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How can you help me?
With more than 30 years of experience and 40 books under my belt, I understand the craft and process of writing and publishing nonfiction books. I know how to transform your great idea into a finished product that comes to market.
What exactly do you do?
That depends on what you bring me. I like to think of the creation of books the way a sculptor would approach a work of art. Some authors deliver a big block of marble—lots of content—and we have to carve the book out of it. Others only have an idea that has grown out of years of experience and/or research, so we need to create an armature on which we can add or subtract material to shape the final product. In either case, we end up with a book that everyone is proud of.
Why would someone need to work with you?
Many brilliant professionals have inspiring ideas for books they want to write but they possess neither the time, skills, nor wherewithal to actually put together a book proposal and sell and then write their works. That’s where I step in. Together we develop a proposal that, when sold, provides the blueprint for the book we later write together.
I have worked with a wide range of professionals—doctors, attorneys, business consultants, communication experts, psychologists, social workers, documentary producers, and spiritual masters—and even Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter—helping them hone their vision and get their books into print. In this way, I have become what some of my partners call a literary midwife—helping authors give birth to their books.
What should I expect if I work with you?
You can expect that your voice will be preserved—the book will sound like you, not me. You can expect that your book will be finished on time—I never get writer’s block, and I can teach you how to avoid this scourge too. You can expect that the writing process will be orderly and organized. I have the capacity to keep the whole book in my head while I’m writing it. You can expect that the editor will be happy with the final product. And you can expect that a camaraderie will develop between us—a mutual respect that speeds the work forward. Many of my co-authors have returned to write more than one book with me because we develop a great collaboration based on trust with a minimum of conflict.
What’s going to happen in the process of working with you?
I have acted as co-author, collaborator, and ghostwriter. This means, I respect a healthy division of labor. My partner is the author—the originator of the ideas, research, and anecdotes in the book. I am the writer. Often I receive cover credit that reads, So-and-So-Author with Susan Golant. People in publishing understand this to mean that the author generated the ideas, but I sorted through them and wrote the book based on them. My work is to organize and shape my partner’s material into language that everyone can understand (while preserving his or her voice) and also to create a structure for the book that flows and makes sense without being repetitious.
My ego is invested less in the material itself than in the way it is conveyed. Is it clear? Precise? To the point? Is it interesting and entertaining? Can the reader follow the arguments or the story we are telling? Have we solved the problem the book poses? Will this book ultimately be effective and uplifting? Will it push society in a new direction? Will it make a difference in people’s lives? If we can answer yes to all of these questions, I know I’ve done my job, and in the process I hope that we’ve created a winner.
How do you do this?
I need to see the world through my co-authors’ eyes. We spend long hours together on the phone or in person, engaged in a giant “brain dump” as they convey their material and world view to me. It is in this way that I am able to adopt and convey each co-author’s unique voice. Mrs. Carter’s books, for instance, sound like her, not me!
Once a critical mass has been reached, I generate chapters based on the outline we’d created and send them to my partners often with questions and comments attached. We work in what I call successive approximations—the chapter bounces back and forth between us until we’re both satisfied—then we move on to the next.
Isn’t it hard to write a book?
Of course it can be, and some people can get lost in the process, writing the first chapter over and over again or becoming mired in detail. But I believe it isn’t if you know how to break down the process into its component parts.
I see most nonfiction books as solving either a personal or societal problem. They can be descriptive (“Here’s the problem as I see it.”) or prescriptive (“Here’s what you can or should do to fix it.”). Sometimes, as in the case of self-help books, they can be both. In fact some books can be looked upon as critiques of society, as Mrs. Carter’s Within Our Reach. At the very least, nonfiction books solve the problem of ignorance—the reader doesn’t know something about a subject and wants to learn about it. For instance, my collaborative book, The Batterer, doesn’t teach people how to beat up their spouses. Rather it explains how individuals develop this destructive behavior.
It’s the author’s role to decide which problem his or her book will bring to light and if this is a prescriptive book, how to solve it. Within the book, each chapter answers a single question that leads toward the elucidation of the problem and/or its solution. This helps to organize the material.
And most importantly, the book needs to be entertaining—filled with stories, anecdotes, and personal sharing that draw in the reader while bringing data and research to life. Readers need these stories in order to identify with the author’s insights. The author is a character in his or her own book—and yes, I mean nonfiction books.
How long does it take you to write a book?
Ideally it takes me 9 months to a year to produce a book of 50,000 to 75,000 words (250 to 300 double-spaced pages). This may or may not include the time spent writing the book proposal, which is often the most difficult part of the process as my partner and I are structuring the book, planning where each piece of content should go, and developing a marketing plan. However, in emergency situations where the deadline is imminent, I have written “crashed” books in only 2 months. For projects that are this stressful and intense, my compensation is adjusted accordingly.
You also call yourself a “book doctor.” What does that mean?
Here’s the scenario: an author has been laboring diligently at his or her book, either alone or with another writer, but from the publisher’s point of view, the project is late and in trouble. In fact, the publisher is on the verge of canceling the author’s contract and demanding a refund of the advance, but the editor and/or agent (who know my work and trust me) call me in to rescue the book in the eleventh hour. My job is to rewrite what was already written and, with the full involvement of the author, go on to finish the book on time. I sometimes receive cover credit and a share of the proceeds for this kind of work; at other times, I receive a flat fee and a gracious acknowledgment but no cover credit.
I have successfully salvaged many worthy but failing books in this way including:
- Hardball for Women: Winning at the Game of Business (Plume) with Pat Heim, Ph.D.
- Taking Charge: Overcoming the Challenges of Long-Term Illness (Times Books) with Irene Pollin, M.S.W.
- The Batterer: A Psychological Profile (Basic Books) with Donald Dutton, Ph.D.
- Shyness: A Bold New Approach (HarperCollins) with Bernardo Carducci, Ph.D.
- The Secret Language of Eating Disorders (Times Books) with Peggy Claude-Pierre
- Women’s Moods (Morrow) with Deborah Sichel, M.D. and Jeanne Driscoll, R.N.
- “Not to People Like Us”: Hidden Abuse in Upscale Marriages (Basic Books) with Susan Weitzman, Ph.D.
- Do It Right the First Time (Wiley) with Gerard Nierenberg
- Adversity Quotient (Wiley) with Paul Stotz, Ph.D.
How do you get paid?
Each book and author is different so the financial arrangements vary from situation to situation.
- I am paid a non-refundable flat fee for creating a viable book proposal.
- Once the book is sold, the author and I split the proceeds in a way that we all deem fair. I have received 50% of the advance and royalties as well as 33%. Despite these percentages, I have also commanded a minimum fee per book regardless of what the publisher pays in advance. In some cases I get no royalties at all but a flat fee, producing a “work-for-hire.”
- This variability can depend on how famous my co-authors are—their media presence—and what I bring to the table–how much my reputation and connections help to make the sale. It can also depend on whether I step into a book already in progress or begin building the book from the ground up with my partner.
- I may be willing to trade away cover credit if my cut of the proceeds is sufficiently generous. In this case, I would be acting as a “ghostwriter.”
- I do not write on spec—creating a proposal and/or book and hoping to get paid once it is sold.
Because each situation is unique, my financial requirements are best discussed with my agent. He can be reached at email@example.com.
At other times, I am paid as a consultant on an hourly basis. This occurs most often when I edit an author’s manuscript or act as a writing coach. I meet or talk with these private clients weekly or bi-weekly to help them organize and write their ideas with clarity and passion. They do the writing but submit material to me for editing, comment, and discussion. I have also edited book proposals for agents in order to make them more saleable. For these, I am also paid on an hourly basis. To access my consulting business, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What kind of media attention have your books received?
Since I am not the “expert,” I feel my writing partners should be the focus of the media interviews. They are more qualified to field questions from the press and to represent the public face of the book and the success of the book can rise and fall on their efforts. That having been said, my partners have appeared on The Today Show, Good Morning America, Larry King Live, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and local television and radio shows too numerous to mention. My books have been reviewed and/or written about in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, U.S.A. Today, Time Magazine, Cosmopolitan, Mademoiselle, Publisher’s Weekly, Library Journal, the National Enquirer, Child, Parenting, and Working Mother among others.
How did you get started writing with someone?
It took me three years to write my first book. In the early 1980s, I was a freelance journalist, reporting on human-interest stories, mostly for the Los Angeles Times. The Times syndicated one of those articles (about very early infant stimulation and prenatal learning), and it was published around the country. A breakthrough! The woman whose research I’d reported on, Dr. Susan Ludington at U.C.L.A., was impressed. A few weeks later, she called me to say, “You did such a good job on this article. How would you like to write a book with me?”
“Sure,” I replied, stupidly. “How hard could that be?”
It was quite a steep learning curve for both of us, as we’d both come out of academic backgrounds, me with a Masters Degree in French literature and Dr. Ludington as a professor of child development and maternal-child health. But in the process, I learned how to structure and focus a book. I learned about the voice one must use when addressing a popular (rather than an academic) audience. And I learned about the surge of joy that comes when you finally see your words in print between the covers of your very own book.
Today, more than 30 years after its publication, How to Have a Smarter Baby is still in print and has sold over 250,000 copies worldwide.
How do you choose the books you become involved in?
In order to write a book with someone, their material must resonate with me. If it doesn’t, I simply can’t take on the project—and I have turned away many for this reason. On the other hand, when I accept to write a book, the process can be magical as the author and I develop a marriage of the minds.
I have written on many diverse subjects–psychology, health, women’s advancement, parenting, and spirituality—what I like to call biopsychosocial issues. Indeed, others often note the variability. There is a reason for this. My parents are Holocaust survivors, and I grew up with a deep-seated belief that the world is a highly flawed place. In fact, as a child, I saw it as my “mission” to make a correction-to fix the world. Grandiose as it was, I imagined I would become a scientist who would discover the cure to some dreadful disease. This would satisfy my craving to better mankind’s lot.
My talents, however, lay not in mathematics or science, but in analyzing ideas, organizing them, and writing them clearly. Once I discovered that I could write and someone would pay me for it, I threw myself into producing books that would help individuals and society. I find the work intellectually, psychologically, and spiritually satisfying.
Besides, I am easily bored. Each new book assignment presents an opportunity for me to broaden my learning and understanding of society. New book projects excite and stimulate me. I love constructing cogent arguments and pulling together the parts of a book into a cohesive whole. In fact, I often think of a book as a 75,000 piece puzzle—and I love doing puzzles!