Do you REALLY have a book in you? As a ghostwriter, I get approached at least five times a week by potential clients, whom I’m always happy to hear from, so please do drop me a line! But very few queries turn into actual books, because the reality of writing a completed book is often different from what people imagine.
People often say: ‘You should write a book!’ as a response to a set of life experiences. While everyone, whoever they are, definitely has stories to tell, it takes something unique to turn them into an actual book.
So when someone asks me, ‘Can you help me write a book and find a publisher?’, I always ask myself several questions.
1) What is the unique selling point of this book? Publishers are always looking for the next commercial success. They are not looking for just a good yarn or someone who has had an ‘interesting’ life. They want books to fit into a genre (such as the nostalgia market, for example) but hold a powerful narrative from beginning to middle to end.
Sometimes it’s hard to define, but after years of speaking to potential clients and also finding and publishing several Sunday Times bestsellers, I try to trust my nose for a good story. If I am grabbed by it, I hope a publisher and the market will be, too. But not only must the book neatly fit into a current commercial genre, it also needs a unique element about it. Sounds like a challenge? Well, that’s because it often is. Especially as publishers rarely know exactly what they’re looking for until they read the synopsis! Remember, publishers are only human, so they are risk-averse in one way (they don’t like books they can’t sell in major book stores) but also sheep-like in another way. If the last big thing was a book about dogs, they want more books about dogs (but for your book to have a USP too).
2) Does the author have enough content? This involves several long chats to
understand the beginning, middle and end of the story. Each chapter needs a narrative arc to keep a reader hooked. Too many differing tangents of ‘things that happen’ can disrupt this and confuse a reader, so we need to pick out the most important key events. The average book length for a bestselling memoir, for example, is around 70,000 words, so that’s around 15-20 chapters. A lot needs to happen!
3) Will the author publicise the book? The greatest story in the world could
be written, but if nobody knows about it, it won’t sell any copies. In today’s market, authors need to be prepared to help publicise their new books and their availability for this is a vital component when a publisher considers buying their story. Once I found a highly sought-after nostalgia memoir as wanted by a publisher, but the author was a 90-something-year-old lady who’d barely set foot out of her village her entire life (bless her!) and she felt unable to do any publicity at all. So the book offer was dropped.
4) How committed is the author to completing the process? Until the project begins, this is a question that cannot be answered, so I often go on my gut instinct. Luckily I’ve worked with some fantastically committed and articulate authors over the years, but occasionally people misjudge the amount of time and energy that must be devoted to putting a book of any length and depth together. Once a client spent months cancelling last-minute meetings after paying for me to travel all over the world over a three-month period on a whim! This would have tested the patience of even the most committed ghostwriter (and I do consider myself to be very patient). A good ghostwriter will keep the momentum of a book going, be part cheerleader, part interviewer and often part therapist, in order to tease out the best parts of the story to discuss. We are here to make the author’s life easy, but it does take a good pinch of solid commitment from their side too.
If you think you could answer all the questions above positively and still feel a book is in you, then I can’t wait to hear from you!