How to Write the Perfect Wedding Toast
Alicia Ostarello and Angie Sommer are cofounders of Vow Muse, a ghostwriting service for all the special moments in your life including custom-written vows, speeches, and ceremonies. They have been featured in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Brides, and Good Morning America being recognized as "Toast Whisperers." Learn more at vowmuse.com or by following @vowmuse on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.
First of all, can you give me a quick rundown of how your business model works?
Absolutely! After a client finds us (generally through a good old fashioned Google search), we set up a consultation — a fancy way of saying we ask a lot of questions and really listen to how our client thinks, feels, and talks. Then they’re off the hook, and we get to work writing. We always have two muses on every project — one to write, one to edit — before a polished first draft is delivered. We work with the client on feedback and revisions so that every word is perfect!
How long have you been doing this, and how did you get into it in the first place?
For me (Alicia) it began as a favor for a friend who was getting married...and then another friend. And another. After the third soon-to-be married friend reached out for help writing their wedding vows — and after being in the audience for many a choppily written, generic, or even confusing speeches and ceremonies — I realized there might be something here.
If friends were asking her for this service, there would probably be strangers who would be more than happy to pay for the service too. As a writer, I knew I could help. After all, people hire florists to arrange the flowers, bakers to bake the cake, so why not a writer to write the vows? That’s when I reached out to Angie, to see if she’d like to join me in this new endeavor. She said "I do" — and we’ve been working together ever since.
Can you briefly tell me about 2-3 of the most memorable clients you’ve worked with (no need to name names if you can't!)? What made them special or unique?
It’s so hard to pick just a few!
A couple, Jon and Hannah, recently came to us together with the goal of creating a meaningful and fun experience for their guests (who were traveling to Ireland for their wedding!). Which meant we got to write all the words for their wedding — ceremony, vows and thank you speech. Hearing how much they cared about creating a special experience for their friends and family, and getting to know them both so closely, was a treat. We finished the project quietly thinking, “Do they want to be our friends?!”
Amanda and Grant were a memorable couple for sure, because their wedding was the world’s first hydro-jetpack wedding. Yes, you read that right… check out the photos! It’s in the Guiness Book of World Records, too. We not only wrote their wedding ceremony, but Alicia officiated as well.
And then Les and Rafael hold a special place in our hearts because they were the very first couple we officiated for. Their wedding incorporated Les’ Scottish heritage, Raf’s Latin American background, and writing for them was powerful because it was our first real glimpse into what it really meant to bring all of yourself to a commitment, and love each other unconditionally.
(We have more stories on our website too!)
The work you do is highly personal. How do you get an idea of the client, their vision, and who they are in order to craft their vows, speeches, toasts, etc.?
All of our custom services include a consultation. We send our clients a set of curated questions beforehand to get the creative juices flowing and so they’re ready for the types of questions we’ll ask. During the call we not only get to learn more about our client and what’s important to them, but we get to hear their unique voice. So we’re not only figuring out what they want to say, but we’re also hearing the way they use their words so we can mimic that when we’re writing.
Then, of course, the revision process is important too. As much as we like to think we’ll score a perfect 10 with the first draft, there’s usually a little bit of revising to get everything word-perfect. And sometimes reading our first draft gives our clients new ideas about what to include, which can all get integrated into the second draft (really fulfilling our whole “Muse” concept!).
Based on your website, it looks like you're a company run completely by women (and it looks like fairly young women too), which is awesome. How do you think this contributes to your overall mission and success?
One thing that surprised us when we started this business was how excited clients were to have “someone who looks like they could be my friend” officiate their wedding—it was a selling point we hadn’t considered, and it’s when we started putting our photos on the website. Admittedly, at first we worried it could hinder us...would father-of-the-brides really trust two young women with his speech? (Phew, yes!) Also, I think it’s socially more acceptable to share your emotions with a woman. I’d assume people are more likely to trust me with their feelings right off the bat than they would a man, which means I spend less time having to prove that I’m going to really hear a client. Did we just stumble into woman-privilege?! :)
Not sure if this is woman-related, or just compassionate-human related, but we strive to be collaborative and inclusive—both with our clients, and with our team. We tend to make sure everyone is comfortable with the new idea or direction we’re going before charging forward, we are super communicative, and we actively listen to each other. Since our tacit mission to help people authentically express themselves , it helps that we are inherently interested in authentic expression ourselves.
We are also really flexible. For example, Angie is a new mom (yay!) which means she has lots of new-mom things to do, and has less time than before. But that made us more nimble and thoughtful in our approach, forcing us to prioritize better and not sweat the small stuff. Basically we know that life happens and we’re resilient enough to not just work with that but learn from it.
What are some of the challenges you regularly face when working with your clients?
The biggest challenge we face is when clients aren’t sure what to say during our consultation. It totally makes sense—we’re asking some pretty personal stuff! But this is why having a phone call or video call is so important. We can have a conversation that ebbs and flows, and we can ask follow up questions or pivot the conversation in real time. That wouldn’t happen as effectively if we just asked our clients to fill out a form.
Another challenge we face is our own inner-critics. Pretty sure we all feel a little flutter of “oh gosh, I hope they like this!” when we send a draft to a client, and hold our breaths until we get a response from them. You’d think after ten years this feeling would subside, but it honestly hasn’t.
How did you cultivate the network that supports your business? (For example, do you have a network of officiants and other professionals you recommend to people, and how did you get connected with them?
When we first started Vow Muse, writing wedding vows and speeches wasn’t really a thing, and we struggled to get business (we did so many cold emails, dropping off business cards to wedding stores, and guest blogs). Now that we’ve been doing this for awhile, and all our friends and family know what we do, our network expands a bit more organically. Friends will introduce us to folks in the wedding industry, and people find us on the internet and introduce themselves (hi!).
Having gone through that process of really working to create a network, we look for ways to help other writing, wedding, and small businesses out. This can be as simple as adding rad photographers, planners, DJs, and other wedding professionals to our referral list, or saying “Yes!” when a stranger asks if they can guest blog — or it can be more involved, like hearing about a cool business idea (have you heard of Honeydew?) and reaching out to see how we might work together, or contributing to a local wedding professional Facebook group.
Do you typically work only in your region, or are your clients more widespread?
Our clients are both national and international! If a client is local, we love meeting in person — and if they’re not, phone and video chat make it easy to bridge any distance the globe can offer.
Do you need a ghostwriter? Pitch your book to us below, and we'll work to match you with ghostwriters like Alicia and Angie who can help you bring your vision to life.