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The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines what it means to plagiarize:
"to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own: use (another’s production) without crediting the source,
to commit literary theft: present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source."
But what happens when you honestly do have an original (to you) idea that you didn't find online, or hear from another? Case in point, a five-year old fishing with his grandma (who didn't really know anything about fishing at all) noticed, astutely, that fish liked to congregate under rocks and in the weeds along the bank. No one told him that. He just noticed that was where he tended to catch the most fish. If he were to write about his experience, should he cite someone for that information? Was it an original thought he could claim as his own, even though thousands of fishing experts before him had written about it? Is that common knowledge or easily accessible fact? Maybe it's all of the above. See how slippery the slope gets?
To determine if something is common knowledge many universities [including the Writing Center at UNC https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/plagiarism/ ] use two criteria for student papers.
When I was a college freshman I wrote a paper on the comparisons between the "Rose of Sharon" in the Bible (Song of Solomon) and John Steinbeck's' Grapes of Wrath, and Rose of Sharon Joad - a character in the book. I was in college before computers (1974) and my comparisons were unique and a topic decidedly un-freshman like. The writing was excellent, far above par for a freshman, and the topic bizarre for an 18-year-old. So, my professor gave me an F on the paper, claiming I'd plagiarized it. I took it to the dean, horrified at the accusation. He happened to have been an expert on the subject - go figure, and after talking to me about the concepts in the paper, he pronounced it entirely original thought and an A paper. I got my A, got a B in the class, and moved on, angry at the professor forever for having doubted me. I've made it a point to cite references ever since, and still find that the rules aren't etched in concrete and opinions about what to cite often change from editor to editor.
In order to avoid plagiarising the work of other people you should cite or reference anything that is not common knowledge or based on an easily accessible fact. If in doubt, cite it and let your teacher, ghostwriter, editor, or publisher sort it out. Better to overcite, than under cite. That brings me to the reason for this post. Plagiarism a much larger problem than just a few sentences or paragraphs:
Plagiarism of Entire Books:
Over the past year I've noticed a disturbing trend with new authors. They come to me with a "book" and ask for several extra chapters to be written, or rewritten in order to complete it. I assume they have created the content they're giving me. I've been wrong, several times now — usually after running the content through a plagiarism checker [Turnitin.com, Grammarly, or https://www.duplichecker.com/ So, I just instituted a new policy, I must run everything a new client calls their content through a plagiarism checker before quoting them a price on their job. Why? Because three clients over the past year or so have plagiarized entire books. Was it deliberate? I don't know. I find it hard to believe that they were entirely clueless, as much as they protest they were unaware of what they were doing.
What they were doing was failing to tell me when they hired me is that their "book" was not really their book (as in their original thoughts), but that it was a collection of copied and pasted information they found on the Internet. In these books they have generally failed to cite anything or point to references for what they are talking about. They just found something they liked, and copied and pasted it into a document to create their "book." Or they hired third world, English as a second or third language writers to create a report (which was also mostly plagiarised from English websites) and used that.
Some people honestly don't understand what plagiarism is. Some don't care. Some don't realize it's a serious problem. I've experienced the whole topic of, "what is plagiarism and what is not," to be difficult even for "experts" - such as editors, ghostwriters, and publishers. As Corina Koch MacLeod and Carla Douglas wrote in an 2015 article on BookDesigners.com, "Plagiarism. You know it when you see it, but it’s as slippery as a Canadian sidewalk in winter when you try to define or explain it."
The lines between what is "common knowledge," or "easily accessible facts," as in information or facts most people know, like "bears hibernate" or Tennessee is one of the 50 states in the United States, versus information that needs to be cited, like "Chevy Trucks are better than Dodge Ram trucks" can be difficult to determine.
For instance, is the fact that "vinegar can kill 99.9% of germs" common knowledge, easily accessible fact, or is it something that should be cited? If you're a woman (not to be sexist here), that's pretty much common knowledge. I don't know many men who clean, so it's not such a common fact with them. In fact, a male editor for a housekeeping magazine (whom I would have assumed would be familiar with vinegar's cleaning properties, told me vinegar's natural germ killing properties were not common knowledge. He was upset and said that statement should have been cited. Really? So you can see the dilemma even professional writers have with what is plagiarism and what isn't. Apparently, even with the excess of information and easy access to information on the Internet today, the bar for common knowledge is what a five-year-old would be aware of — as in "fish swim in water," or "cats purr." Better to be too conscientious than not.
If the person writing the paper/book etc. is an expert in their field and they are writing about a topic like, oh let's say horses, then they can write about their personal experience from their professional expertise, but, even if you've known or believed something for years and know it to be fact, you must still cite it if it's not common knowledge, if it's an opinion, if it could be challenged.
When Should You Cite Your Sources?
The best practice for deciding whether to use a citation is to overcite, and let someone with a higher pay-grade (your ghostwriter, editor, publisher, etc.) make that decision.
When you're working with a ghostwriter, tell them if the writing you're giving them is original (your own), or borrowed, paraphrased, or rewritten from sources you found online, etc..
"I was ten years old when I began writing for my life. Once I realized the power of words to stop the beatings and the molestation, I never stopped writing, and I never looked back."
That's the opening of my memoir, Writing for My Life. It was the alternative story I gave the TED organizers for my 2009 TED Global talk. Dan Pink, yes, the best-selling author of Drive, and other books, voted for it. But my account of being homeless won the nomination. I'm kind of glad really, because 10 years ago I wasn't ready to go public with how I started writing. I still may not be, but I'll know soon enough. Finishing a memoir does that — heals you I mean. It's why I love memoirs so much. It's why I love ghostwriting or collaborating with others who are writing their own.
What is a memoir? First off, it is NOT an autobiography. Biographies/autobiographies are linear. They're historical accounts of one's life. "First this happened, then this, then this." Or, "I was born and then...." Biographies are my second favorite genre but I'm hopelessly devoted first and foremost to the memoir.
Memoirs are snapshots into the memory, the angst, the recollections, pains, pleasures, and challenges of a person over time. That time can be short (summer vacation, planning a wedding, getting sober, having a child, a divorce, starting a business) or a look back at a lifetime. The focus of a memoir is not the order of things, or how they happened. A memoir is a shifting of memories, insights, pains, coming of age, remembrances of a theme.
Some memoir themes are:
Any major life change, for instance, is fodder for a memoir. The other great thing about memoirs is you can write more than one. But the reason I love the genre most is because people generally write memoirs to heal, or to share a truth that's haunted them, or to confront some demon or abuse, loss, or to share their coming of age stories. Memoirs are real, intimate, and often raw. They're the hardest book to write, but often are the most powerful to tackle. They can leave readers wrung out and emotional, change lives, give insights, and heal others. They're amazing.
If you've never thought about writing your own memoir, start thinking. If you don't know where to start, have never written, and would like to learn more about memoir - there's a September 22-24, 2019 memoir writing conference at The Spruceton Inn, in the Catskills, outside New York. Only ten attendees will be admitted so the conference can remain small, focused, and personal and so everyone gets lots of personal attention. The $550 fee covers your accommodations (your own room and private bath) in a bed & breakfast, tuition for the three days, one-on-one time with host/best-selling author and Hollywood Screenwriter Stephen Foreman, catered lunches, bonfires at night, and a fantastic experience being with other writers. There are four spots left. Join us. For more information: https://www.sprucetoninn.com/workshops-retreats and to contact the Inn, Email email@example.com or call 518-989-6404 to reserve your place. They’ll take a 50% deposit via credit card upon booking. Registration officially closes August 1st, if not sooner once it’s full!
Writers are multi-faceted. Great writers can see a scene or create a character from ANY point of view (POV), even if they don't agree with it. Their characters are real, not stereotypes. They have good intentions and bad. They are complex, difficult, lovable. They are human. This is what makes their dialogue so brilliant. The writer truly understands ALL sides, views, and people whether they agree with them or not. They have taken time, often a lifetime, to try and understand differences, not just hate them.
It's why those on the far left or the far right will NEVER, EVER be great writers. Their writing will never appeal to anyone outside of their own twisted, one-sided POV. That's the problem. They have ONE point of view - theirs. And, according to them, they're right and everyone else is wrong. They don't want to hear anything different, and if you film or record something as proof their stance is false, they will deny it even as they're watching the tape. Their writing is as flat and one dimensional as a flat sheet of paper.
You can't reason with them. You can't explain your side of things and you can't engage them in conversation. They scream and shriek and threaten and stick their fingers in their ears and run around like children screaming "Nah nah nah nah nah..." as if by not listening they can make the scary things like facts, history, and insight go away. And they wonder why their writing sucks.
In one of my Facebook writing groups a woman was complaining about how the Social Justice Warrior (for profit) group was not paying her for her internship. Seems kind of contrary to who they claim to be, I said. I also said that was also typical of similar liberal and Social Justice groups I was aware of or had interacted with and wondered why they were like that.
Trigger. DING DING DING DING. Someone else in the group - a social justice warrior social media person immediately jumped in and attacked ME personally. That seems to be how the extremist on both sides operate. When you don't have facts or proof, or an intelligent response, then attack, intimidate, threaten, and bully.
Rather than listen to more hate and trollish remarks, I blocked her. And it saddened me. She's so eager to be right, to intimidate another woman (a group whom she claims to protect and respect), that now everything I say or write in this group will be attacked. It's ruined the group for me.
Here's the thing. I have some friends who are liberals, some who are Muslims, one who is a Sikh, and many who are atheists. I have friends who claim to be Christians, some who truly are Christians, some New Age friends, and some agnostics. We are friends because we respect and honor each others right to believe, think, and act as we choose in a free society. We agree to disagree. We have fascinating conversations because we are genuinely curious about how the others came to the belief they did. None of us go off, or go rabid, bat-shit, frothing at the mouth crazy because we disagree on politics or religion. The liberals, Muslims, Christians, and atheists I know who DO go insane and threaten to kill, rape, burn, torture and hurt anyone who disagrees with their point of view, or who actually gets violent, stalks people, or attacks them or beats them up are the next active shooters. They are not human. They are insane. They need to be confined in an institution where they can't be a threat to peaceful society.
If you can't hold differing thoughts or points of view in your head without exploding and becoming enraged, violent, and unsettled, you can't be a good person, let alone a good writer. Good writers, great writers, understand their characters, their motivation, their feelings, and how they came to be who they are. If all you can do is write hate filled stereotypes your characters will come across to your reader as the cardboard cutouts they are. Unfortunately, extremists rarely change. The only people attracted to their writing are the people who think like them. And that's just sad.
A friend of mine, let's call him "John," who is struggling to find work recently called me. For several years I've had a waiting list of two weeks to two months, depending on the project. I get sick, and can't work sometimes, but I can't remember when there wasn't someone waiting for my calendar to free up. He asked me what my "secret" was.
"No secret," I said. "Just be awesome." I wasn't trying to be a smart-ass. But most of my work comes from referrals by companies and individuals who are pleased with my work. It's just human nature to keep going back to people you like, people who treat you fairly, people who do a good to great job for you and overdeliver. That's what "word-of-mouth" means. We all do it - from getting recommendations for restaurants, to finding a dentist, doctor, or hair dresser. We want to go where our chances of getting a fair deal, good service, and dealing with honest people is more likely. Thus, we poll our friends and find out where they go, and what they think of the person. That's what word-of-mouth is. It's powerful. In fact it's THE most powerful advertising there is. You can't buy it. The minute you make one bad referral you lose credibility with your friends. Lose enough credibility and no one asks you for a referral anymore. The closest that advertisers can come is hiring/paying "influencers" to advertise to their followers. Still, it's a risky game for an influencer if they refer followers to a bad store/product/service. The best way to get those referrals then is to provide:
That was the short list, here's more detail:
Excellent Customer Service
It always surprises me how many companies hire and keep sullen, angry, unhappy people who treat their customers like they're a bother. It may be hard to find good employees, but it's harder to find and retain good customers when your employees are jerks. Whenever and wherever possible I believe in being friendly, generous, and focused on providing the best customer service I can. There have been times I've blown my stack with insanely outrageous people who were abusive takers who used a product but claimed it "didn't meet their needs," and attempted to get their money back, violating every line of our agreement. For the most part I try to leave people with the feeling and awareness I went out of my way to do the best job possible, for a fair price, and with their success in mind.
Prices for writing/editing/blog posts can range from $5 to $5,000. The quality ranges too - and doesn't always reflect the pricing. For the most part I use the Editorial Freelancers Association rates. These are rates that most professionals charge. I may charge more for some writing because of the time, skills, and value I bring to that kind of work. Fair pricing does NOT mean the provider/writer/creative works for less than a minimum wage so the customer doesn't have to spend more money than they want to on a project. Fair pricing means fair to both or all parties involved.
Consistently Great Services or Products
Some projects are going to be more inspired than others, and you're simply going to do a better job for unforeseen reasons. It happens. You get in the flow, you've done a lot of work in that niche/industry and it results in a really good piece. Conversely, you're going to have work that falls below your standards and disappoints you and the client. That happens. You deal with it. However, your overall work, customer service, response time to your clients should be consistent. If work turns out poorly, eat it and offer your client a second run at it, or don't charge them at all. If YOU think the work doesn't met your standards, then own it and make it right. If you think it's great and they don't, well, that's another issue.
Clear and Detailed Letters of Agreement re: Deliverables, Scope of Project, Change Orders, Deadlines
By taking the time to craft a detailed, but easy to read and understand letter of agreement you can avoid a lot of headaches. Be very clear about what you'll deliver, when you'll deliver it, the scope of the project (how many changes, revisions etc. you'll do for the price quoted, what will cost extra), deadlines - including when the client will have work/data/photos/info to you so you can do your work, and your policy on change orders. Change orders are when the client wants something outside of your original scope of work -for instance, you agreed to write four pages of website copy and now they want two more pages of copy for two new additional pages. That should require a change order, and extra money for extra work.
An easy online shopping experience
If you have a website where you sell your products or services online, make sure the process for contacting you, scheduling an appointment, or buying your goods and services is easy. Don't make your visitor click through a dozen pages or links to buy something. Make checkout and the shopping cart easy to find and use. Say thank you when someone buys something. The easier it is for someone to navigate your site the more likely they'll return and tell their friends.
Be real. Don't be fake real. Be you — warts and all. Don't try to be someone you THINK people want to do business with. You'll only attract people who are looking for that. Be yourself, be honest, if you can't meet their needs refer them to someone who can. You can only win by being honest, trustworthy, and real.
Depending on where in the country you were born and raised, your friendliness quotient will vary. Here in the South we say please and thank you, and smile. Sugar, as we're told, gets you more attention than vinegar. The friend John whom I mentioned earlier is a natural grouch. I don't think he knows how to smile. He's always oversensitive, assumes people are thinking poorly of him, he's usually in victim mode, blaming everyone else for what's wrong in his life. No one likes to be around him and he doesn't get a lot of repeat business because people just don't like him. I've known him for so long I know it's just who he is, but I also limit my interactions with him, don't try to change him, and don't make suggestions unless he specifically asks for them. He just naturally repels clients. I tell him that and he agrees. So, it's not like he doesn't know. He just hasn't struggled enough to want to change. Many people are like that. It's too much effort to be nice, or to care. It's much easier to pay for more ads and try different marketing approaches. Each to their own.
The truth is, you're not going to get all great customers or clients. You need to understand some customers/clients will push your buttons, and your boundaries. They will hire you to write webcopy, or a report, or produce a slideshow and then, halfway through the project they'll change the scope, focus and project entirely. And they will assume that you're okay with that and won't charge them more. The emotionally and mentally healthy provider will say, "In our original agreement we agreed to ______. This change is not in our agreement, but I can make those changes for $____. Having good boundaries does several things. It shows you respect yourself, your time, your value, and your work. Providers who respect themselves are more likely to (1) be respected by clients (2) have the wisdom to separate from people and clients who don't respect them. When you set and communicate good boundaries with your clients around pay, time, communication, expectations, and job scope you're much less likely to have misunderstandings that can generate hard feelings with your clients.
Putting Customer/Client Needs First
Sure, your needs are important. Don't ignore them! But if your primary need is generating business and income for yourself, you might want to consider putting your customer needs first. For instance, there's a writing group/social event once a month that I like to attend. But last month I skipped it so I could work through the afternoon and evening to finish a project for a new client. My need as a raging extrovert who works alone at home and doesn't get out much, is to recharge by being around people. I missed not being able to go to dinner that week, but I wanted/needed the work more. By putting my client's project first, I made him happy. I also got some repeat business. He liked the work so much he put me on a permanent retainer. THAT was worth missing one dinner with other writers I enjoy. Plus, I attended a writer's conference later in the month so I got my "people fix."
Sometimes putting a client's needs first means working on a weekend, or in the evening, or going the extra mile to make the project a success. My decisions regarding this shift in boundaries around my time depends on several things. Among those are client patterns, project scope, and boundaries.
For instance, I recently had a client delay getting data to me on several occasions, resulting in a delay in the project on my end. That included my not being able to pay/retain editors and researchers. Not being able to find other editors and researcher doubled my workload and delayed the entire project. I relayed this to the client each time there was another delay. She apologized profusely because she didn't understand the ramifications of not hitting her deadlines and promises to me. She promised not to do it again if I'd get to the work done over the weekend. However, I had plans for the weekend and declined, citing those plans. I'm so glad I didn't cancel my plans. She was unable to hit the deadline once again. Because I was seeing a pattern developing with her I changed our agreement from date specific to "within 10 working days AFTER receiving work product." We're both happier with that structure.
There is no "one size fits all" when it comes to clients. You have to trust your gut and strike a balance between your needs and theirs when all things aren't equal.
Easy Access and Fast Communication/Response Time
I've had laryngitis for a week now. I have NO voice. I can't even whisper. The doctor said to expect another week to ten days of the same. I'm very bummed. I've had to alert a lot of clients, reschedule phone calls and text or email all my questions and contracts. When I'm not so inconvenienced it's important for me to respond to clients within 24 hours, or 48 hours if on the weekend. People, I've learned, can roll with just about anything if you get back to them in a timely manner. If you have to schedule an autoresponder, do so. Keep people in the loop as quickly as possible. This is generally easy for me if my client is good about phone calls and email. When someone blows us off for days or weeks at a time it's just the sort of thing that can sour a good working relationship. So be proactive, contact or respond to people in emails, social media etc. as needed. If the response requires some thought or more time, then a quick, "I'm on a deadline but will get back to you within 24/48/72 hours" is a good alternative. Just be sure you DO respond!
Keep in Touch and Develop GENUINE relationships
I like to touch base every few months to see how things are going with clients. I might review their website to see what's happening, or notice some activity on LinkedIn, like a post, news, etc. I touch base to comment on what I've seen, or to send them an article about their industry I think they might like. This is NOT an effort to get business. This is simply networking and maintaining a good relationship. In one conversation I had with a client I was able to refer new business to THEM. These are the kinds of efforts that show my client's I care about them and their business. People can tell if you're just doing these things as part of a sales effort. Develop GENUINE relationships with your clients. People like to do business with people they like. And if they don't have business for you, they'll refer friends who do.
Show Your Ongoing Support
I set Google alerts (FREE) for most of my clients. When news pops up about them in the alert I read it and if relevant, shoot off an email of congratulations, or link to an article I know they'd be interested in etc.. I recently saw half a dozen requests on HARO (HelpaReporter.com) that were perfect for clients. I sent each of them the contact info and information. Half responded to the queries which netted three of them mentions in the media. There's no charge for my doing that. I am showing my ongoing support for the client in keeping an eye out for them. They appreciate it. Sometimes it results in additional work, but not usually. It's just a way of saying, "I've got your back and am supporting you!"
When you follow all those things I guarantee you'll get repeat business. It's so hard to find, fair, honest, reliable, consistent providers that when people do find them, they keep hiring them. You don't need luck. You do need a smile, consistency, and good work product. You won't be able to do all these all the time without practice. I still drop the ball and don't follow up, or miss a few things. But I am striving to be all of this and more and the majority of the time I succeed. I hope you do too!
Last time I checked, my landlord didn't take "warm fuzzies" or good will, or inspiration in payment for rent. In fact, no one takes anything but cold hard cash in exchange for their skilled services. Yet many writers and those who hire them, think great writing should be free or close to it. When I have told some clients their demands exceeded the scope of our agreement they've become highly offended and angry. For God only knows what reason, they thought they could offer me a couple of hundred dollars for a blog post, and expand that 800-words into a full-length book. Go on Upwork.com and look over the job postings. Some clients expect a "GUARANTEED blockbuster, best-selling novel for $50." See the Upwork ad below for example. This person truly expects to get a 150-page BOOK for $50. And he owns all the copyrights. He says "Ignore price, it will be negotiable," but that usually means he'll go as high as $150.
A couple of weeks ago I attended a writer's retreat where Jane Friedman spoke about "The Business of Writing." I looked around the barn (where the retreat was held) at the many talented men and women who wanted to make a living writing, dreamed of being a "successful author" and who struggled with the shame of charging money for their talent. I think the majority of writers have been there - having something incredibly valuable to offer, but not knowing or believing in their writing enough to charge for it. And, the public senses that. That's why job boards are full of offers like this:
While the $50 budget is "just an estimate," the reality is this client will most likely balk at the $20,000 cost a book this length would cost. Why so much? A 150 page book is 37,500 to 39,000 words (based on an average page of 250 words). At only .10 cents a word, that's $3,750. Good writers, those who get .50 per word, are looking at about $18,000, rounded down. Then there's editing and proofreading, about $7 + per page. At 150 pages that's $1,050. What goes into writing involves more than sitting down at a keyboard. There's research on the topic - and not just reading what other bloggers have said. There are papers, experts, fact checking and interviews to do if you want to do it right. Many writers simply copy, paste, and rewrite or spin existing content for books like these. They don't bring any insight, research, new points of view, solutions, or true advice to the book.
Two years ago I was asked to write a 300-page book in ten days. It was on a complex, controversial scientific topic that should have taken six months to a year to write. But the client wanted it NOW, and was only willing to pay $500. I laughed. I could make more money asking, "Would you like fries with that?" in one week than I could writing his book. He insisted the exposure would be invaluable. Only, my name would be nowhere on the book, and he had no plan to tell others about me or get me more work. In the real world, "exposure" (as in to the elements) kills. The same is true for writers. Exposure does not pay the bills.
Here's another add. The "client" wants someone with a business background, experience, expertise, insight, and knowledgeable about ecommerce and entrepreneurship. He wants some semblance of thought leadership and professionalism, and he wants this talented, skilled writer to write a full-length book of about 200 pages. He "needs it urgently," but is probably not inclined to pay rush charges. The $300 he's offering wouldn't cover the cost of EDITING the book, let alone writing it. Yet some poor writer will bid and win this "job" and earn all of .02 cents an hour to write it, then get nothing in return. Ghost writers don't get royalties. They rarely get bonuses. And if they do, it's in the $25 to $50 range.
The evil evil people who perpetuate this MYTH of making millions off of hiring ghostwriters for pennies, are the people who run get rich scams. They tell the people who pay $500 and up for their "courses" that they should go on Upwork and say, "For someone who knows what they're doing, this won't take any time." Uh. No. That's NOT how it works. Usually the BETTER a person is the less time it takes to do something. True, but that doesn't mean they should be paid LESS for being faster. It means they've invested, time, practice, work, and training to get to be fast and should be paid MORE for that expertise. When I first learned how to change the brake pads on my car, it took me almost five hours. By the fourth time I did it, it took me less than an hour (mostly because I'm old and slow). But I knew what to do, what steps to take, what to look for, and HOW to do it accurately and quickly.
I write fast and effectively because I was a journalist for 23 years, freelanced for 33 years, and have ghostwritten for 10. I am efficient and skilled. I should be paid MORE to do my job. It would take three times the money I charge to hire some newbies working for $20 an hour to do (or try to do) what I do. My brain is trained. I can process more information and in ways new writers can't, simply because I'm experienced. That's what clients pay for. They pay for the value, insights, connections, and concepts I can bring to their project. They're not paying a typist. They're paying an expert. You may be happy getting your medical advice from WebMD for free, but I can guarantee that if you were diagnosed with Stage 3 or 4 cancer you'd pay more than you could afford for a specialist and an expert to treat that cancer. Why? Because you want the best.
Here's another example of a client gouging writers. Successful romance writers can make six figures and up, per year. If you're a good romance writer you don't need to write a $750 book for someone who will turn it into thousands of dollars for themselves. Yet writers do it all the time - wanting that $750 (minus the 20% fee or $150 Upwork takes off of the top) rather than write for themselves. Look at the level of expertise this "client" is asking for:
They're offering $50 for a "trial" piece of 5,000 words!! That's INSANE!! That's SLAVE LABOR! These people are the pig shit of the literary world. Greedy, ruthless, evil bastards.
If you're a writer, and you VALUE yourself, your time, your intelligence, and what you have to offer the world, don't do this. I did it for years, and suffered, always at the edge of becoming homeless or starving, just to have work. Then I learned I didn't have to do that. I could ask what I was worth and people who valued that WOULD pay for it, and they do. I now make enough to "help" those I think have a great concept for a book, but not the money to pay for it. But it's MY choice. And I don't do it often. It's a journey. What helped me was talking to other writers who charge full value for their work. Reading about money helped too. Here are the resources that helped me turn things around:
These are absolutely the most valuable books I've ever owned. The Pumpkin Plan alone doubled my income in 30-days. I went from charging $15 to $20 an hour to $50, working less and having more satisfying clients. And, Mike tells anyone in any business (not just writing) the step-by-step process. HIGHLY recommend it. Whether you're a copywriter, or a fiction writer who wants to know how to market your book, you should own The Everything Guide to Writing Copy. It was recently named one of the top 10 copywriting books of all time and it's deserving of the name. It's amazing. Easy to read, easy to follow, and just applying a few of his tips will boost your sales. Ilise Benun, author of the Creative Professionals Guide to Money was personally recommended to me by both Bob Bly, and on the phone with Ilise herself. This past weekend Jane Friedman (Former Writer's Digest Publisher, who now teaches at the University of Virginia, and writes for Publisher's Weekly) also highly recommended Ilise. The books do contain an affiliate link - which means Amazon pays me a tiny percentage (a few cents) of the cost of the book, but there is NO extra charge to you. You pay the same price whether you use the link or not. But by using the link you support another writer.
It's easy to get caught up in the trap of reading and attending conferences and shying away from writing, but there are times when you really do need some insights to break out of the rut you're in. So, take an hour, a day, or a weekend off to really think about whether you want to make your writing a business, something you earn a living at, or if you just want to write for the joy of writing. If it's the former, get serious about making what you do a business so you can make a living. Don't settle for crumbs. Pull a chair up to the table of professionals and feast. You'll be glad you did.
What do you want to know about the business of writing? Comment below! Ask! I'll answer or get answers!
Hiring a ghostwriter is easy. Hiring a GREAT ghostwriter is hard. The same is true for hiring any writer, photographer, or graphic designer. Just because someone is great at what they do doesn't mean they're great to work with. I've worked with drama queens, narcissists, and flakes in all fields. I've learned that no matter how gifted and creative someone is, if they're a pain in the butt to work with, it's not worth working with them. A good job with a solid creative who communicates well, listens, understands your vision, and delivers on time is far more valuable than one who only does awesome work on their timetable, when they feel like it, and according to their rules. So how do you avoid the nightmares?
It's not just the ghostwriter's job to deliver. You, the client are responsible for being accessible, or having someone who can answer questions when you can't be reached. Your writer/designer may have to delay a project or a portion of it if they can't reach you regarding a question or decision they have to make. A good client understands that changing the direction of a project, the table of contents, the focus, or the job once it's begun is fine - as long as they're willing to pay for it. Many clients hire a ghostwriter or designer and assume that flat rate covers any changes they request, as though they had an hourly employee on their staff and endless hours to play with. When you hire a creative (writer, photographer, designer) you're hiring to do a specific job with a set time frame.
Changes, additions, scope creep etc. take time not budgeted in the original agreement. So, expect to pay more if you suddenly decide halfway through a project to turn your How-to book into a novel about how-to. (It happened). When you hire a ghostwriter, think about your availability, commitment, flexibility, and budget. Are you going to be better off working with a disciplined, structured, deadline driven writer, or one who is more laid back and flexible and easy going? Know your own style and find a writer who can accommodate that. I have a client who wants to talk three times a day when he's in between projects, but then he disappears for weeks on end without a word. I can get his projects done, but not in the timely manner I prefer. He's happy with the work and pays me on time, so I don't complain, but it's up to you to decide how you prefer to work, then find the writer who can meet your style.
Back when I could run I ran 5K races. I usually came in last, often as the race committee was taking down the tables and banners and everyone had gone home. But that's not why I ran. I ran to finish something hard. The carrot I was chasing was discipline. It didn't last long. I hurt my knee, got tired of the pain and stopped running. I looked for ways to develop discipline elsewhere. I learned that finishing running races wasn't really what I wanted. At my last race, curious about what drove other people to run, I asked a woman standing next to me why she ran.
"For the t-shirts," she said. She could have just bought the shirt, or gotten the shirt when she signed up, but she followed through and actually ran the race. What the t-shirts represented to her was that she was part of an elite tribe - people who run, endure pain, and race for FUN. Whether she wore her race shirts to the grocery, or to clean house in, that sense of "being special" stayed with her. She didn't particularly like running when it was hot, hard, and exhausting. But she did love the feeling she had afterward. She basked in the accomplishment and told me the glow she felt would easily carry her through until her next race.
I'm sure if I asked everyone who raced why they did it they'd have their own reasons. Some would cite health, improving their time, or being with other runners as their motivation. What I learned from my 2-to-3 years of training, running, and racing was that I was doing it for all the wrong reasons. I learned that if you're going to do something, do it, but do it for the right reasons. The right reasons means knowing what you really want out of something, not just what you think you want.
For instance, I dated a guy in college who told me he was obsessed with old cars. He bought and sold classic model cars restoring them, and driving his current until he attracted a woman who was attracted to the car. Then he would sell the car when they broke up and start the hunt for the car and a new woman all over again. Years later I figured out (although I wonder if he did), that he wasn't really obsessed with old cars. He wanted the kind of woman who was attracted to them. The cars were just a way to meet women who appreciated classic cars.
The advertising industry has capitalized on this. They don't just sell toothpaste. They sell the white smile that attracts men/women. They're selling sex, love, attraction, not teeth whiteners. A great marketer can take any product, and tie it to something bigger, better, and sexier in order to sell it. They don't sell us things. They sell us dreams. We don't buy clothes, shoes, jackets and expensive purses to have the items. We buy them because owning them makes us feel richer, more important and more desirable.
When you know what you want you can bypass the THING that you've been told will bring you your heart's desire. Eliminating the middleman means you can go directly after the thing you truly want. If you want, as I do, to write books that change people's perceptions about life, then I can bypass the usual shiny objects around the writing lifestyle and focus just on what I want - to write the kind of books I want.
One of the hardest things to do in life is say "no," to things that distract, derail, and divert our attention from our goals. That's because a lot of us don't really know what our goals are, or what we want. When your goal is crystal clear it's easy to say "no," because we ask ourselves the simple question, "Will this bring me closer to what I want?" If I'm tempted by a soda I ask, "Will buying/drinking this bring me closer to my goal of normal blood sugar?" the answer is pretty clear. It's a much better question than, "Do I really want this soda?" (the answer always being yes).
That's why I say, "Knowing what you want is half the battle..." Why do you write? Why do you work? Why do you travel, or binge watch movies, or eat what you eat? Becoming mindful, and taking a step back to see what you chase and why you chase it will free you up to get what you really want, not just what you think you want.
Try it. You might be surprised to find that the things you've been convinced you had to have, whether skills, or clothes, or experiences, or your career or lifestyle are just masquerading as what you want.
Fame is overrated. At least I think it is. People often ask me if it bothers me that my name isn't on all the books I write. No, not really. I like being anonymous. As long as my name is on the check, I'm happy. No one bothers me or wants stuff from me. I can walk around in public without being recognized or needing a security guard.
The people who matter most to me are clients and their success. They WANT the spotlight. I don't. I'm content in my successes and where I am in life. I don't need adoring fans to shore up my confidence or convince me I'm a good writer. I know I'm a good writer. I'm not bragging. There's room for improvement, but I'm very happy with where I am right now. I do, however, love getting my clients that attention. As a journalist and editor for 23 years, I know what the media wants. I know how to prepare, pitch and sell a story. And, more importantly, I LOVE, genuinely LOVE helping people who are working towards that fame, to get one step closer to it.
Maybe if I were younger, more driven to "make a name" for myself, or get rich, I'd be beating the bushes promoting myself. But I'm not. I've learned that relationships, people, trust, and experiences are more valuable than gold, or the fleeting admiration of strangers.
If you're after that notoriety or fame, or recognition, go for it! It's a wonderful feeling to be desired, important, or valued for what you have to say, what you've written, who you are. But as a mentor of mine once told me, "Don't let the accolades go to your head, or the critics settle in your heart." He meant, don't believe everything you hear people say about you, good or bad.
Copywriting can be a lucrative business, if you're good at it. While I adore and follow copywriter Bob Bly and I buy 99% of his books, I just discovered another how-to-copy writing book I think is fantastic. Apparently so does the BookAuthority.org as they just added it to their list of the top ten copywriting books of all time. It's called The Everything Guide to Writing Copy by Steve Slaunwhite. It has 4.5 stars on Amazon from 23 readers. Relax, it just came out. Those numbers will grow. While the basic rules of copywriting haven't changed, how the information is presented can make or break a good book. This book does exactly that.
The book is divided into two parts. The first part guides you through the craft of copywriting, the tools, tips, techniques etc. The second part looks at more than 50 typical examples of copywriting and then gives you tips and tricks on how to successfully complete them. So, learn by doing. As a writer I know that the MORE you write, the better you get at writing. So many of us think another conference, another class, another book or podcast will make us better writers but that's a lie. Only writing, writing, and more writing will make us better. Like Malcolm Gladwell says in his book Outliers, it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at anything. While we can learn most tasks or skills in 20 hours (driving takes 40) to become skilled at it takes a lot more time. Yes, you need to learn the basics before or as you start practicing, but only practice makes you better.
That's why I love this book! It doesn't just give you information, but it provides a way to get you writing as well. But the knockout part of this book is that it is CRAMMED with solid, practical tips, examples, and advice. It speaks to the beginning copywriter as well as the expert.
It's a book that I'll keep around as a reference long after I've read it a dozen times.
ThesweShould you write a book? It's a question I ask all my clients. After careful consideration and thinking many of them walk away, convinced NOW is NOT the time to write a book after all. Some say I'm throwing away money by telling them they don't have a compelling reason to write a book, but I think I'm helping people prepare to write a better book down the road.
Should you write a book?
It depends. WHY do you want to write a book? This is important to know. If you're writing a book because all your friends and colleagues are writing them, then it's probably not time to write your book. You won't have the interest, passion, purpose or drive to complete it. You'll hate the discipline and tasks it demands and ultimately you'll end up hating the process. The top reasons I hear from clients who want a book written:
Those aren't the answers I'm looking for. These are:
There are more, but essentially people who write successful books are driven by a passion for telling a story. It may their personal story (business memoir), or a how-to story, or something related to their business, insights, practice. Whatever it is, they have a clear and specific reason for wanting to reach a larger audience.
For the clients who want to write a book to "make a lot of money," I have to explain that unless you're already wildly rich and/or famous, have a unique story readers can't find elsewhere (i.e., I know who killed JFK), are already a recognized expert in your field, or have endless money to spend marketing and promoting your book, that most authors won't become best-selling authors or make a lot of money. You'll be lucky to make back the money you spend on writing, editing, and publishing it. Books aren't the end goal. If you have a signature speech and want to get more speaking gigs, then a book can help you do that. A book can position you as an expert, someone the media will want to interview (but usually only if your book is traditionally published). Books are tools. They help you achieve things or get attention you wouldn't get without them. They are not the end game.
If you don't have a website, a blog, a "platform," then a book is not going to do well. People buy books to learn more about the person who wrote it and they want to know WHY you wrote it. This is where a blog, or at least a website comes in. Books expand on things you've already shared with readers. They give your followers more insight into your thoughts and ideas and passion.
Unless you're a professional writer, writing a book should come after you've clarified and examined some of your thoughts and processes in a blog. Blogging is thinking out loud. It (1) gives you a great opportunity to get your thoughts on "paper" or in a public venue where others can comment and engage. This often provides amazing insights that may cause you to shift your thinking in ways you never imagined. It's much easier to change course after a blog post than a book. (2) It helps you focus your intention and the critical aspects of what you want to say. (3) It gives you a better understanding of your audience.
Unless my client/potential client has a blog, or a speaking practice, or a focused idea for a book, then I urge them to go away and rethink writing a book. Without a platform or followers, the chances of being "discovered" on Amazon are slim to none. Trust me. I experienced that personally. Writing a book is different from promoting and marketing a book. And if people read your book and love it, without a website, blog, or other platforms in place, they have nothing to act on and quickly become frustrated or simply leave. Why shouldn't they? There's nothing else they can do. That's why a blog, even a simple one, and a website with an About, Contact Me, and Home page in addition to the blog, are so important.
That said, if you want to write a book for the sole purpose of giving it out at workshops, or to employees, then go for it. The secret is that the book has a reason to exist, a purpose. I've ghostwritten books for clients who simply wanted to leave a biography of themselves for family members after they passed on, or before they passed on. The book's purpose was to start a dialog and to connect or bring family together. That's a noble reason for writing. And that's my point. What is your reason for writing a book? What do you want it to do for you? Once you understand that, then we can talk! If you need help deciding what your goal for writing a book is, then contact me for a 30-minute, free, no-obligation call. Let's talk.
If left undisturbed, no phone calls, texts, knocks at the door, errands, or a to-do list, I can write for hours. But life's not like that. It interrupts me constantly. Today, for instance, I got up at 4 a.m. to write because at 10 a.m. I need to take my car in for repairs. I can't just drop it off and flee back to my office. I use a mechanic who works out of his own garage. He left a 9-to-5 job as a shop mechanic to do his own thing on his own time. He's good, very good. And he's cheaper too - $35 an hour rather than the $85 an hour the old mechanic at a local auto shop charges. He lets me buy my own parts too. (Rockauto.com is the best, cheapest place in the world to buy high quality car parts by the way.)
The point is, I have deadlines from hell, but need to juggle and fit my life into those deadlines. I'm fortunate that I have a washer/dryer and a dishwasher. They save me insane amounts of time, but I still have to load, unload, and put things away. I have to shop for, and cook food. I need to feed the cats and empty their litter box. I have to sleep. All those things interrupt my writing. Writing becomes just another thing I schedule if I want to get it done. So I do. Here are my tips for making life work for you rather than interrupt you:
Keep a Calendar and Refer to it Often:
I have calendly for setting up appointments. It frees me from playing that, "What's a good time for you?' game where I go back and forth with someone for 20 minutes over the best day, time, and hour to meet. I send people the link and they take it from there. Seriously. I have between 5-10 calls a week to set up with clients, interviews, and vendors, editors, and friends. The Calendly site is seriously awesome at saving me several hours a week I can then devote to writing. I use Google Calendar on my iPhone and desktop. Also makes life easier.
Keep a To-Do List
I use the app, Leadertask to maintain a running to-do list. You can get the free version, or a paid version to use more features. It helps me organize tasks into folders - one for each client, and ones for my own projects. It works on my phone, tablet and desktop and syncs everything so it's all up to date.
Most of us schedule doctors appointments, meetings, and things where we have to go somewhere - like a party, conference, etc.. Scheduling forces us to carve time out of our day to get something done. It makes us accountable. That's why I also schedule tasks - like writing time, lunch, naps, and things I need to do around the apartment. By making something part of my schedule I'm not worried about if I will "have time" to do something - whether it's cleaning out the fridge, walking, exercise, or going on a decluttering spree. I KNOW I'll have time because I scheduled it! Shoot for 7-to-11 items to schedule per week. Make at least two of them fun ones - like go to Papa Jims for ice cream, or watch a movie. This also helps me say no to outside distractions. I simply check my calendar and tell the person "I'm sorry. I've already got something scheduled then." People will argue with you when you say "No," to their requests, but are less likely to argue if you say you've already scheduled something for that day/time. Funny how we all put more importance on a scheduled task than simply deciding whether to do something or not on the spur of the moment. At the end of the week I then look back over all I did, or didn't do and reset my goals and the number of items I schedule. It's kind of like a budget. You don't manage your time, your manage your priorities.
Manage Your Priorities, Not Your Time
Mike Salomon at SherpaGuides saved my life and my business with his Time Management program. He is a business coach who focuses on helping people manage their priorities in order to manage their time. We can't really manage time, we all have 24 hours in a day. But we can manage how we choose to use that time - i.e., the manage your priorities tag. By doing a mind dump of all the MUST do things in your head, then prioritizing them in order of what's most important, you do several things:
Stop Reading Your Email Throughout The Day!
This is the most important time saver of all! When you check email first thing in the morning what's in there sets your agenda for the day. We tend to forget everything we intended to do and spend hours answering, responding to, and being distracted by email. I don't check email until I've been up and working for a few hours. I don't check it throughout the day unless a client has texted they're sending me something. When I do check email I do several things. I employ the rule of two. If I can respond to, answer, or deal with an email in two minutes or less, I do. It's like only handling paper/mail once. I set aside 30 minutes three times a day to deal with email and then forget it. I have an alarm on my phone and computer that remind me to check it. I go through it as quickly as possible. If something will take longer than two minutes I send the response to my To-Do list. If it involves several steps to answer it goes to my scheduling list and gets scheduled for the next week. If someone needs something right away, chances are zero they're going to get it done unless they pay a rush fee. Clients mostly know to give me at least a week to work on their project because they know I schedule everything. I'm not perfect, and I do stumble but when I do it simply reminds me to get back with the program.
I aim for an empty in-box. This is hard to do, but once you do it, the feeling is awesome! It means unsubscribing to a lot of things, and setting filters and rules for your inbox, but it's worth the hassle and saves so much time. When we have emails sitting around in our inbox to "deal with later" we end up rereading them. It's a time waster. Empty your inbox. Delete the things you have responded to or taken care of. Schedule other things and put what you need on a to-do list. I know. What about emails you may need to refer to in the future? If it involves information or other details you may need in the future, move it to your archive folder. Let it live there, out of sight and out of mind until you need it again.
There's more, lots more, but the time I scheduled to write this blog post is up and it's time to write! I'm working on a book about prioritizing your work and life and will post it here when it's done! What's your biggest challenge when it comes to managing your time and attention? Leave a comment below!
I'm on a deadline. I'm always on a deadline. And the very thought of deadlines sends pheromones out into the world, inviting friends and strangers to defeat me. These anti work pheromones waft past friends who then feel a sudden urge to call me "just to talk." They pressure acquaintances to text or just drop by for a visit. Deadlines have the amazing power to ensure I don't meet them.
I'm staring down three big deadlines right now. I'm wondering how the heck I'm going to hit any of them. Here's how:
Along with the three books I'm working on, I have groceries, laundry, appointments, and an apartment to declutter. It's amazing how attractive all those things become the more the deadline approaches. So, I write EVERYTHING down on sticky notes to get it out of my head where it carooms around like a steel ball in a game of pinball, hitting alarms and bells and setting off flashing lights to make me freeze with anxiety. Once my sticky notes are done I paste them on a white board above and behind my computer. I can see them there - all color coded and everything and out of my head. The urgent, must do notes (like whose book to finish first) are in neon pink. Appointments (doctor and dental) are orange, and everything else is in neon green. As I finish each task I cross it off with a Sharpie, but leave it up so I can see what I've done and feel motivated to do more and cross off more. I prioritize according to most important and urgent.
Set a Timer:
If I had my druthers I'd just work until I drop with exhaustion. But I work better and faster if I set a timer for 1.5 hours and then get up and walk around, eat, pet the cats, or take a 20-minute nap. Yes. I nap often throughout the day. It's wonderful. You should try it! The exercise gets my blood flowing and also revives me. Every three hours I do something simple - like load or unload the washer/dryer/dishwasher. That way I don't panic that "life" isn't getting done.
Turn off Distractions:
I only answer email three times a day, and never first thing in the morning. Looking at email first thing means I'll be sucked into it and never get a jump on the day. Email will define your day if you let it. I check it only after my first 1.5 hours of work. And I have a process for checking it:
Stock up on Snacks and Drinks:
Those are three things that help me "git 'er done." I still procrastinate, but I'm getting better. How about you? What are your deadline killing tips?
-Have you ever wanted to learn how to write a memoir? Here's your chance. This small (only 10 writers accepted) workshop in the Catskill mountains ensures you get the personal, one-on-one attention and personal feedback and critique of your writing over three days. $550 covers your tuition, catered lunch, morning coffee, and your room/housing/B&B on site - no commute, just walk out the door and into the classroom. Private rooms - no dorm housing. Some rooms come with a kitchenette. All come with private bathroom/tub/shower. There are campfires at night, and a grill if you want to grill out. Parking is never a problem, and there are hiking trails, a stream, and plenty of places to explore if you'd like. The workshop includes one-on-one feedback 30 minutes or more each day with Stephen H Foreman, a Hollywood Screenwriter and author (He wrote the screenplay for The Jazz Singer, among others).
Here's an excerpt from one of his books:
Excerpt 2 - from the book Toehold
How Sweet-ass Sue Got to Toehold, Alaska
Sweet-ass Sue weighed eighteen pounds six ounces at birth, larger than a polar bear cub. Her mother complained throughout her entire pregnancy that she felt like she was carrying a cow. Sue was a full blood Athapaskan Indian with a frame like a refrigerator – big, very big, but solid. She was not Walmart Fat at all, just huge. If she had on a football helmet you’d mistake her for a nose tackle. She always wore her raven black hair in two long braids hanging down her back topped with a purple headband. People have a tendency to believe, when somebody’s so big, that deep down inside they’re really just a pussycat. Sweet-ass Sue gave the living lie to such bullroar. She had a heart, but you’d have to dig halfway to China to find it. People knew one thing about her for sure: they didn’t want Sweet-ass as an enemy. They weren’t totally sure they wanted her as a friend, either.
Sue was in her forties, so she just missed out on the time when female athletes were coming into their own. Even so she would have had a tough go of it because her sport of choice was football. So often Sue wished she had been born a boy, not because she wanted to sleep with other girls (which she certainly did not, high school gossip to the contrary) but because she wanted to compete in a man’s game at a man’s level. She considered it a cosmic misfortune that she had been super-sized at birth but handed the sex of a woman. By the time she was sixteen she was six feet three inches tall, weighed two hundred and fifty pounds with the sleek, muscular haunches of a draft horse, and she could bench press three hundred. So Sue decided to right a cosmic wrong and go out for the football team. She was bigger than any of the guys except for the star defensive end who had her by a hair. Still, the coach dug in and said no way. She was a girl; she’d get clobbered; he didn’t want to be responsible for what he considered child abuse.
“Why not take up soccer?” he said. Sue pointed out that their school had no soccer team to which the coach threw up his hands and insisted, “No can do.” Then he pulled his sweat pants out of the crack of his ass, took a sip of his diet Pepsi, and said could she excuse him, he had a practice to prepare for. Sue never had been one to take no for an answer, she decided this called for drastic measures. How to prove that she had the stuff to play football? When she finally thought of a way, she knew somebody was going to get hurt, but she didn’t think it’d be her. Whatever. Sue was willing to take that chance. This kid had guts for days!
“Stop thinking,” she said to herself. “Get to it.”
And she did.
At lunch the next period, in the cafeteria in front of the entire school, she knocked the tray out of the defensive end’s
hands and told him to watch where the fuck he was going. He didn’t know what to do.
“Are you gonna apologize or what?” she demanded.
“You bumped into me,” he retorted.
“You calling me a liar?” She went right up in his face. Then she pushed him.
“You better cut this shit out,” he threatened.
“Why? You gonna hit me?” she said.
“You’re a girl, goddamnit,” he squealed totally confused about what the hell was going on here.
“I think you’re a pussy,” she replied.
“What the hell are you?” he said.
“You calling me a pussy? Huh? You insulting my sex? Huh?”
He was completely bewildered, and then she smacked him across the face. “Does that feel like pussy, asshole?” she
taunted. “Does it?”
“Let her have it,” shouted one of his teammates. “She’s asking for it.”
“Yeah, kick her ass,” yelled somebody else.
“He can’t,” Sue yelled back. “He’s afraid of a girl. He ain’t nothing but a pussy himself.”
At that, the poor kid lost it and punched Sue so hard she fell backwards into a table. The rest of the students expected to see blood and tears. What they got instead was a smile on Sue’s face. “Is that your best shot?” she wanted to know. “You didn’t kill me with it, and you’re going to remember that mistake for the rest of your life,” at which point she charged head first, speared him in the belly, and landed two hard shots to each side of his jaw before he hit the floor. Later, in the nurse’s office, he didn’t remember anything after the charge. The school still refused to let her play football. In fact, the administration refused to let her continue as a student. They kicked her out and wouldn’t let her back in the door. Not that she gave a shit. As soon as she came of age, Sue joined the Coast Guard and struck out for what she hoped would be more interesting than watching TV and chewing whale blubber.
It was there that she got her nickname and met the love of her life.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Do you want to learn to write like that? Then consider attending this workshop in September. Go to SprucetonInn.com to sign up and reserve your spot. There are only a few spots available. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 518-989-6404 to reserve your place. They’ll take a 50% deposit via credit card upon booking. Registration officially closes August 1st, if not sooner once it’s full!
Tell someone you're reading a "memoir" and most of us will assume the book is about growing up with an addiction, a difficult childhood, a disability or some sort of personal challenge we've worked through. Indeed, memoirs are the genre of choice for those wanting to write about the most memorable moments in their lives.
But what is a memoir? A memoir is a collection of memories, usually around a theme of some sort (coming of age, getting clean and sober, surviving trauma of some sort - the moments or events, both public or private, that happened and impacted the person in a significant way. Memory isn't an exact science, but the events are believed to be factual, altho as recalled by the author.
But memoirs don't necessarily have to be about our personal life. They can be about our business life, our careers, the wisdom and insights we've gained during some aspect of our work life. And the good thing about a memoir is, unlike an autobiography, you can write as many as you want.
Memoir is a specific genre. And, like all genres, it has specific characteristics, primarily being autobiographical without actually being an autobiography, and being factual. Memoirs however, are primarily about one's memory about a particular theme or experience. The word comes from the French mémoire, meaning “memory.” And, memoirs are just that. The author picks a particular theme or event and for however many words remembers, reminisces, and reflects on that event or experience in their life - hopefully in a way that conveys wisdom, insight, lessons learned etc. to the reader. In a business memoir the author those themes may be "loss, love, success, business, failure, leadership, entrepreneurship, challenges faced and won or lost." In his book Shoe Dog, Nike founder Phil Knight recounts all the challenges he faced when founding and growing Nike. If you haven't read it, you should - especially if you're considering writing your own business memoir.
The first memoir I ever read, Paper Lion, captivated me and made memoirs my favorite genre of all time. I was 12 years old at the time. Paper Lion shaped my life and drove me into a career in journalism and writing. Paper Lion is about a journalist, not an athlete - yet in 1960 he arranged to pitch to a lineup of professional baseball players in an All-Star exhibition, then write about the experience in his book Out of My League. Three years later he repeated the exercise, only this time by joining the football training camp of the 1963 Detroit Lions. He wanted to know how the average man off of the street would fare in an attempt to compete with the stars of professional sports. As you can imagine, they wouldn't fare very well.
What Plimpton did with his books wasn't so much about football, or sports, but about the people who played and lived the lives of professional athletes. When I worked security for the Denver Broncos in 1983, the first year John Elway played for them, I got to attend training camp as an observer of sort. Plimpton's writing rushed back into my head. He'd been so accurate about the training camp culture and events it was erie. I became even more obsessed with memoir. I saw it as a way to bypass the "proper" stories that left out the reality of life, and focused on appearances. I loved the raw reality of life and the people who embraced it.
Over the years I got tired of memoirs that dealt mostly with addition, trauma, and crappy childhoods. I longed for another Paper Lion. I moved into autobiographies and soaked them up like a sponge. They were fascinating, but not as enjoyable as memoir. Autobiographies begin and end and travel through a person's life. They're great for getting to know what the person, famous or otherwise, wants you to know about them, but they're rarely as revealing as a good memoir.
Writing the business memoir, in my mind, is writing like George Plimpton - wading into the rawness of failure, challenge, pain, and personality. Another favorite business memoir of mine is Tough Choices, Carly Fiorina's memoir about her time at Hewlett-Packard as a woman, and as an executive who was fired. But let her describe it:
From her Amazon page:
"For five and a half years, Carly Fiorina led Hewlett-Packard through major internal changes, the worst technology slump in decades, and the most controversial merger in high-tech history. Yet just as things were about to turn around, she was abruptly fired, making front-page news around the world.
Fiorina has been the subject of endless debate and speculation. But she has never spoken publicly about crucial details of her time at HP, about the mysterious circumstances of her firing, or about many other aspects of her landmark career. Until now.
In this extraordinarily candid memoir, she reveals the private person behind the public persona. She shares her triumphs and failures, her deepest fears and most painful confrontations. She shows us what it was like to be an ambitious young woman at stodgy old AT&T and then a fast- track executive during the spin-off of Lucent Technologies. Above all, she describes how she drove the transformation of legendary but deeply troubled HP, in the face of fierce opposition.
One of Fiorina's big themes is that in the end business isn't just about numbers; it's about people.This book goes beyond the caricature of the powerful woman executive to show who she really is and what the rest of us male or female, in business or not can learn from the tough choices she made along the way."
That's not hype. It's a very accurate description of what Fiorina writes about. And it's riveting. What Plimpton and Knight, and Fiorina and dozens of others have done is shatter the mirrors that reflect only what the powers that be want us to see. They give us a rare glimpse into "how the sausage is made," as an editor once explained to me. They change lives, perceptions, and insights. They open doors. If you want to make an impact and get people's attention, consider writing a business memoir. You don't have to be a CEO, or famous, or head up a large company. You simply have to share some aspect of your business wisdom or challenges. If you want to know MORE, download the free PDF here.
And, of course if you're interested in writing a business memoir, or any memoir, set up a free, no obligation 30-minute call to contact me with questions.
SHOULD YOU WRITE A BUSINESS MEMOIR?
Why shouldn't you write a business memoir? If you long to be a mentor, but don't have the time, a business memoir is a great way to pass along your experience, insights, failures, challenges, and wisdom. Too many entrepreneurs and small business owners don't see a need for a memoir - claiming they have nothing to say. But they do. We all have stories. We all want to be remembered. Most of us want to see others succeed - in part from wisdom we've shared with them. If you're still not sure, download the free PDF here. You don't even have to give me an email address or contact information. Just download it.
If you think you'd like to plunge right in and learn more about memoir, there's a three day workshop coming up in the Catskill Mountains Sept. 22-24 at The Spruceton Inn. Screenwriter and best selling author Stephen H Foreman will be leading the workshop. He keeps his classes small - only 10 people may attend and it's half full already. Watch the slideshow below to see more about the Spruceton Inn.
The workshop runs from 22 September to 24 of September. The $550 cost covers your room for two nights, catered lunch each day, tuition for the workshop and one-on-one time with Stephen.
"Words," Tony Robbins explains, "have a biochemical effect on the body. The minute you use a word like 'devastated' you’re going to produce a very different biochemical effect than if you say, 'I’m a bit disappointed.' "
Robbins is a popular and successful motivational speaker who understands the power of both the written and the spoken word. As he has pointed out, the words we attach to our experience become our experience. When you say, 'I'm happy,' you feel differently than if you say, 'I'm elated!' or 'thrilled.'" The words we choose to use aren't just about developing a more expansive vocabulary. It's about tapping into the power of words and understanding how they affect you and your reader on an emotional and physical level. The same thing happens to your characters and your readers. The words you attach to your characters define not only their experience and character, but how your reader will respond to them in your story. For instance:
"John was a big, broad-shouldered and heavily muscled guy. He could have played linebacker for any professional sports team in the NFL. John was, as I say, BIG."
"John had to turn sideways and duck to fit through the average doorway. The width and density of his muscles suggested he might have the DNA of a Mack Truck or Tyrannosaurus Rex in his family. If he had tried to play professional sports he would have been banned from the league for being twice the size of any other player on the field. John redefined the word BIG."
Which description makes John's size come alive for you? By creating a visual image of a man so big he has to turn sideways to get through a door, the reader has something to compare his size with - a doorway!
If you're a writer (or even if you aren't) the power of words to impact others is CRITICAL to understand if you want to make an impression on your readers. Our choice of words can make our writing move, and dance or die. As Dr/ Andrew Newberg, author of Words Can Change Your Brain, said:
"Language shapes our behavior and each word we use is imbued with multitudes of personal meaning. The right words spoken in the right way can bring us love, money and respect, while the wrong words - or even the right words spoken in the wrong way - can lead a country to war. We must carefully orchestrate our speech if we want to achieve our goals and bring our dreams to fruition."
If you've never thought about how words make you feel, or their true power, remember this. God SPOKE the world into existence. When we write we WRITE our characters into existence by how we describe them. One of the hardest concepts for new writers (and many experienced ones too) to grasp is how to SHOW our readers rather than tell them about our characters.
Telling: "He was lazy and hated waking up in the morning."
Showing: He rolled over in bed and eyed the alarm clock for a full minute before groaning and covering his head with his pillow.
Telling: She was very tired.
Showing: She yawned until her jaw began to hurt, then collapsed onto the couch and flopped over, unwilling and unable to move.
Telling: The car broke down.
Showing: The car gasped, heaved, and shook violently from side-to-side - until every mechanical part it had clanked, whistled, buzzed, or clanged before coming to a full and complete stop, never to move again.
Words are your tools. Learn to use them and use them well!
Who is with you in the fire? A few days ago an Internet meme crossed my Facebook feed. It read, "Remember Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego? God didn't put out the fire. He put Jesus in the fire with them. Life is not about God putting out your fires, but about His being there with you in the midst of them."
Who is with you in the fire? Who supports you, encourages you, shields you from critics and haters? Who stands by you through good times and bad? Whether you're religious or spiritual or not, we all need someone who believes in us whether we're successful or not, struggling or not, flush or not.
Businessman Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, created a great metaphor when he asked, "Who is on the bus with you?" He was comparing a business to a bus, and the leader to the driver. Most people, he explains, assume that great bus drivers (leaders) immediately start their journey by announcing to the people on the bus where the bus is going. Apparently great leaders (drivers) do things differently. They don't start with "where" they're going, but "who" they're going there with. They get the wrong people off of their bus, put the right people on the bus and make sure everyone is in the right seat. They stick with that process no matter what - people first, then direction.
We, as writers, need to do the same. Get the right people on the bus. Know who's going to stand by you in the fire - physical or spiritual. First "who," then "what."
Metaphors aside, the point is, we ALL need others - no matter how strongly we believe we can do it alone. That person might be an editor, a spouse, a family member, a classmate, a coach, even a stranger you meet at a conference. But without feedback, support, encouragement and friendship, it's hard to succeed as a writer, or anything else. If you have people in your life who support you, take time to thank them. You'll never know how valuable they are until they're gone. If you don't have someone in your life who is there for you - join a meetup group, a Facebook group, a writer's group, a church or synagogue or Mosque. Take a class, join a gym, but do something to find someone who will be with you in the fire. They don't have to be a writer, but they do have to respect you and your writing.
When we don't stand alone, it's so much easier to stand at all.
Everyone can write, but not everyone is a writer. Some non-writers get this and hire me to write for them. This doesn't mean they're bad writers. They just understand there's a time and place for DIY, and for hiring a professional.
For instance, I can work on my own car and I often do. It saves me money and time and I enjoy it. But when I need real mechanical work done, or I'm buying a car and need to know if it's a lemon or a find, I hire a mechanic. They know waaaay more than I possibly could about cars and I want to take advantage of that knowledge. I'm willing to pay for it.
Writing is the same thing. Most people can write a letter, a report, or communicate day-to-day via email and social media. But when the time comes to send out a resume, a cover letter, or write copy for a website, it's critical to have a professional do the writing for you. Why? Because not all content is the same. You may be a brilliant novelist or academic, but you probably don't know how to write sales copy. Why would you? Yet, it's that sales copy that's going to get people's attention and make them pick up your book, or go to your website, or buy your book. That 300-500 words on the back cover of your book? That's sales copy. That introduction/summary on Amazon about your book and the stories inside? Sales copy. Landing pages, emails. ads, marketing material? Sales copy. All these avenues and content are all about hooking and selling readers and convincing them to buy your book. There's no shame in hiring another writer to write the kind of thing you know little to nothing about.
What about that manuscript you just spend 2-5 years finishing and polishing? It's brilliant, but are readers going to know that? They probably won't unless someone is able to catch their attention in 300 words or less. A good copy writer doesn't just sum up your book, a good copy writer sells it through the use of imagery, suspense, tension, and teasing. Copy writers, it's often said, "Sell the sizzle, not the steak." Copywriters understand how consumers skim and read. They understand the importance of an attention-grabbing headline and can craft them. They understand "calls to action," and how to sway and persuade their readers. They're professionals and have worked at their craft to be as good as you are at yours.
The next time you're putting together a proposal for an agent, or a cover letter for your manuscript, consider hiring a copywriter. It will be money well-spent.
On a good day I can easily write 10,000 words. Writing that much has more to do with how fatigued or sleepy I am and has nothing to do with my mental ability to churn out words. Most days I write 4-5,000 words. I'm currently writing for three blogs (clients) my own blog, a 60,000 word book that must be completed in four weeks (client), and another 20,000 words to finish yet another book. I don't even count the words I try to write for the ebooks I'm writing for this website. But I write.
It helps that I've been writing since I was 10 years old. I was a journalist for 23 years, and I have been a ghostwriter for another 10 years - so I've easily hit the 10,000 hours Malcolm Gladwell says one needs to become an expert. While I was a working journalist I was also freelancing for magazines. The more I wrote, the more money I made. So I got fast, and good, and disciplined. Newsrooms are crucibles for writers. They FORCE you to write. You have a set number of stories to write in a day, a set number of words to craft, and you're expected to hit your deadlines. If you want to keep your job, you learn how to write no matter what mental, emotional, or physical blocks are in your way. If you can't get a job in a newsroom, and you want to write, you need to find a way to set your own deadlines and hit them.
If you're a new writer, writing 500 words a day, every day may be terrifying. So make it 100 words a day. Or make it 50. If all you can muster is ONE SENTENCE a day, then do it. But write something. The only way you get better at writing, is to write. You can go to all the conferences you can afford, take all the classes you can find, or listen to podcasts and videos until your eyes and ears hurt, but your writing won't get better until you write. So write.
It doesn't matter if "it's good." No one is going to read it but you. So write. It doesn't matter if anyone else loves it, or hates it, or if you think "they" wouldn't like, approve, condone, support, or encourage your writing. NOTHING matters but YOU.
"But I can't!" writers wail. Yes you can. You write on Facebook. You write on social media. You leave notes for your kids or spouse. You make lists. You can write. Writing is the act of stringing words together. Stop thinking you have to craft the next great American novel and just write - one word, one sentence at a time. You will get better as a writer. You'll begin to believe you're a writer. Your writing will get better. You'll begin to feel more confident, secure, motivated.
But you have to write. Start a blog with a pen name and write where people don't know who you are. Keep a paper journal. Find something that works for you and write every day. It makes a difference.
Consistency Matters More Than Talent
You don't have to be talented to succeed. You do need to be consistent.