The ghostwriter's nightmare scenario

The ghostwriter's nightmare scenario

Ghostwriter characters don't make it into fiction very often, but when they do they always seem to find themselves in jeopardy. 

In the 2010 Roman Polanski film The Ghost Writer, Ewan McGregor plays a ghostwriter working for a former British prime minister. In the end he knows too much and ... it doesn't end well. 

In the Netflix series House of Cards, Paul Sparks plays ghostwriter Thomas Yates who, after struggling to extract a decent memoir out of the president, fails to keep his professional distance, you might say. It takes a while – three seasons in fact – but it doesn't end well for him either.

And now we have Australian writer Richard Flanagan's latest novel, First Person, in which the narrator is a ghostwriter hired to author the memoir of a notorious conman. The story was inspired by Flanagan's own experience, very early in his career, of ghostwriting the autobiography of fraudster John Friedrich in 1991.

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The joy of a good yarn

The joy of a good yarn

I love that my work as a ghostwriter gives me the opportunity to help people get their stories told. What I love even more is the fact that working on other people's stories gives me a front-row seat to those yarns.

Take Around the Grounds, for instance – a book that will be released by Finch Publishing on August 1. 

For this book I've been working with former ABC radio broadcaster Peter Newlinds. Peter's story is a celebration of sport, but from the spectator's side of the fence. This perspective gives the story a level of accessibility that most sporting memoirs, written as they are by former players, can't have. Few of us have the ability to play elite sport, but all of us are more than capable of joining in from the relative safety of the stands.

Of course we don't all have access to the commentary box as Peter did…

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The art of compartmentalising (or how I finished four books in a year)

The art of compartmentalising (or how I finished four books in a year)

During the last year I've helped four separate books come to life: a business book and three memoirs. My involvement in these has varied from drafting and re-drafting all 80,000 words to heavy editing and rewriting. In three cases I've assisted with self-publishing while the other book will be trade published next month (more on that next time).

While I've thoroughly enjoyed working on each of these books, the challenge has been that I needed to work on all four at once. They were all at different stages at different times, but none of them could be left completely alone for very long. In addition the books were all quite different from one another in terms of their content, style and tone.

Moving between them without losing too much concentration was not always easy. The secret to my success, I believe, was that over the years I've become quite adept at compartmentalisation of my time and focus.

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Want to get your book written? Put down your phone.

Want to get your book written? Put down your phone.

As I sit on the tram heading into central Melbourne, I lift my head from my phone and look around me. Sure enough, everyone else is staring at their phone as well. It's what we do in 2017. Hard to believe that just 10 years ago we didn't have these things to stare at isn't it? What did we do with ourselves in the pre-iPhone era?

Our phones give us 'something to do' from the moment we wake until the moment we turn out the light – and even beyond that. We can fill every spare minute of our day, whether waiting in line, waiting for a coffee or waiting for a partner outside the change room. Even walking the dog has become time to be filled by checking email, social media and news updates.

Does this matter? Isn't it just the modern way? 

Well, yes, it does, according to psychologists. Especially if you're trying to do something creative such as write a book.

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The art of sorting information for your book

The art of sorting information for your book

I'm currently working on the early stages of two separate ghostwriting projects. In both cases I'm starting with good quantities of raw material. In one case I have transcripts from interviews amounting to about 80,000 words, about three times the target length of the final book. In the other case I have an early draft to work with plus some new material – and a few gaps to fill.

My job now, in both cases, is to sort out the existing raw material and start to give it some shape. From there I'll be able to create initial rough outlines, which will help with refining the material (in the first case) and identifying gaps (in the second).

The sorting step is a point where many inexperienced book writers can get bogged down. The task often seems insurmountable, especially when you have a lot of material, some of which is written down and some of which is still in your head.

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The economics of self-publishing a book

The economics of self-publishing a book

In my last blog post I explored the myth that writing and publishing a book is guaranteed to make you rich. A couple of posts before that I wrote about how self-publishing a paper book is easier, and less expensive than ever.

This time I thought it might be worthwhile bringing these two posts together and doing some number crunching. What do the economics of self-publishing look like in Australia in 2017? A warning: what follows may be a bit dry (unless you're an accountant and into such things).

To make these numbers real, I'm going to focus on a typical example. We're going to publish a 200-page non-fiction paperback book of about 30,000 words.

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Plan to get rich from your book? Read this first

Plan to get rich from your book? Read this first

Recently a couple of people I've known for a short time learnt that I am a 'published author'. Immediately I felt a glow about me as my reputation in their eyes went up a couple of notches.

The aura didn't last long. Unfortunately I knew the truth: that my newfound esteem was misplaced. My new friends had fallen for the Great Author Myth.

There's always been a strange glamour associated with being an author, particularly a published author, i.e. a writer who a so-called 'trade' publisher has recognised as being worthy. It's this glamour that gives a book its power to bestow immediate credibility on its creator – something that also applies to a well-prepared self-published book. It also generates, in the minds of many, the notion that publishing a book is a good way to make money.

Here lies the myth, on both counts.

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Is your book already written ... you just don't realise it?

Is your book already written ... you just don't realise it?

Raise the topic of writing a book and most people will look at you aghast. The very idea of writing a book conjures visions of a gargantuan task, the literary equivalent of climbing Mt Everest (albeit without the need for supplementary oxygen). You may even be thinking along the same lines. Writers write books, and I'm not a writer.

A blog, on the other hand? No big deal. Tell people you're writing a blog and some will be impressed while others will secretly be wondering if you'll manage to get out more than three posts. 

Nevertheless, a blog seems more manageable than a book. A post once a fortnight, say. About 600 words. You don't need to be a writer to do that – just capable of writing a few coherent sentences.

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Self publishing a real book has never been easier

Self publishing a real book has never been easier

Last week I attended the launch of a book by one of my clients, only a month after we had tied up the manuscript. In the interim the material was prepared for publication (i.e. editing and design) then, after final adjustments to the typesetting and a good proofread, the files were sent to the printer. Three days later the books were delivered to her office on a Monday, ready for the Thursday launch. 

A couple of days after that, the print book was available for order literally all over the world, via several major online stores including Amazon US and UKBook Depository and Booktopia. The ebook version will soon be available from all the major vendors as well. 

This is the way of modern independent publishing. Very quick and remarkably inexpensive. To a large extent the future that was originally promised by print-on-demand has arrived.

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A better approach to capturing old memories

A better approach to capturing old memories

Over the recent holiday break we were chatting amongst the family about the need to capture the stories of our parents' generation while we still can. How often have I heard people speak with regret about never having done so, their parent's fantastic stories and valuable lessons going with them to the grave?

We were together as a family for a few days and dipped in and out of this conversation over that time. Quite a few stories came up too – stories of my parents' childhoods, the early years of their marriage and so on. Some I'd heard before but there were quite a few special ones that were new to me ... which isn't bad given I'm on the 'wrong' side of 50.

All of which got me thinking. The 'typical' approach to capturing a family history is not as good as it could be...

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