Category Archives: Book Marketing

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Chemistry Counts When It Comes To Choosing Your Ghostwriter

A few years ago, as a contributing editor at Family Circle, I had the pleasure of interviewing bestselling author Tim Sanders, who, at the time, had just released a book titled: The Likeability Factor. Tim, a trailblazer in publishing, has now created a brand-new web site, NETMINDS.COM, unique in bringing together authors and publishing professionals in a new kind of marketplace assembled for the purpose of making great books.

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Tim recently called, wanting to interview me about the subject of ghostwriting. And I share with you, as below, our chat:

“Recently I caught up with my long time friend Glenn Plaskin to talk about why chemistry was the #1 factor an author should consider when selecting a ghostwriter. He’s both an author himself, a syndicated columnist and seasoned ghostwriter of several best selling books. While many authors look for credentials or sadly, price, Glenn suggests they first seek out a personal connection.”

Tim: How did you get started as a ghostwriter?

Glenn: For me, it all started with magazine writing. After 25 years in that business, one of my interview subjects, a celebrity, had liked an article I’d written about him, and asked me to write a book with him. We would talk on tape, I’d formulate a chapter from our interviews, and then we’d go over that material until it was a fully formed chapter, then a fully formed book.

Tim: Talk to me a little bit about why the author/ghostwriter relationship needs to be collaborative?

Glenn: It’s like going on a blind date except there won’t be any romance, at least there shouldn’t be! But it is a little like dating someone. There has to be that indefinable click. And is anything more collaborative than dating? You have to feel a rapport, some kind of emotional connection that allows the author of the book to feel comfortable with a ghostwriter, to feel that the ghostwriter understands them, not just intellectually, but emotionally. An author/ghostwriter relationship needs to be harmonious. You’ll be working together in very tight quarters. So things have to be amiable. And having a great sense of humor is key too! I once met with a prospective author for what was scheduled as a 45-minutes meetin. We ended up talking and laughing for three hours! I knew after that our writing relationship would be a successful pairing. And it was.

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Tim: How do you conceptualize the author/ghostwriter relationship?

Glenn: The author may have a compelling story but may not have the time, skill, or training to write it. The ghostwriter is the conduit. I compare it having a Mercedes. It’s a great car but when you need it serviced, you don’t try to do it yourself. You take it to the dealer. The ghostwriter the book mechanic, who is best equipped to make the Mercedes run perfectly. The author has the ideas and the content; the ghostwriter has the technical skills to tell the story in the way in needs to be told.

Tim: Let’s put you in the author’s shoes. What should an author look for in a possible ghostwriter? You indicated humor previously. What other factors should the author be looking for in those first two general meetings with a ghostwriter?

Glenn: Well, the first thing a prospective author should do is check a ghostwriter’s credits. A simple resume check. Google the name, see what comes up. Go to the ghostwriter’s website. See if it’s professional and well maintained. Make sure they’ve been published. Make an effort to call authors the ghostwriter has worked with in the past and ask them how working with that ghostwriter was. There is quite a lot of pre-prep that can be done.

Tim: And ghostwriters have their credentials readily available.

Glenn: Exactly. Once an author has determined the ghostwriter is professional, step two is the meet and greet. Usually the first iinteraction is conducted over the phone, the second meeting in person. The very first thing I look for is simple likeability. Do you like the person? Would you be their friend in “real life”? Are you impressed with their intelligence? Do they seem to understand what you’re talking about? Did they come prepared? Nothing will impress someone more than knowing something about them. Everyone likes to talk about themselves. Also, is the ghostwriter a good interviewer? Can the ghostwriter fill in the blanks? Are they a good listener?

Is your ghostwriter a good listener?

Is your ghostwriter a good listener?

 

Do they seem to be grasping the verbal cues that you’re giving them and picking up on them and furthering along the conversation?

Tim: Do you always ghostwrite subjects that you are well versed in?

Glenn: Not at all. I met with a pastor once. I really liked the guy, so he passed the likeability test. But I didn’t feel connected with the religious subject matter of his book. I didn’t actually have much interest in it. So, I turned the project down. A few months later, he came back to me and asked me again. I said yes, I challenged myself. We ended up having a great collaboration. My lack of knowledge of the Bible didn’t hurt the product in any way. I feel a good ghostwriter can write about anything, especially if they have great chemistry with the author, as I did with the pastor.

Tim: Can the author cultivate that chemistry?

Glenn: The author shouldn’t have to. Remember, the ghostwriter is making your life easy. They’re servicing your Mercedes. It’s not up to the Mercedes to do the work. The ghostwriter is the one that has to build the relationship and build the trust.

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Tim: As a ghostwriter, can you improve the chemistry with the author?

Glenn: If you go on a first date and then you go on the second date, and by the second date you’re not crazy about the person you’re really not going to go on any more dates. So I can’t overemphasize the importance of the first telephone and in person meetings. If the click doesn’t happen after the first two or three interactions it’s likely that it may not go any further. And maybe that’s as it should be. You can’t improve what never existed.

Tim: What do you do to sustain strong chemistry over a long project?

Glenn: Well, for starters every working relationship needs boundaries. We can’t work in an unorganized vacuum. So it’s up to the two collaborators to decide when are we going to work? How are we going to work? How often are we going to talk? Once these boundaries have been established, a ghostwriter might need to get creative when making sure the author follows them. I once worked with an author and our schedule was a tight one. We needed to finish a chapter every week. The problem was that he wasn’t giving me the information I needed soon enough. So, I gently told him, “The train is leaving the station every Monday. One way or the other.” He heard me and we had zero problems after that. I got the information I needed first thing Monday morning from then on.

Writing a book takes discipline on both sides. And that certainly helps the sustained chemistry stay buoyant. The final thing I’ve learned to help keep the chemistry strong is never responding when angry. In the book writing process, there will be moments of great tension. There’s going to be times when the author is irritated, not in the mood to do his or her part, and there’s also going to be times when the ghostwriter may feel irritated by the client. That’s just normal. One thing that I practice, and I hope this is useful to others, is that when I’m upset is always the wrong time to discuss it with the client. Instead, talk to a friend, talk to your sister, talk to anybody, but don’t talk to the client. By practicing this, I hardly ever have arguments with an author. You want to avoid those at all costs. You’ve got to learn to let annoyances go. It’s almost like you have to take a Ghostwriter 12 step program! I think in order to keep the chemistry going, it’s very important to keep the relationship as harmonious as you can make it.

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Literary Agents: From One Legend To Another

Any writer who wants their book commercially published can’t do it alone. The magic touch of a literary agent, who conducts the negotiation and sale of the project, is crucial,  the conduit between author and publisher.

There are hundreds of agents in the U.S. but few legends. I was lucky enough to wind up with the latter–twice.

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First there was Owen Laster of the  William Morris Agency, one of the most powerful literary deal makers of his generation. Having run William Morris’s worldwide literary operations for decades, Owen represented such illustrious writers as James Michener and Gore Vidal, plus a stable of film stars, former Presidents and First Ladies too.

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Owen hardly needed me as a client when I turned up at age 25 with the idea of writing a biography of pianist Vladimir Horowitz. Taking a chance on my youth and total inexperience, Owen sold my book in the U.S., England, Japan, Finland, and Germany. He subsequently launched my journalism career as well, arranging my first celebrity interview with Carol Burnett.

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When Owen  retired in 2006,  I necessarily left one legend, but was fortunate enough to find another.

A few years before, I’d been sitting in the lobby of Manhattan’s Four Seasons Hotel, waiting to visit with a former interview subject, the extraordinary peak performance coach Tony Robbins. As I took out a gift for him, a small box from Steuben Glass containing a crystal dolphin (a miniature of a dolphin sculpture at Namale, his resort in Fiji), an attractive brunette nearby glanced my way, giving me a warm smile, and telling me she loved that store.

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The Effervescent Jan Miller

Fifteen minutes later, when I walked into the restaurant, that same woman was sitting with Tony Robbins. “I’m Jan Miller,” she smiled, “Tony’s agent.” What a strange coincidence! As I soon discovered, Jan Miller of Dupree Miller was one of the nation’s leading literary agents with her own stable of stars, including Arnold Schwarenegger, Maria Shriver, Joel Osteen, Stephen Covey, The Duchess of York, Dr. Phil, and dozens of bestselling authors devoted to Christian-based inspirational books.

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Skipping ahead two years later, when Owen retired, I spontaneously called Jan up on the phone, coming right to the point: “I’ve decided I want you to represent me!”  She readily agreed, and I was thrilled, feeling fortunate to pair up with another topnotch agent.

Powerfully intuitive, with an instinct for knowing whom to introduce to whom, Jan quickly paired me up for a ghostwriting project with a charismatic Chicago Pastor. That collaboration really clicked. And after that book was published by Hachette Book Group USA, our mutual passion for dogs lead to her, and Dupree Miller’s superb agent Nena Madonia, to selling my own memoir about my cocker spaniel, Katie, which was recently published in China, Indonesia, and Germany. (Jan is a beagle lover to the core and perfectly understood the profound bond that develops between dogs and their owners.In fact, she encouraged me to get another dog, cocker spaniel Lucy, after eight years of mourning for the first one.)

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Fellow dog lover Jan Miller

Fellow dog lover Jan Miller

 

Jan's adorable beagle, Schumacher

Jan’s adorable beagle, Schumacher

This was a project close to Jan’s heart, and she flew in from her offices in Dallas to personally supervise every aspect of the book’s marketing and promotion. This included even procuring an elegant locale for the publishing party, Manhattan’s MacKenzie-Childs, a unique shop filled with hand-crafted china. It was a night to remember–with Calvin Klein hosting.

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Surrounded by Judge Judy, New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, authors Mary Higgins Clark and Barbara Taylor Bradford, Jan made a glamorous entrance, snatching up my new puppy Lucy for photos.

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It was a fantastic night made possible by Jan. And then just a few months later, Jan generously opened up her elegant Dallas home for another “Katie” book party. I couldn’t have asked for more.

The exquisite dining room in Jan's Dallas home, at the KATIE book party

The exquisite dining room in Jan’s Dallas home, at the KATIE book party

Was it just accidental that I ran into Jan Miller in the lobby that afternoon years ago, or was it destiny? As Tony Robbins always says, “proximity is the messenger of fate,” and indeed it has been.

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With Jan in her home at the Dallas Book Party
Much more than just a literary agent to me.

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Instant Credibility With A Quote

Once your memoir is finished, the all-important marketing phase begins. In fact, before your book is even published, you always want sample copies of it sent out to experts in your field who can provide testimonial quotes for the back of the book jacket.

Having a glowing endorsement written by someone with authority, knowledge, and a high public profile provides instant credibility for your work. Most commercial publishers send out a “galley,”  the copyedited, typeset manuscript bound into what looks like a paperback. It’s not the final hardcover, but it’s the advance version of the book, a teaser sent out for reviews and testimonial quotes. This galley can also autographed and distributed at BookExpo America, where all the upcoming books are exhibited.

That's me in the sport jacket in the middle of Book Expo America, signing books.

In the middle of Book Expo America, signing books.

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My puppy Lucy resting on my arm as I sign books

My puppy Lucy resting on my arm as I sign books

 

My book galleys all lined up at Book Expo America

My book galleys all lined up at Book Expo America

How do you get these testimonial quotes? In my case, having worked as a  journalist for more than three decades, I’ve built up a rolodex of contacts. And I’m sure you have a professional network as well. Before the publication of my memoir about my dog, I made a list of every celebrity dog lover I could think of, including Betty White, Judge Judy, Calvin Klein, Mary Tyler Moore, Joan Rivers, Mariah Carey, and Mary Tyler Moore,  all of whom I’d interviewed for magazines.

 

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I was  touched by  what some of them wrote, comments seen scrolling in the right column of this page. Also, as my book has a light-hearted component to it, to make my overture an appealing one, I proceeded to send out 18 festive gift bags, into which were put edible dark chocolate dog bones, First Aid Kit for dogs, hand-painted Christmas ornaments in the shape of dog bones, cuddly stuffed cocker spaniel toys, treats for dogs from Pedigree, plus a hand-written note from me.

The Katie gift bags all lined up and ready to go

The Katie gift bags all lined up and ready to go

 

The Christmas ornament dog bone in every bag

The Christmas ornament dog bone in every bag

 

NEVER SEND OUT AN E MAIL OR A TYPED LETTER. A personal note hand-written by you on good quality stationery (I had Katie cards printed) will capture the interest of the recipient far more effectively than anything else. (Do your research and customize this note, making reference to the person’s past achievements and current activities, etc.)

The note card sent out for the Katie book

The note card sent out for the Katie book

Also, I always use either FedEx or a messenger service to deliver the gift bag, as doing it this way telegraphs that this package is an important one, something appealing they want to open.

Of course, if you’ve written a book about economics or politics, a fun gift bag such as the one I used is obviously not appropriate. You have to find what’s right for your subject. In fact, a gift bag isn’t even necessary. Just the bound manuscript and personal note are often enough, though if you’ve written a cookbook, brownies go a long way!

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In any case, what you’re asking for is just a few sentences of praise that capture the tone or flavor of your book. Some of those approached will simply not have the time to read your book; others may not want to provide a quote. But you’ll find that many people are receptive to your work.

So begin mapping out a list of people you can contact.

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Be practical. If you don’t know celebrities, don’t worry about it. Start with people in your community—leaders in your field who can relate to your story. Ask your friends and family and colleagues whom they know. Also make a dream list of people have attained greatness in their field. (Finding out the addresses of those you want to contact isn’t very hard nowadays, and you’d be surprised how delighted some people are to receive such a request.)

The goal is about 10 quotes, if possible, but just a few good ones from the right people are worth their weight in gold. It’s a great feeling turning over your book and seeing those quotes appear.

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Ultimately, when a customer picks up your book, or browses online for it, they’re going to read  those testimonial quotes, which can make all the difference  between buying the book and moving on to another one.

So dig in and enjoy the process of sharing your work with those you most admire.

In closing, I can tell you that my most treasured testimonial of all time was from former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, an esteemed book editor at Doubleday with whom I  conferred on projects. One day I asked her if she would write a short quote for my then agent who was supporting my TV interviews. It arrived in the mail a few days later and I was incredibly touched by it.

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Your hero or heroine just might be interested in your work too. Just reach out to them with confidence. You never know what can happen. That’s for sure!

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What Every Memoir Needs To Spread The Word–A “Book” Trailer

History Precedes Book Evolution of Book Trailers

For generations, moviegoers have been seduced into buying tickets for upcoming attractions by watching those all-important movie trailers, alluring previews that generate the ‘impulse buy,’ pulling you back into the theater for more.

These 30-second trailers are elaborately produced, intended to incite in the viewer a visceral reaction. I think of them as Hors d’oeuvres, whetting your appetite for the main course. In fact, I often make my decisions about what movies I see based upon trailers, which ideally give you the flavor and texture of the story without giving the plot away.

While movie producers have banked on the power of trailers for years, it’s only in the last few years that the book industry is finally catching up, borrowing the concept by producing so-called “book trailers”– video advertisements for new releases that can be acted out using flash videos, animation, or simple still photos set to music (with optional narration), designed to build advance interest and sales.

If you’ve written a memoir and want to promote it on social media–YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, etc.–you’re going to need a book trailer, which is like putting the cherry on a sunday. It’s fun to do and really works.

In fact, it’s hard to believe that the first book trailer wasn’t produced until 2003! And it wasn’t until 2005 when user-generated online video upload became more popular that such trailers become a common reality on sites like MySpace, YouTube and iFilm. The cost of such trailers to promote your memoir range from the bare bones low-end of $1500 to $15,000 and up depending on productions values. But such trailers turn out to be invaluable as an author can use them on social networking sites, in their press kits, in presentations to book chains, on commercial sites selling books, at Book Expo America, and at book readings.

The Final Book Jacket Design

When I learned all this about a year ago, my goal was creating a book trailer of my own. After all, KATIE UP AND DOWN THE HALL is an emotional, highly-visual story that takes place along the Hudson River–with a very photogenic dog (Katie), an adorable little boy (Ryan), and a charismatic matriarach (Pearl), so I envisioned a book trailer that could capture the color and mood of the story.

Glenn, Ryan, Pearl, and Katie

The best book trailers are really like poems with music, consisting of three major elements–an inspiring message (the script), beautiful images (in my case, a montage of photographs that illustrate our family story), and atmospheric background music that matches the mood of the story.

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To collect the visuals for my book trailer, I combed through 20 of my scrapbooks, choosing the most expressive pictures I could find. I eventually wound up with 300 “finalists,” that told the entire story of our 16 years together. From this pool of photos, I eventually narrowed it down to 65 pictures to tell the story of KATIE.

Finally, I needed to find background music that would match the mood of the story–and hopefully evoke in viewers an emotional reaction. One night, I found a great movie on cable titled “My Dog Skip,” and as soon as I heard the film score, I knew it was perfect for my story.

And now, with all three elements chosen, I needed a video and sound editor to put it all together. That’s when I turned to one of my best friends, actor Brandon Williams, who not only did the voice-over narration but the  editing as well, matching the meaning of the script to the image, creatively panning and zooming on pictures, coordinating the final look of the trailer.

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The final result speaks for itself. Just click and see.

I have to tell you that I’ve screened this trailer for many people–kids, seniors, businessmen, dog lovers, and those not even interested in dogs–and the reaction has been startling. Almost everybody who sees it cries! Why? I think it’s because each of us has a child, or a grandmother, or a best friend, or a dog in our lives who we’ve bonded with deeply–and who we’ve ultimately lost, due to the inevitability of death or separation.

Judy Judy arriving with me at the book party, complete with a book trailer playing for guests

Judy Judy arriving with me at the book party, complete with a book trailer playing for guests

Well, there you have the story of my book trailer. When you’re memoir is all written and ready, trust me when I tell you that producing the book trailer is a very enjoyable part of the process. So think about your story, collect all the visuals you have, work with your ghostwriter to create a dramatic script, start listening to all your favorite iTunes, and soon enough you’ll be on your way to producing the perfect book trailer that fits the content of your book.