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“YOU’RE HIRED!”: How the Best Ghostwriters Get the Job

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Since I became a freelance ghostwriter and editor in 2002, I’ve had the privilege of working on more than 250 books across a wide range of genres, both fiction and nonfiction. Each time, I had to convince my potential client that I was the right guy for the job. Sure, credentials and experience play a large role, but winning each author’s confidence—assuring them that their project will be in great hands if they hire you—demands more than just a solid resume. You must also gain their trust so they feel comfortable bringing you into what can be an extremely personal process. Not sure how to do that? Here are some things I’ve learned:

Trust = Testimonials

I frequently speak at writers conferences and seminars. During the Q&A, there’s always a few authors who’ve been burned by “editors” who turned out to be anything but. Many of them were found through online companies I won’t mention (coughElance) where anybody can call themselves anything they want, and they often do. On these sites, if you have a copy of The Chicago Manual of Style and skimmed it at least once, you can proclaim yourself an editor.

The most frequent seminar question I get is, “How do you find a GOOD editor?”

“Simple,” I reply, “the Number One question to vet an editor is ‘Can you provide me with names and numbers of some of your authors?’ If they say, ‘That’s privileged information’ or ‘I’m not at liberty to give out names’, immediately hang up. All good editors have eminently satisfied clients who are willing to take time out of their schedules to talk about their experience.” After all, what you can say about yourself is important, but it doesn’t count as much as what others say about you.

Over the years, I’ve made a point to get a one paragraph testimonial from my most successful authors. Some were bestsellers, others used the book I edited to launch a speaking career. As I explain to the authors and speakers at the beginning of their project, if anyone ever asks, “Are you an expert?” all you have to do is hold up your book and say, “Yes I am.” A published book is a door-opener. It gives you credibility. In other words, building an author’s self-esteem is often a win-win.

And where do potential authors find these glowing testimonials of mine?

Website or Bust

I haven’t had business cards printed up in over five years. Somebody asks: “Do you have a card?” My response: “Yes … cliffcarle-dot-com … my website is my business card.”

I spent more money developing my website than any other aspect of my business. It showcases the books I’m most proud of, my greatest accomplishments, my profile, areas of expertise, the services I provide, an advice column (writing tips), MY TESTIMONIALS, and more. Most important, it is uncluttered and very easy to navigate (i.e., author friendly). Plus it was designed to be updatable, by me; meaning I don’t have to rehire a web tech each time I want to add info or make a change. And as a matter of respect, my Author List is password protected. This way they won’t be bothered by spammers looking to sell them something (e.g., How To Be A Bestselling Author In One Easy Lesson). I give the password out only to people I’ve vetted.

Thanks to my website I never have to advertise. It keeps my phone ringing.

Samples…Schmamples

Showing a sample of your work to a prospective author is a crap shoot. I’ve been both hired and disqualified by a writing sample alone. In the case of disqualification, it was never the quality of my work; rather the genre didn’t match, or the story (fiction) or subject matter (nonfiction) didn’t resonate with the potential author. Oftentimes, I let the weight of my body of work, combined with my testimonials and profile do the selling for me. But there are some authors who absolutely insist on seeing a sample. I’ve discovered that sending one fiction sample to a fiction author is like going to the gunfight at the OK Corral with one bullet in your six-shooter. The writing sample I use today comprises a variety of genres and styles. The overall effect demonstrates that I am versatile and will do good work no matter the type of project.

My writing sample comprises excerpts of serious fiction, humorous fiction, self-help, narrative nonfiction, memoir – and each is preceded by a paragraph describing how I addressed the author’s needs and/or the result. For example, “His book was made into a major motion picture starring Bruce Willis.”

Confidence Counts

Nothing succeeds like confidence. But I learned the hard way there are two kinds. When I first went freelance, having owned and operated a publishing company for 19 years, I knew I was good. Add to that, it was always the author’s job to convince me. Thus, my attitude was one of “cocky confidence.” Subsequently, my hire rate was about 50%. It rocketed to around 90% when I learned my style had evolved into what I call “quiet confidence.” But when asked to describe this quality, it’s hard to say exactly. One day I noticed I wasn’t bragging or trying to hard sell myself. I was just calmly talking to the author as if I already had the job. In many cases, again without really being conscious of it, I had somehow turned the tables around so that I was interviewing them, as if I was making sure they were the right author for me to work with.

Laugh It On

Most books on how to conduct a successful job interview warn you, “Don’t try to be funny!” The wrong joke or a failed attempt at humor can put off your potential employer – perhaps make him/her think you’re not taking the job seriously. I have never followed that advice. I always take the risk of using levity with a potential client. In my experience, time and again, humor wins the day. I have found that it makes the author feel that the process is not going to be all drudgery – yes there’ll be work (doing their assigned rewrites), but I’ll make sure there’s a fun aspect to it as well. Okay, I have an advantage over many editors/ghostwriters in that I used to be a standup comedian who excelled at ad-libbing with the audience; plus a joke writer for Joan Rivers, Jay Leno, and others. But invoking humor evolves naturally out of the aforementioned quiet confidence.

Finally, know this: No doesn’t mean “never” – no means “not right now”. And over the years I’ve upgraded that to no means “not this very instant” – often switching a no to a maybe to a yes in a minute. How? Find out what the author’s concerns are, address them, and no becomes “You’re hired! How soon can we start?”

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