For the first 2/3 of my ghostwriting career, I never had to look for clients because they always came to me. After a while, I came to expect it. I’d never known anything different, so I just figured that’s how things worked. A few years ago, around the time of America’s great real estate meltdown, someone asked me if I’d felt the economic wave crashing in on my ghostwriting business yet.
“Not at all,” I said. ” As long as I’m working on a project, new book jobs keep coming to me. For example, I frequently write creative biographies for entrepreneurs. A 600-800 word piece has always led to a book gig, so I just do those and the books come in.”
“Wow. How does that happen?”
“Here’s an example,” I explained. “I’d just completed an 800-word bio for an abstract painter named Jill [not her real name]. We were sitting in a coffee house and she’d just read my final draft. She turned to me and said —
[Click to find out what she said.]
That happened to me all the time.
And then two years ago, I found myself wondering why I didn’t have the next client lined up. I didn’t know it yet, but my days of carefree client leap-frog was about to enter a two-year holding pattern; a time where I did what most people around me seem to be doing a lot lately: wondering when all the familiar pieces of running their business all got moved around the room and how to put it back how it was; or, at the very least, how to make it work now. I know it sounds like I’m painting myself as this forward-thinking guy who was two years of everyone else and now he’s got it all figured out. Honestly, nobody has it all figured out. Everyone gets a piece. Great things happen when we share our piece with each other and “compare notes”. [To follow that thought sideways, if you will, check out the recent post by Jake, Why We Started Ghostwritepro.com]
Here’s what my piece looks like today. It’s vastly superior to my early days of ghostwriting.
Start at the top and go sideways
Anyone can find leads by talking to people you know, networking, handing out your ghostwriter business card. You’ll find a ton of people looking for ghostwriters on Craigslist, too. But are those the kind of clients you want? People who can’t afford to pay you to work for six months on their book? Everyone wants to write a book. Just tell someone you’re a ghostwriter and the odds are very high they’ll tell you about a book they’ve been wanting to write for years and years. They’ll probably be very excited about having met you. Write this down: The more excited someone is about hiring you, the less money they have.
So you start at the top. Think BIG. What kind of people do you love the most? Go after them. No more working your way up. Start at the top and go sideways. There is no down. There is only the top and sideways.
Why Thinking BIG Isn’t Enough
It’s obvious, really. Thinking something doesn’t make it so. Action does.
On November 12, 2009, my best friend died suddenly and unexpectedly. I’d never lost a close friend before. Something about his death threw a switch in me. As I fought my way through shock, disbelief, curiosity and sadness, I steadily emerged with a seemingly eternally fueled desire to enlarge my sphere of influence in a way I’d never considered before. I’d do something I absolutely loved – encouraging others – in a craft I loved equally so: writing. By combining it with starting at the top, I proceeded, over a four month period, to pitch and acquire, one at a time, 52 of the very best writers and photographers in Phoenix. The result, 26 Blocks, is unlike anything I’ve ever created before and, it turns out, the first creation of its kind. It’s a month away from a 7 month art tour throughout Metro Phoenix and will culminate in a hardcover book.
One of the best parts of thinking up 26 Blocks has been the multiple ways putting that thinking into action is changing me. And when I change, my clients change. As much as I resisted it in the past, I’ve come to realize something: The kind of clients you’re getting are a reflection of the kind of person you are.
80% of Ghostwriting isn’t Writing
It takes me about 350 hours to ghostwrite a book. Of that, 280 hours has nothing to do with the part where the book gets written. The rest is interviews, transcriptions, business matters, outlines, structure and strategies. Is thinking about what you’re going to write, writing? Not in my book. Are interviews writing? Of course not. They’re interviews, conversations, psychology and digging for truths. Transcriptions? A good 80 hours of ghostwriting is transcribing. It’s a priceless exercise and some very, very valuable writing discoveries arise because of it, but most of it is monotonous drudgery. I dread transcribing. I’ve never met a ghostwriter who liked it.
So the other 20% of ghostwriting is writing? Why would a writer go into ghostwriting then?
For one, that 20% that is actual, sit at the keyboard or take out a pen and a piece of paper kind of writing, that runs through the whole process. It’s the stream of all my homework, all my research, all the listening and questioning, the guiding, the transcribing, the conceiving. When that informs the 20% that is the writing, it’s the best place in the world to be.
Secondly, I ghostwrite because I love people.
The best thing for me about ghostwriting is getting to know a person who thinks, acts, behaves differently than me. When I put the 80% and the 20% of ghostwriting together, I don’t come away with 100%. If I’ve done my best and given my best, I’ll come away from the experience having gotten to know a person that isn’t me. Because that is worth more to me than the 100% that is the book, the book will be that much better than it would otherwise.