Your ego is letting you down.
In today’s highly volatile publishing marketplace, there are thousands of writers who are hoping to catch the eye of a literary agent, book editor, or publisher. It’s certainly not an easy thing to do, as many people have figured out by now. But sometimes authors who are truly serious about their ideas—particularly those who have intentions of writing for a wide audience—might need a little help getting there. I know what you’re thinking: I was born to write; if only people would recognize my talents! Or perhaps you’re the kind of writer who pours over a manuscript day in and day out, hoping that it becomes truly perfect—a magnum opus—right before your very eyes. It’s not the end of the world if you come to the conclusion that you may need some help or advice from someone with more experience.
Unless you’re a celebrity with oodles of money floating around and literally zero time to write a book, you’re probably more devoted to your craft. You’ve attended writers’ conferences, book fairs, seminars, workshops, and all manner of performances from literary geniuses in hopes that some of that pertinent info would somehow seep its way into your cranium through osmosis, rote memorization, or sheer will. You’ve read all the books on the mechanics of writing and even some of those seedier versions of How to Become a Bestseller Overnight. The endless YouTube videos. Clearly, writing is what you enjoy, so learning a bit about what those bestselling authors are doing should make it easier for you to sell your work, promote yourself, right? I invite you to come back to this post in a few months and see if anything has changed in your mission to achieve bestseller status. Chances are high that it hasn’t changed all that much.
Anyone who is serious about becoming a published author might compare a ghostwriter to the devil incarnate. After all, why would you pay someone else to write for you when you are perfectly capable of doing it yourself? That is one of the largest hurdles any author has to make, especially if the author is very confident in his or her writing abilities. But, then again, if you’ve been saying that for some time, with very few results (a bona fide publishing contract; an exponential, meteoric spike in your social media followers; your Klout score reaching as close to 100 as possible; people randomly showing up at your door bearing gifts), the question really becomes, How long am I going to continue on this path?
Well, now it’s time to put the crucifixes away and get down to business. The real issue is how to get your writing into the hands of readers, right? Not just your friends and neighbors, mind you, but real readers who have either heard about your work from someone else who has read it; through some sort of advertisement or book review in a major publication; or via that television talk show host who can’t stop saying, “love it, love it, LOVE IT!” when referring to your book, the eyes of the audience members all glazed over and thirsting for more.
Well, here’s the cold, hard truth: there is no magic formula. There’s no system that will take your idea straight to Ellen DeGeneres’s studio so she can go on ad nauseam about what a great writer you are. But there are a few things you can do to increase your chances. One of them is hiring a book doctor. The other is—gulp—working with a professional ghostwriter.
So, if you are serious about seeing your name listed on the New York Times bestseller list anytime soon, you might consider working with a professional who has either been there already or has already been recognized for his or her literary craft—or someone who works with published authors all the time. Here are some signs that you might be better off with a ghostwriter or, at the very least, the advice of a book doctor. At any rate, it is a clear indication that you are suffering from Aspiring Authoritis.
- You spend more than two hours a day tweeting/Facebooking about your books. Every social media guru that comes to mind says this is a clear no-no. Yet there are thousands upon thousands of authors who do it every day. Unless most of your followers are doing the same thing, the average Twitter user will be clearly annoyed. Also, using Crowdfire or some other social app to tweet automatic responses to your followers when they follow you, detailing your great books, is a big turn-off.
- You’ve revised your manuscript eight times and still won’t let anyone see it. Many authors—and I’ve worked with many—suffer from a slight case of the Perfectionist Blues. They want their books to be “perfect” before anyone sees them. Without the input of an expert—a book editor, manuscript assessor, beta reader—an author can spin his or her wheels unnecessarily for millennia. But then, when it comes time for someone who is an expert to look at it, there is some remorse about the mistakes in spelling, grammar, or even the plot or the character that wasn't developed well enough. So much for perfection.
- You don’t take the constructive feedback of a professional book editor or book doctor and, instead, throw a pity party. “What do they know anyway?” you might say. “I’m going to do this my way!” Folks, the ego is a very strong component of human personality. If you don’t believe me, a very accomplished gentleman by the name of Sigmund Freud wrote volumes about it. That means we are not the best critics of our own work and, more aptly, our own abilities. Maybe that’s why we seek the approval of others, to help us stroke our ego even more. And the whole self-publishing rigmarole is rife with egomaniacs who want nothing more than to do it their way (cue Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” here).
- You don’t hire a professional book editor or book doctor because you don’t want your ego to be damaged. Now that the crucifixes are clearly locked away, let’s talk honestly about this. Again, the ego is not always our best friend; it exists to protect us, yes, but it’s not always accurate. Going it alone in publishing is like refraining from going to the hospital when you’ve been impaled by a tent spike. If you trust your regular doctor, you can learn to trust a book doctor. Yes, you’re a fragile and sensitive soul, which is why writing appeals to you in the first place. Being a book doctor is very akin to being a psychotherapist for that very reason. Writers want to express their pains, upsets, and setbacks—or their triumphs and accomplishments—in writing for others to read. But if you are afraid of getting deep enough into those issues to resolve them (in your writing AND in your life), why start the journey in the first place? Suffice it to say, if you don’t take rejection or criticism well, you’ve chosen the wrong profession.
- You’ve submitted hundreds of queries to agents and you can’t get a near one interested in you. I know J. K. Rowling’s story, the one where she pitched to hundreds of agents. One was bold enough to say, “You’ll never be a published author.” And we all know what happened there. Determination is one thing—actually an overused term in indie publishing circles—but determination alone does not get your book on a shelf. Determination is overused in publishing because people blog on and on about the importance of “sticking with it”—that somehow not sticking with it means you are a failure. The textbook definition of insanity, however, is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. I’ll just leave that one hanging in the air.
- You obsess about your editor’s feedback. I made it a policy long ago when I began working with self-publishing authors (even some who were seeking to trad publish) not to provide a response to questions like, “What do you think of my book?” or “Do you think this has a chance of getting published?” or even “How much money do you think I will make when I self-publish this book?” A lot of other editors who have been working with non-trad-published authors adopt the same policy. Why? Most editors will tell you about writing strengths and weaknesses, particularly if you are working with an editor in a developmental capacity. The only time I answer those questions is when they are not asked of me; instead, when I find a diamond in the rough—a rare occasion—I’m like Ellen DeGeneres. Get my drift? If you have to ask an editor to be “brutally honest” about your book, chances are they won’t be. Instead, they may tell you what you want to hear (ego), sidestep the question, or focus on issues that would make the writing stronger.
A great book speaks for itself. You don’t have to tweet about how awesome it is, or how awesome some guy you paid to read it says it is. It will speak for itself. If the talent is there, it will shine through. With the help of your editor, it will make its way into the hands of readers who will “love it, love it, LOVE IT!” without so much as you batting an eyelash. So perhaps it’s time to take a moment of silence and reflect on the old way you used to get people interested in your writing. It wasn’t working, and you’ll be better off for it.
(Moment of silence.)
If you are serious about continuing, and this time doing it in a way that will get far better results in the long run, there are two avenues I can recommend. The first is to look for a book doctor. What do I mean by book doctor? This is someone who, like a regular MD, uses his or her experience to assess issues and figure out the best course of action. But I must warn you: you may not like what you hear, because it could be the end of your writing career. An effective book doctor will have had many years’ experience working on manuscripts. Less concerned about your ability to write, he or she focuses on the big picture. He or she has already worked on dozens upon dozens of projects that have been published traditionally and can separate the wheat from the chaff with the greatest of ease. Many book doctors have tons of connections in publishing (agents, editors, publishers) who, oddly enough, rely on their input in making decisions about what to publish.
Developmental editors make good book doctors as well. Look for dev editors who have had extensive experience working with manuscripts at major publishing houses or who have received numerous accolades from budding authors who suddenly had a eureka moment after working with them. They are likely to share such experiences on their websites and via social media, too. (But, just to be clear, the book doctors themselves are not tweeting three hundred times a day about how wonderful they are; rather, their clients are the ones doing it. Are you starting to understand how this is supposed to work?) If you haven’t had someone with significant publishing experience assess your work, are you suturing your own wounds, too?
The second option is—another large gulp—to forgo writing as a career entirely. Yes, you read that right. But that doesn’t mean your brain has to stop working. That doesn’t mean you don’t have a story to tell. I’m just suggesting that you are not the one to bring that to life. By now you should know that I am talking about hiring a ghostwriter.
Let’s take one more moment of silence. This can be a lot to swallow at one time.
It’s not the end of the world. Having a great idea or great story is far different from being able to make it fly off a page. Many authors make that mistake. They think their flair for creativity or ingenuity or their shear magical genius is enough to make everyone in the world stop what they’re doing when 11:59:59 p.m. hits on day-before-book-x-release day and wait for the “Order Now” button to become active. Again, that ego really needs a reality check, my dear aspiring author.
A ghostwriter is someone who gets paid to write; instead of them making millions off their own writing, which may also be the case, they work with authors who are having trouble getting the words to stick to a page—and then you get all the credit! Doesn’t that sound wonderful? Going back a bit to the gets paid to write clause above, this is someone who is a professional copywriter, journalist, or award-winning, traditionally published author. Good ghostwriters have connections in publishing—well, because publishers like what they write. Duh.
The unfortunate side of all of this is that both of these avenues are not cheap. You may be able to hire a ghostwriter for $1,000 to write your full-length fantasy novel called, “Phantasy, Because I’m a Clever Chap,” but it’s not going to go anywhere. You may as well write it yourself and hit repeat. A good, professional, well-credentialed ghostwriter will cost you upwards of $10,000. But ghostwriters also work in a collaborative capacity, enhancing or amplifying your writing to a traditional publishing standard. A good book doctor can charge $3,000 or more, depending on the size of the project and the work involved.
So, that said, I really hate to be the bearer of bad news. I’ve seen far too many authors begin the process of diagramming, drafting, and revising (and revising, and revising...) a book idea and then hoping that the rest will take care of itself. I’ve seen too many authors who are dissolutioned by social media blog posts and "experts" making false promises (Sell Truckloads of Books on Amazon!). I've also seen authors who expect a copyeditor to give their manuscripts the Midas touch.
For those authors who want nothing more than to stroke their own egos—which certainly is fine…to a point—by all means, continue writing and self-publishing and begging people to read your books. But if you are really serious about reaching that je nais se quoi status—that it factor—then you really must begin to look at writing like any other profession. There are experts…and then there are quasi-experts. Oh, and quacks. If you’re okay with mediocrity and the vicious cycle of insanity then, by all means, keep doing what you’re doing. If, on the other hand, you want to see your name in lights, you’d be wise to hop aboard another train.
(P.S., out of one hundred or so odd start-to-finish book projects on which I’ve worked in the past ten years, I can count on one hand the number of authors I have clearly felt had a shot at making it. Now I’m fighting for them and helping them do it. If you ask your editor, he or she will probably tell you the same thing.)
Ready to stop spinning your wheels? Put down your pen and paper—or stop typing!—and talk to us about ghostwriting or developmental editing.