The problem is that writing any book is a challenge even for professional writers. Writing a good book is very hard.
We have seen many highly-accomplished business people humbled by the process. They may have run big corporations, led thousands of people, and started magnificent enterprises. Yet after months of toiling alone they show up at our door because they can see for themselves that, “It’s just not good enough.” Or perhaps they were turned down by agents and want to know why.
These are the clients we love to work with most because A) they usually have strong content and ideas and B) they are high quality professionals with the great work ethic that writing a book requires.
They just don’t know the craft. We, on the other hand, have spent our lives working on books.
Herb and I often marvel at how the same writing issues seem to come up again and again. So I thought it might be helpful to share the three most common challenges we see, and explain what we do to help. Here goes.
Ivy Leaguers and CEOs
Can they write? Of course they can. They aced their way through grad school. They’ve been writing briefs and proposals and emails all their lives. They’re used to having an audience listen to what they say. The problem is that they often send us pages of really smart stuff that reads more like an A+ term paper—not a book.
- How a ghost can help: Facts are great, but not enough. A good ghost helps this writer get his or her unique voice down on the page, and find the courage to come out and say what he or she means–and do so with authority. Sometimes that means clear declarative sentences instead of passive voice. We usually begin by asking questions and listen for missing something. Often we can find it in spoken conversation. Other times, the Ivy Leaguer needs to find his or her inner storyteller and dramatize. A good ghost can do this or show the Ivy Leaguer how.
These folks tend to come from the entrepreneurial realm. They usually bring great creative energy and unique vision to their thought leadership. The challenge they face is that they’ve been speaking the virtues of their company for so many years, that they cannot resist repeating the “message,” whenever they can. As a result, their books tend to sound like ads for their company. All problems lead to the natural solution: hire us!
- How a ghost can help: Thought leadership is about bringing value to a large audience. A good ghost will ask questions to help you understand what this value is. Who are your readers? How do they really benefit from your ideas? What are you contributing to the larger conversation in a national or international scope? A good ghost can help you apply your story to greater importance than you may ever have known.
The Jargon-Filled Cream Puff
This is the alluring business person who seems to have mastered this whole thought leader thing. They are shooting for the TED stage and plan to help people lead better lives and find happiness. They speak in the jargon of the moment. And it sounds good but, upon closer inspection, it is all quite familiar.
- How a ghost can help. An experienced ghostwriter will strip away your jargon to find the substance that no one has heard before. What if there’s not enough there there? Then maybe it’s not time yet to write a book. Or maybe this is where the work begins. The ghost can help find the research and ask questions that will spark new and deeper thinking. The process is a journey.
Crossing the chasm from expert to thought leader will require you bring your courage with you. You will also need passion for your subject and for teaching and drawing out the passions of others. In most cases, we find that the urge to write is a generous and full-spirited expression of our humanity. That’s why we love what we do.