From the December 2007 issue of Wealth Manager Web • Subscribe!

December 1, 2007

Ghost Stories

John E. Girouard knew that writing a book was a good idea. He saw it as an opportunity to relay his particular brand of financial advice to his clients, as well as open up opportunities for speaking engagements and publicity for his wealth and asset management firm. However, his more than full-time role as president and CEO of Capital Asset Management Group in Bethesda, Md. left him limited time. That--plus his hunt-and-peck keyboarding ability--made him question whether he would actually ever get such a project done on his own.

So, after more than a year of asking colleagues for recommendations and not finding a good fit, Girouard sat down at his computer and started searching for writers online. He found 10 that looked like possibilities, interviewed them and finally chose a Pennsylvania-based writer with significant financial experience.

"I had most of the material and wanted to write it myself, but I had no idea how to write a book," says Girouard. "The writer helped me figure out how to structure the book and edited the copy. He taught me to start thinking like a writer instead of a salesperson."

Ghost Hunting

Books have always been and continue to be a tremendous calling card, enhancing the author's credibility, according to Karen Watts, founder of Karen Watts/Books, a book packaging firm based in Cortlandt Manor, N.Y. As a book packager, Watts helps authors develop ideas and brings together authors, writers, illustrators and publishers to make projects happen. Authoring a book, she says, can make new doors swing wide open.

"If the book is well done, it can provide a [financial services] professional who's using it for marketing purposes tons and tons of future business in ways that other marketing efforts don't," she says. And it doesn't have to be a big best-seller, either. Watts says that having published a book at all tells prospective clients that you have the resourcefulness and intelligence to make that happen, which speaks volumes about your ability.

Getting help to write a book is becoming more common--whether in the form of a ghostwriter who pens the manuscript without credit, or a collaborator who has co-author credit. Scott Flora, executive director of the Small Publishers Association of North America (SPAN), a trade association of approximately 1,200 independent publishers and authors based in Colorado Springs, Colo., has seen more professionals who are working with ghostwriters and editorial collaborators to produce books.

"Many of these people know they need books. But it's often hard for them to find the time to sit down and write them because they're busy. The material's there [from their speeches], so it makes sense to work with someone to put it all together," says Flora.

Getting the right help is essential. A writer who can't grasp the material or who is unable to complete a book-length project can be a tremendous waste of time and money, says publisher Dan Poynter, author of more than 120 books, including The Self-Publishing Manual: How to Write, Print and Sell Your Own Book. His Santa Barbara, Calif. company, Para Publishing, specializes in books that provide safety information on parachute design and skydiving techniques, but also provides information and consulting services to publishers who are looking to sell more books.

Joseph Finora of Laurel, N.Y. is a professional ghostwriter who specializes in financial topics. He says that many of his clients choose him because of his expertise; Finora is a registered financial representative (and a frequent freelance contributor to Wealth Manager). "Even though I've never sold a security in my life, I had to get the license years ago for my work. It seems to be a big differentiator," Finora explains.

Poynter says that one of the most important questions to ask a potential ghostwriter or collaborator is, "Have you ever worked on this category of book before?" Poynter believes that it's essential to find someone who understands the subject matter. If he or she can bring knowledge from past projects, that can save you time--and money--because the writer will have less of a learning curve.

However, Girouard isn't so sure. After working with a financial writer who reviewed and edited most of his manuscript, he found that having someone with preconceived ideas about his industry wasn't always helpful. He eventually parted ways with the first writer and finished the book with a second writer who had no financial background.

"Some of [the first writer's] knowledge got in the way of what I was trying to say," says Girouard. "He had his interpretation and opinion, and my goal was to change people's opinions. [The second writer] may have helped me more. He was asking questions about what he didn't understand. He was more like my reader and helped me understand the areas where I needed to 'dumb it down.'"

Hiring Your Ghost

While Girouard found success sifting through the mass of Web sites offered by Google, publishers suggest that financial professionals probably do better by turning to their network or other reliable sources to find good writers. Finora suggests contacting editors of trade publications who will likely be able to recommend writers, or to consult organizations like the New York Financial Writers Association. Some other places to look include the Web sites for MediaBistro's Freelance Marketplace and the American Society of Journalists and Authors Freelance Writer Search. Financial planner Michael T. Hartley, CFP, chairman of DKE, Inc., a financial advisory firm in Venice, Fla., found his ghostwriter through networking.

W. Terry Whalin, whose Whalin Literary Agency in Scottsdale, Ariz. also provides ghostwriting and collaboration services, says would-be authors also need to understand where they fit in the writer's pecking order of clients. Most writers will have other projects going on as well as your book, and you don't want to find yourself with a writer who's too busy to handle your project, he cautions.Poynter adds that it's important that you like the writer. "You're married for the short term," he says. "I know someone who says 'never collaborate on a book with someone you wouldn't go camping with.'"

Whalin advises always having a written agreement that spells out the expectations of both parties. You should be clear on who owns the copyright to the material, as well as establishing a working schedule. When Girouard worked on his book, his schedule allowed for a chapter a week. He set a standing Tuesday morning conference call with his ghostwriters to discuss edits, rewrites and comments.

Your House or Theirs?

One of the key questions that you need to resolve early on is whether you will self-publish your book or attempt to sell it to a traditional publisher. The likelihood of attracting the attention of a publishing house largely depends on your visibility in the marketplace, says Whalin.

Unless you're a very high-profile speaker or media personality, you need to create a proposal that outlines your idea, your expertise, and your ability to promote your book, he explains. That proposal can sometimes be sent directly to the publishing company, but most prefer that you work through a literary agent, he says. Most authors are surprised at how much of the book promotion they need to do on their own, he adds.

If you've sold your book to a publishing house, your advance may offset some of the cost of writing the book, but it may not cover the entire fee. If you work with a traditional publishing house either directly or via an agent, it's likely that you'll also need a book proposal, which entails a separate fee that can range between $2,000 and $8,000 or more, depending on the writer and the scope of the work.

"I've written a couple of six-figure book proposals," says Whalin, who admits that they're not the norm for the average author. In fact, he notes, "the dirty little secret is that 90 percent of books don't earn out their advances."

Moreover, a fat advance could spell problems later on, says Watts. "It can be thrilling, but the pressure to promote the book is intense. If you're not selling enough books, the publisher is the first one to drop you like a hot potato." And that could make it difficult to sell books in the future.

While experts like Flora say that an author can expect to earn back a ballpark range of a dollar a book for a standard trade paperback sold in the neighborhood of $15, selling self-published books can mean making 50 percent of the cover price of the book. Self-publishing companies such as iUniverse, Xlibris and Lulu.com, offer a variety of services ranging from editorial assistance to layout, design, production and printing, as well as assistance and counsel to help authors get their books into distribution channels that will land them on bookstore shelves. Custom publishing companies like Arbor Books, Jenkins Group, Chronicle Books and others generally handle the entire process from editorial development through production, distribution and marketing.

About the Money

So, how much is all this going to cost you? Like most business enterprises, it depends.

Hartley paid his ghostwriter by the hour and estimates that for a small book--under 100 pages and approximately 30,000 words or less-- the minimum amount one can expect to pay is "in the $30,000 to $40,000 range." That includes production costs.

Girouard paid his first ghostwriter a fee-per-chapter, payable upon various points of completion. His second ghostwriter, who also provided assistance with layout, design and production, was paid a flat fee to bring the book through to completion. Girouard believes he "paid a lot more than the typical financial advisor would," both because of the fee structure of the professionals he chose and the fact that he hired two of them.

Watts says fees will vary, based on the length and complexity of the book. However, she says that budgeting for a good ghostwriter should include a fee of between $25,000and $50,000--"But that can be fluid, based on experience," she adds.

As a way of adding legs to the promotional efforts, Watts also recommends giving the writer a stake in any royalties that the book eventually might earn, either through a traditional publisher or by working out a deal for a cut of self-publishing profits. Some writers who have specific expertise and contacts can help promote the book. With a royalty deal, they have the incentive to do so, even if their names are not on the cover.

"You want the writer to feel like he or she is having a stake in the success of the book," Watts says. "With a work-for-hire or fee-based [arrangement], you don't get that sweet spot of motivation that sharing the success will hit."

While writing a book may not land you a six- or seven-figure advance off the bat--and actually may cost you money in the short term--there's no doubt that a well produced book has a great deal of value as a marketing tool. The key is to work with the right people to get it done well and then work on promoting the book, as you would any new business venture, to maximize the return on your investment.

THE PLAYERS

A guide to some of the people and principals who may be involved in publishing your book:

Agent: A representative of the author who presents book projects to publishers.

Book doctor: An editorial consultant who will assist you with editing or even rewriting the manuscript.

Book packager: An agent or consultant who creates writer-expert teams and projects and pitches them to publishers.

Collaborator: A writer who will help you write the manuscript, often with credit.

Custom publisher: An editorial and production entity that produces books on behalf of authors; sometimes called self-publishing company or vanity press.

Ghostwriter: A writer who will help you craft the manuscript, usually without credit.

Publishing house: An established publisher of books.

Gwen Moran has written for a wide variety of business publications and is the author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Business Plans.

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