you’ll find advertising writers. People who can think of pithy and hip statements that sell to a target audience.
· It’s another thing to write good articles; it’s like a 10K—a run that is no joke. Here you’ll find copywriters, bloggers and many journalists.
· But writing a book is like what happened after the battle of Marathon:
Pheidippides invented it, by running from Marathon to Athens to announce the Greek triumph over Persia. He died from exhaustion. According to Lucian, his last words to the people of Athens were: “Joy, we’ve won.” Other sources say that he had strength for one word, “Niki.”
Finishing your book feels like that. And if you’re not trained—the run will kill you.
While 90 percent of people have a book idea, maybe even a good one, far, far fewer have the capacity to run the 26 miles to bring that book to the world. They start, stop, start...You might be nodding your head right now.
These are the hurdles to completing your book:
There’s no time. The task is too big and onerous. (Even though evidence abounds that others are writing—that some people are pulling it off, somehow, it’s not working for you.)
It’s too hard. Too hard to get the ideas out. Thoughts haunt you in meetings, while you’re alone walking to your car. You finally go to pin them down and they scatter like timorous beasties into the night.
It’s too complicated. When you’ve finally cornered your ideas into a menagerie, you don’t know where to begin. Or you don’t know how to swing from one idea smartly to the next—for 150 to 300 pages.
The bugger is to get what you write sound like the writing you love. ALL writers experience this.
Real writers become thieves.
My first book I stole completely. It was about dinosaurs. I was to be a paleontologist and a writer, so one Sunday morning I sat down at my parents’ electric typewriter, put a favorite dinosaur book on top and began copying it, word for word. “I’m writing a book, Mom!”
She set me straight; I was the only seven-year-old in Riverside who’d learned the word plagiarism.
These days I’m reading Steven Pressfield, so this page might read a tad like his non-fiction. Depending on my task or mood, I may also try to write like Paul Theroux or Gay Talese. When I’m feeling bonkers, Tom Wolfe. Over the top—George Plimpton.
That’s who I’m trying to write like on my own time. But when it’s your book, I bet you want me to write like you. There is good news and bad news about that.
First the good news: When you hire me, I do everything in my power to create the kind of book you want. Depending on the style of book we decide on, I follow the conventions of its genre—then depending on your taste and goal, I write prose tightly or loosely based on your interviews.
Sometimes an author (that’s you,) is happy for me to write my own words informed by the author’s speech or documents. And sometimes an author needs me to adhere to his or her words altering them only when I deem it vital to the book. For example, vital concerns on my end include proper grammar and easy to read connections between your ideas.
Your job is to have some exciting ideas that make sense. (If you’re reading this website, you probably have good ideas.) My job is to ensure your ideas, once in print, have the highest chance of being read by your audience. You’re hiring me because I’ve interviewed and published a lot, and have confidence in my ability to bring out your best.
Now, here’s the bad news: The only thing that is harder than learning how to write like myself is learning how to write like you. The fact is—and this is something my ghostwriting mentor tells his clients—I can’t write your book better than you.
Steven King says, I can only write what I can write. Steven Pressfield says, swing your authentic swing.
They’re saying the same thing.
I’ve found my swing—and I’m happy to swing for you—but it will not be your swing. It will be my swing in service of your game. You invite me to play in your game because I’ve developed my swing. Remember that when you hire me to write for you, it will not be the same as you writing your own book yourself.
Even if I hone your transcript with the skill of interviewer Studs Terkel and prose that rivals Hemingway, if you want your manuscript to sound exactly the way that you write and think, you will say that something is wrong with the way Terkel and Hemingway wrote your book.
I have learned from hard experience that I will never be able to read your mind, no matter how much I wish to.
This is the key: working with a ghostwriter is a collaboration.
I will play in your game—using your words to the best of my ability—if you will let me swing my swing.
If you’re making over a million-dollars a year, you certainly know a lot more about business than I do. The flip-side: I know more about writing than a million-dollar earner, because writing is where I have put my 10,000 hours, starting when I was 7 years old.
That’s why successful people pay for ghost writers.
There isn’t one right way to work with a ghostwriter. (Really.) Authors and writers are different. As in every new client relationship we find our way together on the job. I will describe the journey. You tell me what you think or require.
We’ll walk a few miles and adjust.
I’ve begun projects by editing the author-written draft by myself, only to end up sitting across from the author himself, debating the merit of each word to arrive at the very best manuscript. By the end of this wonderful period, the author wrote more like me and I thought more like him. (His wife even sent me a lunch every day.)
I’ve begun projects by doing research and writing new material as requested by the author, only to end up scaling it all back and sticking to the original interviews.
In each case, there was no way for the author to know at the beginning of the project that it worked better to write as a team, or to go lean.
The preliminary questions that I ask you will help me to unearth some of your preferences. However, for most people this is a new kind of labor: a marathon. For a new kind of outcome: your book. Just like you don’t know how your body is going to react when you first push it for 26 miles, you don’t know how you will react when you embark on your marathon book project.
A quick metaphor about that:
I had one of the best seasons of my life wrangling on a ten-square-mile cattle ranch out of Kremling, Colorado. Early on, some rugged man said, “Josh, you haven’t ridden a horse until you’ve fallen off.” So, each afternoon I took out a horse and started riding around the barns with a single intent.
To fall off the horse.
Most people try to stay on what they ride. Even bronc busters are doing everything in their power not to slip from their savage mounts. I rode and rode—waiting for the fateful moment when I would fly off, having ridden the horse for real.
However, I was not confident enough to fall.
The horses would walk, jog and put up with me, but days passed when I couldn’t free myself to take my animal to the next level. Frustration rising, I became bolder simply out of embarrassment. On the final afternoon of my quest for rider status, bopping on the back of Storm, I left the confines of the dirt corral and began to zigzag, at an angle, up and down the hill above the barn.
My desire to fall beat out my desire for peace. On my quickest descent, while kicking Storm’s flanks like a fool, I don’t know what happened but I lost my balance and slid off the saddle for real, slowly enough for two things to occur—one internal and one external.
I thought: It’s happening!
And at the same time I screamed like Charlie Brown when Lucy rips the football out from under his feet.
The horse, freed of its master, kept going.
My knees hit the ground.
I was so happy.
And the next day, I drove 20 miles to the doctor.
Just like the only training for falling off a horse is falling off a horse; the only training for writing your book with a ghostwriter—is writing your book with a ghostwriter.
What I Do
Generally, I work on two kinds of book project: Business and Memoir.
This includes influencer or thought leadership books, self-help books, books about a single concept, and books that tell a story about a meaningful event or experience in your life. I also craft personal histories and biographies for private or public use.
I believe that each genre influences the other. A business book needs story, and a memoir needs structure, substance the proper audience, and some hook that makes people want to read it.