The year was 1986, and Barbara Feinman Todd was a writer in disguise. Her mission? To crash a party— the 45th wedding anniversary of the director of the CIA, being held at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C. No press was allowed, but it was her job to find out who the guests were.
Clad in a black velvet cocktail dress and armed with a notebook hidden inside her clutch, the 26-year-old slipped past the Secret Service agents. Once in the party, she scurried back and forth from ballroom to bathroom, where she wrote down the names of the Washington insiders in attendance—including Henry Kissinger and the U.S. Attorney General.
Feinman Todd’s party crashing was at the behest of her boss, investigative journalist Bob Woodward. He needed that guest list for Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA, 1981–1987, and Feinman Todd was his full-time researcher.
Feinman Todd describes that nerve-wracking night and the years that followed in her new memoir, published in February 2017. She didn’t know it then, but her collaboration with Woodward set her on the path to becoming one of Washington’s preeminent ghostwriters, crafting memoirs for the likes of Palestinian activist Hanan Ashrawi, one-time Republican presidential candidate Morry Taylor, and then-First Lady Hillary Clinton. The memoir’s title is what she would tell her subjects to put them at ease: Pretend I’m Not Here.
Dian Griesel, January 5, 2018
Judy Katz, age 77, is a prime example of a #SilverDisobedience. She is a Ghostwriter living in New York City who has written and promoted 42 books. She’s still at it through her company, J Katz Creative. An animal advocate, she shares her spacious apartment with Sophie and Gretchen, two Chihuahuas. Besides trying to help get carriage horses out of Manhattan, Judy is an activist seeking to help get the older people out of prison and back into their communities. Judy belongs to Mensa, the Authors Guild, and several women’s networking groups. She writes a blog for the Huffington Post and The Three Tomatoes newsletter about mid-life dating. She’s currently single, is fun to be with and vows to never “act her age.”
I was so excited to have the opportunity interview the inspiring Judy Katz recently. Judy agreed to share with our readers how she got into the ghostwriting business, a few of her secrets to success and tips for how our readers can do something similar. I know you’ll enjoy this interview. Need ghostwriting services for your business? Judy and her team of professionals are available.
RRM: Judy, you work as a full-time ghost writer and PR rep. Tell us a little about your business, Katz Creative…
Judy: I had been doing public relations exclusively and built it up to a 12-person midtown firm. But dealing with staff personnel “dramas” and all the minutia of being “the boss” kept me from my real love…writing. So, I transitioned to a home office. I immediately cut out the commute and my luxurious 2000 sq. foot high rise was no longer empty by day. I loved being able to work all hours of the day and night, using my core strength–my writing skills, and especially ghostwriting books for others, then extending that to publishing the book through a small publishing arm I created, and then, yes back to PR, for my authors only.
RRM: How did you find the courage to walk away from a lucrative career and begin your own freelance career? I know fear holds many people back who would love to own their own business.
Judy: I had a small nest egg as a cushion, which gave me the few months I needed to find would be authors as book clients. Plus I had a greater fear, which was never daring to live my dream.
RRM: You’ve been ghostwriting for about 7 years. How long did it take you to get your business going to a level where you were making a living wage?
Judy: It was pretty fast. It’s actually too long a story for here, but basically I got a story out on the wire services about my transition, and people contacted me from all over. None of them wanted to pay, however…they all basically thought I should write their book, get them a big advance, get them on Oprah, and they would then share the largesse. So, I convinced a PR client she needed a book, that book has done remarkably well for her as a huge marketing tool for her Wall Street firm, word of mouth buzz began, and the rest is history, as they say.
RRM: You can refuse to answer this question, because it’s rather rude, but would you care to share a ballpark figure of how much you make, so readers know the possibilities?
Judy: On my best year, $500,000, on my worst $250,000. Usually somewhere in between. But, keep in mind these are gross not net. I now have a few people on staff…yes, can’t always stay a solopreneur even if you want to. One can’t do it all, especially since social media has become a large part of promoting books, and it’s very focused, intense, hands-on work that I can’t do myself if I want to keep writing books.
RRM: Why did you decide to mesh the PR with the ghostwriting?
Judy: There are other ghostwriters. We at Katz Creative (www.ghostbooksters.com) are unique in that we can write your book, design and publish it, and then…voila!…promote it! So I have to have that element. But someone else can form a strategic alliance with, for example, a home-based PR firm.
RRM: Do you still have to seek new clients or is most of your new work by word-of-mouth these days?
Judy: I network a lot and I think it’s important to keep doing that. I also give talks to any group that wants me on what it takes today to birth a book. But yes, these days most of my projects come in from my authors.
RRM: How many hours a week do you write?
Judy: Oh please…it’s all I do. I can’t count the hours. I work 7 days a week because I take on too much. Greed versus need, or the other way around? Not sure, but I fall in love with the client’s stories, for sure and want to help them become authors. It’s my passion, which is also my downfall. I will have an actual life again someday. Right now this one feels right.
RRM: How do you stay organized with all the different clients and meet various deadlines?
Judy: I don’t always. I am in trouble with one author and am playing catchup. As I said, too many plates spinning at same time. My bad. I caution others to not do as I do. Limit yourself if you can. Part of the challenge is, no one pays you quite enough to just do his or her book exclusively.
RRM: What about writing your own projects? Do you have any energy left for that?
Judy: I have energy to spare, but frankly no interest in writing my own book or books right now.
RRM: You’ve kept a thriving business in this tough economy. How have you managed that when so many businesses are failing?
Judy: Who knows what tomorrow will bring. Right now people need books to give them that competitive edge in their various industries, or have the time and some resources to tell their stories, for which they need my help. I have been very, very fortunate, for sure.
RRM: Anything else you’d like to add?
Judy: Sure…I extend an invitation to any of your audience who want to speak with me