how-to

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.

4 Twitter Hacks for Writers

Last night, I took a class called Making Twitter a Writer’s Best Friend with Richard Santos of the Writers’ League of Texas. It was fun and informational, and in case you’re a #badMillennial like myself who also doesn’t really know how to tweet effectively, here are the most helpful takeaways (for me) from the evening!

Follow agents and editors.

Agents and editors have always been the publishing industry gatekeepers, and until now, they’ve appeared perennially locked away in downtown Manhattan offices utterly impervious to the likes of little old me. Thanks to social media, however, these people (and yes, they really are just people!) are more accessible than ever before. They have public handles, and unless their accounts are locked, anyone can follow them to see what they have to say. Their daily postings might include a random assortment of writing advice, query letter tips, cat videos, and political jousts—and if you’re extra lucky, a little hashtag written as #MSWL.

Use hashtags the right way.

To be honest, I thought “using hashtags” meant just putting the pound sign in front of random words to make them turn blue. I knew you could search hashtags and find other people using those words, but I didn’t realize there was such an art to it. Two hashtags to search for and start following (and also using yourself, when appropriate) are #MSWL and #submishmash. MSWL stands for Manuscript Wish List. If an agent uses this hashtag, it means s/he is hoping that a book manuscript meeting a particular description (which they will then spell out) lands on their desk. Do you have a book like that? Then reply and let them know (in 280 characters or less) and follow up via the proper channels (whatever the submission guidelines on their website dictate). Use #submishmash to find journals currently accepting submissions via Submittable.

These Twitter hacks for writers make managing your social media platforms a breeze.

These Twitter hacks for writers make managing your social media platforms a breeze.

Participate in pitch contests.

A pitch contest is when writerly hopefuls ‘pitch’ their manuscript idea to an agent over Twitter on a specified day or days of the year. Go to this pitch contest calendar to find out when the contests are held every year, and how to participate. (Hint: it’s generally via a hashtag.) Hone and re-hone your pitch until you have something concrete, specific, and 280 characters or less. Finally, tweet your entry into the contest and see what happens!

Contribute more than you take.

If you’ve already published a book, don’t use Twitter strictly as another platform for promotion. The truth is, no one cares about your book unless you also have something more interesting to say! So, be honest, be genuine, be you—and occasionally plug your baby. Also plug other writers’ works, comment on trends in the industry, and be vulnerable or witty or sarcastic (if that’s your tone) about #thatwritinglife. 

Good luck!

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!