Less Writing, Not Less Work: The Truth About Hiring a Ghostwriter

I’m starting to think I should put this over on the ‘static’ half of my website in 24-point letters: hiring a ghostwriter is not less work than writing a book yourself. It’s just less writing.

Let me qualify that statement. If you just want articles, or even a book, written on a certain topic, and you hire someone with good research skills or appropriate expertise to write it, then the only work you really have to do is devise a scope of work. But that kind of writing isn’t really ghostwriting. It’s contract writing. Publishers of series like Wiley’s “For Dummies” do this all the time: they perceive a demand for a simple how-to book on a subject, and they go find someone to write it. Not all contract writers get bylines the way Wiley’s do, but the principle is pretty much the same.

Most of the people you find on sites like Elance are contract writers. You can hire them to write two dozen short articles on any subject you want for you to submit to article banks or post on your website.

But when you want to publish something that conveys who you are, you need a ghostwriter. Ghostwriters are the people who immerse themselves in your personality like an actor into a role, who get to know your habits of speech and thought so well that your own friends would never know you hadn’t written that book yourself.

And in order to do that, we have to spend a lot of time talking to you and working with you. We need to ask you questions and to see you at work and in social situations. We need you to provide raw materials like recordings and notes. We need to read what you’ve written and to understand not just your subject but your own insight into it. We need you to go over drafts we send you and tell us where something doesn’t sound like you and where something isn’t quite right.

And that means you have to put in some serious time and effort.

On the other hand, it also means that you have to articulate your thoughts and your values much more clearly than you might otherwise bother to do. That means a more readable, more focused book. What’s more, doing all that work makes it your book in a way nothing you’ve assigned someone to work on without you could be.

The obvious next question is, “If I have to do so much work anyway, why hire a ghostwriter?”

The obvious next answer is, “Because you need someone who writes better than you do.”

But there are some non-obvious answers, too:

  • Working with someone else creates a sense of accountability. This can make it easier to meet deadlines.
  • A ghostwriter may also know the publishing industry and the genre better than you do.
  • A ghostwriter can help you refine your thoughts and choose the most marketable angle on your idea.
  • In between those revisions and interviews, you can still run your business, so you don’t have to drop everything for a year to produce the book.
  • A ghostwriter can bring your unconscious assumptions to light and ask the questions you’ve never thought to ask yourself.

But don’t kid yourself. If you want a book that really represents you, you’re going to have to work for it.

Don’t Write for the Royalties

Inspired by RainToday.com’s Business Book Publishing reports.

It should come as no surprise that the more books an author sells, the better the effect on her business, but consultants who are considering writing their first book may not realize how little book sales actually contribute to a business author’s income.

RainToday.com interviewed 200 business book authors to find out whether writing a book was worth the time, effort, and expense involved. The introduction to The Business Impact of Writing a Book describes becoming an author in decidedly unromantic terms:

What conventional wisdom fails to tell you is that the act of writing a book is an enormous investment in blood, sweat, and all too often, tears. Writing and publishing a book is a time-intensive, laborious process that begins well before the actual writing of the book, and continues through the long editing, publishing, and book marketing process. Aspiring authors may have to deal with finding agents, marketers, publishers, negotiating contracts, and, ultimately, the marketing and publicity of the book—all while keeping up with their everyday business activities. (p. 6)

Nevertheless, 96% of the consultants who participated in the study, only a few of whom had written best-sellers, agreed that publishing a book had a positive impact on their business. But it wasn’t fat royalty checks they referred to when asked what publishing had done for them. In order of popularity, the benefits of publishing they cited were:

  1. Improve my brand
  2. Generate more speaking engagements
  3. Generate more clients
  4. Generate more leads
  5. Charge higher fees
  6. Generate more desirable client base
  7. Close more deals

Marketing, Marketing, Marketing

A book is a marketing tool for an author. More book sales result in more awareness of and credibility for the author. You have to market the book before the book can market you. The correlation between the number of books sold and the author’s business success was so high that the researchers concluded that marketing the book was the most important part of the entire process.

Part of the reason the author needs to focus on marketing is that publishers have less money and fewer personnel to devote to marketing books than they used to. As a result, even authors who sign with major publishers need to do most of their own marketing. Authors who self-publish need to do all of their own marketing. In general, those authors who put more into marketing got more out of it, and those who hired professionals to help them sold significantly more books than those who did not.

Indirect Revenue

Among the authors surveyed, direct revenue from publishing topped out at about $100,000—still quite a tidy sum and considerably more than most business book authors will ever earn in royalties. Indirect revenues were double the direct revenues in the 25th percentile, triple in the 50th percentile, and quintuple in the 75th percentile (p. 42).

According to Chip Bell, author of Managing Knock Your Socks Off Service, “If you work at it, you can probably make about ten times as much revenue from sources generated through your book than from the royalties themselves” (p. 43). Given that most traditionally published authors make about $1 per book in royalties, it’s easy to see why a book’s greatest value may be as a glorified business card or brochure.

Even authors who sell fewer than a thousand copies of their first book are still in a good position to raise their rates. But the more books you sell, the more you can charge for speaking and consulting. If your book actually makes it onto the best-seller list, you become a hot commodity. (And, conversely, if you’re already a celebrity, your book has a much better chance of becoming a best-seller.)

Most business books sell about 5,000 copies, which means about $5,000 in royalties. In most cases, it will cost the author far more than $5,000 to write, publish, and market the book, even if her only investment is time. To ensure your book is profitable, you need to take a look at the other ways it can increase your income.

How many new clients would you need at your current rates to make your book pay off? How much would you have to be able to raise your rates? How many speaking engagements would it take to balance out the costs involved? What can you up sell most easily? Can you convert the book into a series of spin-off products and capitalize on what you’ve already invested?

Publishing a book is by no means a get-rich-quick scheme. Becoming an author is hard work, even for those who like to write—or those who hire a ghostwriter. But it pays off in many ways over time.

© Sallie Goetsch 2006

Lessons from Novelists, Part II

The introduction to “The Secrets: The Podcast for Writers” bills it as “the podcast for anyone who’s serious about writing,” and despite the focus on fiction in general and sci-fi/fantasy in particular, there’s a wealth of useful information for nonfiction writers and authors as well.

“The Secrets” is the brainchild of Michael A. Stackpole, a science fiction and fantasy author with about 40 published novels to his name, many of them set in the Star Wars® universe. Even though I’m an avid reader of genre fiction, I hadn’t heard of him before I started listening to his podcast, so I started checking his books out of the library to see whether he was as good in practice as his theory sounded. And yes, he is, or as close as anyone is likely to get.

Here are just a few of the useful tips in the ten regular and fourteen special editions of the podcast so far, broken down into tips for writing, tips for editing, and tips for marketing.

Writing/Subject Matter

The ability to use language well spans genres, but many of the techniques discussed under this heading pertain primarily to fiction, such as story arcs and character development. Still, if you write memoirs, biography, or “dramatic nonfiction,” these are skills you need to develop. Others apply to any kind of writing, definitely including business books.

Read Widely

And that means widely. Read outside your area of specialty. Read outside your own areas of interest. Even the tabloids have something to teach you—about human nature, and about crafting effective headlines. These insights are essential for character development if you’re a novelist, but popular magazines also show you what readers are hungry for if you’re writing how-to and self-help books.

Separate Evergreens from Fads

Going back to those tabloids—if you look at them over a period of time, you can easily find out what sells year in and year out, season after season, as opposed to what’s trendy for a few months or a year and passé ever after.

Right now, for instance, podcasting is hot, and everyone and his brother (funny how it’s mostly men) is publishing a book about it. By now the publishers are saturated, and not likely to take another book on the subject unless it’s got a really unusual twist.

Communication, on the other hand, is an essential part of human existence and business. The principles of good communication are important whether you’re sending smoke signals or bit streams.

Never “Phone it in”

Whether you’re writing your own book or a chapter in someone else’s, give it your best. The people who are paying for the book your work appears in deserve your best—and you want to encourage them to seek you out elsewhere.

What to Write Next

While you’re shopping book number 1 to the agents and publishers, or waiting for it to come off the press, what do you work on next? Unless the publisher has signed you up for a series, you might be better off not writing the sequel to the first book. If the first one doesn’t sell, the publisher isn’t likely to buy the second. Instead, work on something different which has a good chance of succeeding. If nothing else, it will get you a reputation for versatility.

Editing

Editing your own work is hard. As a freelance editor, I naturally incline to advising people against even attempting it. On the other hand, I do it all the time for my own articles, so it would be wildly hypocritical not to pass on these very useful tips for editing your own work, especially in an era when publishers provide far less editorial support than they used to.

Don’t Revise While Writing

This is a tough one, at least for me, but if you start revising every sentence while writing it, you’ll get to the end of the day and have nothing done at all. Write first, edit later. If necessary, make a note to yourself about changes you need to make (if, for instance, you realize several chapters into a book that you have to add something to Chapter 1 in order for Chapter 5 to make sense). This is also the key to writing quickly.

Edit in Hard Copy

Retention goes up enormously when reading print on paper rather than on the screen. Print your manuscript so you can catch the little mistakes you wouldn’t see when reading on the screen. Having a hard copy printout is also a prerequisite for the next technique.

Don’t Edit at Your Desk

Dividing your mindset between author and editor is challenging. Help your brain by giving it cues. When you’re at your desk, you’re writing. When you’re away from your desk, you’re editing. Pick up that red (or blue, or purple, or whatever you want so long as it’s easy to distinguish from black) pen and make your corrections sitting in an armchair, on the sofa, or at the dining room table—but safely away from your computer.

Always do a 2nd and 3rd draft

No matter how smoothly it flows when you write it the first time, rewrite it. Once you’ve set it aside for a few days, printed it, and edited it, you’ll have a much easier time rewriting than if you tried to start over again immediately after finishing the last sentence.

Spelling and Grammar Count

This warmed my pedant’s heart, but it’s true. Whatever you write, wherever you write it, you look more professional if you use correct spelling and don’t make glaring grammatical errors. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking your word processor’s spelling checker will fix everything, either. Get a human being to do it.

Marketing

One of the most important things to know when preparing to sell a book to a publisher is what already-successful book it resembles. (This is the “competing and complementary books” section of your proposal.) Find several people who are familiar with the genre/field in which your book is written and ask them to read your manuscript and complete the following phrase: “In the tradition of…” Whether your book is in the tradition of Alan Weiss or of Stephen King, that phrase will tell publishers who is most likely to buy your book.

Signings

While straightforward book signings are not necessarily an author’s best marketing tool, there are ways to improve your success. One is to time your signings to tie-ins, such as holidays or local events relating to your book’s subject. Another technique is the “drive-by signing,” where you stop by a bookstore and offer to sign their stock of your works. This encourages the store to put up a special display and add little “signed copy” stickers to your books, and it doesn’t take very long.

Keep a Bookstore Mailing List

Instead of spending a fortune sending postcards to thousands of individual readers, put bookstores on your print mailing list and stick to electronic announcements for your readership at large. Particularly if you’re published by a major house, it’s the bookstores you need to sell to in order for readers to have a chance to discover your new book when strolling down the aisles of Barnes and Noble, Borders, or the local independent bookstore. It’s also bookstores and libraries which have author-events like readings and signings.

Free Sample=Obligation

If you give away part of your book in the form of blog posts, PDF chapters, or as a “podiobook” recording, it will promote your sales, not cut into them. People who get a free gift feel a sense of obligation. Not everyone who reads the sample chapter or listens to an episode or two of the podiobook will buy a brand-new hardcover, but chances are that even if they don’t, they’ll mention it to someone who will, or at least buy the paperback or ask the library to stock it. Most people don’t want to read a full-length book sitting at a computer—and printing it out will cost as much as and be more trouble than ordering it from Amazon or stopping by the local bookshop.

For more information about Michael A. Stackpole’s writing, including his “Secrets” newsletter, visit www.stormwolf.com.

The Fiction Question

What’s the thing most consultants and professionals ask me when they first hear that my business is turning people like them into authors? Not the one you might expect. The first question is usually “How do you do that?” Almost inevitably, though, when I explain that I’m a ghostwriter and editor, they ask “Do you do fiction?”

No matter that their real need is probably marketing copy for their websites or a translation of their highly technical white papers into something that consumers can understand. Everyone on the planet seems to aspire to writing a novel. I’m one of them: I wrote several of them in my undergraduate and graduate student days. I just never published any of them, though I was shopping one 300,000-word monster around to agents when outside circumstances intervened to force me to focus my efforts very closely on my career, which had nothing to do with swords-and-sorcery adventure novels.

The answer to this inevitable question is that I can help people to write and edit fiction, but I rarely do. That’s only partly because I want fiction I write to have my name on it. I’d be happy to help someone improve the structure, style, grammar, etc. of a novel, if only for my own sake as a reader. The real reason that most of what I get hired to write (or rewrite) is nonfiction is economics.

Nonfiction book authors can sell books based on proposals and get an advance to cover the cost of completing the manuscript. (Funny how we still call them manuscripts when no agent or editor would even attempt to read an author’s handwriting on anything longer than a thank-you note.) Novelists don’t have that luxury: unless they’re well-established and have a good track record for selling earlier books, they have to hand over a finished product in order to get a publisher to sign on the dotted line.

Advances for first-time novels are pitiably small—as little as $3,000. Profit margins are almost nonexistent, so often enough the book doesn’t earn out that advance. There are two chances of $3,000 covering my services to revise a first draft (never mind create a novel from scratch): Fat and Slim.

Like most freelancers, I do work for hire. That means that my client owns all rights to the finished product, and I get paid for my work regardless of whether a publisher accepts the book. I do know one ghostwriter who charges half the author’s advance—but that’s after the author has gotten the advance, and the advance in question has to be in the vicinity of six figures.

To a businessperson who wants a book as a marketing tool, the $20,000+ it costs to have someone else write, or substantially rewrite, that book is an investment. Even if actual sales of the book don’t amount to much (and they often don’t), a consultant with a book can expect to make money indirectly by publishing. Authors are perceived as experts, making them more attractive to prospects and media alike than non-authors. One really good consulting gig can pay for the cost of producing the book.

In contrast, novelists only have the books themselves with which to make money. It’s possible, of course, that the book will be a hit and Hollywood will buy the movie rights for a nice chunk of change, and suddenly there’ll be a massive attack of merchandising, with toys based on the book’s characters appearing in McDonald’s Happy Meals. It does happen.

Unfortunately, you have better odds of winning the lottery than of striking it rich writing fiction. Success as a novelist depends on too many variables beyond the control of author or publisher. A well-written, entertaining book is only the minimum requirement.

Most people who advertise for fiction ghostwriters offer a percentage of royalties. That’s a sucker’s bet. Chances are there will be no royalties to take a cut of, and even if there are, the ghostwriter’s share ends up even more meager than the pittance the author gets.

No one who wants to stay in business is going to take on such a project in preference to one that pays up front. You can find someone on Elance to write you a book for $5,000, but you’ll still have to pay before you can get the finished product. A would-be novelist has to be very dedicated or independently wealthy to hire someone like me.

Hence the answer to the question “Do you do fiction?” is “Not very often.”

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

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)

Publishing and Podcasting

In the publishing world, POD usually stands for Print on Demand, a technology which lets you print books in small quantities so you don’t have to store thousands of them in your garage and pay large up-front fees for more traditional self-publishing.

But POD has another meaning: Play on Demand. That means watching or listening to media when you want it. When you tape a television show to watch later, you’re creating POD media. Play on Demand is the prinicple behind TiVo. It’s what put the “pod” in “iPod” and “podcasting.”

Podcasting, the latest development in web radio, lets listeners subscribe to shows and automatically download the latest MP3 files to your computer so you can transfer them onto a portable media player and take them with you wherever you go. Podcasts have taken off like gangbusters in the past year. There are now more than 15,000 podcasts in the iTunes directory, with more than a million people listening to them.

What does all this have to do with publishing? More every day. There are podcasts for writers, podcasts by writers, podcast about writing and publishing, and podcasts which interview authors and/or review books. Even publishing houses are jumping on the podcasting bandwagon. So get yourself an MP3 player and some “podcatching” software and start listening to boost your career. Here are some recommendations to get you started.

Podcasts for Writers

These podcasts aim to guide writers in understanding the publishing world or becoming better at their craft, or both. Several follow an interview format, providing listeners with the inside story from publicists, reviewers, agents, editors, writers, and publishing houses. Others are monologues where successful authors share their tips for success. There’s a lot of really useful information in these podcasts about the business of writing, and the hosts and guests are interesting.

Conversations with Experts: How to Build Your Business On and Offline, hosted by Denise Wakeman and Patsi Krakoff of Blog Squad fame, is not strictly a publishing podcast, but has included many experts in the publishing industry. Sign up for the free live teleseminars at http://www.conversationswithexperts.com.

Publishing Basics Radio, sponsored by Selfpublishing.com, “Helping You Navigate the Self-Publishing Minefield” (available as MP3, QuickTime, Windows Media, and RealMedia)

The BookPitch Voice, hosted by BookPitch.com CEO Patricia Kelley

The Publishing Coach from Bill O’Hanlon (only four episodes, but all useful) provides tips on platform, finding a unique slant, and persisting until you get a publisher

The Secrets: the Podcast for Writers is the creation of science fiction author Michael A. Stackpole, but his suggestions on career-building for authors apply to any genre

The Writing Show, with host Paula B, “Where Writing is Always the Story”

Book Review Podcasts

These may be MP3 recordings of public radio book review shows, such as KCRW’s Bookworm or Australian National Radio’s Books and Writing, but some of them are web-only features, such as Bookbuffet.com, Authors Without Limits, Bill Thompson’s Eye on Books, and Pinky’s Paperhaus. These are the podcasts you’ll want to include in your Virtual Author Tour. (More about those in a future article.)

Authors Without Limits

Bill Thompson’s Eye on Books

Bookbuffet.com

Books and Writing

KCRW’s Bookworm

Pinky’s Paperhaus

Podcasts by Writers

Some writers become podcasters in order to build up their readership in advance of publication, or to market their books after publication. Podcasting usually requires about an hour of preparation and an hour of editing for every hour of recording, so it’s not for every author. Used well, however, it’s an effective promotional tool, and less expensive than many options. Podcasting seems to be particularly effective for marketing fiction. Scott Sigler initially billed Earthcore as “the world’s first podcast-only novel.” The book is now available in paperback.

Dr Norman Norton’s “Death of the Author” podcast

Free Podcast Novel

Scott Sigler’s Earthcore

Michael Connelly

Podcasts by Publishers

Major publishers like Holtzbrinck and Simon & Schuster are starting to produce their own podcasts to help them market books. These publisher podcasts provide audio excerpts from new books from the house’s different imprints and occasional interviews with authors and editors. If these two are successful, you can be sure other publishers will follow in their footsteps.

Holtzbrinck (6 podcasts: Fiction, Non-Fiction, Science Fiction and Fantasy, Self-Help, Spotlight Title, and Special Events)

Simon & Schuster’s Simon Says podcast

Don’t let confusion about terminology and technology keep you away from this exciting new development in the publishing industry. Free software like iTunes, Odeo, and Juice (formerly iPodder) , which all work on both Mac and PC, will let you subscribe to these podcasts and download the MP3 files. You don’t need an expensive iPod, either: any MP3 player will work, or you can listen right on your computer. Your PDA is another possibility for playing audio files.

Get listening. Get recording. Get yourself out there.

Talk Your Way to a Book Audio

Sallie Goetsch presenting at Business Speakers by the BayThanks to everyone who showed up at my “Talk Your Way to a Book: Why Speakers Make Great Authors” presentation for Business Speakers by the Bay last Friday. Contributions from the audience made it a much better experience for everyone.

For those who couldn’t make it, I’ve now uploaded an MP3 recording.

There’s a lot of background noise, and because I was the one wearing the mic, it’s not always easy to hear what other people are saying. Anyone who thinks s/he can clean up the sound and make a better quality recording is welcome to give it a go.

You may also want to download the handout and the flyer to refer to.

Eventually I’ll transcribe this recording and turn it into an article. Meanwhile, download the MP3 (12 MB; about 45 minutes) and listen to it on your computer or your portable media player. Then come back and post a comment or two! And feel free to attend the next BSBB meeting on December 2nd.

Blog + Book = Opportunity

Blame blogger Jeff Jarvis of BuzzMachine for adding “blook” to the proliferation of Internet-related neologisms.

So what the heck is a blook and why would you want to write one? A blook is one of two things: a blog (short for “Weblog”) created by serializing a book, or a book created from, or at least based on, a blog.

Jarvis coined the word “blook” in November of 2002 to describe the book of blog posts which Tony Pierce was preparing to self-publish. Pierce was sufficiently taken with the word to use it for the title, and is now the author of three blooks.

The Blooker Prize

It’s this kind of blook which has recently attracted media attention on account of Lulu.com’s 2006 “Blooker Prize.” Lulu produces and sells print-on-demand books and no doubt hopes to attract new business by means of this contest, which will award $1000 first prizes to winners in each of three categories: fiction, non-fiction, and comics or graphic novels. Entrants must submit three printed and bound blooks for the three judges (all well-known bloggers and authors). Non-Lulu blooks are welcome. (Tony Pierce published his two most recent blooks, which will not be competing, through CafePress.)

Blogs as Writing Tools

Time was, if you wanted to write a book you’d sit down with a pen and a piece of paper. (I wrote three never-published novels that way when I was an undergraduate.) Then word-processing came along, making it much easier to move and change the material in your book.

Many people think of blogs as “online diaries” or associate them primarily with political commentary, but blogs are really low-cost, easy-to-use content management systems. This is “content” as in “digital information.” If you’re a writer, your content will probably be in the form of text.

While blogs are not sophisticated word-processors, much less typesetting/layout programs like Quark or PageMaker, they allow authors to create, arrange, and publish all in the same place. The informal nature of blogging helps non-writers to get their ideas out there and create a first draft and let it evolve organically, then collect related materials together by means of the “category” function.

Getting from Blog to Book

Suppose you’re a blogger and you want to take your own shot at the Blooker Prize. Can you just export your blog into Word and send it off to a publisher? Well, no, it’s not quite as easy as that.

Blogs appear in reverse chronological order, with the most recent post first. Even if you sort your posts by category, the most recent will appear on the top of the page. If you want readers to start reading where you started writing, you’re going to have to reorganize the material before you send it off to the printer.

There are companies like Blurb.com working on creating software and services which will automatically import the contents of blogs and convert them into books. If you enroll in Denise Wakeman and Patsi Krakoff’s self-paced, open enrollment Blog to Book course, you get to beta-test Blurb, which is not yet available to the public.

Or you can hire a company like The Friday Project, a British publishing house which specializes in turning blogs and websites into books.

Manual Blook Creation

If you want to design and format your own blook, you’ll need to spend some time cutting and pasting. How long this will take depends on the amount of material you have. As of this writing, my FileSlinger™ Backup Blog has some 136 posts, mostly fairly long (600-1200 words), for a total of about 65,000 words. It took me about two hours to copy and paste the contents from the blog pages into the Word template I’d adapted from Dan Poynter’s New Book Model example, and another couple of hours to tweak the formatting to something more appropriate for a 6″ x 9″ book. Because the blog is based on a weekly column, I’ll have at least 9 more entries of that length before I finish at the end of December, so I can expect the final blook to be about 75,000 words, a respectable length for a business book.

What Makes Blooks Distinctive?

If you want your blook to retain the look and feel of your blog, you’ll have to put some effort into page design, or hire a designer who can create an appropriate layout and choose fonts and visual elements. You might prefer a square or landscape format book to mimic the layout on a computer screen, rather than a standard 6″ x 9″ business book. You might even want to produce the whole thing in color, particularly if photos are an important part of your blog, though that could result in an expensive blook if it runs more than 100 pages.

It’s a good idea for blook authors to reread their material carefully in order to correct mistakes and remove redundancies, even if they choose not to make any substantive changes. You may also need to get permission before reprinting comments left by readers, unless you already have a statement on the blog to the effect that anyone posting a comment is granting such permission.

Blooks vs. Books

In discussing the Blooker Prize, journalists have pointed out with some reason that a book which exactly duplicates a blog rather than reworking the blog’s content into a tighter structure could prove tedious reading. But this depends enormously on the nature of the blog, the blogger, and the blogger’s material.

The informality and the chronological arrangement may be part of a blook’s attraction. Replacing chapters with journal entries has proven effective both for fiction and nonfiction works of various kinds, and a blook of short entries can be ideal for reading during coffee breaks—or as a bathroom book, for that matter. If the blogger writes well and has something interesting to say, blooks will be just as enjoyable to read as traditional books, and possibly more so.

When Is a Blog-Based Book Not a Blook?

If you’re using your blog primarily as a way to generate a first draft or collect raw material for your book, the final book which results from your blogging efforts will bear about as much resemblance to the blog as the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel does to the charcoal sketches Michelangelo made before painting it. You probably don’t want to produce a blook at all if you’re after, not the $1,000 Blooker Prize, but the bigger prize of a sale to a major publishing house and a substantial advance. Even the “A-list” bloggers who’ve been approached by publishers have created books which are more than just a compilation of blog posts.

Why Publish a Blook?

Though the $1000 Blooker Prize is more than many POD authors make from book sales, money isn’t necessarily the best reason for bloggers to create blooks. The real value of a blook is much the same as that of any business book: it’s what one of my clients calls “The thud factor.” A blook is a demonstration that your blog has added up to something substantive. It also gives you a chance to show people your blog when you’re away from computers. If you’re a professional blogger, a blook helps give your prospective clients an idea of what a blog can do for them. (Professional bloggers might want to create several full-color blooks.)

In other words, a blook is a blogger’s portfolio. And who knows? People might even want to buy it for its own sake.

Links and References:

Jeff Jarvis coins “Blook” in his BuzzMachine Blog

Tony Pierce’s History of Blooks (Busblog)

The Lulu.com Blooker Prize

Lulu Print On Demand

CafePress

The Blog to Book Course

Blurb.com (currently operating in stealth mode; e-mail [email protected] for more information)

The Friday Project

Dan Poynter&rquo;s Book Layout Template

Blog Hosting Services

Blog.com

Blogger/Blogspot

LiveJournal

TypePad

Weblogs.us

Meet Your Deadlines with an E-zine

Not having set working hours is one of the advantages of being a writer. It’s also one of the disadvantages. When you don’t have to show up at work at 9 AM and show results at the end of the day, it’s far too easy to put off writing in favor of all the interruptions to which people who work at home are especially vulnerable. Before you know it, the day is over and you haven’t done any writing.

So what do you do if you find yourself flossing the cat instead of sitting down at the keyboard? The best way to be sure you get down to work and keep at it is to make yourself accountable to someone else.

The easiest appointments to break are the ones we make with ourselves. This may be particularly true for women, who are conditioned to take care of other people’s needs, but men seem to have just as much trouble sticking to things like diets and exercise programs on their own. One of the main reasons people sign up for exercise classes or sessions with personal trainers is to make themselves show up and do it. If the instructor has expertise to share, that’s just a bonus.

Getting a Writing Buddy
The first way to create accountability for your writing is to set up a one-on-one commitment by working with a writing coach or having a writing buddy you check in with. These check-ins need to be frequent (at least once a week) and regular (every week on the same day or every day at the same time). They don’t have to take up very much time, though: you can just tell the other person how much you’ve written, whether you’ve reached any milestones, and whether you’ve run into any stumbling blocks.

Just making a commitment and reporting on whether you’ve kept it helps you stay on track, even if the other person never reads what you’ve written and doesn’t know anything at all about your subject.

Writing Groups and Classes
Joining a writing group or taking a writing class works the same way. Having a homework assignment due every week can definitely make you get something written. Classes and writing groups are usually less expensive than professional one-on-one coaching, and they have the advantage of providing you with feedback on what you write. You do need to be sure when you join the group or class that you’ll get enough attention and enough motivation and accountability, and also that you’ll be able to work on your own material rather than writing on assigned topics.

Writing a Column
My number one favorite choice for developing writing discipline—and building up readership in advance of publication—is writing a weekly column or e-zine. Once you have subscribers, you have an obligation to them. They’re expecting you to write something every week, so you have to do it even if you don’t feel like it. If you don’t stick to your schedule, your professional reputation suffers and your readership drops off.

Having the commitment forces you to get ideas out of your head and onto the page. I’ve been thinking about writing this particular article for months, for instance, and now that I’ve committed myself to a weekly column for WomensRadio.com, I don’t have the excuse to put it off any longer.

You can either publish your own weekly column or write one for someone else. If you write for someone else, you’ll save on publishing costs and gain credibility. Writing for someone else’s publication gives you the added pressure of a commitment to an editor as well as the commitment to your readers.You might even get paid. Just make sure you retain the copyright on anything you produce, or you might have to go to court before you can publish your book.

Either way, you’ll find that what you’ve written adds up fast. You may also find that you start getting more ideas than will fit into a weekly newsletter, so you’ll start writing more often, and you’ll have enough material for a book before you know it.

Research by Writing
While you’re writing, you’ll also be doing market research. Your readers will give you feedback on what you write: what they like, what they don’t like, what they want to hear more about. Even if they don’t know anything about writing, their comments can be more useful than those of a writing instructor, because they’re the ones who will be buying the book when it comes out. After a few months of this, you’ll know enough about your book’s potential market to make a good pitch to an agent or publisher. By the time your book is finished, you’ll have a solid selling platform. Publishers care much less about how well you write than about how many copies you can sell, so they’ll appreciate these test-marketing efforts.

Get Them on Your List
Publishers like hearing that you have a mailing list you can market to. One advantage to publishing your own e-zine is that you control the subscriber list and know how many readers you have and who they are. While you can use columns you write for online or print publications to serialize and create advance interest in your book, you don’t usually have access to contact information for your readers. Providing it to you might even violate the publisher’s privacy policy, and in any event, there will be many readers that the publisher doesn’t have any details about.

Producing your own e-zine or newsletter allows you to collect contact information for your subscribers. Even if they never give you more than a first name and e-mail address, you’ll be able to reach them when you want them. Because they’ve opted in to your list, you can market to them without violating laws about spam (officially known as Unsolicited Commercial E-mail).

Don’t be shy about pitching your book to your newsletter subscribers. You already know they like your writing and are interested in your subject—why wouldn’t they buy your book? Owning the book is both more convenient and cheaper than printing out all your e-mail newsletters.

Using a List Service
Don’t make the mistake of trying to set up a large mailing list with just your regular e-mail software. You, your computer, or your ISP will end up overloaded, and you’ll probably wind up breaking the law unintentionally. You want people to be able to subscribe and unsubscribe automatically, and you want to be able to personalize the messages with the recipients’ names and to avoid getting snared in junk mail filters. A professional newsletter service can take care of all those things and more, including offering readers a choice of plain text and HTML.

The service I use for my own e-zines costs $29/month for as many newsletters as I want, as often as I want, and up to 10,000 total subscribers. If I’m going away on vacation or business, I can write an article in advance and schedule the delivery date. They take care of the list maintenance, with automatic subscription and unsubscription, plus a customizable sign-up box for each list that I can put on my website. (See my alter-ego website, www.fileslinger.com, for an example of the sign-up box.)

I’ll be happy to recommend list services to anyone who wants to start a list—just e-mail me and ask. And if you have more suggestions for ways to make sure you produce a steady output, let me know!