When you write business books for a living, writing your own brings an unexpected problem:
‘Sometimes I thought it was quite outrageous, in fact: Hang on a minute, nobody’s paying me to do this, how can that be?‘
But Ginny Carter discovered that she was richly rewarded as she took herself through the process she works through with her clients – articulating the knowledge, expertise and insights that would otherwise remain unexpressed.
In this conversation she lifts the lid on how she went about putting her own book together, and reveals two of her top tips: how to ‘seed’ your business into your book, and how to use the ‘even if’ structure to solve the reader’s real problem.
Ginny’s site: https://marketingtwentyone.co.uk/
Ginny on Twitter: https://twitter.com/_GinnyCarter
Alison on Twitter: https://twitter.com/bookstothesky
The Extraordinary Business Book Club on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1447064765612358/
This Book Means Business – the mentorship programme: https://alisonjones.lpages.co/this-book-means-business-mentorship/
The 10-day Business Book Proposal Challenge January 2020: https://alisonjones.leadpages.co/proposal-challenge/
The 1-day Business Book Proposal Experience: https://alisonjones.lpages.co/proposal-vip-day/
Alison Jones: I am here today with one of my favourite business book people, Ginny Carter, an award-winning author and ghostwriter with a business background. She was in marketing for 22 years, including three or four years as a social media manager where she discovered that she had a gift for capturing her clients’ voices. So, of course it seemed a logical career move to become a ghostwriter. And she’s written on a wide variety of topics from HR to phobias and for a wide range of publishers, including household names such as Penguin Random House and Practical Inspiration Publishing. But the common theme is that her books always bring their authors visibility, credibility, and bookability. She’s also a judge at the Business Book Awards and the author of Your Business, Your Book, which has just been published. Isn’t that lovely, Ginny, to be able to say that.
Ginny Carter: I know, I know. Oh, it’s wonderful. And when I received my box of books from your good self, it was just such an exciting moment and it was just so lovely to … I just feel like the end product has just really lived up to all my expectations, it’s just fabulous. I’ve got it in my hands right now, yes, wonderful.
Alison Jones: Does it smell good?
Ginny Carter: Oh, it does, it does. It feels good, smells good. It looks good. Everything is good.
Alison Jones: It’s funny isn’t it? Because I think when you work with books, writing all the time, you can’t help but be a bit blasé about it sometimes, but then it was exactly the same for me, I’ve got my own book and the sensation, the achievement, the pride, the just sheer pleasure in handling your book. It’s quite amazing, isn’t it?
Ginny Carter: Yes, it’s funny because it’s something that I’d heard a lot of my clients talk about and you’re right, I didn’t expect to get those sort of feelings from my own book, because I’d heard all sorts of other people talking about it and it kind of seemed like I’d heard it so many times before. And, I think the thing that really surprised me about my own book was how much more emotionally invested I am in my own work, which I guess is pretty obvious really isn’t it, but you know, it means something to me personally, that nothing else could ever really quite deliver. I think it’s just extraordinary, isn’t it?
Alison Jones: It is, and I loved that you actually wrote in the book a little bit about the personal impact on you. You said it had been transformational. So, just tell us a little bit more about that.
Ginny Carter: Well, I think what this has done for me is it’s made me sit and write down what I know, which I know sounds pretty obvious, but how often do we do that? I think a book is probably the only time that anyone would ever put that much time and thinking into just verbalising all of the knowledge and ideas and experiences that are swirling around in their head and being made to do it in a structure and think about how you’re going to communicate it to other people so they can learn from what you know. It’s an experience that you couldn’t have through anything else, I think.
So, I really got a lot out of that. And actually I think it was the key really for me to start enjoying the process of the book because it was hard to write my own book compared to the ghostwriting I do for my clients. It took a lot more motivation for me to sit down and write it because I wasn’t being paid to. Sometimes I thought it was quite outrageous, in fact, hang on a minute, nobody’s paying me to do this, how can that be? But then when I realised that actually what I was really getting out of it was that journey, and that would happen before it even got published. Everything from then on is like an added bonus as far as I’m concerned.
Alison Jones: And it is funny because you, like me with This book Means Business, you’re writing … If you think about it too much, your head sort of explodes, doesn’t it? Because you’re writing about writing a book to build your business to build your business. It is a bit of a mind storm. The subtitle of your book is, How to plan, write and promote the book that puts you in the spotlight. It’s a real kind of, you know, what’s that American phrase? Nuts to soup? I never quite understand it, but it’s right from start to finish, isn’t it? The process, it’s from that first idea and thinking about what’s the return on investment and who you’re writing for, right through to promoting it. Did that structure naturally fall out of the way that you have worked with clients over the years? Or did you, during the course of writing the book, put that structure in and now using it in a different way? Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
Ginny Carter: Well, you’re right. It is very much a beginning to end process and that’s what I wanted it to be. I wanted it to be the only guide you would need if you wanted to write a book to promote your expertise. And actually the structure came very easily to me, I didn’t even think about it, I just knew it would be planning, writing and promoting. It was just so obvious to me, but then I’m somebody who does find structure quite easy. So, I don’t tend to struggle with structures too much, but I do know a lot of people do from working with them.
So maybe that’s just me being quite lucky in the way my brain works. But yes, so, I was quite clear on the structure right from the beginning and then really it was a case of just making sure that the chapters within those three parts were in the right order. And I did move a few of them around as I went through, you know, it was all, I went through that messy stage. I think you call it building sandcastles, don’t you, which I think is a great, it’s a great….
Alison Jones: Shovelling sand into sandpits, yes.
Ginny Carter: So, there was a bit of that going on, but I didn’t find it too difficult actually to decide what order to write things in.
Alison Jones: I was talking to a client this morning who had a great metaphor. She said, it’s like this, you know those little puzzles you used to have as a child, where you’ve got a series of tiles in a square and there’s one space, and then you have to move them all around until you make the pattern. And she said she feels like she’s just shuffling things around at the moment, until things drop into place…
Ginny Carter: Oh I know, I know, and I totally get that feeling. And I think one of the things that I would fall back on when I’m in that kind of mode, is that there’s always so many different ways you can structure the same message and very often they all work, it’s just your own preference in your own way that you want to do it. So, there’s never just one way of doing something and I think sometimes some people get a bit fixated on the idea that there’s some perfect solution out there that they can’t quite grasp what it is. And that’s so frustrating isn’t it? But actually there’s always loads of different ways that you can structure something.
Alison Jones: You’ve put a lot of you into this as well. I know you really well, when I’m reading your book, I’m hearing you. I was laughing when you were talking about going into the hairdressers, and you put more body in your hair by cutting some out, how does that work?
Ginny Carter: You’ve seen how ridiculously limp my hair is, so you know this.
Alison Jones: It’s fine. It’s fine Ginny. Mostly the touches, I mean you seem to do them effortlessly, but how conscious is that for you? Is that just something that as a writer you develop?
Ginny Carter: Well, that’s really kind of you to say that. I think I was really conscious right from the beginning that I wanted the book to be a fun read. I didn’t want it to be some kind of turgid and boring guide or even like just an instruction manual, you know, like some how-to guide…
Alison Jones: It would be such an own goal for you as a ghostwriter to put a bad book out, wouldn’t it? That’s part of the pressure, I guess.
Ginny Carter: Well exactly, exactly. There was that pressure, there was that pressure indeed. So anyway, so I kind of thought, well actually what stories do I know and my own life is the most obvious place to find them really. And I found there was a few that I just came to mind as I was writing, and then there were a few that I thought, Oh, actually that would be a good story for such and such a topic. And so I just made a separate note of them. And I’m always a big fan actually of if you come across a story, even if it’s nothing to do with you and you just hear it about somebody else, make a note because you forget them otherwise. And they always come to use in books and blogs and everything. I mean, everything is always livened up by a nice example or a story. You can’t go wrong with them, in my opinion.
Alison Jones: No, it’s really true and they fix ideas so memorably in your head, don’t they? And that’s such a smart idea actually, I love the way … you write on your hand, don’t you, in extreme mix?
Ginny Carter: Yes, usually my best ideas come to me on the treadmill at the gym, so I don’t have anything to write with, so I’m always grabbing a pen and then writing. I write a couple of words on the back of my hand that will then remind me when I get back home, what the hell it was I thought of. But yes, you’ve got to do whatever you can, I think, to capture that.
Alison Jones: I’m not going to ask if you shower after the gym then, that’s …
Ginny Carter: Actually yes, I’ve still got all of those messages on my hands from months ago. No.
Alison Jones: I wanted to pick up on a couple of the things in the planning session. I really want to talk about the editing bit because I thought that was really gold actually, because there’s quite a lot of stuff on how to write, there’s very little stuff out there on how to edit. And people who do it, like when I edit, I just do it and I find it would be hard to put into words, but you do it brilliantly.
But before we get there I wanted to talk about just a couple of really practical little genius ideas that you come up with in the planning stuff that I thought particularly about, the idea about seeding. So, when you talk about how a book is going to work for you, I think people struggle with this, because if they’re writing a book to promote their business, they go one of two ways. Either they’re so terrified about the idea of coming across this cheesy sales people that they never mention their business and you get to the end and you’re like, what a shame, that person doesn’t have an offering for me.
Or, every page is like a full page advert for the business. But, you talk about this really neat thing called seeding. So, just tell us a little bit about that and how people can use it.
Ginny Carter: Well, I think seeding is a nice way of describing it because what I’m really talking about there is mentioning your business throughout the book, but in a way that gets across the message of what you do and sells your business, but without coming across as cheesy, as you say. So, a nice way of doing it is an example, so you can be making a point about some area of your expertise and then you can say this is what I do with my clients when I first talked to them, we go through this and then this is how it helps them.
So, what you’re doing is, you’re using your work as a valid example of the benefit that you are explaining to your readers. But at the same time you’re selling in your business. And I think as long as you don’t do it all the time, and you do it in such a way that is genuinely helpful for your readers, and you’re not just plugging yourself, I think it could work really well. And it’s something a lot of people forget to do. They, as you say, they often shy away from talking about their work or they don’t know how to do it and it comes across as a bit clunky. So yes, I’m a big fan of that.
Alison Jones: I thought that was really, really smart and although I’ve seen it done, I’ve never given it a name. It’s one of the great gifts, isn’t it? When you read a book and they name something, and as soon as they’ve named it, you go, of course, of course that thing, that now has a name.
Ginny Carter: Yes, and it’s basically planting a seed in the mind of your reader that there is something more that they can do when they finish the book, which is to consider working with the author.
Alison Jones: Yes, and why wouldn’t you? Absolutely, because it was just serving your reader all the time. And the other thing that I thought was just really, I mean honestly, people there are so much in this book, and Ginny writes like an angel, by the way. I don’t know if I told you, the copy editor was basically weeping with happiness, reading your book. It’s just so good. But, you also have the ‘even if’ rule, which again, it’s one of those things that you’ve raised it so beautifully that you know, ‘I want to do this, even if’, and that is your opportunity as an author. So just again, sorry, I’ve explained it badly, you explain it better.
Ginny Carter: Yes, that’s the bit that was related to finding the gold in your book, isn’t it? And I think it’s absolutely crucial that at the beginning, before you even start writing anything, to think about what is it in your book that’s going to be irresistible to your readers? What is the key thing you’re offering them? Not only that nobody else is giving or not in the same way, but that they really want. So, the gold in your book is the answer to this big question your readers have. And, how do you find this gold?
And, there’s a few different approaches to that, but one of them is to use the ‘even if’ rule, which is, ‘How do I do something even if … I’ve got this problem, which means I think I can’t do it.’ So, how do I save money even if I’m on a low income, or how do I lose weight even if I love cream cakes, or whatever. And, I think it’s that ‘even if’ bit that makes the difference to your readers, because that’s the thing that’s going to convince them that you’ve got an answer this just for them, and that that’s really going to help them.
So yes, and it’s a nice way of doing it even if … you can do that for yourself. Like, ‘How do I write a business book, even if I haven’t got a clue how to structure it’ or ‘How do I promote my book even if I don’t have a marketing platform.’ So, if you can answer those questions, then you’ve got something that’s really irresistible.
Alison Jones: I hadn’t seen it as a problem-solving tool as well, which of course it is. But yes, it’s brilliant for marketing copy, isn’t it? Because I guess what you’re doing is you’re encapsulating both the promise and the pain.
Ginny Carter: Yes, exactly. You’re bringing the two together, so saying, ‘I know you’ve got this problem, but this is how you solve it.’ And that’s all people want.
Alison Jones: ‘And this is the outcome that I can help you achieve.’ It’s a really sort of reader centric way of looking at it.
Ginny Carter: Yes.
Alison Jones: And how much of this … it’s back to that question right at the beginning again, isn’t it? How much came out and you went, ‘Of course it’s seeding,’ and how much is just a matter of codifying what you already knew you knew?
Ginny Carter: Well, I think the seeding thing was something that I came up with quite a while ago. Can’t remember now actually, to be honest, but it’s been something that I’ve been working with for a while. And then ‘even if’ thing came out of a blog post I did quite a long time ago, and in fact, actually when I started planning the book, the first thing I did was I went back to all the blog posts. I must’ve written about 50 blog posts at that point, all about business, but writing in one way or another. And I thought there’s a whole goldmine of information here, let’s start with that.
So, I went through all of my blogs and made a note of what could go where and reference and files you needed were printing stuff out. Actually, I had this printed file of all my blog posts and when I was planning the content, I’d go back to the post and I’d think, what was post number five? I just put a number five in that bit of the book. And then that way I knew what I was going to be going back and forth from. So yes, the seeding was something I’d written about some time ago and I thought that will work well here. So yes, that’s where it came from.
Alison Jones: And it’s quite an interesting side note on blogging, isn’t it? Because blogging has loads of different functions, but if you’re planning to write a book, it’s your test pit, isn’t it?
Ginny Carter: Oh yes, completely. I mean, one of the blog posts that’s always had the most traffic on my site was one I wrote quite some time ago. It was all about how long should a business book be. And clearly this is something that people search for as an answer a lot, because that’s why they keep coming back for that post of mine. And you know what? I would never really have guessed that if anyone had asked me what would be the most popular topic that people want to know about, I would never have guessed that. But that’s what they seem to want to know, is like, and I can understand why. Because if you haven’t got a clue about writing a book, one of the first things you’re thinking is, how long is it going to take me and you know, you need to know how many words you want to write. So, I can understand it.
So that meant that I wanted to make sure that I included that in the book, because I knew that it was important to people. Whereas, otherwise I may have ignored it. I may have thought that’s boring, that’s just about numbers, let’s leave that out. So yes, it made a big difference.
Alison Jones: It’s data driven then isn’t it? You’re actually looking at what people really are responding to and what questions they’re asking.
Ginny Carter: Yes, exactly.
Alison Jones: Yes, that one always comes up really early in the proposal challenge. You forget, when you’re looking at a book, you’re looking at a number of pages, you’ve got no idea what that equates to in a word document or a Scrivener document. I know you use Scrivener. I want to cover some editing, because I do think this is such a valuable section. Again, did this come out of working with people and realising that people don’t instinctively know how to edit their own work?
Ginny Carter: Yes, I think I did it quite instinctively and thought this is obvious, this is how you do it. And then the people I coached to write their own business books would really struggle with it. And so I created this process for them to use and ended up putting it in the book for everyone to use. I think the thing is, as I say in the book, when you’re trying to wrestle 50,000 words into shape, a process comes in handy. And so it is one of those things that unless you are very process driven about it, you will get yourself into a terrible muddle.
So, it’s just really broken down into stages to make it really easy and you don’t move past the one stage until you … you don’t move past the first stage until you’ve finished it and then you can move on to the next stage. And if you try and combine it all, unfortunately it really just doesn’t work.
Alison Jones: But it’s so true having that, as you say, the process is incredibly freeing, isn’t it? Because then you haven’t got this constant anxiety of, I’m not sure I’m doing the right thing, what do I do next? And people can get stuck in a loop on chapter one and never get out of it.
Ginny Carter: I’m a massive fan of moving on with your first draft. Don’t go back and edit as you’re writing it, otherwise you will never … You have the most perfectly polished chapter one in the history of the university and then you just never get any further.
So yes, I’m a great fan of just keep writing, don’t worry about the fact that it’s a bit of a mess, just keep going, get to the end of that first draft. And then you go back and do the first round of editing, which is just a very top line structural edit. It’s just about looking at what the information is that you’ve put down and is it all in the right places really. You’re not worried about whether it reads beautifully or anything. You can just see the big picture. And then only after you’ve done that, do you then start going into the sentences and making things beautiful. But I think also the really nice thing about that process is that you can edit in different passes for different things.
So you can do a seeding edit for example. Like, have I included enough stories and have I told them in the right way? Or you can do a stories edit. Have I included enough interesting stories or is this chapter here missing something that can add a bit of life to it. So, as long as you’re systematic about it, you can use it all sorts of ways.
Alison Jones: That’s really smart, I like that a lot. And I mean, obviously you’re a writer, that’s what you do, and the manuscript you handed over was gorgeous. The whole team did a celebratory dance when they got it, brilliant. I know that in your acknowledgements you say that the team gave the book the equivalent of a spa makeover. Just tell me, because that’s obviously normally your endpoint is to finish manuscripts, and then the book goes off to the publisher, so what surprised you or struck you about that process, post handover?
Ginny Carter: Oh, that’s a really interesting question. So, so yes, I loved that spa makeover idea. It always felt like I had to do this sort of block of this word document, and then it came back in this beautiful book. I had been pampered to within an inch of its life. It’s always an interesting process to do something for yourself, but you do for other people as well. And, it’s so much more difficult to be objective about it, I think, with your own… Also, I loved, actually I really enjoyed the whole process. I enjoyed the control I had over it, I enjoyed the fact that I could choose the layout that I wanted inside the fonts and the covers and what went on the back cover. And I think that’s something you just miss out on when you go to a traditional publisher.
On the other hand, the plus side is, you don’t have to decide your cover design, you don’t have to decide… you don’t have to do anything and sometimes there’s a bit of a release, I guess, in the not having to do all of that kind of thing, which of course I do enjoy with my clients. Although actually I do really like being kept in the loop and I always say to them, use me as a sounding board for your covers or anything because I do enjoy that. It’s hard to let go of a book when you’ve just written that you didn’t feel a sense of ownership. Like I’d like to know how it’s all progressing and some clients do that and some don’t. But yes, I do like being involved all the way through.
Alison Jones: It’s interesting that point about the double-edged sword of that control as well, because it’s something we’re very aware of and we try and manage quite carefully. It’s that balance between allowing people to have the input that they want, but also not letting them feel that we’re not guiding them. So we’ll, for example, give you a set of, you know, saying here’s some typefaces or layouts that we suggest, what do you think, or would you like to change them at all? And some people just like, Oh, I’ll have that one, it looks really nice. And other people are like, well actually I’d kind of seen it this way, and being sensitive to that kind of level of how much control and how much design sense, honestly, for a lot of it the author has.
Ginny Carter: Yes, that’s exactly, yes, I’m sure, it varies hugely. And in a way it’s very similar to what I do with my ghostwriting. The clients may come up with an idea and I may think that won’t work very well because of X, Y and Z. And of course they’ve just not thought about it like that before. And once I explain it, most of the time they’re quite happy. But, so there isn’t a need to do always what people want because then you’re not doing your job properly. But on the other hand, you do want to deliver what people want because you’re there to provide a good service to them. So, it’s always a balancing act as you say, but I think as long as it’s done in the right way and in the right spirit, it will usually work out very well and indeed in this case it has done.
Alison Jones: It is gorgeous, isn’t it, I’m looking at it now, beautiful. Now, I always ask people, I feel a bit cheeky here because what we’ve basically done is ask your best tips for authors for like the last 20 minutes, but I’m going to do it anyway. If I held a gun to your head and said what’s your one single best tip for a want to be business book author, what would you say Ginny?
Ginny Carter: Well, buy my book, obviously.
Alison Jones: Apart from that.
Ginny Carter: Being less cheeky, I’d say…
Alison Jones: Is that seeding? Did we just seed?
Ginny Carter: No, I think the biggest tip I’ve given, and it comes right at the beginning, is knowing what you want to achieve with your book before you write a word of it. And the reason for that is, is I know it sounds like really obvious and people think they know what they want to achieve with the book, but when I often talk to them, they’re not as clear on it as they thought they were. And I think the reason for it being so important is that until you know what you want to get out of the book for you, then you don’t know how you’re going to market it, you don’t know how you’re going to publish it, you don’t know who it’s going to be for, you don’t even really know what it’s going to be about. Because unless you know what you wanted to deliver, you can’t answer all of those questions.
And, when you start to think about it like that, it actually makes a lot of sense. But it’s something that’s just very easy to miss in the whole excitement about getting started with a book.
Alison Jones: I think it doesn’t help, well maybe it helps in a way, but again, double-edged sword: a lot of people just want to write a book because they want to write a book.
Ginny Carter: Yes, and that’s fine. If that’s your motivation, a lot of people approach memoirs that way for example, and they think I just want to write my life story, I’ve got all these experiences I want to share, the most important thing for me is I get it out there. And that’s fine, that’s absolutely fine. But then you’re clear at least with what you want to get out of it in the beginning. If you decide that you want this book to be a best seller and you want it to influence all sorts of people, then you need to go about it in then maybe a bit of a different way than you would have done if it was just for you and your family, for example. So, it’s just the question and knowing and being honest with yourself.
Alison Jones: Absolutely. Brilliant tip. Really fundamental. Yes, love it. And, I always ask people as well to recommend a book. Obviously they should all finish this podcast and immediately go and buy Your Business, Your Book. We get that, but which other book would you suggest that listeners read? It could be a business book, it could be something else.
Ginny Carter: Well, one of my favourite books, which I actually am ashamed to say I only read a few months ago, even though it’s been on my shelf for ages, was Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath. And the reason that I think it’s so wonderful is, it’s for two reasons really. And I think it’s particularly relevant for people who are wanting to write their own books. Because, for a start, it’s just so well written in its own right. I mean, it’s a kind of gold standard of how to write a self help guide or a personal development guide. And, what I love is the way they use stories, but they use very well-chosen stories and then they explain why they’ve chosen them.
And so you’re left in no doubt what it’s all about, what the messages they’re putting across, but they’ve just done it in such an engaging and fun way, you don’t ever feel like you’re learning anything, which I think is a huge skill. And then the other reason I like it so much is because the messages that it gives in the book are so relevant for anyone who wants to write their own. It’s all about how do you create a persuasive message. So, it could be in a book or it could be in an article or a talk or a blog, or whatever. But then the notion of made to stick is like, how do you say things in such a way that people remember them? Which is what we all want to do, Isn’t it, when we’re communicating?
Alison Jones: Absolutely. And, I hold my hand up here, this is one that’s been on my to-read pile for I don’t know how long and I haven’t got round to it… I did read The Power of Moments, and you’re right, they’re brothers, aren’t they? Chip and Dan Heath?
Ginny Carter: Yes. I think in writing as brothers, I take my hat off to them.
Alison Jones: I know. In a sense, I just wanted to read it because I want to see how that worked. But yes, they write brilliantly. Thank you, really good recommendation and yes, I might not read it immediately because I’m behind on my reading 100 business books.
Ginny Carter: You’ve got your work cut out, haven’t you?
Alison Jones: I really have. I’m making a beeline for the shorter business books at the moment.
Ginny Carter: Yes, it’s not the shortest…
Alison Jones: I know, I need to claw back some ground at the moment. Brilliant, thank you. Now Ginny, if people want to find out more about you, more about Your Business, Your Book, where should they go?
Ginny Carter: Well, the most obvious place is my website, which is marketingtwentyone.co.uk. That’s all in letters. But you can also find me on Twitter. I’m _GinnyCarter, and on LinkedIn actually I do a lot on LinkedIn, that’s often how I communicate with people on there. You can just search for me. So yes, those are the main places.
Alison Jones: Brilliant. Well, we can do better than that, we can put the link on the show notes, at extraordinarybusinessbooks.com. So, if you’re driving and you didn’t get that, don’t panic, just go to the normal place and you can find a transcript of this brilliant conversation there. It’s worth reading and highlighting pretty much every word, I’d have thought, and you can see those links.
Ginny, just so much fun always to talk to you, thank you. And thank you for unpacking some of the treasure in this book, it’s terrific. I’m so proud to have published it, so thank you.
Ginny Carter: Well, thank you, thank you. I’ve really enjoyed working with you on it.
Alison Jones: And do you know what? This is your second podcast appearance, isn’t it? So, we’ll have to go for a third quite soon.
Ginny Carter: Maybe I should write another book.
Alison Jones: Yes, that’s what I’m thinking. Goodbye!