Writing Your Book: A Ghostwriter’s Perspective

In the beginning, there was the business card.

Then the e-mail address.

Next, the website.

Today, as a businessperson, if you are not an author, you lack a certain credibility.

Authoring a book has become the must-have for big media placements, speaking opportunities, and bigger clients (not to mention your chance for grabbing that elusive brass ring, a bestseller. Hey! You just never know!).

A few short years back, I was running my midtown PR firm, Katz Creative, and going through a period of angst. Every client—even the ones I had just put on “Today” or “Oprah” or who had just been written up in The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal—was asking, “What have you done for me lately?” At the same time, my staff was making it impossible for me ever to watch another soap opera. Someone in my business life had an existential crisis every day, and now I was having mine!

What could I do from home, with little or no staff, and still be paid well enough that I would not have to give up my extravagant lifestyle? In one Aha! moment, the answer came to me: I didn’t know much about ghostwriting, but my thought was, “Hey! I can do that!” And not only could I ghostwrite books, I decided, I could also set up my own publishing imprint and publish the entrepreneurial books I would collaborate on. And there was yet another dimension I could offer: I could charge my authors extra to help market their books!

Voila! A fantastic new business was about to be born!

I made the mistake of calling my first company, Your Life as a Book, and a big story on me appeared in The New York Times (I do know how to get tasty PR, remember?). I was immediately and literally inundated with offers for writing “sure-to-be-best selling” books for hundreds of people, which, had I accepted even half of them, would have resulted in my living in a refrigerator box in Manhattan instead of a luxury high rise.

Later, another story came out about me, and again, all the wrong people were giving me the opportunity to write their books. They quickly changed their minds when they heard they would actually have to pay me for the privilege.

I left the clamoring masses to tell their own stories and harangued a couple of clients until they agreed they could indeed use a book. I printed 7,500 copies of the first book I ghostwrote, and then we mailed 5,000 of them to the firm’s targeted audience of CEOs. The book was accompanied by a short, powerful cover letter. Next thing you know, this firm’s business tripled almost overnight! And the positive results continue to resonate even now, years later. Enthusiastic recommendations followed, and my ghostwriting business was securely on track.

Of course, “Be careful what you wish for.” I was then working harder than ever, and since all writing is rewriting, I soon had to find other ghostwriters to help me. Nonetheless, I loved helping people become authors. I set up New Voices Press, educated myself about ISBNs and pricing, and put together a team of talented, reliable book cover and interior layout designers. I also found creative, effective ways to get celebrity and VIP blurbs as testimonials (I promise I’ll talk about that in another article.)

The takeaway from my experience, I think, is that there’s a big business in ghostwriting out there—more than enough, in fact, for everyone who writes well and wants to do this kind of work. The greatest opportunity, I believe, lies in the middle reaches—not with luminaries like the Clintons, where they and their publishers make multimillion-dollar payouts to scribes—but with the CEOs of small-to-mid-sized companies. This ambitious, street smart type of entrepreneur wants more brand awareness, wants to position him or herself as an expert, and knows that in today’s noisy, fast-paced world, authoring a good (ideally small) book on their special business topic is the shortest route to get from point A to point B.

On a personal level, the most memorable lesson I learned is this: If you have talent and skills you’ve developed over time, and you want to use them to realign your life with your new objectives, you can. I did.

So the one thing I can tell you for sure is this—It Can Be Done!