Why Bother with Networking?

Just weeks after the 14th annual Be a Better Freelancer conference that was co-hosted by NAIWE for the first time, I’ve been reflecting on networking.

I’ve been called the Queen of Networking, and I attribute it to my active membership in at least a dozen professional associations and many years of contributing to communities of colleagues, including creating and hosting the Be a Better Freelancer conference. Throughout all this time, I’ve often been asked why I bother to be such an active networker.

It’s a good question, because networking takes time, effort, and a commitment to service, and the payoffs aren’t always immediately obvious. Payoffs being important, of course, because there’s certainly a level of self-interest in networking, no matter how much it involves giving back to colleagues, communities, or professions.

 

Why do it

We network for the selfish reason of building our businesses and contacts, but ideally to be of service to colleagues and communities as well. Networking creates visibility and credibility if we do it right, and that should lead to new clients and projects.

 

Arguments against

Networking can create issues, especially for die-hard introverts. It can be hard work, it requires constant effort, and as noted above, the payoffs aren’t always immediately obvious.

If you aren’t comfortable with communicating frequently—even constantly—with peers and other colleagues, that’s fine: You can be an effective networker even if you only interact with one group or make posts once a month. If you’re shy and introverted, you can network electronically rather than attend meetings or conferences in person.

Figure out what is comfortable in terms of frequency or types of information to share, and resist pressure to do more than you can handle.

 

How to do it

The essence of networking is that it’s a two-way process, as well as a constant one.

Start on the right foot by introducing yourself to the group(s) you’ve chosen to join: Let colleagues know something about your training, skills, experience, preferred types of projects and clients, etc. Before asking for help, try to provide something of value to the group. It isn’t that networking can’t involve getting help with your independent writing or editing business in general or with specific aspects of that business, but that you don’t want to be seen as someone who constantly takes from colleagues and never gives anything back to the group. And “Gimme” is definitely not the image you want to present in your message to a networking group!

 

What to share

Networking can include sharing information about yourself—publishing triumphs, new projects, speaking engagements, awards, certifications, etc.—but is most effective if what you share is genuinely helpful to others. That can mean, for instance, letting colleagues know about new books, events, and software programs that are useful for our work; providing tips for managing an independent writing or editing business (including how to use standard tools like Word); answering colleagues’ questions about their work or projects; etc.

It can also mean alerting colleagues to new scams aimed at our profession, such as the one that circulated recently through various professional associations involving a fake editing job offer—supposedly from major companies such as Penguin and Bayer—apparently intended to either capture respondents’ identity information or sending counterfeit checks for more than promised to clean out recipients’ bank accounts. Networking also often includes warning colleagues about skeevy clients.

 

What not to do

If you’re new to networking, keep in mind that—again—it’s a two-way process and not a purely self-promotional one. That means your first message to a networking group should not be a request for “overflow” work or referrals. No one knows who you are, or what your training, skills, and experience are, so why would members of the group hand off work to you or refer you to potential clients on first appearance? We build our networks of clients and colleagues with care, and we will not jeopardize those connections by bringing in or referring someone who’s a total unknown. And we would probably be comfortable with telling a stranger the names of our contacts at publications, publishing houses, and other client businesses.

 

When it works

Doing networking right can have huge benefits. Being seen as someone who provides value builds your credibility and visibility, which makes it likely that prospective clients will learn of your existence and colleagues will contact you about working together, or refer you when they hear of projects that they don’t handle or can’t take on. A good networker is likely to be asked to make speeches, write for professional publications, and take on new projects. Your business—and income—should increase as you become noted for your networking chops and contributions.

And while those are the self-serving reasons to network, there is also a strong sense of gratification in being helpful to others in the field; it does feel good to do good. Not to mention that effective networking also can result in making new friends!

 

Ruth Thaler-Carter has been a full-time freelance writer, editor, proofreader, and desktop publisher for more than 30 years. She has been published locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally in, and does editing and proofreading for, publications, websites, service firms, and businesses. She sold her first freelance articles when she was still in high school. Renowned as a skilled networker, Ruth is a newsletter editor, publication author, speaker/presenter, blogger, program host or planner, and chapter leader. In 2006, Ruth launched the Communication Central “Be a Better Freelancer”® annual conference to help aspiring and established freelancers find greater success and connections with colleagues. Ruth received the Philip M. Stern Award of Washington (DC) Independent Writers for service to freelancers; the Writers and Books Big Pencil Award for teaching adults and contributions to the literary community; EFfie awards for writing, editing, and newsletters; and the APEX award for feature writing. Ruth was also the IABC/DC Communicator of the Year.

What Are Your Writing Strengths and Weaknesses?

No matter what the field, what the profession, what the skill set, everyone who strives to accomplish specific goals brings to the effort a variety of strengths and weaknesses. This is no less true in the field of professional writing than anything else.

But while it may be lamentable that you are not great at everything you try, this simple truth need not be a source of unhappiness nor a one-way ticket to failure.

One of the most important distinctions between a highly professional writer and a lesser one is that the former recognizes her strengths and weaknesses, while the latter is to some extent blind to them.

Here’s how you open your eyes to your strengths and weaknesses, and begin to incorporate them into your work:

1. Assess

First, the professional writer continually assesses his or her talents, skills, and capabilities. Each new effort, each new finished piece, stands as a milestone from which the professional writer can look back at his or her body of work and try to understand the patterns it contains.

For example, perhaps you can write a snappy poem, but your efforts to pen a political essay often fall short. Maybe you can craft a compelling short story about a young person coming of age, but that novel you’d love to write about an aging couple with regrets over past relationships eludes you. It’s possible you can describe an article of clothing in terms so soaring that you drive sales higher than the designer’s expectations. But that’s no guarantee you can write a meaningful review of the newest video game.

Strengths and weaknesses don’t manifest themselves simply in terms of whether a certain project is easy or hard for you to complete at a high level of proficiency. There are other factors, such as your willingness to work at honing a difficult passage, your satisfaction with your results, and – of course – how other people react to your output.

Most of us want to rely on our own judgments about our capabilities in various styles, genres, topic areas, purposes, audiences, and formats. Fine. Go ahead and make those personal assessments. But it’s helpful if you check your judgments against those of others, at least once in a while, to make sure you’re not just spinning fantasies about your abilities that won’t hold up in the world of impersonal market-based judgments.

2. Map

Consider both your strengths and weaknesses in terms of the kinds of material to which they relate. If you’re great at explaining actions in step-by-step fashion, that’ll be useful in writing “how to” articles and revealing what’s behind the scenes of complex current events. But it won’t be much help in writing dialog in a bodice-ripper.

On the other hand, if characters you imagine instantly come to life in your head and heart, then you’ll find it easier to tell intense personal stories that keep various audiences turning your pages. But you might not find it as easy to cover a news event or write a compelling press release.

By the same token, if you tend to lose track of where you’re going while writing procedural dramas, there’s little point in beating your head against the wall by trying to draft a spec script for “Law and Order.” Yet that deficiency says nothing about your ability to accomplish other writing objectives.

Take time to evaluate the talents, skills, and capabilities that normally go into creating any category of writing that interests you. Then carefully compare what you actually can do best against what you probably need to be able to do if you expect to excel in a specific kind of writing.

3. Execute

All this effort should result in a list of styles, genres, topic areas, purposes, audiences, and formats that feel very comfortable and interesting to you. These are the categories in which you will do best to concentrate not only your writing time, but your efforts to learn your craft.

Make it your top priority to work on the ones that best match the strengths and weaknesses you bring to the table. Those where you measure up less accurately you can relegate to a back burner or earmark for more concentration later, when you have more time or after you have grown as a writer.

If you’re like most of the writers I’ve known and mentored, you’ll find that the closer you stay to your wheelhouse, the easier and better your professional work will become.

 

Robert Moskowitz is an award-winning independent professional writer who has written and sold millions of words in just about every format over five decades. He instinctively sees the big pictures, breaks each one down into coherent slices, meaningfully prioritizes and sequences those slices, and then executes the tasks inherent in each slice in very productive ways. Put more simply, Robert knows how to succeed as an independent writer, covering all the bases from soliciting assignments to delivering polished work, from pricing jobs to budgeting and managing personal finances, from organizing a conducive office environment to establishing and following sensible guidelines regarding life, work, and productivity. Having done all this, and having paid attention to how he did it, Robert is now in a position to pass along what he knows to others.

Build an Audience with Substack

What keeps me excited about publishing after 10+ years?

One word: Technology.

Publishing is changing faster than most industries and I often refer to it as being in a ‘hyper’ state of change. Despite all this change, there are still two paths for an author to choose from to get their work in front of readers:

  • Door 1: Find an agent and land a publisher
  • Door 2: Self-publish

If an author is fortunate enough to convince an agent they have the talent, and that agent has the ear of the right publisher, they might get published.

For many of us, door 2 is the only option. If we don’t self-publish, our work will never be read. Either way, the path to getting published is rarely a straight line.

I want to share another option to getting your words in front of readers that is still largely untapped. By untapped, I mean it’s not yet over saturated which means you can be a bigger fish in a smaller pond.

Regardless of the door you choose, your success will largely depend on your ability to reach an audience. It’s why many authors don’t see success until much later in their career. Building an audience takes time!

What’s the new option? It’s called Substack. There’s no cost to the author and the company only makes money when you make money.

Substack offers a new way to build an audience. The technical requirements are about as minimal as they can make them. You don’t need a website. You don’t need an email list. You just need good writing and the discipline to post regularly and share your work. Once you do create your own domain on the site, add a link to your URL in your email footers.

I’d suggest you first check out some of the other authors on the home page and then start your own Substack newsletter. Here’s mine.

Grab your Substack subdomain before someone else does!

Why do I like Substack?

  • They put writers first.
  • They follow the KISS rule.
  • No advertisements!

Authorpreneur Brian Schwartz is the creator of the award-winning 50 Interviews series. More than 500 authors have trusted Brian and his team to publish their work. The mission of Brian’s practice is “to bridge the gap between self-publishers and traditional publishing by applying the proven strategies and techniques of successful independent publishers.” To meet this objective, Brian launched AuthorDock in 2016 to provide authors an all-in-one secure portfolio management tool to manage deadlines, extended teams, and critical resources. Brian is also the developer of PubWriter, a click-to-publish publishing platform used by authors to create their own web hubs for publishing, promotion, and sales.

Good vs. Bad Book? Don’t Judge

K.M. Weiland is an excellent resource for writers of all types. Her website Helping Writers Become Authors should be on everyone’s shortlist of helpful websites. Also, her books on writing are excellent and merge well with Agile Writer theory. But in a recent site article titled “Why Do So Many Bad Books Sell on Amazon?” she steps over the line from advice to judgment.

In the article, Marsh explains that Amazon has started promoting e-books that are newer—like only 30 days old. This has allowed “ghostwriters” to churn out new stories using a template from a previous book (replace princess with enchantress, replace castle with mansion, etc.). Thus, these writers are producing a book a month and getting (presumably) good sales.

Ms. Marsh argues that this promotes bad books. At Agile Writers, the definition of success is getting your book into the hands of readers who want them. If readers are buying these copycats, then they are probably satisfied. Otherwise, they’d return them (you can return e-books, you know). Therefore, these are not bad books. They are finding a home with people who crave the same plotlines with different characters and locations. The romance genre is rife with this sort of churning.

And that’s, okay.

It’s the responsibility of the author to work the system—to play the game—to get their work into the hands of readers who want to read it. Knowing how the game is played and then playing the game well does that.

Ms. Marsh goes on to lay out a plan to deliver good books (in her estimation) by splitting a novel into segments that are released every 30 days. This is a brilliant strategy the uses the Amazon system to the author’s benefit. There is no need to qualify good vs. bad.

The READER determines what is good or bad, not the author—and not the algorithms at Amazon nor the publishers in the ivory towers of the Big Four publishing houses.

I heartily recommend Ms. Marsh’s article because it lays out the information you’ll need to get your book in front of more readers’ eyes.

However, this should be only one arrow in your quiver of promotional tools. Remember – Amazon is a destination site. People go there because THEY KNOW WHAT THEY ARE LOOKING FOR. Impulse buys on Amazon are far less likely than in a brick-and-mortar store like Barnes & Noble or Books-A-Million. People go to bookstores, newsstands, drug stores, and others without knowing precisely what book they want – if any.

But because the self-published author doesn’t have the advantage of in-store sales, we have to rely on self-promotion. And by self-promotion I mean social media and search advertising.

Learn the rules of the game. Then play the game well. The definition of a good book is one that finds its reader. Make sure your book finds its home in the hands of the reader waiting for it.

 

Greg Smith is a writing coach, editor, and publisher. He founded the Agile Writer Workshop in 2011 with the mission of finding a method to help beginning writers complete a first draft in six months. The Agile Writer Method is based on the writings of experts in mythology, screenwriting, psychology, and project management. His seminars on the Agile Writer Method have informed and delighted thousands of writers, scholars, and university students. Agile Writer authors have written over 50 first draft novels and 10 published novels. Greg is a developmental editor for novelists and memoirists. He also coaches authors through the self-publishing maze. Greg runs the popular Agile Readers Book Club where new writers can get a beta read from a dozen or more readers.

About Getting Older

Inspired by a colleague’s request to write about birthdays, I came up with a few thoughts. Here I am in my 60s, and not quite sure what it means—but not worried about it.

Supposedly I’m old—but I don’t feel old. Of course, it helps that I seem to still be mentally intact and involved, can still look after myself, and continue to be able to do the work I love. I think it also helps that I have a marvelous network of long-time friends who keep me feeling young. I think that is because we keep our wacky childhood and high school memories so fresh by staying close and seeing, or at least communicating with, each other fairly often.

Even if I did feel old, why would that be a bad thing? I’ve survived more than just the passing of the years. I survived a wide range of crises over those years, and that’s something to be proud of. It’s why I don’t let myself be pressured into coloring my hair when I go to the salon for haircuts (well, other than a splash of purple!): I earned every gray or white hair and see no need to cover them up.

I know how I got here: born, raised, lived; still living. That’s a good thing. As my mom used to say whenever someone complained about the infelicities and challenges of increasing age, “Consider the alternative.”

Some aspects of all these birthdays are a nuisance—my knees and hips have started to creak a bit and make it difficult to get up from a chair or the bed, and to negotiate stairs, but . . . consider the alternative.

Getting older does mean dealing with loss. Both of my parents have died, and I miss them constantly, but . . . I had my dad in my life for more than 40 years and my mom for 60; that’s a lot longer than many friends can claim, and those were all wonderful, loving, supportive, fun years—also more and better than many people experience. And it’s natural for parents to go before their children. When life takes the opposite direction, it’s unimaginable.

My beloved husband, who was 12 years older than me, died last year and I miss him every moment of every day, but . . . we had 30 delightful years together, which is—again—more than many people get from their relationships and marriages. He was a tough guy (a retired steelworker; my man of steel!) who accepted the limits of aging with surprising grace; rather than complain (“Consider the alternative!”) or give up. He focused on what he still could do. His attitude toward birthdays, aging, and increasing fragility was admirable: “I can’t do what I used to, but I’ll find a way to do as much as possible. If I can’t walk on my own, I’ll use a walker so I can still get around and go places. If I can’t carry all my cameras, lenses, and gear, I’ll switch to digital. If I have health issues, I’ll reconfigure my favorite recipes so I can still enjoy some of the things I love to eat. . . .”

Being “old” has its advantages. I qualify for Medicare, so I save a bundle on medical insurance, and can start getting my Social Security benefits whenever I’m ready to stop working (if that ever happens; I do find retirement hard to envision, but that’s because I enjoy what I do, and not—mainly thanks to my financial genius of a mom—because I have to keep working). And I get a kick out of senior discounts, even though I don’t see myself as “senior.” My recollection, although my brothers disagree, is that my dad loved using his 60-plus discounts; he said he deserved them, and I concur.

I see every birthday as a type of new year, so I have more than January 1 as a moment to reflect, refresh, and sometimes revamp. A birthday is an opportunity to celebrate still being here and to think about what new things I might do to stay as sharp, engaged, and active as possible, both physically and mentally; socially and professionally; intellectually and maybe even emotionally. This year, I decided that my birthday presents to myself would to be more creative and expand my interests beyond activities related to my work life. I’ve started playing around with painting and glasswork—neither of which I do very well (yet), but who knows where these might go!—and am looking into going back to a long-ago hobby of ceramics.

These projects are birthday gifts to myself that I think will take me into increasing age with increasing creativity and continuing mental and physical agility, a sense of joy and achievement, and appreciation for survival on many levels. They are my ways of fulfilling the concept of “I’m not (just) getting older; I’m getting better.” I am trying to embrace getting older and having more birthdays. After all, “consider the alternative.”

Here’s to happy birthdays for all of us, and graceful, grateful perspectives on getting older!

 

Ruth Thaler-Carter has been a full-time freelance writer, editor, proofreader, and desktop publisher for more than 30 years. She has been published locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally in, and does editing and proofreading for, publications, websites, service firms, and businesses. She sold her first freelance articles when she was still in high school. Renowned as a skilled networker, Ruth is a newsletter editor, publication author, speaker/presenter, blogger, program host or planner, and chapter leader. In 2006, Ruth launched the Communication Central “Be a Better Freelancer”® annual conference to help aspiring and established freelancers find greater success and connections with colleagues. Ruth received the Philip M. Stern Award of Washington (DC) Independent Writers for service to freelancers; the Writers and Books Big Pencil Award for teaching adults and contributions to the literary community; EFfie awards for writing, editing, and newsletters; and the APEX award for feature writing. Ruth was also the IABC/DC Communicator of the Year.

 

Crafting a Knockout Headline

Journalists used to be the only ones who had to write headlines. Now business owners are their own bloggers, reporters, and social media managers. Copywriters are crafting webpage headlines, subheadlines, and even email subject lines. It seems like everyone who is either a writer or in the business marketing field needs to know how to write a good headline of some sort . . . even if it’s not a traditional news headline.

I cultivated some experience in headline writing when I was a copy editor for Gannett. I thought I would only be editing stories, but it turned out half my job was creating headlines–and doing it so they’d fit in tight spaces. You learn a lot of really short words when you’re short on space. (Who knew back then that I’d be doing the same thing on Twitter 10 years later, strategizing on which words to cram in headline advertising articles I’d written for other news publications?)

Looking to pen an attention-getting headline that lures readers in and sums up what an article has to say? Here are a few tips.

Determine what word must go in. In news, it’s imperative to have certain words from your story in the headline. If I am writing an article for a health publication about a new cancer drug, I definitely want to get “cancer” in there, if not “new” and “drug” too. In more evergreen content, I may be able to add more phrases, but I still want to know which words must go in. What individual words do you think have to go in the headline so your reader gets the gist of the article? Do you need action words to make the reader take action? Keep this in mind as you identify those “must-add” words.

Know your audience and the medium. Space doesn’t matter as much if you’re on LinkedIn, but it can if you’re working in a print publication or say, for an email newsletter article. Again, if you’re writing for a newspaper, you want to get a few certain key words in the headline so the reader has an idea of what the story is about. Also, you may want a more lax, attention-grabbing headline if the headline is not for a news outlet and is instead a social media post promoting a headline. In news, it’s more of sticking to a few words that sum up the article instead of getting a reader to click on it, though you likely want them to read on for more information. News readers want to be able to skim a headline and get the gist of the development. On the flip side, in copywriting, a headline can give a summary but also be used to engage the reader to take action or read the entire article. Look at past articles or content to get a feel for the tone.

When I’m writing about that cancer drug in news, my headline may be “New Cancer Drug Extends Life,” while an email or social media headline may be “The Cancer Drug That Could Help You Live Longer.” Big difference!

Add action. Depending on where your headline will appear, it’s important to add action. News readers want to know what the news is, while an email subject line (it kind of counts as a headline) will want to drive the user to open the message and convey what they’ll get if they do.

Think phrasing. I love what this article has to say about the phrases we can choose, as certain ones can be more effective for different mediums. Keep in mind that “will make you” and “this is why” may work awesome in an email subject line–but not so great for a news headline. If you’ve got more room, flexibility or the ability to add in a subhead, that’s where a good phrase can come in handy. Otherwise, I stick to identifying the must-feature words and building a headline around those words.

 

Kristen Fischer is a copywriter and journalist living at the Jersey Shore. She worked as a reporter and copyeditor for Gannett before launching her full-time freelance business in 2005. Her work has been published in ParentsNew Jersey MonthlyPreventionWoman’s DaySheKnows, and Healthline.

Kids, Summer, and Writing

It’s summertime and the livin’ is easy, but some of our kids might want to make use of the vacation months to do some writing. While summer is traditionally a time when many kids are encouraged to read a lot, writing is also something they might enjoy doing for fun and as a way to fill the dog days of the season.

I’ve never forgotten the first publications I created, back in my high school days: a literary magazine I put together with friends after being turned down for the official school version, and a “yearbook” for a summer leadership program I was in one summer. I still have copies of both (and I still remember the smell of the ink from the A.B. Dick mimeograph machine). Today’s kids are probably a lot more sophisticated than I was when it comes to producing versions of their own writing; you might be pleasantly surprised at both the content and the look of what they come up with.

In many communities, finding writing opportunities for kids might be easier than you think. In my hometown of Rochester, New York, the Writers and Books literary center has a Summer Write program for youngsters. I’m sure many other communities have similar programs, so if your kids want to write the summer away, a first step would be to look for a local or regional writers’ or literary center to see if it hosts anything along these lines.

If that doesn’t work, look into your area high school continuing education programs; library system; bookstores—both chain and independent—and book clubs; museums—especially children’s museums—and art galleries; newspapers (there’s a national Newspapers in the Classroom program that might work with you on this kind of project); colleges and universities; or various not-for-profit organizations—the local YMCA/YWCA, JCC, etc.

And of course, if your town doesn’t have such resources, consider being the innovator and starting a kids’ summer writing project yourself. It can be as small as you and your own children; it could be a neighborhood project; it could even become city-wide. And your successful summer program could become a year-round activity.

If you do get involved in such a project, be prepared to help kids come up with ideas to write about. Encourage them to be creative with fiction, poetry, graphic novels, even playwriting! Put the focus on writing not how it is written, especially if they’re very young. Ask them to share what they write, but be prepared for some children to be shy about showing their work. Also be mindful just in case anything evolves that suggests someone needs help with challenges such as bullying or abuse.

It’s never too soon to encourage children to express themselves in writing.

 

Ruth Thaler-Carter has been a full-time freelance writer, editor, proofreader, and desktop publisher for more than 30 years. She has been published locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally in, and does editing and proofreading for, publications, websites, service firms, and businesses. She sold her first freelance articles when she was still in high school. Renowned as a skilled networker, Ruth is a newsletter editor, publication author, speaker/presenter, blogger, program host or planner, and chapter leader. In 2006, Ruth launched the Communication Central “Be a Better Freelancer”® annual conference to help aspiring and established freelancers find greater success and connections with colleagues. Ruth received the Philip M. Stern Award of Washington (DC) Independent Writers for service to freelancers; the Writers and Books Big Pencil Award for teaching adults and contributions to the literary community; EFfie awards for writing, editing, and newsletters; and the APEX award for feature writing. Ruth was also the IABC/DC Communicator of the Year.

 

What Is Ghostwriting?

A lot of people think ghostwriting means conducting research, writing blogs/papers/books, and putting someone else’s name on the work.

Yes, some people do that. We call it old-school ghostwriting, the kind that fell out of favor with a resounding thud in the early 2000s as far as medical-journal articles and scholarly books were concerned. Quite a few blog and business ghosts still operate that way. So do some journalists and freelance writers who “troll for dollars,” as one of my students used to say, to cover their rent. We’ve all been there, haven’t we? Writing may not be as lonely as it was once portrayed, but it’s still one of the more poorly paid artistic endeavors.

Others believe ghostwriting is about using an author’s ideas to create a book in the writer’s own polished voice and style. They expect “with” or “and” or “as told to” bylines, secondary copyright credit, and 50% or more of the book’s earnings. Even less, if they’re insecure about their abilities or the author captures the one-up position at the get-go. More if they’re the one who captures that one-up position at the beginning of the relationship. Beginnings are important.

Legally and literarily, though, those writers are perceived by industry insiders as co-authors or collaborators rather than ghostwriters. As emotionally, psychologically, intellectually, and financially invested in the project as the author, they have a heck of a time maintaining a sense of objectivity—and typically have to jockey for authority throughout the project.

That’s not ghostwriting. Those types of collaborations, in fact, often result in dashed dreams, broken friendships, and estranged colleagues . . . but happy attorneys.

Ghostwriting is much cleaner. You may not realize it, but ghostwriting has been around since the beginning of the written word. It’s a fairly modern conceit that authors toiled over their works of art alone, shut up with nothing but their imagination, a sheaf of paper, and a fountain pen. The truth is that throughout most of human existence, the person with the ideas was not necessarily—in fact, seldom—the one who transferred those ideas onto a sustainable medium.

Think about it: just about every religion holds that their scripture was handed down or inspired by God, but logic dictates that a human hand etched those inspired words onto clay, stone, wood, or papyrus. Otherwise, they would all not only pretty much say the same thing (which they do) but they’d be worded the same way (which they’re not).

And it’s been the same for leaders, politicians, and people of rank and importance ever since. The person with the ideas dictates their thoughts to someone who preserves them in written form.

That might make you think ghostwriting is just an advanced form of editing. Sure, ghostwriters edit, but not until the tail-end of the seven-step nonfiction or eight-step fiction process.

So, what is ghostwriting as we approach the third decade of the 21st century?

A conduit.

Today’s professional ghostwriting comprises everything traditional publishers used to do for all their signed writers and still do for their big-ticket authors: Structure, focus, and market positioning. Content alignment with reader expectation and supply-chain requirements. Tight, musical editing. Author preparation for strategic promotion and greatest ROI on all levels of investment.

But writers have no end of great ideas that traditional houses cannot invest in because publishing, after all, is a risk-management business.

Ghostwriting not only means making literary dreams come true, it means transforming first drafts (“my baby!”) into publishable manuscripts. Ghostwriting is about elevating good ideas and great books into marketable literary properties.

That’s what ghostwriting is.

 

Claudia Suzanne is a consummate ghostwriter/teacher, understanding what authors need in order to successfully complete their book dream, and she has a finely honed talent for communicating what she knows to her students and clients. Popularly dubbed “The Einstein of Ghostwriting,” Claudia has entertained and informed tens of thousands of writers, editors, journalists, and aspiring authors at countless writer and professional meetings, conferences, radio and BlogTalk radio broadcasts, webinars, and podcasts. Claudia was an invited expert on Penguin’s Author Solutions Expert Video series and a featured entrepreneur in Orange County Business Journal and Norwegian Business Daily. Her signature title, This Business of Books: A Complete Overview of the Industry from Concept through Sales, earned her a 2018 Author of Influence Award from Connected Women of Influence.

 

Some Issues with Contracts

The better a professional writer you become, the bigger and more important will be the contracts people ask you to sign.

But tempting as those financial figures may be (with all those zeroes to the left of the decimal point), you’ll be foolish to sign without applying a little professional savvy to your contract evaluation process.

Here are some fundamental tips to guide you in contract evaluation:

  1. “Sign This”

My most important contract advice derives from my very first book deal: I remember sitting in the publisher’s office and chatting amiably about how great was my book concept and how much money we were going to make.

Eventually, the conversation wound down and the publisher looked me square in the eyes. He reached into a desk drawer and pulled out a sheaf of papers. “This is our standard contract,” he said with a warm, friendly smile. “Sign it.”

Instead, I started looking through the pages. Here was something I didn’t like. There was another questionable arrangement. After a few minutes of flipping pages and deconstructing legalese, I looked up and said: “There are some things in this contract I don’t like.”

Without missing a beat, the publisher reached into a different drawer of his desk and said with no trace of embarrassment: “This is our other standard contract. Sign this one.”

  1. Watch Out for Claims

This warning may be just as important as the previous item: Most contracts for professional writing come with conventional language warning the writer not to plagiarize, infringe on any rights, defame, or violate any one of a great many laws governing creative work. They follow these injunctions with language in which you agree to indemnify and hold harmless (basically “reimburse”) the publisher for any liabilities arising from your breach of any of those laws and injunctions. So far, so good.

But the lawyers like to sneak another word in here that threatens your entire economic wellbeing. I’m talking about the word “claims”. Basically, most contracts require that you reimburse the publisher for payments made in response to claims that you breached one or more of those laws and injunctions.

Do you see the danger here?

Once you sign such a contract, anyone can make a claim that you violated certain rights, plagiarized, defamed, or did any of a number of bad things, and the publisher doesn’t have to be concerned about whether or not you actually did it. Under the contract, the publisher can simply pay the claimant to go away – and make this payment entirely with your money!

This actually happened to me, once, and I learned my lesson. I have never since signed a contract making me liable to pay for unsupported claims. Instead, I insist on language to the effect that I must reimburse the publisher only for claims “proven in a court of competent jurisdiction.”

Such language is no problem for me because I never plagiarize, defame, or do any of those other bad things.

Once or twice a publisher has been too bureaucratic or hidebound to accept my request for this new language, and so I wasn’t able to make those deals. But I have no regrets; the danger is too large and too real to put myself on the hook for that kind of scam, no matter how lucrative the contract might appear to be.

  1. Obligations of the publisher

Contracts generally bind all parties to both rights and obligations. When looking them over, it’s easy and natural – and sensible – to devote most of your attention to your rights and your obligations. But it’s more professional to take a few minutes to consider the publisher’s rights and obligations, too.

For example, I once negotiated a book contract that gave me a wonderful share of revenues from the hardcover version, and less revenue from the paperback version. I signed it. But I didn’t realize until later that the contract did not obligate the publisher to bring out that hardcover edition. Years later, I’m still waiting to see that book in hardcover.

I have to admit I’ve made this kind of mistake twice, not just once. But you can bet your bottom dollar I won’t be making it a third time.

  1. Play “What If”

Contracts tend to be written by people who are seemingly paid by the word. They rarely use one word when ten will do. As a result, contract language often gets very confusing and the whole point of what’s required can get lost.

That’s why it’s useful to play “what if” to an extreme, just to see what results from the language of the contract you’re preparing to sign.

Try some of these “what if” ideas, and any more that may appeal to you. What if:

  • The publisher goes out of business
  • The work sells millions of copies
  • The work sells almost no copies
  • You can’t complete the work on time
  • The publisher never publishes the work
  • Someone plagiarizes your work
  • Someone claims you plagiarized their work

The more extreme and wide-ranging the “what if” scenarios you test, the more clarity you’re likely to get regarding the contract.

  1. NDA Hijinks

Non-disclosure agreements are increasingly common not only in contracts, but in stand-alone form that someone wants you to sign before you can even begin to learn about a project in which you might want to participate.

But the language here can get very tricky. One potential client asked me to sign a non-disclosure agreement that was so strict I discovered – by playing “what if” – that if I signed it I would be forbidden from revealing my own name!

Maybe these kinds of provisions wouldn’t hold up in court, but it’s easier, cheaper, and more practical not to sign such a sketchy contract in the first place.

Robert Moskowitz is an award-winning independent professional writer who has written and sold millions of words in just about every format over five decades. He instinctively sees the big pictures, breaks each one down into coherent slices, meaningfully prioritizes and sequences those slices, and then executes the tasks inherent in each slice in very productive ways. Put more simply, Robert knows how to succeed as an independent writer, covering all the bases from soliciting assignments to delivering polished work, from pricing jobs to budgeting and managing personal finances, from organizing a conducive office environment to establishing and following sensible guidelines regarding life, work, and productivity. Having done all this, and having paid attention to how he did it, Robert is now in a position to pass along what he knows to others.

The Rules of the Game

For all the glib chatter one encounters about the “rules” of English grammar and usage, many people misunderstand what the rules are and how they work, and others prate about rules that aren’t rules at all.

English grammar and usage are crowdsourced; they are what we English speakers and writers collectively make them over time. They have not been handed down by some celestial Authority, and they are not logical.

I’ll quote H.L. Mencken from The American Language: “The error of . . . viewers with alarm is in assuming that there is enough magic in pedagogy to teach ‘correct’ English to the plain people. There is, in fact, too little; even the fearsome abracadabra of Teachers College, Columbia, will never suffice for the purpose. The plain people will always make their own language, and the best that grammarians can do is to follow after it, haltingly, and often without much insight. Their lives would be more comfortable if they ceased to repine over it, and instead gave it some hard study. It is very amusing, and not a little instructive.”

To establish more clearly what is a rule and what is not, I have assembled these categories.

Dark grammar: Unless you are learning English as a second language as an adult, there is a whole network of subterranean rules of grammar that most native speakers never think about. You didn’t need a class to teach you that the typical English word order is subject–verb–object; you picked it up when you were a toddler. The same with the order of adjectives. You would never say, “I love that European old antique big bookcase,” but “I love that big old European antique bookcase.”

Explicit rules: There are many of them, particularly in formal English, but they are often complex, with many exceptions and variations. Try to explain subject–verb agreement to a non-native speaker, making clear how “Ham and eggs are my favorite breakfast combination” and “Ham and eggs does not constitute a healthy breakfast” are both grammatically acceptable.

Conventions: Writers in the eighteenth century regularly inserted a comma between the subject and verb in a sentence. We don’t any longer. English orthography is a swamp of maddening conventions. And they, too, are subject to change; we no longer write to-day and to-morrow.

Superstitions: The things Arnold Zwicky calls “zombie rules”—no prepositions at the end of sentences, no split infinitives, none always a singular—have been exploded and rejected, not only by the descriptivist tribe, but by a multitude of prescriptivists. And yet, given a ghastly immortality by generations of defective schoolroom pedagogy, they persist against all reason and explanation.

Shibboleths: There are many usages that are not wrong but which people seeking advantage over their fellows preen themselves on avoiding. Ain’t, I suppose, is the classic example, hopefully a comparatively recent addition—though the peevers maintain a vast and ever-increasing store. Innocuous in themselves, these words and usages serve mainly to mark the people we like to feel superior to. (Terminal preposition there. See previous category.)

House style: These are the narrow conventions that individual publications or publishing houses insist on. They are very specific for legal, medical, scientific, and technical publications. And, of course, there are sad souls on copy desks who think that the Associated Press Stylebook belongs on the shelf with the statutes of Hammurabi and Justinian. They all present arbitrary choices and conventions. Follow them when appropriate, but stop short of idolatry.

Individual aesthetic preferences: Everyone has them, and tinpot authorities—managing editors, self-appointed Guardians of the Language, that ilk—love to impose them on the weak and unwary. You are entitled to your own preferences. What you are not entitled to do is to enforce them on others.

 

John Early McIntyre has been a professional editor for nearly 40 years, more than 31 of them at The Baltimore Sun, where he has headed the copy desk. John earned an undergraduate degree in English from Michigan State University, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and a master’s degree in English from Syracuse University, where he was a university fellow. John has taught copyediting at Loyola University Maryland since 1995. A charter member of the ACES: The Society for Editing, he served two terms as its president. John has presented workshops on writing and editing at conferences and publications in the United States and Canada.