I had a call a few days ago from a woman who told me she found my name in the IWOC directory and is looking for someone who will ghostwrite her autobiography. She said she’s led a fascinating life and wants to put her story into book form to share with others.
This is not the kind of ghostwriting that I do. I told her, though, that I had a couple of questions for her along with a suggestion.
First, I asked what books she reads. She replied that she reads some articles but rarely any books. My response was to tell her that before thinking about writing a book, she needs to read. And read. And then read some more. You can’t write books without reading books.
Second, I asked her who she thought would buy her book and who would read her book; they’re not always the same. She said she hadn’t really thought about that. I suggested she think hard about an audience because writing the book is only about one third to a half of the project she has in mind. There’s a lot more effort needed to get rid of all those books once you’ve done the work and been published.
Third, I explained how people buy books in a bookstore or off a rack in a drugstore or from some retailer. Think about it: how do you buy a book? Tons of research shows that readers attracted by a book’s cover pick it up from the shelf, open it or turn it around, and read the blurb on the inside flap or the back cover. Readers who like what they see may then check the table of contents (nonfiction) and read a page or two. If they like that small sample, they may take the book to the cashier and buy it. Or not.
Then I gave her an assignment. I told her to write a blurb about her book, something that would entice a reader to make that purchase. She has no idea at this point what form her book will take; she hasn’t yet found a writer. But she knows her story. I told her writing a blurb of about two hundred words will help her focus on what she wants to say and how she wants to say it. Most important it will make her think about how to make her story appealing to a reader—and a ghostwriter.
Writing and publishing a book is a process, and it’s work—hard work. It requires planning, organizing, honing, lots of rewriting, and, before typing a single word, figuring out who the book’s reader is going to be. The process is the same whether you’re going to approach a professional publisher or take the self-publishing route. And so is marketing the book. The days of finding a publisher who will guide and coach first-time authors and then turn their work into a marketable product are long gone.
I asked whether my caller was offended by my questions and suggestions. No, she said, she was grateful. Our little ten-minute telephone conversation had helped her figure out what a big job lies ahead, how likely or unlikely it is that she’ll be able to complete the task she’s set for herself, and whether it’s worth her time and energy. I wished her good luck and told her to read some books—lots of books.
- Jim Kepler
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