Start Listening to the Publishing Insiders

I’ve been subscribed to Penny Sansevieri’s “Book Marketing Expert” e-zine for some time now, but for some reason I only recently discovered her new “Publishing Insiders” show on BlogTalkRadio. It’s well worth listening to if you’re at all interested in the world of publishing.

A note about the BlogTalkRadio website: when you go to the show’s web page, the latest episode starts playing automatically. I personally find this more than slightly irritating, but if you grab the feed for your podcatcher, you don’t actually have to visit the website again.

Whether you want to know about Booklocker’s suit against Amazon or how to get your book reviewed, you can find out by listening to this show, which also introduces you to some lesser-known publishers who want to hear from first-time authors.

Word of the Day: Transcraping

The other day I posted some of my Podcast Asylum articles on EzineArticles.com. Within an hour of their approval, the Google alert I have set on my own name produced a link to a post entitled “Der Podcast Von Meiner Unzufriedenheit.” For those who don’t read German, that’s “The Podcast of My Discontent.”

More like the blog posting of my discontent, since it was my own article, “Podcasting without Podcasting,” translated into German and posted without the resource box linking back to my site—but with my copyright notice and name still on it. My German is rusty, and was never colloquial, so I couldn’t really tell whether there had been human hands involved in the translation process. It surely seemed like a human mind behind the title, and German is a very literal sort of language.

So I asked the Ur-Guru, whose German is better than mine. (Dutch is very similar to German, too, so that probably helps him get a better feel for the rhythm of the language.) He assured me that it was a computer translation and no human had been involved, and I shouldn’t bother posting a comment on the blog. (Which I had already done by that time.)

I’ve had material stolen and posted to splogs (spam blogs created to generate AdSense revenue) before, but usually it’s a couple of paragraphs combined with material scraped from other people’s blogs, combined into a mishmash that makes no sense at all but apparently contains some useful keywords.

This is the first time (to my knowledge) that my material was not merely appropriated but also translated into another language. Hence “Transcraping.”

It’s difficult to prevent that kind of thing from happening, and not usually worth the effort to try protecting one’s intellectual property, especially when I’ve made the article available for reprint free of charge. And anyone reading the German would figure out who the author was, regardless of the poster’s name. (Actually, any German speaker would probably have a fit laughing at the auto-translation.) And there probably aren’t many actual readers of splogs anyway—just bots committing click-fraud.

Then Donna Papacosta, my fellow podcasting “professor,” discovered that the article had been translated back out of German into English. Now we could fall about laughing at the way “you feel as though you really know them” became “you experience as though you really cognize them,” not to mention the way Heidi Miller became “Heidi Glenn Miller.” (An extra keyword, perhaps? A sex change Heidi didn’t tell me about?)

Mostly I laughed. But the thing is, my name is still on that article, and I work as a professional writer. As the Ur-Guru pointed out, “If someone were to take ‘Comments are male monarch in the human race of podcasting’ as your writing, it would not be good advertising for the Author-izer.”

No, it certainly wouldn’t, though I like to think my potential clients are sophisticated enough to be suspicious of English that unnatural. At least I haven’t (yet) experienced the problem some of my fellow writers have, that of someone stealing just your name and putting it on his or her own articles in order to borrow credibility.

To the best of my knowledge, there is no other Sallie Goetsch on the planet, which means that if you do a search on my name, what comes up is either me or someone (or thing) impersonating me. And at least the first thing that comes up on a Google search is my own website.

But if you read something strange-seeming with my name appended to it, check with me before you accept it as genuine.

Ghostwriting Does NOT Preclude Authenticity

There’s been a veritable storm of discussion in the blogosphere lately on the topic of ghost blogging. Despite the number of people weighing in on the subject, very little new is being said. The great bulk of commentators—many of whom are PR professionals who’ve made up quotes and attributed them to their clients without batting an eyelash—strongly oppose ghost blogging. A few others say that hiring someone else to write your blog is fine, as long as you disclose that fact clearly. After all, transparency is one of the key principles of the blogosphere.

The Story So Far

So, speaking of disclosure, I’ll repeat what I’ve said several times in other articles and in comments on blog posts. For the last two years (almost), I’ve been retained by a client who must remain nameless to ghostwrite blog posts.

The blog in question isn’t a “personal voice” blog. It’s not meant to be the CEO’s personal insights or reflections on the business. It’s what I think of as an “article blog,” one with posts about material relevant to what my client does. I’m not writing in any particular “voice” when I write these blog posts. Given the nature of the job, I don’t really have time to. Given the nature of the blogosphere, I’m not sure I’d want to.

If I remember correctly, the initial posting about the job was asking for bloggers, and didn’t mention anything about the attribution of the posts. It was clear enough by the time I got hired, however, that what I wrote would go out under someone else’s name and that I was not to disclose my relationship to the company. It’s kind of a pity, because it means I can’t point people to the blog, because I don’t feel I can endorse the company or its blog without disclosing my relationship.

I’ve suggested to them that it would be in their own interest to include a statement somewhere on the website that they get professional help writing their blog, but so far they haven’t chosen to do that. My concern is not publicity for myself: I wouldn’t benefit professionally by becoming known as an expert on my client’s subject matter, and I don’t want to be pigeonholed as “the X company blogger.” I just don’t want my client’s use of ghost bloggers (there are several of us, though I don’t know any of the others) to backfire on them if they get found out.

The Practical Problem

A couple of weeks ago, Tony Kontzner called to interview me for his Investors Business Daily article about ghost blogging. (The article has the rather provocative title “Writing blogs can be hard, so get help,” and does not quote me.) I told him what I tell everybody: that writing in someone else’s voice takes time and close collaboration, and it would be less work for CEOs to write their own blog posts and have someone else edit them for spelling and punctuation than to have a writer interview them every day for the blog and then have to go over what was written and correct any inaccuracies or statements that don’t ring true.

It seems not everyone shares my attitude to this. Kontzner’s article features a couple of web developers who hire teams of writers to produce posts for their clients, in response to an increasing demand. (It would appear that this demand is coming to PR agencies and web developers more than it is to writers themselves. Most people who contact me still want books written.)

But even they admit that if the blog is going to be convincing, the client has to participate and approve the posts. My ghost blogging client (and I only have the one) goes over every post I send and sometimes revises it a bit before publishing. They also answer their comments themselves.

Is There Really a Difference?

One question people like Mitch Joel are asking is whether there’s any practical or moral difference between hiring a speechwriter and hiring a ghost blogger. Or, for that matter, between ghost blogging and other forms of ghostwriting. After all, if there’s something innately reprehensible about hiring a ghost blogger, why should it be acceptable to hire a speechwriter? If authenticity is important, why are PR professionals still making up quotes from CEOs to put into their press releases? Why are celebrities paid millions for “autobiographies” they didn’t write a word of? Why should blogs get singled out?

As I said above, there’s a practical difference between writing blog posts and writing other things. Blogs, in general, are short, topical, and timely. That means less opportunity for the writer to convey the author’s real ideas or voice. It’s actually a much tougher job than ghostwriting a book.

But is there an ethical difference? Not that I can see. In all these cases, there’s a client who lacks either skill with language or time to write, and a professional who has both, and an exchange of value for money which is not noticeably different from paying someone else to clean your house rather than doing it yourself. Except for one thing, which is that most people don’t take credit for their housekeeper’s work.

Most ghostwriting clients don’t really take credit for the writing, either. The “ghost” gets credit somewhere, either on the front cover in an “as told to” byline, or in the acknowledgements using a euphemism like “I’d like to thank X for assistance with writing.” People who are experienced with the publishing industry know to look for these things.

The blogosphere is a fairly new arena of operations for businesses. It has different codes, standards, and conventions from the ordinary business world. It doesn’t have any established conventions for giving credit to ghostwriters, for instance. Dan York argues that this is likely to change: as more businesses enter the blogosphere, the definition of acceptable behavior will change, just as it did when businesses started putting up websites. He concludes by saying:

Those blogs will even “sound” human… just as good speechwriters today can create speeches in the style of the speaker, so too will ghost bloggers take on the style of the blog “author”. Blogs, podcasts, wikis, etc. will just be part of the communication plan… and in many cases will sadly spew out the same bland corporate drivel that caused so many of us to celebrate the changes brought so far by social media. I hold onto the perhaps vain hope that those blogs, podcasts and other vehicles that do speak with “authentic” human voices will rise to the top.

What Is Authenticity?

I happen to agree with those who advocate disclosure and even those who say that it’s best for the company if the CEO (or some other employee, if the CEO isn’t the best choice) writes the blog rather than hiring someone else to create the content. I’m definitely in favor of direct contact between the customers and the people who run the corporation.

But the fact is, a lot of CEOs do speak “bland corporate drivel.” That’s the way they’ve been trained to speak, and they never let down their guard. And there are plenty of “honest” blogs which are only of interest to the writer and perhaps a handful of friends. (And let’s not even mention the barely-literate blogs and the spewing-invective blogs and the “I just needed something to put next to the AdSense so I’ll steal random bits of other people’s writing” blogs.)

It isn’t the identity of the writer that makes the difference. It’s the writer’s ability to communicate. Above all, it’s the writer’s ability to listen. No one can ghostwrite competently without doing a lot of listening and asking questions in order to unpack meaning when something is unclear. The ghost’s job is to become a channel for the client’s thoughts—and sometimes a lens that focuses them. That means getting your own personality and your own writing style out of the way. It means studying your client the way an actor would study a part for a film or a play, and then interpreting your client for readers the way that actor interprets Shakespeare for an audience.

Putting the Audience First

Back in my former life as an academic, I used to translate Greek and Roman drama for the stage. We used to argue about what constituted an “authentic” performance of a Greek tragedy. Was it more authentic to attempt to reproduce the theater, masks, and costumes, and to use the original language, or to translate the play and adapt it to modern performance conventions?

I always came down on the side of trying to achieve the same impact as the original performance. Sophocles, after all, was writing in a language his audience understood, about subjects his audience knew well, using stagecraft that they took for granted. When he produced his plays, he used those conventions to make a connection. A modern performance which tried to duplicate the original exactly wouldn’t make the same connection, because a modern director can’t duplicate the ancient audience.

Ghostwriting is a lot like translating for the stage. The writer needs to make a connection between the client and the audience/readers/customers, and to do it while being true to both parties. The resulting document, whether it’s a speech, a book, or a blog post, has to present the client’s real thoughts and ideas—in a way that the audience can understand them.

Not many brilliant scientists are brilliant at speaking to the general public. Specialists (including ancient theater professors) are accustomed to talking primarily to their peers, and use a lot of jargon. They also tend to assume that people already know things, because those things seem so obvious to them.

Business is not always too different: the engineers who build the product may not be the best people to explain why the customers should buy it. But if the customers can’t understand what the product can do for them, the engineers have no reason to build it. If they don’t know how to put the benefits into words, they need to find someone who does.

So How Does This Relate to Blogging?

Even though I work as one, I don’t think hiring a ghost blogger is the best strategy for a company that wants a blog. There are too many viable alternatives. An articulate employee who isn’t the CEO can write the blog and become the voice of the company. (That’s what Robert Scoble did, after all.) The company can hire a freelancer to write the blog in her own name. (Stonyfield Farms did.) A CEO who hates to write or is dyslexic might choose to podcast instead.

After all, there’s no law requiring companies to blog. As for the love affair search engines have with blogs, a company will get just as much Google juice out of publishing unattributed articles using blog software as it will by having the CEO blog. You don’t need to hire a ghostwriter just because you want content; you can go to any of the article banks on the Web and get it for free.

If you really want a blog, at least try writing it for yourself. But don’t assume that hiring a ghostwriter automatically precludes authenticity. If you don’t look at what I wrote and say “That’s exactly what I meant, but I didn’t know how to say it,” I haven’t done my job. Ghostwriting at its best preserves the author’s authentic voice while it translates it into a new medium. And that should be true whatever form the writing takes: books, speeches, and yes, even blogs.

How to Pitch Podcasters

In my experience, pitching yourself as a podcast interview subject is very different from pitching your book to a publisher or getting on television, with one exception: you have to do your homework.

Pitching your manuscript to a publisher requires a formal proposal containing certain elements, such as a marketing plan and a competing and complementary books section, in addition to sample chapters. Talk-show hosts like Jay Leno have very specific guidelines for would-be guests, along the lines of “You must use our e-mail submission form and you must send video a particular format.” And, of course, for print media coverage, there’s the traditional press release and its social media variants.

Take a Personal Approach

Because most podcasts are a personal and informal medium, most podcasters are suspicious of marketing-speak and press releases, especially if the pitch looks like something that’s been sent out on a massive scale. Most podcasters have small, vocal audiences, people who think of them as friends and who will let them know in no uncertain terms if they don’t like a show. There’s a strong sense of community among podcasters and listeners, and when it comes to doing interviews, podcasters prefer people who are part of that community to people who aren’t, unless the interviewee is extremely well-known.

Like bloggers (and many podcasters are bloggers), podcasters are as likely to lambast a bad pitch to their listeners as to simply trash it and ignore it. To learn what not to do, take a look at the Bad Pitch Blog.

Picking Podcasts to Pitch

In April 2006, FeedBurner reported that it was publishing 44,000 podcast feeds. That’s good news: it’s a pretty safe bet that whatever you’re writing about, someone is podcasting about it. And no, you won’t have to listen to all 44,000 in order to know which ones to pitch.

Remember the audience profile you had to create when you created your book proposal? You want to find podcasters whose audiences are the same as your ideal reader. These are more likely to be podcasters who talk about the same subjects as your book than “book review” or “literary” podcasts, though you shouldn’t overlook those, either.

To find podcasts on the right subject, check out podcast directories like iTunes and Podcast Alley, which allow listeners to rate and review podcasts. Read the descriptions and the reviews and make a shortlist of the most likely candidates.

And, of course, don’t overlook any podcasts you’re already listening to.

Joining the “In” Group

So what do you do after you’ve gone through and found the highest-rated podcasts on subjects related to your book? First, listen to the podcast. Better yet, subscribe to the podcast and listen to several shows. Read the show notes and the comments. Find out whether interviews are a regular part of the show. (Some shows feature interviews every week, others occasionally, and some not at all.)

Next, start commenting. When you leave a comment on the show’s blog, you can enter the URL for your book instead of your home page for some subtle self-promotion, but the important thing is to respond thoughtfully to something in that episode. Write a paragraph or two that continues the conversation and shows that you know what you’re talking about.

Genuine Connections

While podcasters don’t necessarily expect people they’ve interviewed to listen to every show from then on, they’ll shy off anyone whose interest seems too self-serving. Just because a podcast has a lot of listeners doesn’t mean that you’ll like the show or the podcaster. If you don’t, don’t try to fake it in order to reach a potential market for your book. Make sure the podcast and its host(s) are a good fit for your personality before you try to line up an interview.

It’s That Simple

You’ll probably have to do this more than once before the podcaster asks to interview you, but if what you say is interesting enough to the listeners (who will usually hear it read out in the next episode as well as having the opportunity to read it on the show blog), the podcaster may contact you immediately. If not, keep listening and commenting for a few shows, and strike up an e-mail correspondence with the podcaster.

Once you’re sure that the podcaster and the listeners know who you are and find your comments interesting, volunteer yourself as an interviewee. And as long as there’s enough time before the interview date, send the podcaster a copy of your book. Even if the interview isn’t about the book itself (and it probably won’t be), having the book in hand helps the podcaster to come up with interview questions.

Keep the Discussion Going

Naturally you’ll want to listen to the episode with your interview in it, but don’t stop there. Check the show notes to see what listeners have to say about the show. Is there anything you can pick up on and respond to?

It’s also a good idea to listen to the next episode for more feedback, and to send in any answers you have to questions which might have come up. Some questions might come directly to you, but many listeners feel more comfortable dealing with the podcast host(s).

If enough listeners want to know more, you might get invited back for another interview.

Side Benefits

Some podcasters also review books. Indeed, there are book review podcasts out there, and it doesn’t hurt to search for them. A podcaster who likes your book might also write up a short review on the show blog and include an Amazon affiliate link.

One of the nicest things about podcast interviews, though, is that you can link directly to the episode from your own website without having to worry about how to handle the audio file at your end. (Very often, though, podcasters will give you permission to repost the file on your own site if you wish to do so.)

Best of all, though, you don’t have to go through layers of screening to get access to a podcaster—which is part of why podcasters have such dedicated fans.

Straight from the Agent’s Mouth

To find out what literary agents and acquisitions editors are really looking for, read their blogs. Or rather, their LiveJournals, in many cases. LiveJournal and Blogger/Blogspot seem the platforms of choice. Blogger is both simple and free, though it lacks the ability to tag or categorize posts, making it hard to search by topic. I’m not sure what the particular appeal of LiveJournal is.

No matter where and how they’re published, these blogs are full of insights and inside tips on what the agents want—and what they don’t want. They also provide glimpses into the publishing industry that you won’t get elsewhere. If you’re an author in search of a publisher, check them out. They’ll open your eyes, save you from serious mistakes, and give you some good laughs at the same time.

Anna Louise Genoese (editor at Tor Books): http://alg.livejournal.com/

Maybe it’s something about LiveJournal that inspires all the dining and drinking chat in addition to the gems about the publishing industry. Maybe it’s something about the publishing industry—agents and editors do attend a lot of conferences and have a lot of lunchtime meetings. In any case, it’s well worth sifting through the irrelevancies for gems like the Publishing P&L, which has garnered a massive 289 comments so far, mostly from people with dropped jaws who might have harbored some illusions that there were profits in publishing.

Evil Editor: http://evileditor.blogspot.com/

Evil doesn’t divulge his name or workplace, but he reposts some real howlers of queries and invites readers to ask questions and submit their own queries to be critiqued. Those queries end up as “Face Lift” posts: first the original query, with comments, and then Evil Editor’s revised version. This sort of enlightened self-interest seems far from Evil to me. As of May 5, 2006, there are 13 of these “Face Lift” posts and answers to several questions.

Agent Kristin Nelson, Pub Rants: http://pubrants.blogspot.com/

The subtitle of this blog is “a very nice literary agent indulges in polite rants about queries, writers, and the publishing industry.” Agent Kristin’s dislikes include middle initials and being labeled a “Chick Lit” specialist. Her likes include successes for the authors she’s representing. Each post starts with a status (mood) update and the song currently playing on her iPod. (You mean people use MP3 players for music?)

Jennifer Jackson, Donald Maass Literary Agency, Et in Arcadia Ego: http://arcaedia.livejournal.com/

Start with the Anatomy of the Submissions Process, where you’ll find a lot of other agents chiming in along the lines of “me, too.”

Nadia Corner of Firebrand Literary, Agent Obscura: http://agentobscura.livejournal.com

In “How to Get Rejected” Nadia Corner reveals that using Agent Wizard puts you on the fast track to the round file. So if you were considering one of those automated submission tools—don’t.

Miss Snark, the Literary Agent: http://misssnark.blogspot.com

If you only read one agent’s blog, it should be this one. Merciless to anyone who falls into the “nitwit” category, Miss Snark provides hilarious commentary and helpful tips in between trips to the gin pail. (Her readers can be fairly witty, too.) You never have to wonder where you stand with her, and she makes it very clear what not to send her. Now if you only knew who she was…

Terry Whalin (fiction acquisitions editor, Howard Books), The Writing Life: http://terrywhalin.blogspot.com/

Now a fiction acquisitions editor for the Howard Books imprint of Simon and Schuster, Terry Whalin is also the author of more than 60 nonfiction books, including Book Proposals that $ell—which probably won’t do anyone submitting queries to him much good, since new fiction authors need completed manuscripts rather than proposals. Terry started “The Writing Life” in December 2004, with the injunction “If you have no publishing experience, then you need to make a conscious effort to get some publishing credits.” He does tend to plug his own books and services, but still offers a lot of useful information.

As blogging gains in popularity, you can expect to see more and more agents and editors online—though how they find time to blog in between handling all those queries, proposals, and manuscripts, I can’t imagine.

Originally written for Women’s Radio.

Get Them Hooked On Your Book

A hook is a one-line zinger that describes your book in a way that would let anyone’s grandmother in Topeka understand not just what the book is about but why she should buy it.

Without one, it’s very difficult to sell a book to a publisher. That’s because the editor your agent approaches at the publishing house has to sell the manuscript to her colleagues, and the publishing house has to sell it to the reader.

The author who has just cranked out a 75,000-word manuscript may have a hard time distilling the essence of that book into 25 words. (“Hard time” may be an understatement: if you could say it in 25 words, would you have written 75,000?) But without a hook, your book could languish unpublished on your hard drive.

So how do you create a hook? Enlist some help.

Method I

First, find five or six people who are familiar with the genre you’re writing in. Give them copies of your manuscript and ask them to complete the sentence “This book is in the tradition of…” with the names of the best-selling books or authors they think are most like yours.

You can also work on this exercise yourself. Is your book a cross between two bestsellers, or even two best-selling genres? Tee Morris describes his novel Billibub Baddings and the Case of the Singing Sword as “The Lord of the Rings if Mickey Spillane had written it.”

Method II

Next, find some grandmothers in Topeka and ask them to read your manuscript. (Unless, of course, the grandmothers of Topeka are the experts in the area you’re writing in; the point is to find people who know next to nothing about your subject area.)

The feedback of the totally ignorant is helpful for many reasons. For one thing, if they don’t understand the book at all, it’s a sign that your book isn’t suited to a general audience. Some books (say an advanced physics text) aren’t aimed at the general public or meant for mass-market distribution—but those books don’t usually need a hook in the same way commercial books do. Unless you’re only selling to specialists, make your writing clear enough so anyone can understand it.

Don’t provide your test readers with any background about your book; the point is to get them to tell you what the book is about. Invite them to compare it with movies, TV shows, or other works of popular culture—the more popular, the better. Another good question to ask, particularly for nonfiction, is “What can people who read this book do that they couldn’t do before they read it?”

The Results

Your test readers may not describe your book in anything like the terms you would have used yourself. It’s also possible that no two of them will agree on which other books are most like yours.

If every single reader gets your book “wrong,” then you may want to take another look at the manuscript. (This is also true if every agent or editor who rejects it mentions the same problem.) If one or two people completely misunderstand what you meant but the rest seem to “get it,” don’t worry about the discrepancies.

Distilling

It’s possible that among your test readers you had a brilliant guinea pig who came up with an absolutely perfect hook. If so—congratulations: you’re ready to go. But even if you don’t think any of the descriptions or comparisons you got back is exactly right, you have something to work with. You can look at what you’ve gotten and say “No, it’s not like Lord of the Rings, it’s more like Narnia” (to extend Tee’s metaphor a bit further). Or even, “It’s not like Lord of the Rings; it’s like The Da Vinci Code.”

When you have a hook you think will work, try it out on a few people and see how they react. If the response isn’t “Wow, that’s interesting, tell me more!” (or better yet “I need that book!”), brainstorm about how you can refine it.

When you come up with a line with the impact of a left hook to the jaw and the effect of a grappling hook pulling potential readers in, you’re ready to go fishing for publishers.

The Ghost Blogging Controversy

A recent report that only 20% of CEOs who blog write their own blogs has some prominent bloggers and PR professionals up in arms—even though they take it for granted that the CEOs in question don’t write their own speeches or annual reports, never mind their own books. Why should blogs be different? Should ghostwriters really avoid them? Or are the detractors missing a point?

What Are Blogs, Really?

When asked what blogs are, many people say (dismissively) “online diaries.” And some blogs are. But a blog is really an easy-to-use publishing platform which arranges entries in reverse chronological order. Programs such as WordPress and Movable Type are simple content management systems with a number of practical benefits, among them the automatic creation of RSS feeds so that readers can subscribe and get the information automatically rather than visiting the website.

The revolutionary thing about blogging technology is that it allows anyone with Internet access to have a Web presence and to create, publish, and update material on the Web without knowing HTML, CSS, PHP, XML, or any of those other geeky markup and programming languages. If you can write an e-mail message, you can write a blog post—and many blogging programs actually allow you to post by sending e-mail.

Blogging by the Rules

As with e-mail any other Internet technology, there are some inappropriate uses of blogs. “Splogs” are the equivalent of junk e-mail, with plagiarism, or at any rate copyright violation, thrown in. Sploggers use automated software to copy posts from other blogs and repost them in order to make money from the pay-per-click ads on the splog page. I have yet to meet anyone who defends this practice, any more than I’ve met anyone who admitted to being a spammer and sending out thousands of ads for Viagra and Cialis. (Bet my page hits go up just for using those words.)

I’d set up three blogs before I ever heard of the “rules” of blogging. One such “rule” is that instead of just correcting an error you discover after you’ve posted it (the way you would if you found a typo or other inaccuracy on your “static” website), you’re supposed to strike through the mistake and put the correction next to it. While I’m not about to do that if I’m just correcting a typo, I can see the point: if someone comments on a thing and then you change it, the comment no longer makes sense.

Blogs and Transparency

Those most opposed to ghost blogging, however, would probably argue that comprehension is not the reason for that “rule”—the point of striking out rather than deleting is transparency. Blogs are supposed to be the land of full disclosure, the place to escape from corporate speak and put a human face on your corporation. The outrage seems to come from a belief that CEOs who rely on ghost bloggers are telling the public “You get direct access to me, my thoughts, my motivations” but actually using a “stunt double” to handle the interface with the public.

If a company is pretending to grant access and not doing so, then that’s dishonest. But having someone else do the writing is not necessarily dishonest. However, if the blog is meant to be the personal opinions and insights of the CEO, the CEO will have to spend as much time discussing those with the ghostwriter as s/he would writing the blog.

Not All Business Blogs Are “Identity Blogs”

When I discovered how easy blog technology is to use, I didn’t look at it as an opportunity to talk about myself. I saw starting a blog as an easy way to put two years of back issues of my weekly e-zine on the web. That’s still mostly what I use it for, though if I see a hot item between issues I’ll stick up a paragraph and a link or two.

Since then I’ve started two more blogs. If I had the time to devote to it, FileSlinger™ Favorites might come to approximate the kinds of blogs the well-known business bloggers have, but Author-ized Articles is meant to deliver writing samples and provide prospective clients with helpful information.

So despite the fact that I maintain a blogroll, happily link to other blogs, and leave comments enabled, there are plenty of people out there who would say I’m not a real blogger. I’m not losing any sleep over that, however.

The Medium Is Not the Message

Personally, I can’t see any moral difference between ghostwriting articles for posting on a company’s blog and writing website copy (or any other sales copy), which usually doesn’t get any attribution at all. And, in fact, I do write blog posts of this nature, short articles on subjects provided by my client (who shall of course remain nameless), a couple of times a month. The company wanted a blog to help keep the world informed of their expertise in their field, and also because search engines love blogs and frequently-updated content.

The client provides both the ideas and the initial source material for the post, and anything I submit is vetted and often revised by the people under whose names it gets posted. The blog appears to be doing a good job of increasing the company’s profile and increasing public understanding of the services the company offers.

Better Without a Byline

When I said something to this effect to one of those prominent bloggers I mentioned earlier, she asked why, if a corporation wanted a blog but didn’t have anyone on staff who could write it, they didn’t just hire me to blog in my own name the way Stonyfield Farms hired Chris Halvorson.

I don’t know their reasons, but I know my reason, and it’s simple. I don’t want to be known as “The XYZ Company Blogger.” I don’t want to get pigeonholed. I don’t want to get pinned down to a full-time blog for someone else, either. Since I’m only one of several writers working for this company, I only have to produce a couple of posts a month. And since I only have 20 hours a week at my disposal to run my business in, of which maybe 15 are billable, that’s all to the good.

A Ghost Blogger’s Rant

It’s insulting to ghostwriters to assume that anything we write will be 1) instantly identifiable as ghostwritten and 2) an inaccurate representation of the thoughts, ideas, and capabilities of the person in whose name we’re writing. In truth, a real CEO is at least as likely to speak in corporate jargon and mind-numbing platitudes as that CEO’s ghostwriter. CEOs get trained never to reveal anything.

A good ghostwriter, on the other hand, takes time to get to know her client, learn what matters to that person, how s/he thinks, how s/he speaks, what s/he really wants to say, and then starts writing. After that—at least with my own clients—the client often revises what the ghost has written. Far from not getting the real thoughts of the official author, the reader gets thoughts the author couldn’t find a way to express without help.

Let Your Purpose Dictate Your Actions

If you claim to personally write every word of your blog when you don’t, then you’re lying. Moreover, it’s self-defeating to start a blog in order to have direct communication with the public and then hire a ghostwriter.

It’s also probably not worth the expense of hiring a writer if the style of blog you have in mind is a series of very short, informal posts with a lot of links to other blogs or websites. And then there’s the issue of comments: who writes the responses?

But if what you have in mind is more a series of essays, a weekly column, or a collection of articles about your industry, then a ghostwriter might be just what you need.

Additional Sources:
“Ghostwritten Blogs Can Be Cool”
Is There a Market for Blog Ghostwriting?
So what’s wrong with ghostwriting an executive blog?
Ghostwritten Executive Blogs Are Popular, but Are They Good?

Lessons from Novelists, Part I

In many respects, the worlds of fiction and nonfiction are very different. One of the most notable differences, from the author’s perspective, is that nonfiction books are usually sold on the basis of a proposal and written afterward, whereas a novelist needs a completed manuscript before approaching publishers. (This requirement may be waived for those who have published several successful novels.)

There are some other differences, as well, the biggest being that the quality of the writing, rather than the value of the content, determines a novelist’s success. Novelists don’t necessarily have to establish themselves as experts in a particular field, but they do have to be able to create believable characters, worlds, and dialogue.

But there are some very important things that aspiring—and even established—nonfiction authors can learn from an unexpected, even counter-intuitive source: the podcasts of two science fiction/fantasy authors.

In starting with Tee Morris’  “The Survival Guide to Writing Fantasy,” I’m actually approaching these two podcasts in reverse order relative to when I started listening. Tee’s is the newer podcast, with only four episodes so far—which means it’s fresher in my mind and easier to sum up in a short article.

Put Your Book on Your Business Card
These days it’s easy to get double-sided business cards printed inexpensively, and for authors, it’s definitely worth doing, particularly when you’re talking to bookstore owners, librarians, and others who might order your book in bulk. Put your regular contact information on the front and the book’s cover, ISBN, and any other important information (like the URL, if the book has its own domain). If you have multiple books, you’ll need multiple sets of cards. It’s most often the newest book you’ll be promoting at any given time, so you may not want to order too many cards at once.

What to Expect at Conventions
In the world of sci-fi and fantasy, “Cons” are a big deal. Although I read mostly sci-fi and fantasy myself, I’ve never actually attended a Con. I did once found myself in a hotel bar with a bunch of Klingons—the hotel was hosting a Star Trek convention at the same time as the conference I was there for.

While Cons of this sort may be unique to genre fiction, every industry has its conferences and expos, and professional organizations of all descriptions have annual meetings. The 2005 Portable Media Expo and Podcasting Conference found itself side-by-side with a Port-a-Potty convention. Whatever you write, you have readers (or at least potential readers) at conferences and conventions. If you speak on a panel or lead a workshop at one of those conventions, you’ve got a great opportunity to market yourself and your book.

Some of Tee’s points about Cons:

  • Decide how far you’re willing to travel.
  • Follow up repeatedly on your original approach to the program organizers.
  • Don’t expect the show’s organizers to pay all your expenses unless you’re a Big Name.
  • Do expect to get your admission to the event covered.
  • Conference organizers talk to each other, and if you behave badly, your chances of getting invited to present at other events is very small.
  • Make arrangements for separate events with local bookstores ahead of time (and be sure they have your books in stock in case you haven’t brought enough yourself).

How to Arrange Bookstore Signings
First, a warning: if you’re self-published, the chances a large chain bookstore will be interested in stocking your books are very small. Therefore, the chances that Barnes and Noble and Borders will want you to come give a talk or do a signing are very small, and unless you already know the staff personally, don’t waste your time on them. Instead, find local independent bookstores and local public libraries.

Then call the bookstore and ask for the person who arranges events, then provide that person with the title and ISBN of your book and the name of your distributor. (Even for independent bookstores, you do need an ISBN and a distributor.) Offer to do a signing/reading/seminar. (For non-fiction, seminars and lectures are probably more effective than straight readings.)

How to Approach Reviewers
The fourth podcast in the series focuses on getting—and writing—book reviews, online and off, with the always-important reminder to check the submission guidelines before you send a book, and some tips on what to put in the cover letter and when and how to follow up.

Never Talk Back to Reviewers
Ever. Even if they get the facts wrong. If you get a bad review, live with it. This is not just because all publicity is good publicity, but because any response to the reviewer, public or private, is only going to make you look worse. On top of that, it could alienate the reviewer and the editor of the publication s/he writes for, making your chances of getting your other books reviewed there nil. (This is actually a recap of part of Episode I.)

How to Create a Good Podcast
Tee is actually one of the authors of Podcasting for Dummies, but I’m actually referring to the example he provides. “The Survival Guide to Writing Fantasy” is a great promotional tool for Tee as well as a source of useful information for writers of all kinds. It helps, of course, that he’s a trained actor with a great voice for radio, but that wouldn’t matter much without the effective structure, valuable information, sense of humor, refusal to “dish”, and desire to hear more from his listeners. He’s even slipped a “commercial break” into the middle of the show in a non-disruptive way. The “commercials” are for other sci-fi podcasts, so they’re appropriate to the subject of the podcast and actually likely to be of some interest to listeners.

I’m not sure I’d recommend imitating the Marine Corps/Gomer Pyle intro, which sounds longer every time I hear it, even though it’s actually well under 30 seconds.

Where to Find “The Survival Guide
To read about “The Survival Guide,” visit http://www.teemorris.com/blog/. To subscribe, paste the following address in your podcatcher: http://feeds.feedburner.com/TheSurvivalGuideToWritingFantasy.

In Part II of this article, we’ll look at “The Secrets: The Podcast for Writers,” by Michael A. Stackpole.

© 2005 Sallie Goetsch

Dramatizing Your Nonfiction Book

Many novelists dream of selling the film rights to their books for big money. Certain kinds of nonfiction, like memoirs, true crime, and political exposes, are also popular with Hollywood. In most cases, however, publishers won’t be interested in the film rights for your cookbook, business book, or how-to.

But don’t dismiss the performance possibilities of such a book too soon. It’s possible, for instance, that your how-to book has the makings of a TV series. There are whole cable channels devoted to cooking and many other popular Do-It-Yourself shows. If your book lends itself to such a treatment, tell your publisher up front. For one thing, it can increase your advance. For another, publishing houses probably have more of the resources and connections needed to get such a show off the ground.

Video Options
Just because your book is unsuited to a full-length film or prime-time TV treatment (or the studios just haven’t been interested) doesn’t mean video isn’t an option for you. Anything that you would demonstrate live in a presentation or class based on your book (or the presentations or classes on which you based the book in the first place) can be turned into video, either for sale on its own or as a marketing tool to show potential readers how valuable your book is.

Video for Marketing
You can use almost any video camera to create short video clips to publish on your book’s website or upload to your book blog. The homemade quality can actually act in your favor, because it conveys authenticity: here is a real person using these techniques in his or her real office/kitchen/workshop. If you include other people in your demonstrations, make sure you get their permission—in writing—before you publish the video. (This is even more important when you’re selling the video, but private individuals have the right to say where pictures of them will be shown.) And don’t forget to include a shot of the book, its title, your name, and ordering information in the clips.

Digital video formats can be a tricky thing, what with issues of cross-platform compatibility and the need for browser plug-ins. If you create it in Windows MovieMaker, Mac users won’t be able to watch it, and so on. But with the spread of broadband and the advent of the video iPod, there are more and more options for creating and distributing video online. The VideoEgg Publisher allows you to upload video files or send video directly from your video camera, webcam, or mobile device. It then converts the video into a Macromedia Flash file and provides you with a player link for your website. (Visit www.videoegg.com for a free demonstration.)

Video for Sale
If you want to sell the video version of your book on a CD-ROM or DVD, you’ll want to invest a bit more in things like lighting, sound equipment, professional camera people, and editing. A nearby university or college such as Emeryville’s Ex’pression College for Digital Arts (www.expression.edu) may be able to provide the facilities and people you need on a non-Hollywood budget.

If your book is about computers, full-motion screen recording software like Camtasia (www.camtasiastudio.com) makes it easy to create step-by step demonstrations. This can be much more effective than still screen shots interspersed with text. You can use your book just as it’s written to create a voice-over to accompany the video demo.

Podiobooks
This funny-sounding word was coined to describe audiobooks released as podcasts instead of on CD or cassette. (I suppose if you released your book videos this way, that would create a Vodiobook.) To create a podiobook, you just read sections of your book into a microphone connected to your computer. (I recommend Audacity, a versatile free tool for recording and editing audio files. Get it at http://audacity.sourceforge.net.) Then you upload the file to a host like Podiobooks.com or to your own podcast blog. Recording a chapter a week doesn’t take much time.

If you don’t want to give away your whole book for free, you can still create a podiobook by reading shorter selections from different chapters, just enough to get prospective buyers interested. Or you can read some of the material that got cut during the editing process, or new related material you’ve discovered since the book was published. As with the infamous Google Print (now Google Book Search), it’s up to you how much of your material you release at once. As with the videos, remember to tell listeners how to buy your book.

Creating a free podiobook isn’t likely to damage either print sales or your chances for selling the rights to a professional audio recording, unless you’ve got a terrific home studio and the right kind of performance background, and want to spend hours editing, adding appropriate music, etc. (And if you do all that, by all means sell the CD or full-length download.)

Audiobooks are convenient for commuters and auditory learners, but that doesn’t mean listening entirely replaces reading. For one thing, it’s hard to look things up in the index or track down a particular quote with an audio (or video) recording. And you can’t underline the important parts or look at the tables and illustrations. If your podiobook subscribers like what they hear, they’ll buy the print version for themselves, their friends, and their colleagues.

Just because Hollywood isn’t going to option your business book doesn’t mean it can’t be a star of stage and screen.

© 2005 Sallie Goetsch

Blogging Your Book

In “Blog + Book = Opportunity,” I talked about different ways to turn a blog into a book, also called a blook, or using a blog to write a book. This isn’t the only possible relationship between a book and a blog, however. You can also market an existing book by serializing it in a blog. Or you can create a blog about your book, including some selections from it, providing the back story, posting reviews and tour dates?and, of course, providing links so that readers can purchase your book.

The Other Kind of Blook

Nineteenth-century authors like Henry James and Charles Dickens didn’t publish their novels all at once. They sold them to magazines in serial form, a chapter or two per issue. Only after the serial had succeeded did a bound book appear. They did their writing and their market research at the same time.

Blogs provide a 21st-century means to do the same thing—easily and immediately, with direct feedback from readers via comments. The best-known example of this is Thomas Evslin’s serialized murder mystery at www.Hackoff.com, scheduled for print release in 2006. The online version includes some features it will be difficult, if not impossible, to include in the print version, like a website for the fictional company whose name gives the book its title, and a wiki version where readers develop the story in the direction they want to see it go.

Won’t I Lose Sales?

Sales of your printed book are actually more likely to increase if you serialize your book in a blog. Sure, there will be some people who take what they need online and don’t buy their own copy of the book, but they’re the same people who would just have checked the book out of the library anyway.

Even if they don’t buy the book themselves, online readers will tell other people about it. Having your book online means more people will know it exists, and the more people who know about it, the more people will buy it.

A printed book is still easier on the eyes, easier to carry around, and usable in more conditions than a blog or an e-book. And, given the cost of ink cartridges and paper, it’s less expensive for a reader to buy a bound book than to print your book from your blog. Besides, it’s hard to get an autographed copy of a blog post.

What if I’m Already Published?

Just because your book is already published doesn’t mean you can’t serialize it on your blog. Lots of authors are turning to blogs to market their books, and one good way is to use the blog to provide free samples along with back story or reader Q&A sessions. A blog also lets you provide color illustrations, which are expensive to print, and additional resource material, particularly links. It can takes as little 15 minutes each week.

What if I’ve Never Blogged Before?

Dont worry: blogging is easy. That’s one reason it’s so popular. You sign up for a blog account at one of the services listed below or install the blogging software on your web server, pick a template, and away you go.

If you have an existing business website, you can host your blog there. Your blog should match the look and feel of your website and include your logo and other branding. Customizing the template is the hardest part of setting up a blog, and you may want to hire a professional to make sure you get it right.

But you don’t need any special skills to post to a blog. If you can use a word-processing program or send an e-mail message, you can create a blog post.

Going from Book to Blog

There’s a Blogger plugin for Word which lets you publish directly to your blog from within a Word document. (Blogger is a free, easy-to-use blogging tool owned by Google, which also provides free blog hosting at Blogspot.com.) For serializing an existing book, Blogger is fine, but because it doesn’t provide more sophisticated features like categories, it’s not the best platform for writing a book, and doesn’t allow readers to view sections topically.

So you may find yourself doing a plain old cut and paste from a section of your book into your TypePad or WordPress or other blog. However, since you’ll only be posting a short section at a time, this won’t be too much of a hardship.

A Blog of its Own

If you’re already blogging, you may want to create a second blog for your book, just as it’s a good idea to buy a domain name and create a home page for your book. Host your book blog on the book domain, and name the blog after the book. This will help both search engines and humans to find it.

And don’t forget to include the “Buy this book” links!

Blog Hosting Services

Blogger/Blogspot (free, lacks some features)

Blog Harbor (30-day free trial; plans from $8.95/month)

LiveJournal (free or paid; paid plans start at $3/month):

TypePad (good features, but starting to suffer from its own popularity; basic plan costs $4.95/month)

WordPress (free tool, may be provided by your ISP; highly customizable) or sign up for the new blog hosting service at WordPress.com

Movable Type (for the more technically advanced; free for a single-user license)

Blog.com (features multi-language support; free version is ad-supported, but has most of the features of the paid version, which starts at $2/month)