How to Get Your Book Written with Help

. . . continued

A huge number of non-writers have “written” and published books. No doubt about it. Most of you will recognize the term “ghost writer” as the name of the professional who puts the story of the non-writer together. That is the best and most expensive way of getting your book written and ultimately published. (However, be cautioned: even obtaining the services of a professional writer who does his or her utmost on behalf of your story does not guarantee acceptance by a major publishing house, especially not in such difficult economic times. The way around this is self publication or submission to a smaller house.)

Does the ghost writer receive recognition? Only in the form of payment from the person to whom the story “belongs.” Think of the 1947 film, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, starring Gene Tierney and Rex Harrison. The screenplay was adapted by Philip Dunne, co-founder of the Screenwriters Guild, from the novel allegedly penned by R.A. Dick.  The ghost dictated his memoirs and Mrs. Muir claimed sole authorship. Someone, I would imagine Dick, had fun with the concept of the ghost writer.

What if a non-writer does not have the funds to attain the services of a professional ghost writer? That is what Tina, in the bus, asked me.

I had ideas for her:

  • Take a creative writing class at a local community college and start writing your book that way. The teacher will have to help you. Make sure the teacher is on board with this project before the drop deadline so you can get your money back just in case.
  • Approach the Humanities department at your local college and ask to speak with a few different writing teachers (not necessarily those teaching creative writing—they may be academic writing teachers of English 1A, etc.) These teachers may be able to recommend their most talented students, whom you will then have to approach for paid help. The objective here is to get a good writer to help you for less money.
  • Try to find a professional writer and make a different sort of offer: double billing for half the royalties.  If your story is good enough, why not, and who knows? If you cannot entice a professional local writer (writing teachers who are also professional writers are good choices) with your talented telling, then your story isn’t fascinating enough to be made into a book.

Can a non-writer write a book?

Setting: Amtrak bus on the Grapevine (the California mountain pass between Bakersfield and Los Angeles).

Details: Bumper-to-bumper conditions due to midday roadwork.  Fire and smoke right after roadwork.

As soon as the air conditioner broke and all heads bent inward towards the passageway to try and calculate how far the traffic congestion extended, Adair, a delightful 76 year-old adventuress with arresting eyes, put away the novel she was reading to begin telling stories to Tina, a young woman right across from Adair’s seat. Tina reciprocated with tales of her own.

I cannot resist a good story, let alone a dozen. I leaned inwards and introduced myself. (The young teenager in front of us never did talk, but listened with the biggest smile imaginable, holding her own book in her lap.)

At some point I mentioned being a writer/writing teacher. Tina, who has lived in 37 of our 50 states and done so many interesting things my eyeballs grew dry from repeated widening of the lids, paused to ask me a very sincere, serious question. “Is there any way for someone who is not a writer to write a book?”

Tina explained she is a horrible writer and probably got a C or B at best in English 1A. However, she has thought more than once of writing a book about her life, or some chunk of her life.

There are, in fact, several ways for a non-writer to write a book.  Some of the issues to be faced are the same as those besetting a professional writer. Tina mentioned that a family member had already criticized the idea, taking the wind out of her sails for a while.

The non-writer can pretty much count on that happening.  Since it is so predictable, why do we let negativity dissuade us? Because we are human. However, we can fortify ourselves against that negativity, deciding in advance to ignore it.

This is a long topic, and I hope Connie will join me in tackling the subject.  The first stepping stone, for writers and non-writers alike, is making the decision and finding advice/support.  (That is what we offer here at the Grassroots Writers Guild blogsite.)   There can be a hundred good reasons to write a book, even for a non-writer. For Adair’s son, the reason is therapy. He has been writing and rewriting his dog story (slightly paranormal, told from the p.o.v. of a dog) for at least eight years.  Adair, a proclaimed non-writer, thinks writing has done her son a world of good.  ( She told Tina and me to send her a Christmas card, and promised not to write back.)

Agents and marketing

Let’s be honest: there isn’t a writer among us who doesn’t want to get an agent and see his or her book(s) published by a major house. It isn’t our purpose here on The Grassroots Writer’s Guild to suggest otherwise. Our point is that we can’t just sit around on our hands, waiting for a contract to drop out of the sky. We all know it’s incredibly difficult to get an agent, and harder than ever to sell to our work to publishers directly. Much of that is due to conglomeration among publishers, but that’s a topic for another day. What’s relevant to this post is that as writers attempting to secure quality representation for our work, we must come up with ways to make that work stand out from the ever-increasing competition.

Agents are very skeptical of new authors, and, looking at it from their prospective, it’s hard to blame them. Literary agents run a business, and that business is to sell books that generate income. The expanse of the internet and e-mail, not to mention social networks like Facebook and Twitter, has made it a snap for anyone to “write” a book and push it to weary agents and editors without investing so much as a stamp. Given how tight the market has become, with fewer and fewer people actually reading for pleasure, agents must be incredibly selective with their client lists, especially fiction. They can no longer afford to take on writers whose work they personally fall in love with unless that work suggests a sure sale, or very close to it.

The question is, how do we convince them our book qualifies?

First and most importantly, we make sure it’s the best it can be before sending out queries. (That’s rudimentary advice, but you’d be surprised how many writers ignore it.) Write a good first draft, flush out the characters, write a second draft, tighten the plot, then rewrite it all again. When the story and characters have been shored up via a third draft, get some input from writing peers. Set aside emotions and digest their comments honestly. Edit some more and rewrite again. Strive for perfection, but—and this is important—don’t dwell on it or the project will never be complete.

Another thing we can do is develop strong marketing skills. It’s imperative to put ourselves and our books out there so readers can find us. Make a website and blog. Post sample chapters. Sell e-books and CDs. Offer to do readings at local bookstores and radio stations. Invest in a small number of printed copies and submit them for local reviews. Sell them as limited first editions. Do interviews. Get people talking. Develop an audience. Prove we have what it takes not only to write a good book but assist in promoting it. Doing so might not land us that elusive contract, but it might be enough to get a toe in the door.

Why the media hates Kobe Bryant

Katie (my daughter) sent me a link to David Brooks’ NYT column this morning, “History for Dollars,” and pointed out how it parallels my heroes post from a while back. She’s right. Brooks talks about the dip the humanities and liberal arts degrees have taken in recent years, how students have abandoned studies that teach them how to immerse themselves in the emotional aspects of life (including language and writing) in favor of specialized careers they hope will pay them mega bucks upon graduation. And surprise, surprise, he even mentions Kobe Bryant in the mix.

The money angle Brooks raises is a topic in itself, and it certainly isn’t confined to college students. Salaries in the NBA have grown to numbers beyond my comprehension—and probably that of old school players like Jerry West, Charles Barkley, Magic, and Bird as well, guys who played basketball because they couldn’t imagine themselves doing anything else. I’m not saying today’s NBA players aren’t worth a lot of money; they have skills that make them stand out from 99.9% of the rest of us, and deserve to be paid accordingly. So no, my gripe isn’t with the annual salaries of $10 to $20 million being shelled out across the league, rather the lack of passion that accompanies the majority of those stellar paychecks.

I can name on one hand the players in the league today whom I feel play every game as if it’s the most important thing in their life at that moment, and, as previously mentioned, Kobe tops my list. He’s the type who would be doing this for free if that’s what it took to play the game. (Kind of like us hapless writers who keep writing for peanuts, hey?) Kobe’s passion for what he does is obvious to anyone who watches him play—and therein, I think, is why he is among the most hated stars in the league insofar as the media is concerned. They just can’t seem to accept the fact that someone could love what he does that much and be the best in the world at doing it. Or, to put it in simple terms: they’re jealous. And that’s too bad for them because they’re missing a once-in-a-lifetime superstar playing at the top of his game, and doing it with an unsurpassed passion that Brooks calls The Big Shaggy. If the Lakers wind up losing again to the Celtics in this year’s Finals, it won’t be because Kobe hasn’t given his absolute very best. As a basketball fan, I couldn’t hope for anything more.

LOST Finale: Final Take

I waited a week before re-watching the LOST finale to see if my first impressions changed, only to find that my original conclusion—the show was all about the characters—is even more obvious the second time through. I had a tear or two in my eyes throughout that first viewing, mostly during the final few scenes. Last night, I was in tears for most of the final hour, and many spots during the first. All of the characters I had grown to love and care about over the past six seasons, each of whom was indeed “lost” when they arrived on the island, found their way to redemption. Jack saved the island, ensuring that life would go on and in the process finally accepted that death is a part of life; Kate proved to herself that she could be a better mother than her mother was; Sayid accepted he was a decent person worthy of forgiveness despite his past transgressions; Sun and Jin proved true love never dies; Sawyer learned how to trust; Hurley became the caretaker he was always meant to be; Locke’s faith was rewarded when he believed enough to let go; Ben learned he still has things to learn.

Fans will continue to debate the overall message of LOST for years to come, and none of the conclusions that evolve from those discussions will be proven right or wrong. We all take away from the show what it gave to us on an individual basis. There is no absolute interpretation—and therein lies the point. As in real life, LOST was about life, death, and everything that happens to us in between.  

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Disney and ABC studios for seeing what I know was an incredibly expensive and risky project through to the end. So often good programs appear and then disappear without warning, leaving fans frustrated. As incredible as it seems, LOST never achieved a regular spot in the top 10 or even top 20 shows for much of its run, yet ABC stuck with it, just as they promised they would. I’ve watched an incredible amount of television over the years, but I can say here and now without a doubt that I never enjoyed any program as much as I did LOST. And so, as Elvis would have said, thank you, ABC. Thank you very much.