ghostwriting

What Boomers Writing Their Memoirs Can Learn from Millennials

Millennials are Comfortable in the Spotlight

At 32, I’m a millennial—part of that much-scorned generation of selfish, entitled, participation-trophy-toting crybabies. If you ask me, of course, we have plenty to cry about:

  • Crushing student loan debt.

  • High unemployment and historically low pay.

  • More stress and depression than any generation before.

  • Being priced out of the housing market.

  • A racist and misogynist president.

  • A dying planet.

But.

What we do have going for us is likewise significant. We’re also:

  • The best-educated generation.

  • Incredibly tech-savvy.

  • Closer to equal pay and gender equality than any generation before.

  • Comfortable with being in the spotlight.

That’s right—since most millennials came of age on the internet, and the vast majority of us have social media accounts, we know what it’s like to put it all out there—and be seen.

After all, we’ve always known Big Brother was watching. He’s just been more obvious of late.

Millennials Demand Great Stories

Captains of our ships, men, women, and non-binary individuals alike between the ages of 22 and 37 are okay with—and may even demand that we’re—living a great story. And we’re okay with earning recognition for it. 

That is: We live big lives, take great risks, and love hard. And then we tell the world about it.

After all, practically any achievement by a millennial in this political and economic climate deserves much more than a participation trophy.

Millennials Live for the Now—and Know Their Worth

In a lot of ways, I and my friends are screwed. We can’t afford kids. We don’t know when (or if) we’ll retire. We don’t expect Social Security. With rising healthcare costs, who knows if Medicare will stick around, either? 

For that matter, who knows if the planet will?

And yet, because we can’t live for the future, we live for the now. More than any generation before us, we celebrate everyday moments big and small—by posting them to Instagram. We Tweet random thoughts over bowls of Cheerios and engage the serious debates that follow. We lift each other up and we never discount our own worth.

Especially the value of our voices.

After all, that’s the only vehicle for social change that my generation seems to have embraced.

Millennials Take Credit Where It’s Due

I cannot say the same for the older adults I work with, who need so much coaxing, so much safe-space-building, to believe that I—or anyone—wants to hear their stories.

Generally, clients 70+ don’t want to write a memoir about themselves, but so many friends and family members have badgered them about it that they’ve finally agreed. Only, once we’ve sat down together over cups of coffee, they downplay their lives. Couch stories about trailblazing careers and raising large families in vague language and a “Well, that’s just what we did”-mentality, refusing to take credit where it’s due.

Boomer Writing Memoir.jpg

Oh, boomers and the silent generation. We want to hear your stories. We want to learn from you. We want to honor you! Let the selfish, entitled, “me” generation teach you what it’s like to focus on yourself … because you never have before.

To my fellow millennials: I can’t wait to read your memoirs. When you’re 70+, you will have under your belts a lifetime of practice at sharing your story. I know they will be spectacular.

After all, you’ve already shown me that they are.

5 Questions to Ask Your Ghostwriter

So, you’re thinking about hiring a ghostwriter. Whether you go with Cider Spoon Stories or any other company/individual, there are five things you’ll want to ask your prospective hire.

1. What’s your experience?

At time of writing, Jess has ghostwritten dozens of memoirs, two hands’ worth of self-help/business books, six novels (her own just came out from Cinestate), and as many screenplays. She’s also edited more than that in each category. With a masters of fine arts degree in creative writing, she’s taught writing at the university and community levels and has run Cider Spoon Stories full-time since December 2014.

Bottom line: Make sure the person has at least some experience in the field. If you’re their first client (and thus, their grand experiment), don’t be afraid to ask that the price reflects entry-level work. By the same token, don’t ask a ghostwriter with many years’ experience to lower his/her pricing. Most of us have more clients than we can take on as it is, and you’ll end up being kindly dismissed.

2. How do you charge?

Any ghostwriter worth her salt will charge by the project or the word count—not the page. Why? Page count means literally nothing in this field, as there are far too many variables. What’s a page? 8.5”x11” or 6”x9”? Times New Roman or Arial? 11 pt font or 12? Single or double spacing? Microsoft Word or Apple Pages? Raw file or laid out text?

Bottom line: Anyone who quotes you by the page will screw you, or screw themselves, and someone will end up unhappy. Word count, on the other hand, is unarguable—it is what it is. Project pricing may be more fair for longer-term relationships.

3. How long will it take?

Jess Hagemann, Austin-based ghostwriter and editor.

Jess Hagemann, Austin-based ghostwriter and editor.

Jess schedules her clients for 6-12 months out, so everyone can plan accordingly. Once we start, it takes 3-6 months to write, edit, polish, lay out, and print your book. The exact timeline depends on book length and specs. Do you want a 5,000-word digital ebook, no printing? That won’t take more than a month. A 75,000-word memoir? Now we’re talking closer to 9 months when all is said and done.

Bottom line: This goes hand-in-hand with experience, as more experienced ghostwriters will be able to tell you with more accuracy how long your proposed project should take depending on factors like book length and how fancy/involved your final (printed) product will be.

4. Who owns the rights?

At Cider Spoon Stories, the copyright remains 100% in your name at all times. If you go on to sell hundreds of copies of your self-published book, or strike a deal with a commercial publisher, you keep every penny of the proceeds. The flip side is that Jess always gets her fee upfront (because the amount of work she puts in doesn’t change either way) and never writes on commission or for royalties.

Bottom line: Every ghostwriter has a different business model. Think about what will work best for you according to your goals for the book.

5. Who else is involved?

Jess is a writer. It’s what she loves most and she’s good at it. She has less experience in (and less love for) graphic design and printing—so she subcontracts those parts of your project to trusted professionals. If those are your area of expertise, then you can even do them yourself! She’ll get you the file types you need to preserve any formatting in the translation to print.

Bottom line: Confidentiality—and a great product—are key in ghostwriting. Make sure your contract reflects that, and that the business you hire values integrity and hard work in its primary employees and subcontractors.

Profile Writing 101: Guest Blog by Marissa Merkt

Cider Spoon Stories’s spring intern, Marissa Merkt!

Cider Spoon Stories’s spring intern, Marissa Merkt!

In addition to interning with Cider Spoon Stories, I write cat profiles for a local animal shelter, Austin Pets Alive (APA!). A profile is a type of feature story that covers a particular person—or in my case, cat—and what they are currently up to. Oftentimes, magazines highlight celebrities with a profile.  

But how do you successfully write a profile, capturing someone's total essence?

Start Strong

First off, grab the reader’s attention right away. Make them want to read on and find out more about the person you are writing about.

Rachel Deah, columnist and news director for Publishers Weekly, advises, “Readers will decide whether to keep reading based on your lede and how much you have piqued their interest.”

Cover the Basics

Make sure you include the most important facts. Try to weed out the unnecessary filler information and find, as Marie Kondo would recommend, “what is purposeful.” Today's attention span is brief, so the shorter the better.

Additionally, make sure all your facts are correct. Common mistakes include incorrect name spellings, locations, and dates.

Identify a Key Characteristic

How do you want your subject to be remembered? Are they a nature-lover like Anne of Green Gables, or maybe a tough fighter like Katniss Everdeen? Try to come up with a couple characteristics to focus on when writing your profile. This makes the profile more interesting and less like a boring biography report.

Keep in mind that writing is more powerful when you “show, don't tell.” This can be done through word choice and descriptions. For instance, if I am writing about a single mom who worked 3 jobs to support her children, I don’t need to state that she is resilient. Just by describing her work ethic, you can see this.

Feature a Catchy Anecdote

Writing profiles is fun when you follow these easy steps!

Writing profiles is fun when you follow these easy steps!

As mentioned in our bio-writing class, engage the audience with something funny and entertaining. Don't just state mundane facts. Is there a quirky story on how the subject got involved with their vocation? Typically, for my cat profiles I make a joke or reference based on their name. For example, one cat was named Ralph, so I alluded to the Disney beast by writing: “Ralph is on a mission to wreck people’s hearts with his too-cute-to-handle face.”

Keep the Goal in Mind

For my cat profiles, the end goal is to portray the cats in a positive light, so they get adopted. Is the profile you’re writing for the subject’s company website? A graduation program? Purpose drives the writing style and determines what material to cover.

Happy writing! If all else fails, hire a profile writer!

Pixel-F*cking: Or The Fight to Stay Relevant

As a writer, I’m forever interested in the origins and multi-layered definitions of words—especially words I haven’t heard of before. “Pixel-fucking” is a term I just learned from a graphic designer friend. Apparently, it describes the way that clients will nitpick a drawing to an absurd degree, requesting that the designer move an element by half an inch, for example, or lighten a color by a single shade: considerations that don’t actually impact the overall effectiveness of a layout, but are nevertheless annoying and even offensive, as it means the client has zero respect for the designer’s time and creative ability. They can’t see the wood for the trees, as it were.

Ghostwriters don’t call this phenomenon pixel-fucking (we don’t generally work in pixels), but the same thing happens in our industry. It tends to present in the form of word choice or syntax—like when a client takes a beautifully constructed sentence that borders on poetry, and mangles it with the insertion of a different word or a run-on phrase that makes the sentence read awkwardly, and nothing at all like the sentences couching it. It’d be like someone dribbling black paint over Bob Ross’s happy little trees on live TV (were Bob Ross still around to grace us with his talent). Sure, the rest of the painting is still beautiful and skillfully rendered, but it’s really hard to appreciate that majestic mountain backdrop with such a glaring error in the middle of the otherwise peaceful stream.

I mean, whatever kind of work we’re talking, you hired a professional for a reason, right? Because you knew you couldn’t do it yourself, or at least not as well as the person you trusted to do it better than you. So let them do their job. Let us do our jobs.

There are so many reasons that pixel-fucking (and its extended family of black sheep cousins) rears its ugly head. Most of them are rooted in control—or a lack thereof. When money is involved, it does funny things to people. Clients think that they’re entitled to services beyond the scope of the clear and explicit contract they previously and in full consciousness signed. They’re unable to acknowledge the creative miracle that has occurred in just a few weeks’ time (that is, the birth of the very thing they said they wanted), when, without the creative professional, it wouldn’t exist at all.

“Pixel-fucking” and its related black sheep cousins are a kind of creative abuse that you should never inflict on your freelancer.

“Pixel-fucking” and its related black sheep cousins are a kind of creative abuse that you should never inflict on your freelancer.

And yes, I know it’s scary. You put your life story on paper, and suddenly it’s out there for the world to read. For the world to judge. But that’s what you wanted, because in an overpopulated world of flash consumerism, you’re fighting to stay relevant. To convince yourself that you matter—that your life has mattered—to anyone other than you.

Ghostwriters (and all other professional creatives) get that … because we want it, too.

Think of it this way. Each of us born with a certain set of gifts, no? Talents and skills, hidden or honed over years of conservatory training. You want a lasting testament to those gifts, for the benefit of everyone who comes after you. (In case you’re doubting, your readers DEFINITELY benefit. I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned from my war veteran clients about family and my housewife clients about sacrifice. Maybe you’re thinking those two should be switched. Nope. That’s one thing I’ve learned.) Anyway, we professionals have gifts, too—and we’ve chosen to exploit them for financial gain; i.e., “to make a living.” Our legacy is the work we do for you: the product mockups and the fashion designs and the webpage bones and the headshots and the books. It’s how we stay relevant: by making sure that you do.

So, won’t you help us help you? If you’ve hired a freelancer lately, and didn’t tip them upon completion of service, remember it’s never too late. If you’re looking to hire, for the love of pizza don’t quibble over pricing. No one is out to ‘scam’ you: we simply have skills we’ve spent lifetimes developing and we know what they’re worth. You want a high-quality product that makes you stand out—makes you unforgettable—captures you the way you’ve always wanted to be seen. We can do exactly that, provided you leave the black paint at home.

The Haunt and The Hunger: Writing to Heal PTSD

The Haunt and The Hunger

Just this week, I worked with a female soldier to share the story of her rape. It happened over a decade ago, but she’s still processing what her therapists call “non-combat-related PTSD.” As a physician in the army, today she helps patients just like herself come to terms with assault: both The Incident itself, and The Incident’s aftermath: STDs. Uncontrollable crying. A feeling like the world is caving in on you.

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Vietnam War.jpg

Sexual trauma is not the only type of trauma, of course. Cider Spoon Stories also writes war veterans’ stories. I’ve worked with six Vietnam vets alone in the past two years. Mark my words: we’re about to see a flood of Vietnam stories on the market. These vets are getting older, and they’re ready to tell their side—some for the very first time.

One man I know never told his family anything, because he’d been met by Vietnam protestors when his plane landed stateside … protestors who spit on him and made him feel like the last year of his life had been meaningless … a hollow nightmare … and like his friends and comrades-in-arms had died in vain.

In March, I’ll start ghostwriting the life story of a former child soldier from Uganda. When we met, she asked me how I handled listening to, and writing about, trauma. I won’t pretend it’s easy, or that I don’t feel drained afterward. But that’s the point of doing the hard work: those stories live inside a body … until we can purge them to the page, and everyone can heal.

The Fog of PTSD.jpg

No matter what’s happened to you, what you’ve witnessed, or what you’ve done, writing about it—and through it—can help you come out the other side. Sometimes release is found in the act of confession. For others, the book itself becomes a container, a safe space in which to deposit “the haunt and the hunger” (True Detective).

PTSD AND THE DSM-V

The DSM-V (the 5th and current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) was published in May 2013. It introduced many important changes to 2000’s DSM-IV-TR, including a long-overdue categorical shift that finally removed PTSD (Post-Traumautic Stress Disorder) from the list of anxiety disorders and reclassified it as a trauma disorder with origins in an etiological event (the traumatic stressor).

THE PSYCHOLOGY BEHIND PTSD

In Jungian terms, PTSD affects the ego, or that part of the person we call the Self. The ego is the center of consciousness; it orients us in time and space; and the ego wants to survive as long as possible with as little pain as possible. When confronted with pain, the ego defends itself with the only weapons it has: projection, idealization, and denial. All three of these defense mechanisms have as their corollary suppression and repression. Because the psyche is a closed system, repressed energy necessarily leaks out in other forms: anxiety and depression, for example. 

COPING WITH PTSD: EMPATHIC PRESENCE

No one “cure” has ever worked for every PTSD sufferer, but there are many suggestions for helping individuals learn to cope with high-level stress. The first is practicing empathic presence. Empathic presence occurs when the PTSD-afflicted individual meets with a qualified therapist who simply listens to the individual's story, over and over again … until such time as the story begins to lose its power. At that point, the story stops “owning” the individual.

There are many free or low-cost resources for people with PTSD (click here for a list of Austin’s veteran services, and here for a unique civilian service), but a good friend with a kind ear can also go a long way toward alleviating said suffering. To be an empathic presence for someone you know, practice being a “container” for story, where narratives may be received and treated as sacred. Friends and family members, even more so than therapists, are good about seeing the human being and not just his/her symptoms.

PTSD AND CIDER SPOON

When asked what war was like, a Vietnam veteran recently replied: 

War is 99% boring and 1% sheer terror.
— http://www.soulrepairtx.com

PTSD is commonly associated with veterans, but many non-veterans suffer from PTSD. Rape victims, abuse victims, and those who have lived through car accidents are just a few examples of afflicted sub-groups. While there are more PTSD services than ever before, the paradigm of trauma remains the same. Our vets and others are dealing with the same problems as 40 years ago, and still not feeling heard.

At Cider Spoon, my job is to listen to your story. No judgment, and no “therapy” in the licensed sense … but helping you make sense of your life all the same, through healing narratives.

A Ghost Story

Innocence, well, it's belief in the goodness of things, I guess. Trusting that no matter how many times the world knocks you down, the next person to come along is going to help you up.

It's wearing a heart-shaped locket, with a silver clasp, only it's not a locket but your heart, and the clasp was broken a long time ago, and so your heart just hangs there, vulnerable and exposed, no protective metallic casing, and sometimes someone will hug you too hard and squish your heart between the two of you—this is a metaphor here—but that's innocence: risking weakness, heartache, unspeakable agony. And knowing no different. Because your vulnerability has never been abused.

For example. We were in the basement, sitting cross-legged around the Ouija board I'd gotten for my thirteenth birthday. It was cold down there; goose bumps prickled our bare arms and legs. Though we both sat as I'd instructed, with eyes closed, still the hot orange of candle flames on my inner eyelids. Still the shaky in-and-out of her chest whenever fear grabbed her. The room smelled wet yet from the last flood. And mold—black and thick as new asphalt. A crude oil cancer beneath the carpet, with sticky fingers to hold a body down.

Funny … the game had been my idea, and there I was succumbing to the power of my own suggestion. Invoking the spirit world boldly, as seen in movies, then shrinking inwardly, hoping nothing would actually happen. My little sister trusting me and hating me for it, because I made her believe anything.

Does fear have a taste? That night it was the battery acid in the pockets of my mouth: hot, metallic, dripping too much tar. I showed her how to place her hands on the glow-in-the-dark planchette. Her fingertips against mine still gummed with caramel apple. I told her she could ask the first question, that she better make it good. She asked what she was getting for Christmas.

That's innocence. 

Sometimes ghostwriting IS about ghosts.
— Jess Hagemann, Ghostwriter

How to Write and Publish e-Books

Over here at Cider Spoon Stories, Jess gets questions ALL. THE. TIME. about writing and publishing e-books. Here are three of the most common e-book inquiries she fields, and her best advice for maximizing the online writing and publishing processes.

Note: The following pointers apply to works of fiction and nonfiction published to your personal/business website or to Amazon Kindle only.

1. How long should my e-book be—and how the heck do I format the thing?

Compared to print books, would-be authors have a lot more flexibility when it comes to e-books. For example, word count restrictions don’t really apply. Want to make a short 5,000-word PDF available for instant download from your landing page? Done. Prefer to self-publish a 300,000-word monster through Amazon Kindle? Easy. There are no New York City gatekeepers patrolling the internet and dictating what the industry can and cannot support. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that, regardless of length, your book still has to be good if you want it to sell. That means picking a single and specific topic (that you ideally know enough about), creating an engaging through-line, or story, with a cohesive narrative arc, and hiring a professional editor to spitshine it for you. No typos or mismatched margins here!

Note: These rules may not apply to Nook, iBooks, and platforms other than Amazon Kindle.

Note: These rules may not apply to Nook, iBooks, and platforms other than Amazon Kindle.

Depending on whether you offer a reflowable e-book or a static PDF, layout may or may not be as intense as a print book’s considerations. With e-books, you can forget about headers, footers, page numbers, drop caps, and all other manner of fancy formatting, as chances are these won’t be supported by your e-reader platform of choice. If you’re going the PDF route, ask yourself: Is the information important enough—and in-demand enough—to stand alone? Or does it require (or might it be aided by) headers, graphics, brand colors, and the like? (In which case, you’ll want to hire a professional designer.)

2. Does my e-book need a cover design?

One thing you’ll still want to invest in, whether print, e-book, or PDF, is an eye-catching cover. Again, you can hire a designer to build it to spec, or use Kindle’s free cover creator tool to knock out something quickly and (relatively) painlessly. Can a discerning eye tell the difference between a homemade-with-stock-images and a professionally-designed cover? Well, yes. BUT: Decide what your budget can support and stick to it.

3. Does my e-book need an ISBN?

ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. It’s the barcode you find on print books that identifies them and allows them to be entered into (and ultimately sold through) bookstore databases. If you’re publishing digitally, you don’t need one, because you’re not being sold through a bookstore. (Duh.) PDFs are good to go with a copyright disclaimer in the first few pages. Amazon Kindle will assign your e-book what’s called an ASIN, or Amazon Standard Identification Number—and that’s all you need to collect every pretty penny from each book sale!

Mental Health, Romantic Relationships, Stigma, and Storytelling

Dr. Allison Sallee, founder of C2 Change: an Austin nonprofit offering free or-low cost mental healthcare services.

Dr. Allison Sallee, founder of C2 Change: an Austin nonprofit offering free or-low cost mental healthcare services.

Dually inspired by NAMI’s recent article on mental illness and relationships, and Cider Spoon’s own forthcoming book on romantic relationships of all stripes (both healthy and not-so-hot), this month’s blog entry is dedicated to overcoming the stigma of mental illness in romantic relationships, and exploring the role that storytelling can play.

Here, I’ve interviewed Dr. Allison Sallee of C2 Change to help us understand this nuanced issue. Dr. Sallee is a featured contributor to Of Tiny Threads (Forty Acres Press, June 2018). Proceeds from book sales benefit C2 Change’s Twogether in Texas curriculum.

***

What are two of the most common mental health issues prompting couples to seek out therapy today?

Couples most commonly come in requesting help with communication. Poor communication or miscommunication can lead to feelings of disconnection, further contributing to communication concerns.

Secondly, couples often come in regarding their children. They have questions about how best to parent; how to manage the grandparents and/or other extended family members who may be involved; and blended family issues.

How do people in romantic relationships say they have experienced stigma (in regard to their mental health) from their significant other?

Sometimes, one partner may view seeking help as “weak”—or may be scared that seeking help means that the relationship is doomed or in more serious trouble than they want to acknowledge. This fear can often shut down the one partner’s attempt to resolve issues. 

Significant others may also stigmatize their partner’s issues: criticizing them for a reaction to grief, for instance, or for being diagnosed with depression or bipolar disorder.

How does storytelling, or sharing their stories, help partners cope with and/or better understand mental health issues?

Sharing stories is an essential human activity. It is one way we connect with others on both small and big levels. When partners share their stories, it can develop and foster empathy. In addition, it helps the other partner to stop making assumptions about the first partner’s behavior.

***

For twelve real-life stories from married couples (and one thruple!) in America—as well as more illuminating insights from C2 Change therapists Dr. Allison Sallee and Brendan Owens—order your copy of Of Tiny Threads today.

What is an Ethical Will? [And When Should You Write One?]

Ethical Wills: A Definition

Another term for an ethical will is a legacy letter. Unlike last wills and testaments, ethical wills are not legally binding. They don’t bequeath assets; they express a person’s deepest, most heartfelt thoughts and feelings about what’s important to them—what matters.

In the Judeo-Christian tradition, ethicals wills are a way of passings beliefs, values, blessings, and moral direction from one generation to the next. But they can be used by any person of any faith (or no faith at all)!

What Should My Ethical Will Look Like? 

Ethical wills can be as long as a book or as short as a couple paragraphs. They might look like letters, poems, songs, or have multimedia elements.

They include all of the following scenarios and more:

  • Parents who write a letter to their children every year on their birthdays, saying what the last year has meant to them and how the child has developed or grown.
  • A dying person who writes love letters to his/her spouse, children, or parents.
  • Elderly adults expressing their love to their children and grandchildren.
  • Individuals explaining the decisions they made in their legal will: the reasons why a person or organization received a given asset, or wishes for how their money will be spent.
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When should I write my ethical will?

A legacy letter can be written at any stage of life by anyone who wants to ensure that their values live on.

It can be read and shared among family members, or sealed until the writer dies.

It can also be updated at any time.

 

Want help writing your ethical will?

3 Gadgets You Need to Write Your Memoirs

So, you want to write your memoirs. (Or ghostwrite your mother’s.) You’re going to need some equipment.

1. Invest in a quality digital recorder.

If you struggle to put your thoughts to the page, try telling your stories instead. Out loud. Just like you do every week at bridge club or pilates. You can record yourself actually telling them to someone, or you can pretend like the recorder is your friend and speak to it.

The Yamaha Pocketrak 7: the only tool you need for crystal clear audio.

The Yamaha Pocketrak 7: the only tool you need for crystal clear audio.

The easiest and cheapest recording technology comes built into your phone. You can use any voice recording app—just make sure you have enough free storage space.

But what if you’re in a noisy place? Or you intend to turn the audio recordings into their own oral history archive? Then you’re going to want something better. I recommend anything in the Yamaha family

Personally, I use and have been delighted with the Yamaha Pocketrak PR7. It’s small, portable, easy to use, and I have over 160 hours of audio stored on mine currently—with no end of available space in sight! (Make sure you’re always backing it up on another device or cloud!) Best of all: I can be interviewing someone in the noisiest coffeeshop ever, and when the beans suddenly start whirring and grinding, you can still hear the subject clearly: thanks to those XY microphones.

2. Transcription software? Try transcribing it yourself.

Use Dragon Naturally Speaking to transcribe your audio files.

Use Dragon Naturally Speaking to transcribe your audio files.

Transcription is tedious. Unless you do it all the time, it’s a skill that can take a while to master. The last contractor I hired transcribed at a rate of 8:1, bless his heart. That is, 8 hours for every 1 hour of audio. Not efficient.

You might be tempted (understandably) to try a transcription software. Dragon Naturally Speaking is still the best on the market, but it sucks. It’s slow, and while it’s supposed to get ‘smarter’ with use (by learning your cadence and intonation), it never got any more proficient that I noticed.

Instead, hire a professional human transcriptionist (search for someone who can transcribe at a rate of at least 2:1, if not 1:1), or do it yourself! I am always surprised to find, upon listening to recorded footage, that I invariably come to a story that I don’t remember hearing. That’s because it’s human nature for the mind to wander. Half the joy is in re-listening to your recordings … and laughing (or weeping) all over again. Plus, if you’re ghostwriting, it’s a great opportunity to listen for vocal tics and vocab—the key contributors to narrative “voice.”

3. Pick the perfect word processor.

Adobe InDesign is the gold standard for creating book layouts.

Adobe InDesign is the gold standard for creating book layouts.

Whether you hire out your transcription or do it yourself, at some point you’re going to end up with a whole lot of text. It’s perfectly fine to work in Microsoft Word or Apple Pages—two of the most basic and user-friendly softwares on the market. You might also try upgrading to Scrivener. It’s a subscription service, but for your money you get a lot of cool features, like the ability to easily storyboard or rearrange story sections. Google docs can make it easy to share files with your editor or other contributing writers, and saves your precious work to the cloud (for free!)

When you’re ready to layout your book, play around with Adobe InDesign. It’s the premier book design platform, and can require some practice (or maybe an introductory class!) if you’re brand new to the Adobe suite. Check your local community college for affordable and informational Adobe suite classes.

Once you’ve done all this, you’re ready to self-publish!

"You're like my granddaughter,"

the old man said, his kind eyes crinkling with an affectionate smile.

This, from the ex-army chaplain who a week before had told me my ego was "too big for God."

A retired Presbyterian pastor, he couldn't understand why I'd left the church, although when I admitted I'd been raised Catholic, he said, "Well, that was your first mistake."

Army Unit.jpg

Why the 82-year-old man ever hired me to write his life story I do not know, since from the beginning he'd seemed so unimpressed with me.

At our first meeting, he begrudgingly told me that he'd once been operated on by a Catholic, which hadn't prevented the surgeon from doing his job--so maybe, just maybe, a spiritual-but-not-religious ghostwriter could do justice to the tale of a man of the cloth.

Ten hours of interviews and 50,000 words later, the reverend and I had an understanding. God had saved him from Vietnam, when as a combat chaplain all he could carry on the battlefield was a slingshot ... and together, he and I had just saved his stories for his grandchildren. 

Why You Should Write Your Life Story (at Any Age)

  • Leave a legacy
  • Educate posterity
  • Combat cognitive impairment
  • Personal fulfillment

WHISPERS: Healing & Triumph after Sexual Assault

Every July, Cider Spoon Stories (Austin's premier ghostwriting and editing company) publishes a collection of stories from central Texas that center around a particular theme. This summer we'll be publishing WHISPERS: HEALING & TRIUMPH AFTER SEXUAL ASSAULT.

The book, which includes the inspiring true stories of ten survivors and survivor-advocates, will debut at a launch party in the Sharp Noggin shop-home space, on Tuesday, July 25, from 7:00-9:00 PM. There will be:

  • Complimentary food and drinks
  • Readings and giveaways
  • Free parking
  • Copies of WHISPERS available for sale for $15 + tax

A completely nonprofit event, a portion of the proceeds benefit SAFE (Stop Abuse for Everyone). The rest of the money will go toward producing Book III in the Untellable Tales series. Book I (POSTMARKS ON OUR FOREHEADS, July 2016) is also still available for sale here.

Everyone is welcome. Please join us for live contributor readings and free giveaways, and stay for the great food and drink. Look for us in Paggi Square park in the Mueller development, just 3 miles northeast of downtown.

While a limited number of copies will be available for purchase at the launch, you are encouraged to pre-order your copy at www.ciderspoonstories.com/shop.

Survey Says: Write a DIY Family History Guide!

Last week I posted a 7-question market research survey to the world of social media. In a nutshell, I wanted to find a way to offer my writing services to families and individuals who cannot afford a full ghostwriting package.

To that end, I intend to write, publish, and sell a DIY family history guide! Here are some of the excellent suggestions I received from fans and readers. If you have another idea to add, please leave it in the comment box below!

Q1. I am authoring a new genealogy guide to help kids write their parents' or grandparents' life stories. The guide will be a full-color, interactive book, with lots of interesting prompts and space for creative expression. Kids might complete the guide over a summer break, a long road trip, or several holiday visits, for example. Is this a product you would buy?

A1: 86% Yes; 14% Maybe.

Q2. Thinking about the ages of your own kids, or kids to whom you might gift this book--what age range should the book target?

A2. 57% 4th and 5th graders; 43% 6th and 7th graders.

Q3. Should the book target a specific gender of child user?

A3. 100% Both boys and girls.

Q4. Let’s say the book is a large paperback, printed on recycled paper. What other features would you like to see?

A4. 43% prefer a hardback format; 14% prefer an ebook format.

Q5. About how much would you be willing to pay for this book? 

A5. Answers ranged from $10.00 to $50.00, with an average price of $28.00.

Q6. Suggest ways to make the book friendly/accessible to users of all genders, religions, sexualities, races, etc.

A6. Include images of children that reflect the noted characteristics; Include an editor’s note to the effect that “family is subjective” and may also include adopted individuals; Allow kids to personalize the book with their photos; Use a template format that kids can build off of and get creative with; Allow kids to design the cover; Include maps and other cultural associations.

Q7. Suggest some interesting prompts for the book. Prompts are the questions that the child will ask his/her parents/grandparents. For example, "How did you spend your summer breaks as a kid?"

A7: Did you like school? Did you ever get in trouble with your teacher ? What grade were you when you had your first girl/boyfriend? What was your favorite book or story? Who is the first person you remember? When did you have the most fun? Who is the oldest person in the family you remember? Who could make you smile/laugh no matter what? What was the worst thing you remember? What were the rules in your house? Who were your best friends? Do you have pictures of them? What did you want to be when you grew up? Did you become that? If not, why not? Who did you admire most? Do you remember when any of your grandparents or other relatives died? What did your house look like when you were a kid? Did you always live in the same place? What important lessons have you learned as an adult? Maybe an activity prompting them to participate in a hobby that their parent or grandparents enjoys or used to enjoy and then reflect on that experience. What is your favorite food? Who was the first friend you remember having, and what did you do together? What was a favorite toy you had? What kinds of games did you play indoors and outdoors? Is there a special recipe you have to share? Describe a typical school day that you remember (from start to end) … how did you get there in the morning, what was the day like, how did you get home, etc. What is a special song you have a memory of listening to? Do you remember your first date/crush? What kind of chores or household duties did you have growing up? What were your parents like? What was your childhood home like? What was the most amazing place you ever traveled to?

Thanks for all the help! GUIDE FORTHCOMING CHRISTMAS 2016!

Who are Daniel Pinchbeck, Terrence McKenna, and Graham Hancock? [Ayahuasca and Other Psychotropic Plant Medicines]

This post is the THIRD in a series of mini-biographies that chronicle the power of the memoir. Some of the stories are great and inspiring; some are tragic and teachable; some are about ordinary people just like you. Maybe after reading them, you’ll consider writing your memoirs.

I really love contemporary satirical rocker Father John Misty’s music, and not least because his song “I’m Writing a Novel” mentions doing ayahuasca—a psychotropic plant medicine from the Peruvian Amazon. The first time I heard of ayahuasca was in a lecture by Daniel Pinchbeck on the Mayan 2012 prophecy, which of course predicted an end to the world that never happened. Whether or not some other, more subtle shift in global consciousness took place is up for debate, but I remember thinking, This Pinchbeck guy is either nuts, or a genius. And I had to respect someone who’d managed to integrate himself into what are still remote tribes in the Amazon and experience what I’ve come to understand is that rather powerful medicine called ayahuasca.

If I’m honest, sure—I’m curious. I’d like to have that mind-altering, consciousness-shifting experience for myself—one that a close friend describes as the “hardest and the best thing he’s ever done … ten years of therapy in four hours” (that’s how long the high/visions last). But. I want to work for the FBI, and there’s a drug policy. So for now I’ll live through others!

Before we get to McKenna and Hancock, one more name bears revisiting: Timothy Leary. You probably know of him as the LSD guy in the ‘60s. Especially if you've read Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception. You could say Leary was McKenna’s and Hancock’s predecessor, and indeed McKenna has been called the “Timothy Leary of the ‘90s.” Basically, Terrence McKenna studied shamanism and Tibetan folk religion at Berkley, discovered psylocibin mushrooms in the Colombian Amazon, had a bunch of visions, and determined a fractal pattern in the I Ching that he called Novelty Theory, which supposedly predicted the 2012 world-endingness that had Pinchbeck’s panties in a twist. McKenna was less concerned with the end of the world, however, than using plant medicines to access the collective human memory (he was highly influenced by Jung) in an attempt to manifest that alchemical treasure: the Philosopher’s Stone.

Though McKenna, and later Hancock, were largely dismissed as New Agey, McKenna himself stressed not New Age dogma, but the importance of the “felt presence of direct experience.” He wanted people to trust their inner knowing (called prajna in Ayurveda). Unfortunately, McKenna died of brain cancer (1946-2000) and didn’t make it to see 2012; but Hancock is still going strong.

Graham Hancock espouses a “mother” civilization from which all ancient civilizations sprang. Like McKenna, Hancock believes in using plant medicines, particularly ayahuasca, to access that mother culture (also the collective human memory). According to Hancock, ayahuasca encourages self-improvement and social progress, especially in the form of curing deadly addictions, from alcohol and tobacco to controlled substances.

Want to try ayahuasca for yourself? It’s not legal in the States unless you join the church of UDV. First watch Chelsea Handler’s hilarious exploits with the drug in Peru. Then check out these Peruvian retreats.

What’s the ghostwriting process like, you ask?

I’m so glad you’re interested!

It definitely varies from project to project. Are we talking full-length book? Chapbook? Grant proposal? A couple pages of web copy? The possibilities, and the appropriate approaches, are endless!

Let’s say you want to write your life story as a full book. I’ll ask you when it’s most convenient to meet for coffee. We’ll get together, you’ll tell me a little bit about what you have in mind, and I’ll direct the conversation with a couple pointed questions, to make sure we’re on the same page about everything.

At that point, you can decide whether you’re interested in pursuing the project with me. No obligations, and no questions asked if you just don’t feel like I’m the right vehicle. If you *do* want to proceed, however, I’ll slide you a contract to look over and we can talk terms: deadlines, payments, etc--all the “paperwork” we need to get out of the way once and then never worry about again.

Either the same day or later by phone, we’ll set up regular meetings for you to download to me your story. Can you meet once/week? Twice? Only twice a month? Doesn’t matter! I’m here to help you write your story on your schedule.

It’s easy. It’s low-pressure. It’s hopefully FUN!