Feb. 22, 2023

How to Best Find the Perfect Writing Partner for Your Next Book - BM 358

How to Best Find the Perfect Writing Partner for Your Next Book - BM 358

Do you know how to find the perfect writing partner?

For many authors, writing a book can feel overwhelming. But fear not! A ghostwriter (aka your perfect writing partner) is the secret weapon for those who don't have the time or skill to write their own masterpiece.

This week’s interview is with Dan Gerstein, a nationally recognized political writer, communications strategist, and CEO of Gotham Ghostwriters. He is a contributing columnist for Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, and Politico, and appears regularly as a political analyst on Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN.

Do you know how to find the perfect writing partner?

For many authors, writing a book can feel overwhelming. But fear not! A ghostwriter (aka your perfect writing partner) is the secret weapon for those who don't have the time or skill to write their own masterpiece.

This week’s interview is with Dan Gerstein, a nationally recognized political writer, communications strategist, and CEO of Gotham Ghostwriters. He is a contributing columnist for Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, and Politico, and appears regularly as a political analyst on Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN.

 In this powerful episode, Dan and I discussed…

  • What *exactly* is ghostwriting and the difference between the practical vs. technical approach
  • What you need to know to find the perfect writing partner
  • How AI and traditional writing practices can coexist

And, a whole lot more...

Here's how to get your complimentary 15-minute session with Dan.

Click here to schedule your 20-minute brainstorming session with Susan


Welcome to Book Marketing mentors, the weekly podcast where you learn proven strategies, tools, ideas, and tips from the masters. Every week, I introduce you to a marketing master who will share their expertise to help you market and sell more books. 

Today, my special guest is one of the country's top experts in the ghostwriting market. Dan Gerstein is the CEO of Gotham Ghostwriters and has been writing professional professionally for more than 30 years. He's a nationally recognized political writer, communications strategist, and idea man. Known for his independent, thoughtful analysis, he served as a contributing columnist for Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, and politico, and appears regularly as a political analyst on Fox News, MSBC and CNN. 

Dan, what an absolute pleasure it is to welcome you to the show, and thank you for being this week's guest expert and mentor.

Dan Gerstein 00:00:59

My pleasure, Susan. Look forward to the conversation.

Susan Friedmann 00:01:01

Dan. Ghostwriting whenever we talk about industry terms on the show, I always like to have a definition so that everybody listening knows exactly what we're talking about. Let's start off our conversation together, understanding what exactly is ghostwriting.

Dan Gerstein 00:01:20

There's a technical answer and there's a practical answer. The technical answer is that Ghostwriting is the practice of using someone else to write for you, where it's your name going on the content, but someone else has taken the lead in writing it for you. The practical answer is we use ghostwriting as an umbrella term for a range of collaborative writing and editorial relationships. So in some cases, a ghostwriter can be a pure ghostwriter. But a lot of cases, the writers we work with and who are in demand in the field are true collaborators. They're thought partners. They're sharing the writing work with the name author and cover kind of a spectrum of different kinds of shared writing relationships.

Susan Friedmann 00:02:11

When would somebody decide that they need to hire a ghostwriter? Would it be in the beginning of the process? Would it be sort of maybe in the middle they get stuck and they find, oh, maybe I've run out of time, I want to get this done, but life gets in the way. Where would you come into the picture?

Dan Gerstein 00:02:30

The answer is both. Those are both very common experiences we've had. There is a certain universe of authors who recognize right up front that either they don't have the ability to write the book themselves and or they don't have the time. In that case, they recognize right at the beginning, I need some professional help for me to construct this manuscript. Then there's definitely a whole other universe of authors who sincerely believe and want to write the book on their own. And then they start and they recognize that it's more work than they thought it would be. It's too much time commitment. They're struggling because they're too close to the material or it's harder than they thought. And after trying, they recognize that the best solution for them was to bring in a writing partner to help take that burden off their plate.

Susan Friedmann 00:03:19

Do I remember early on when I had some help with part of a book, a couple of chapters that I couldn't or I didn't feel confident enough writing, so I hired somebody? But I felt so guilty about that, I was like, oh, my goodness, is this cheating? Has that ever come up, or am I unique here?

Dan Gerstein 00:03:40

You're not unique, but I think that is a really artificial construct that comes out of the relatively recent phenomenon of the author as author right in the history of storytelling from the Bible, even beforehand, right back to the days of the Greek myths and oral storytelling. More often than not, it was collaborative. It was more than one person contributing to the construction and telling of the story. And it was only after the widespread adoption of the printing press and the rise of publishing as an industry and books as a common transmitter of information and stories that we arrived at this idea of the author as a single person. Even in that era, that was kind of a myth because in many respects, great editors have played outsized roles in shaping manuscripts, revising them, even blowing them up and rewriting them. So there's not only anything unethical or wrong about it, it's the natural order of things for people to collaborate on the telling of stories. And you look at it outside of books and music and television film, more often than not there are multiple people involved in the writing and documenting of a story. So from our perspective, it's very understandable that there would be more than one person involved in the construction of a book.

Susan Friedmann 00:05:07

You bring up a very interesting point, that the editor, a developmental editor who comes in and really takes your work and shapes it. Yes. Sometimes they have to do a gargantuan job to make it something that would be marketable. Yes. At what point is it considered ghostwriting versus editing? There's sort of almost a fine line there between the two, is that correct?

Dan Gerstein 00:05:35

Right. I would say there is not a clean church-state separation. They do bleed into each other. And I would think about it as there is a spectrum of different kinds of collaborations. And in one case, a ghostwriter is taking an outline or a theory or a set of ideas that an author has provided and constructing the entire narrative, the manuscript, from scratch. They're doing everything, and then the author will review it and such. And then there's other cases where the author is writing a full first draft, and then they bring in a writing or editing partner to help them fine-tune it. They think of those as two tent poles. And then there's a range in between in the role that a writer and or editor is playing and helping the author get the most out of their book, the most bang for their book, the best version of their voice. We like to say. And I think one of the things we've learned through Gotham Ghost Writers is to have an understanding of what is the author's need, like what is the best solution for them to produce the book that is going to realize their vision and then pairing them with someone who really has an area of specialization in that specific function, whether it's ghostwriter book, doctor, coach. And again, it's not necessarily always one specific role. It could be a combination of roles. And that's going back to what we said at the beginning of the introduction about real, tangible tips for authors. That's one of the first things I would tell people is to kind of get a sense of like, every author is different and what you feel you need to succeed. What's the skill set, the experience, the talent that would most benefit you in realizing your vision for your book and then finding a partner who's really good at that specific task?

Susan Friedmann 00:07:14

Yes, finding somebody also who can write in your voice, because obviously each of us has our own voice and it's got to sound like us. Otherwise yeah, it's going to be hard to market a book that doesn't sound as if it comes from you. Talk to us about the criteria of choosing somebody, and I know you've mentioned a few things here, but I want to hire a ghostwriter, let's say. Where would I start? How would I know that this is the right fit, that this relationship is going to work?

Dan Gerstein 00:07:47

Great question, but let me quickly go back to your last point, which is a really good point about voice and being able to capture the voice. There is a qualitative difference between being a great writer and being a great collaborative writer. They're not mutually exclusive, but plenty of the collaborations and ghostwriting engagements that fall apart happen because someone hired a writer who is a phenomenal writer under their own byline, but doesn't have any experience doing collaborations. Once they start working together, there's a budding of heads about creative vision and the ghost writer or the collaborator hasn't had that come to Jesus moment where they recognize that they're there to serve the author. It's the author's vision, it's the author's ideas. Ultimately it's the author's words and can have the ability to kind of sublimate their ideas and voice in order to serve the authors. And that then leads to the first thing about the criteria you talked about is making sure you're going to work with someone who comes to the table prepared with the only priority is to help you succeed. If they have another agenda or if they have a different vision for the book or they're not used to working collaboratively, that can be a problem. Right. So starting off with understanding that the orientation of the writing partner has to be in align with what you're looking for. The second thing I would say is having a clear understanding, as we discussed, about what your needs are, what kind of writer and what kind of skill set would most likely help you succeed and then having a sense of your budget. Right. The reality is this is not like hiring a plumber where there's kind of set rates and there's not that much deviation in the ghostwriting market. It's very opaque. There's very little standardization. Some people will charge $10,000 to write a book. Some people will charge $500,000. And while there are certain kind of generally understood ranges, it does vary all over the map. So in thinking about what your budget is and then what your expectations are, what caliber of writer and quality of writing are you looking for, and then trying to find that sweet spot between getting the best for your budget ching.

Susan Friedmann 00:09:56

To ask this question. If you don't want to answer it, I totally understand. Chat gbt how is this affecting or could affect your market?

Dan Gerstein 00:10:09

Well, I think it's too early in the life cycle of this new technology to make any predictions with ironclad certainty. My gut tells me right now that over time it is going to be a boon for our industry and for writers who specialize in collaborations, particularly when it comes to writing books. And the reason I feel that way is that, from what I can tell, the gender of AI is very, very good at spitting out formulaic content or doing approximations, mimicking certain things. What it can't do is play the role of thought partner and creative sounding board that a human writer can do. And then be in a position to not just mimic your voice, but to add the special sauce that a great collaborator can do to, like I said, get the best version of your voice and construct a narrative that is in line with your strategic vision for the book, particularly when it comes to business books or serious idea-driven nonfiction.

Susan Friedmann 00:11:14

I love that.

Dan Gerstein 00:11:15

When I see the idea that people are going to like, oh, I can just replace a ghostwriter with some form of AI technology. I think that once people start seeing the product, they get back. And what the limitations? Of it are. I think it's going to lead them to value the work that writers and our network and fellow ghostwriters and collaborators provide. The estimation will only rise, and so will the compensation.

Susan Friedmann 00:11:41

That's nice. I love to hear that because I would hate to think that it has taken over that industry. I know that people are getting nervous. I've had some editors say to me, oh, my goodness, I'm going to be out of business. And I say, that's nonsense because just as you say, they still need that personal touch, which AI hasn't come to yet. It may in the future, but at this point, as you rightly say, it's very formulaic and you can find those answers online in many different formats.

Dan Gerstein 00:12:10

So yes, it's like saying that the rise of mass-produced, low-budget cars, we're going to, over time, kill the market and put the Ferraris and the Rolls Royces out of business. Not only do we know that's not true, but the demand for those elite products has also in certain respects only risen over time because they have a unique value proposition. And I think that to some degree there's a parallel with elite writers and elite writing that AI will never be able to come close to matching, especially when it comes to collaborations. Because the thing that it doesn't provide is the alchemy that comes from the combination and the iteration of an author and a collaborator bringing their minds together.

Susan Friedmann 00:13:01

Something that you brought up earlier to Dan was the idea of this thought leadership. And anybody who's a thought leader and who's out there speaking I mean, I deal with a lot of speakers and many of my authors want to become speakers because they know that that's more where they're going to be able to make money with their book. Rather than relying on selling the book, let's say in onesies and two z in a thought leader and having a book. What about the opposite? And having the book and then using that book to propel thought leadership? Are you able to take us a little bit on that journey?

Dan Gerstein 00:13:39

Oh, certainly. We have this conversation with prospective clients regularly. They have a goal, which is to raise their profile, credential themselves as an expert in their field, as a means to an end, to get new clients, to get more speaking gigs. Then they're looking at, okay, so that's the destination. What's the path that will get me there? And for certain people, they are committed to building and are not in a rush. And then therefore, they will start a newsletter. They will start putting blog posts on LinkedIn, they'll start publishing op-eds and white papers and being very active on social media and organically building a portfolio of content, a following that will lead to interview requests because people see that they're saying and doing interesting things. And then the book then becomes the capstone of that progression. Then they're in a position once the book is out, to really leverage that book to take them to a whole other level. But then there's another universe of clients, prospective clients they're dealing with that don't have that luxury of time. And because of the needs of their business or their ambitions, they recognize that the way to expedite that process and credential themselves is to put out a book as soon as possible and then build on the foundation of the book and the platform the book provides. There's no right answer. A lot of it just depends on where you are in your arc as an aspiring or established thought leader and what resources you have. Can you hire people to help you build that platform and that leads to the book? Or is it a better use of your limited resources to go ahead and self-publish the book to accelerate that progression?

Susan Friedmann 00:15:27

Yes, and I come across both of those examples. You're absolutely right. And people who are speaking already have got some thought leadership and then suddenly realize there is this expectation in the marketplace, and this has obviously got to be good for your business, too, is that you've got to have a book. Otherwise, you're not considered an expert. There's this assumption that you're published, and if you're not, you're like, I think I better be, because otherwise I'm just not being recognized with that leadership capacity in the same way as somebody, let's say, who is published and is working in the same marketplace. Would you?

Dan Gerstein 00:16:04

Yeah. No, I totally agree. And I would just add a slight twist to that is that within the last 20 years, and definitely over the last ten years since I've been really working in this field, the standard is no longer that you've been published, it's that you have a book. And that distinction may seem small to people, but the idea that the badge of credibility comes from someone else blessing your ideas and therefore buying your book to publish it matters much less in today's marketplace than the fact that you have collected your thinking and your stories and your ideas into a cohesive whole of a book. And that book is out there and available as a badge of your credibility. I think that really matters a lot in helping people to get over this heart stigma that used to exist around self-publishing, but also the prestige bias of earlier generations around traditional publishing. For most people now in the thought leadership space, in the content marketing space, the name on the spine of the book is immaterial. It's meaningless. It has no brand equity. And what matters much more is what's in the book and who's paying attention to it.

Susan Friedmann 00:17:16

That's so funny you should say that, because literally last week I had a conversation with a prospective client. We were talking about the whole idea of traditional versus self-publishing versus hybrid publishing, and they were concerned that they had to have a traditional publisher on the spine. I said no. I said, People don't care anymore. They're not going to say, oh, my goodness, I'm only going to read this book because it was put out by Simon and Schuster or Random House, as you rightly say it's what's in the book. That's what they're interested in. They're interested in the material and what that book can do for them. Let's talk about mistakes. So many people make mistakes in this environment. Can you give us sort of maybe the top one or two that we should be aware of?

Dan Gerstein 00:18:04

Just piggyback on what you just said. The number one mistake that aspiring authors make is to have unrealistic expectations about what the market is for their book. And we view our role as being honest brokers and our only goal is to help the author succeed. And sometimes that requires us to provide some tough love to sort of say, you don't have the platform and or the market for this book is so small that you're not going to be able to sell it to a traditional publisher. That doesn't mean you shouldn't write and try and publish the book. It's just that that avenue probably won't be available to you. And if that's the only reason to publish the book or you won't feel it's worth the investment of time and capital to do it, then you shouldn't go ahead with it. So I would say unrealistic expectations is by far the biggest pitfall for aspiring authors, particularly when it comes to serious nonfiction business thought leadership space as it relates to the work we do as a ghostwriting agency. I would say the biggest mistake authors make is underestimating the time that they still have to invest in the collaboration. I think there are certain class of authors who just sort of say, I'm going to hire a ghostwriter. They're going to do anything. I don't have to worry about this. It's still a major investment of time and emotional energy. That's one of the things we try to educate our prospective clients about, is that writing a book, if you're working with a ghostwriter, is a major commitment. And if you're not prepared to make that commitment, then you shouldn't bother spending the money because you're just going to be throwing away.

Susan Friedmann 00:19:33

This is a beautiful segue, Dan, into telling us more about Gotham Ghostwriters. And I believe you have a free gift for our listeners, so take it away.

Dan Gerstein 00:19:44

Sure. The easiest way to describe us is we're problem solvers. Our clients are coming to us because they need professional help to get their story told and in some cases sold. And by sold, I don't mean sold necessarily to a publisher, but to get impact from their book. We're in a position to kind of help them solve that problem for a couple of reasons. One, we have immense expertise in book publishing writing, but also the ghostwriting field in the market. And secondly, we've developed the largest network of ghostwriters collaborators, book coaches, book doctors, proposal specialists in the country. And that combination of knowledge and network gives us this unique ability to customize the search and placement and find not just a couple good writers or editors to work with any given client, but multiple writers who are really well-matched to the client's needs and priorities. And increasingly, we're being asked by our clients to help advise them on their publishing path. We're not literary agents, we're not publishers ourselves. But what we can do is help develop a strategy and a plan to help the authors succeed in their goals for the book. And increasingly, our client base. Their primary purpose for writing a publishing book is not to sell, it is not to generate sales, but to leverage the book for other purposes and in those cases, helping them get to the right place and find the right partners. People who do what they do really well, like what we do really well, is really value-adding to our clients. And we feel really good about playing that role. As we like to say, we're sherpas, we're guiding people on this journey, acting as trusted partners and getting them to the right place. 

The gift that we were more than happy to provide to any of your listeners or the people they know, is a 15 to 20 minutes free consultation to help an author assess whether they need a ghostwriter or an editor, what kind of help would benefit them, and how to go about the selection process. 

We're more than happy to provide that, even if it's someone who's not in the position to hire us, because we feel really committed to our mission of helping authors succeed. And if we can participate, a short phone call, provide some good advice about how to approach this, then we feel like we've made a contribution.

Susan Friedmann 00:21:53

Nice. Yes, I love the idea of helping authors succeed. That's very much at the core of what we do as well at Aviva Publishing, because it's not just getting the book out there, it's how can the author succeed with the book and get out there and be seen and heard, especially in their niche market. So fabulous. Yes. We'll put all that in the show notes, and I know you and I talked about having a blog series that you put together all about ghostwriting, the ins and outs and sort of the basics that people need to know. And I've got those links and we'll put those in the show notes as well. As you know, we always end up with a golden nugget. What's your golden nugget? What would you like to leave our listeners with?

Dan Gerstein 00:22:43

One piece of wisdom I'd like to pass along in terms of thinking about this as a business proposition right? That especially if you are a business leader, a thought leader, writing series, or nonfiction, you have to be prepared to make good investments to serve your purposes. One thing that I tell people, and it's somewhat against our own business interests, but I think it's the right thing to do is if you can't afford to hire a real professional ghostwriter, one thing that you can do that will have really good return on investment is to work with a coach editor who can help you through the process, keep you on track, help you refine the text. In that case, you're paying for their expertise and their creativity and less of their time. And I think that you can get a lot of bang for your buck for that particular service. And it's not that expensive. There are some really terrific editors and coaches out there who love to work with authors, and I think they're a terrific resource. Some of our clients hire us to source that talent for them, but plenty of people find that on their own. So that would be my nugget is to don't necessarily think about this black and white. It has to be a ghostwriter or nothing. There are lots of other storytelling partners who can help you if you can't afford or you don't need a full-on ghostwriter.

Susan Friedmann 00:23:57

And that's good to know. Thank you for helping to demystify this whole concept of ghostwriting, that people aren't scared of it and that it's only for an elite group of people because I think it's more than that, as you've been able to share with us. So thank you so much for sharing your wisdom.

And by the way, listeners, if your book isn't selling the way you wanted or expected it to, let's you and I jump on a quick call together to brainstorm ways to ramp up those sales, because you've invested a whole lot of time, money and energy, and it's time you got the return you were hoping for. Go to Brainstormwithsusan.com to schedule your free call. And in the meantime, I hope this powerful interview sparks some ideas you can use to sell more books.

So until next week, he is wishing you much book and author marketing success.

Here's how to get your complimentary 15-minute session with Dan.

Click here to schedule your 20-minute brainstorming session with Susan