I have participated and continue to participate on several online writing forums. Regardless of their focus, most posts trend along some predictable themes. One of themes that I find myself responding to most often is that of writers overwhelmed by all the tasks and skills involved in producing a book.
Here's an anology: no one expects the average home owner to master carpentry, masonry, plumbing, wiring, etc. While a home owner may be competent in one or some of those skills, it's ludicrous to expect someone to be skilled at all of them as well as whatever job that person holds. When a home owner needs the roof replaced, a fence erected, a room added or renovated, pipes repaired or replaced, he calls an expert.
More people own cars than houses, so let's use a similar example. How many automobile owners can change the oil, fix the transmission, replace the brakes, etc.? Sure, if you're an automotive mechanic, you probably know how to do most of that, if not all. But a mechanic relies on people not knowing how to do those tasks and hiring him (or her) to provide that expertise when the automobile owner needs it.
The same goes for writers. The skill to write a compelling story does not confer the skill to edit the story (one should never rely on self-editing one's own manuscripts), the knowledge or skill to design the page layout or the cover, or the competence to strategize and conduct an effective marketing campaign. The writer can learn to do those tasks, but the ability to write doesn't translate into mastery of all skills that go into producing a good book that meets standards of professional excellence and reader expectations. It follows, then, that writers serve their books' best interest by hiring experts to supply the skilled service that they cannot.
A twist on that is true, too. We all learn to cobble words together into sentences in school, but that does not mean everyone masters the craft of writing. Just like someone who learns to change the car's oil would be foolish to assume himself (or herself) a skilled mechanic, knowing the basics of writing doesn't confer expertise. I equate that to my lack of skill in math. I learned basic math and advanced through algebra and geometry. My math skills remain dismal. No one with any sense at all relies on me for mathematical accuracy. The obverse is often true, too. I've worked with brilliant engineers whose mathematical skills inspired awe, but their writing was horrible.
A conundrum arises when it comes to ideas and their development. Anyone anywhere may have a great story premise, an idea that catches one's imagination and demands to be explored. However, having an idea doesn't mean being able to develop it. When executive types have such ideas combined with the desire to relate their hard-earned wisdom and insights to others who might learn from them, they hire ghostwriters. These ghostwriters hold many conversations with their clients, take voluminous notes, conduct additional research as required, and impose order upon the whole mess to craft a cohesive whole comprised of anecdotes, examples, declarative statements, and lessons learned.
One argument I've heard from those who have great story ideas but flounder in their development is that the ghostwriter won't tell that story exactly as that person would. Well, of course not. But have you considered that the ghostwriter may tell your story better than you?
Let's use another analogy. If you've watched a cooking competition in which all contestants are instructed to make the same dish, each contestant puts his or her own variation on that dish. Some results are clearly superior to others. If I can make an adequate dish, a trained chef can make a fabulous dish using the same primary ingredients. When it comes to writing, you may be the home cook, but I'm the chef.
A second argument from those reluctant to hire a ghostwriter concerns cost. Yes, ghostwriters charge for their work, time, and skill in exchange for loss of authorial credit. You usually get what you pay for, too. You don't expect the fry cook manning the grill at a hamburger joint to have the same skill as the chef of a Michelin-starred restaurant, nor do you expect the pay the same amount for a combo meal at that hamburger joint as for the five-course dinner at that fine restaurant. Excellent ghostwriters charge more for their time, skill, and effort than do less skilled writers.
Everyone has ideas they don't have the wherewithal to develop, but story ideas need not be among them. Finding a ghostwriter isn't all that difficult. Before dismissing the concept as too expensive, consider this: perhaps you don't want a combo meal from a cheap fast food chain, but you can't afford a meal at that Michelin-starred restaurant. There's a happy medium. That happy medium might range from a chain franchise (e.g., iHop, Bob Evans, Texas Roadhouse) to a locally owned and operated dining establishment with a trained chef who's really good but not Michelin-starred. Ghostwriters come in ranges, too, from low-bid, low-skilled providers to award-winning writers commanding six-figure fees.
If you have a story idea burning in your brain, then let's explore how we can bring it to light and make it fit for public consumption. Ghostwriting might not be as expensive as you think and the ghostwriter may very well tell the story better than you could.
#henhousepublishing #ghostwriting #fictionwriting #editing
Where's the follow-through?
Sometimes I just don't get it.
I participate in several author-oriented forums on Reddit and Facebook. I do my best to provide helpful feedback and information, even brief critiques when time and inclination permit. One common post seen in these groups is from newer authors who ask why their books aren't selling. Once I have a URL to the Amazon page, I review the book's description (i.e., blurb) and use the "Look Inside" feature to scan the interior pages.
Sometimes, I see little that actually needs to be fixed, which means the problem is generally related to ineffective marketing. Remember Field of Dreams and its premise that "if you build it, they will come." Publishing isn't like that. If you write and publish it, readers won't necessarily come. They won't be aware your book exists. Awareness requires marketing. Effective marketing requires sustained effort and a strategic marketing plan.
Don't ask me how to go about that, because marketing is not my forte.
Three things, however, will enhance your book's chances of selling regardless of the level of marketing which an author employs:
Content littered with errors, weak and/or confusing writing, inconsistencies, plot holes, etc. leaves a bad taste in readers' mouths. They'll take note that a particular author produces poor quality stories and refuse to purchase from said author again. Poorly written and poorly edited content build an author's reputation for sloppiness and carelessness.
A book that's well-written, well-edited, well-formatted, and has a great cover and still isn't selling generally has problems other than quality. Sometimes the problem relates to miscategorization, or the wrong keywords for SEO, or ineffective (sometimes nonexistent) marketing.
That said, when an author solicits feedback as to why his or her book isn't selling, I will delve into the book and report on what I find that the author can and should fix. I offer some specific feedback: an amateurish cover, formatting that doesn't meet industry standards, a lackluster blurb, and a host of flaws in the content that merit a professional editor's attention. Such solictations often garner similar feedback from at last a dozen people, many of them professional editors and commercially successful authors—people who know what they're talking about.
So, why doesn't the author asking for that feedback make the suggested corrections? I'm not griping about an author not hiring me to edit a deeply flaws manuscript, but an author's failure to implement the corrective actions that will fix the book's flaws and improve its chances for success.
I don't get it. Asking for suggestions for improvement should lead to making the suggested improvements. When they don't, the request seems to me an disingenuous attempt to get people to purchase the book without actually asking people to buy the book.