In this week’s episode I’m joined by The Author Maker Ginny Carter, book coach and ghostwriter. We talk about why the ‘bestseller’ label can be a vanity metric, how to streamline your book and your marketing, and what Ikea furniture can teach us about ghostwriting.
Alison : I’m here today with Ginny Carter, the Author Maker. Ginny is a business book ghostwriter, book-writing coach, and author, and she’s on a mission to transform established speakers, coach, and consultants from every day experts into respected thought leaders and in-demand speakers. She’s also a really good friend. Hello, Ginny.
Ginny : Hello, Alison. Yes, it’s lovely to be interviewed by you today. Very good start to a Monday morning.
Alison : It is and, in fact, we’ll be going out on a Monday morning so that’s good too.
Ginny : Even better.
Alison : Even better. Right. You know, I’ve got so many questions for you today, Ginny. Hopefully we could … I know. It will be good. It will be brilliant. So much good stuff’s coming out here. Let’s start off with a nice, easy one. Why write a business book?
Ginny : Well, yeah, how many reasons are there? I mean, I guess the people, the authors, that I work with, they’re mainly coaches, speakers, experts, people who want to raise their credibility and expand their business through having a book so, of course, that is to many of them the number one reason is that through having a book, you’re proving that you know enough about your topic and you’ve got enough new perspectives and new ideas and really enough to contribute, that you could write a whole book about it. That’s pretty impressive, isn’t it?
People want, clients want, the best that money can buy. They want to work with somebody who really knows their stuff and the things with having a book, you’re proving that you can deliver that, that you know all of that stuff. I think that’s the number one reason, that underpins everything but, of course, then, overlaying on top of that is the enormous satisfaction that you get from being a published author. It is tremendously exciting to have a book. It’s a way of leaving a legacy, a way of telling the world what it is you know and being able to pass on your knowledge. It’s very satisfying.
Then, also, of course, all of the people that you can help with a book that wouldn’t maybe come across you if they haven’t read your book, so there’s lots and lots of good reasons which, I’m sure, you’ve come across as well.
Alison : Yeah, but brilliantly articulated. Thank you. I always think, you know, if you’re going to buy from somebody, would you choose the person who wrote the book or not?
Ginny : The one who wrote the book on it, don’t you?
Alison : Yeah, absolutely. Here’s a question for you. Does that book that you write have to be a bestseller to make it worthwhile?
Ginny : You know what? A lot of people get really hung up on this, don’t they? There’s this myth around the bestseller, I think, and, of course, having a bestseller … Nothing wrong with having a bestseller at all. Lovely thing to have in many ways but, I think, often, it just distracts authors from what’s really important about that book because it all depends, I think, on why you’re writing a book to start off with.
If you’re writing a book to build your credibility, build your business, gain more clients, better quality clients, then you want to be targeting your book at the niche that you’re aiming to build your business around. If that is not a very wide niche, then it’s unlikely you’re probably going to have a bestseller with that book – but does it actually matter? Because what you’re going to be doing is still fulfilling all of the objectives you set yourself when you first decided to write the book. It doesn’t have to be bestseller at all in order to give you what you need out of it.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with having the bestseller. It’s just that if you’re going to put all your time and energy into trying to sell lots of books over and above and that’s distracting you from the other ways that you could be using your book to build your business, I think that is where it can be a bit harmful. Also, I think, sometimes people attempted to broaden their audience very widely in order to capture as many people as possible in order to sell as many as possible which, of course, is what you need to have a bestseller but that might not be right for the business.
I don’t subscribe to the view that having a bestseller is the goal at all. A successful book is one which boost your business and really helps you to get to the next level for your business. If it happens to be a bestseller as well then great but, I think, sometimes that can be a bit of a vanity metric.
Alison : That’s a really good way of putting, isn’t it? Yeah, people get really hung up on that word, don’t they? It’s extraordinary. Actually, you can game Amazon, you know, relatively easily. That’s what I think is what people don’t realize, that being a bestseller in Amazon is not that hard. It doesn’t mean that much.
Ginny : Exactly. Exactly. Yes. It’s quite easy to manipulate, isn’t it? Again, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. It’s just that if it’s going to distract you from doing the things that are really going to help you, then that’s when it can become a problem.
Alison : Right. In fact, if there’s only 50 people in the world who really need to read your book and those 50 people read it and like it and act on it then bam! That’s a huge success.
Ginny : Oh, massive, massive, yes, and far more worthwhile than just being able to shout about the fact you have a bestseller. I do understand why people want a bestseller because it’s inherent in human nature, isn’t it, to want to … It’s almost like a badge of honour to say I’ve sold loads of books but actually, as you’ve said, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have sold a lot of books. It just means you got to the number one in some obscure category…
Alison : As you said at the beginning, it all comes down to knowing why you’re writing the book, doesn’t it? What it is you want to achieve? You know, that’s such an interesting discussion and it’s one we haven’t had yet in the club but I think it’s such an important one.
Ginny : Oh, yeah. I think you have to do that right in the beginning, don’t you, before you go any further with your book?
Alison : Brilliant. I know that, Ginny, your background is in marketing, isn’t it, in your previous life?
Ginny : That’s right. I was on the dark side, I’m afraid, but it has had its uses.
Alison : It’s so funny you should say that. I lecture up at Brookes and I’m on the editorial module and there’s an ongoing war between marketing and editorial – each one refers to the other as the dark side. Clearly, this is not a healthy state for the publishing industry to be in…
Ginny : Marketing is often on the dark side.
Alison : Editorial’s so pure. We don’t need really have to hear about other books. I’m going to draw in your marketing expertise for a minute. You used this great phrase in your copy: What’s streamlining your book marketing. What does streamlining your book marketing look like? What does that mean?
Ginny : It’s a little phrase I came up with to really encapsulate the idea that I think so often what people do, and I have to say I have done this myself in the past and learned from my mistakes. It wasn’t with a book. It was with a cause I developed and I made this mistake and, hence, I’ve always been very keen not to make it again is that people come up with a book idea, with an audience, with a topic, that isn’t necessarily to do with their actual business right now.
They may have a business that’s geared around helping a specific set of people do a specific thing and then they think, oh wouldn’t it be fun to write a book about something else? Actually, that’s fine if that’s what you want to do but you’re making your life an awful lot harder. I think, particularly important with this streamlining is to align your business audience that you already have, that you already market to, with your book audience.
Although it sounds very simple, actually can be quite difficult to achieve for some people because they may have a feeling that they want to broaden that audience and their business and that’s why they’re writing a book, because they want to move into a new audience. That’s all perfectly legitimate but it’s important to understand that if you’re doing that, you’re going to have to create a new audience to sell this book to that you haven’t already got.
Most business people already have an email database, social media following, a blog following, or maybe speaking circuits that they speak on so they’ve already got a platform to one extent or another. If you’re going to write a book that isn’t going to be able to use that platform, then you’re actually creating an awful lot of hard work for yourself. Streamlining a book is all really about using what you already have to give yourself a really good platform for your book that makes it just a lot more time and cost effective when you actually come to launch it.
Alison : Perfect. That sense of the ideal reader is also the ideal clients so that you’re not wasting your energy. In fact, you know what? It really comes back to the bestseller thing in a sense, doesn’t it? Just being really clear that you’re not being dazzled by that idea, just reaching as many people as possible and just rigorously honing in on your readership in the same way that you niche down your business.
Ginny : Exactly. It’s about discipline, really, and so easy in the beginning to get carried away with trying to do some new and different things but it can be then just as easy to regret that later on when you think, oh, hang on. I now need to sell this book to all these people. I don’t know who they are and I don’t know how to reach them. This is now going to be a real problem for me. I’m a big fan of keeping things simple, as I’m sure you know, Alison, and just making life easy for yourself rather than difficult which is not a bad thing to do.
Alison : Well, absolutely, and it’s leverage as well, isn’t it? You start with what you’ve got and leverage that step further and you’re going to just get a bigger bank for your book than if you’re trying to start from ground zero.
Ginny : Oh, completely. Also, you’ll be competing with other people who have already got platforms in that area so you doubly made life difficult for yourself. Yes, it’s just using what you’ve already got building on it.
Alison : Yeah, because life is quite difficult enough really, isn’t it? We don’t need to make it any harder. You said something before about when you finish your book and you think, oh my goodness, now I’m going to start marketing it. When is the right time to start marketing your book?
Ginny : Well, I think, really, right from when you begin writing it or even earlier maybe because for various reasons really. I think, partly, it helps to keep you accountable. If you talk to people about writing a book, the fact that you’re writing a book then, you know, then they’re going to be asking you about it. I know from clients of mine who say they’ve got friends who are asking when their book’s coming out because they’ve been open about the fact that they’re doing it.
That does make a massive difference but, also, you can be talking about yourself as a prospective author or forthcoming author. That, in itself, gives you quite a lot of credibility even though you haven’t actually written it yet. People know that you’re in the process of it. I think, strategically, it’s important to think about the marketing route from the beginning because, then, you know how you want to write your book which, of course, then comes down to the reasons why you’re writing it in the first place.
If you’re writing it because you want to build your email list, for example, then include opportunities within your book for people to sign up to your list in return for something valuable that you’re giving them. You do want to build that into the writing of the book and that would mean that you would need to be thinking about those resources and how they’re going to work with your book right from the beginning so they’re not just being crowbarred in at the end as an afterthought.
Similarly, say, if you wanted to use your book to gain more speaking opportunities, then you might want to think about writing your book in such a way that you’re looking at the topics that you speak about and maybe working those into the chapters and saying maybe I could write a chapter about this topic and another chapter about another topic that I speak when I’m actually structuring your book in such a way that you’re using it to give yourself a platform to gain more speaking visibility. That’s something that speakers are increasingly starting to do now.
I think thinking about the way that you want your book to benefit your business and how you’re going to sell it and how you’re going to market it really can have a very fundamental impact on the way you write it and it would be a big shame to get to the end of writing your book and then you start thinking about it then and then regret not taking up some of those opportunities that you could have done and if you just thought about it earlier.
Alison : Absolutely. I’m cheering here silently. I’m like, absolutely agree with every single word of that. I was laughing as well when you said about why don’t you tell people you’re writing a book: one of the reasons for starting this podcast in the first place is exactly that. I am writing this book and you all have to hold me accountable for it, and it’s working really well.
Ginny : I know. Such a brave step. I do really admire you for it but, I think, it’s fantastically powerful, isn’t it?
Alison : It really is. There’s nowhere to hide, is there?
Ginny : Yeah. Yes, exactly. I do know the people who it’s made a massive difference to them actually just being open about it, it really does work, but it isn’t easy to do, is it, at the beginning? It’s a big decision, isn’t it?
Alison : It is but, I think, like any of these big decisions in life, once you see it and you think this is the right thing to do, the trick is just to do it. If you sit around thinking about it too long, sometimes you overthink it and you stop yourself.
Ginny : Yeah.
Alison : Yes. There is a bit of courage there. There’s also a bit of just recklessness because once … You know what? I think this just comes down to the kind of person you are, doesn’t it? Gretchen Rubin has that brilliant framework about upholders and people who are accountable to other people and so on. I like to think I’m an upholder but, actually, I’m an obliger and once I’ve committed to do something, I will do it but I have to commit to other people in public.
Ginny : Right. Knowing yourself, that’s brilliant.
Alison : Knowing yourself, use whatever tricks you know work for you. Absolutely. This is absolutely right. We talked about knowing what you want the book to do for your business. We talked about knowing who it’s for and also what the definition of success will be because, you know, who wants to read it and so on. We talked about integrating it into your funnels and planning the way you’re going to use it in your business so that you can actually embed that right into the book. What other things do you need to decide about your book right from the get-go to really make it work?
Ginny : Well, I think the fundamental thing to decide, and this is where I always start with my clients, is what do you want to write this book for, what is it that you want to get out of it? Because you can be putting an awful lot of time, you can be putting money into it … You know, it’s an enormous investment, isn’t it? You need to be really clear what that return on investment is going to be for you.
Do you want to write it to get more clients? Do you want to write it for your credibility? Do you want to write it just because it gives you a good feeling to write it and you feel that you’ve really contributed something worthwhile? I do work with people who want that as well. It doesn’t have to be all a financial return. I think once you know what that reason is, then all of the other decisions you make will all hang off that and it makes it a lot easier to make all those other decisions as well.
It could have an impact on, for instance, what kind of publishing options you might want to go for which, I’m sure, you know a lot more about than I do. It might make a difference to how you want to market your book. It will certainly make a difference to who you want to read it. It will then make a difference as to what you want to say because every book, every non-fiction, every business book needs to answer a big question, a burning question that the reader has is, you know, this problem I’ve got … How are you going to help me solve it? This itch, I need to scratch, how are you going to help me with this? The book needs to answer that.
These are all the fundamental things that need to be sorted out really right at the beginning and I think that the worst thing that people can do is to launch into writing a book because they got this stuff in their head they want to get out. I do understand, I do understand why people do that. I do understand the drive to get it out but it’s missing out that vital first step that causes them problems later down the line when they get halfway through and run out of steam because they’re not quite sure why they’re doing it in the first place, and that’s a real shame, isn’t it?
Alison : Absolutely. Start with why. When you articulate it like that, it sounds so obvious but so many people, I think, in fact have an idea for ‘what’ and they start with what. ‘What can I write about? What title? I’ve got a lovely idea for a title…’ actually forcing people back upstream is where it all … It’s a make or break decision, isn’t it?
Ginny : Yes. Quite often, I’m sure you find this as well, but very often when I start to work with somebody, they’ve got an idea in their head as to what they’re going to call it and what it’s all going to be about but then after we’ve gone through that process that I just described, they realized that actually, no, it needs to be a bit different and actually what they come out with is something often quite different. If they hadn’t gone through that process then, you know, they’d have written the wrong book which is awful, isn’t it?
Alison : Just awful and imagine going through all that. In the book that you’ve finally written thinking, actually, this is not what I intended at all.
Ginny : I know.
Alison : I get that completely. Now, you said before about this being a huge investment. It is. It’s a massive investment of your time, your energy, your credibility in a sense as well. Obviously, one of the most interesting things about you is you’re also a ghostwriter. Anybody who’s listening is thinking, you know what, I just don’t know if I’ve got the time or the skills or the expertise to write this book. Just tell us a little bit… Why would you maybe think about working with a ghostwriter?
Ginny : It’s funny actually because I think actually often what I give people through the ghostwriting is I give them the ability to keep their sanity. They don’t have that … Aah! How am I ever going to finish this book? I mean, I guess the people I work with, they’re generally as I said, explained before, they’re experts in what they do and say they want to put their expertise in a book but they generally got pretty successful businesses, you know.
They’ve reached the point where they have a good client base and they really want to take it up to the next level so, for them, they’re quite used to outsourcing and they’re usually quite comfortable with the idea of somebody else doing things for them because if they did everything themselves, they wouldn’t have got to where they are now. I just liken it to this experience I had recently where my husband and I, we ordered a whole load of Ikea flatpack furniture to basically to furnish an entire room and this enormous amount of boxes turned up.
I just turned to him and said, “You know, I just don’t think we’re ever going to manage this on our own without getting divorced really. It’s just not going to happen. Let’s get somebody in to do it for us.” He’s like, “Oh, no. Over my dead body. No handyman’s going to come into my house.” Of course, I won the argument as I always do. We got these lovely guys to come along. They spent an entire day … I mean, these were ex-shop fitters, these guys. They were professionals. They spent an entire day constructing all this furniture for us. At the end, we had it all there and it was fantastic and it didn’t cost us a huge amount. I mean, yes, we had to pay for it but what we got back in return was our sanity.
Alison : And your marriage.
Ginny : And our marriage. That’s right. It was wonderful and it’s all done. Really, ghostwriting a book is a bit like that really. It’s like the people who know that it’s just going to be a massive distraction for them from their business, that they’re never going to have the time to do it and, actually, they’d far rather hand it over to somebody who knows what they’re doing, can write a good book in their voice, using all of their ideas, all of their content, their perspective, their opinions, and the words that they would’ve used themselves and, as much as possible, to create a really professional and well-written book.
Alison : I just got this vision of an alternate universe in which you didn’t get those men in and this room full of half-finished furniture and the simmering resentment…
Ginny : Every time I walked into that room, it would be like, “Why didn’t we get those men in?” Exactly.
Alison : Fantastic. If you’ve convinced somebody here, what is the best way to go about finding and hiring a ghostwriter because it is a really personal decision, isn’t it? It’s a big trust thing, this.
Ginny : It is. You have to get on with your ghostwriter and the ghostwriter has to get on with you. There is also trust involved and so it’s important to have a really good conversation with whoever you choose and be sure that you’re ready to work with them. I think, there’s a couple of sides to this. First of all, I talk about how to find a ghostwriter. Different ghostwriters will promote themselves in different ways. They will have websites. Obviously, Google is one place to start.
I’m pretty active on Twitter and LinkedIn and Facebook. LinkedIn, I think, is a really underestimated platform for finding professional people just generally speaking, really. I know I’ve been found on LinkedIn many times by people who are interested in working with a ghostwriter. Similarly, they often find me on Google. It’s one of those things where we don’t get many referrals because, obviously, we work in a confidential basis so unless somebody’s happy to talk about the fact they’ve had a ghostwriter, they’re probably not going to recommend the ghostwriter to somebody else.
Having said that, if you know somebody who has worked with somebody, with a ghostwriter, then that’s a good place to start as well. Approaching a number of people, talking to them, seeing if you click, and then making sure that they work in the kind of niche that you operate in as well. I just do business books. When I say business books, I mean books that are designed to promote people’s businesses so it doesn’t have to be about business. It can be about whatever the client’s business, however the client actually helps people could be anything but there are other ghostwriters who are more general and it’s really up to you to decide whether you want that or not. Then, thinking about how ready you are to let somebody else write your book.
For some people, they really, really want to write their own book. It’s really important to them, and that’s fine, so you’re not probably in the market for a ghostwriter if that’s the way you feel but I think it’s important to be honest with yourself about that and decide whether that’s something you feel comfortable with. If it is, then just getting to know them, getting to understand the way they think and understanding as well that you have the same objectives for the book and the ghostwriter respects those and, in fact, carry those through. It’s a lot like working with anyone else in many ways, actually, but with a ghostwriter, I think, it probably has to have the extra level of trust. Yeah, you’re right.
Alison : Yeah. It’s a really personal relationship. I think you can get a lot of the benefits of, you know, I’m a big fan of writing as a way of articulating your thinking so it will improve the quality of your thinking but actually a good ghostwriter, and you did this a lot with your clients, you were actually helping them to articulate what it is about their business that’s important and they get the benefits of that while still getting the book written.
Ginny : That’s right. Lots of people actually think through speaking rather than writing as well. Those are the people that often get the most out of the ghostwriting experience from that point of view because they get to articulate their thoughts through my questioning as well. They get to clarify them and get to see them a bit more holistically so they’re not just thinking about them from their perspective but they’re also thinking about how their readers will absorb them as well.
That was a really good experience for them to go through. It helps them with their clients as well because they’re thinking about their ideas and their opinions and their knowledge from the perspective of somebody who doesn’t already know it all.
Alison : Brilliant. Fantastic. Oh, we’re really running out of time which is really annoying because I’ve got 15 more questions I’d like to ask you but we’re going to have to work it. Tell me, Ginny, you know the stage I’m at. I’ve been shovelling sand like a good’un. Now I’ve got 36,000 words or so of my book roughly piled into a Scrivener outline. What’s your best tip for me now that I actually have to stop shovelling and start making sandcastles?
Ginny : I love the sandcastles idea. Have you pretty much finished your first draft then?
Alison : No.
Ginny : You haven’t quite got it all in there yet.
Alison : I haven’t quite… There’s a whole section that’s just got headings at the moment so I’m not quite finished yet but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Ginny : That’s brilliant. That’s fantastic. You’ve got to that point. I think you should be so proud of yourself.
Alison : I am actually. I’m really, really chuffed.
Ginny : You’ve not even been doing it for that long so it’s amazing. What I would do is finish it off first before you go back. If you still got a bit more to write in your first draft, then finish that first draft and as you get to the point where you can see the whole book because… that will be my top tip I think because I think what is really tempting to do is, as we’re drafting and doing all of that creative side of it, we go back and want to tweak things and amend things and edit things.
As I know, you know, because you’re an editor yourself, the editing uses a very different way of thinking, doesn’t it, to the creative work at the beginning. I’d encourage you to get to the end, to make yourself get to the end before you go back and start making the sandcastles.
Alison : Brilliant. I’ve got permission to just keep squashing my inner critic and just carry on creating…
Ginny : Definitely.
Alison : That’s what I wanted. Thank you. Brilliant. Now, I always ask a guest on the show if they could recommend someone else that they think has something interesting to say about the business of books. Who do you think I should invite on to the show?
Ginny : I haven’t got a particular person in mind but I think what it would be really interesting for you to do is to talk to somebody who is really big on speaking and is using that book to enhance their speaking in terms of gaining more speaking engagements but also in terms of informing what they actually speak about because the two are very symbiotic. The speaking informs the book. The book informs the speaking. Lots of speakers now are really using their books in a very interesting way. That would be something I would hope to hear you talking about in the next few weeks.
Alison : Brilliant. Yes, I take up your challenge. I think that’s a really, really good idea. I’ve often thought about the fact that speaking and writing are so complementary so I need to have to think about who would be a good one for that but I’ve got a couple of people in mind already. Fantastic! Thank you, Ginny. If people want to find out more about you, where do they go?
Ginny : Well, the best place to find out more about me is to go my website. That’s marketingtwentyone.co.uk. Marketing twenty one in letters. I do have a little freebie give away for the people on there. If you go to marketingtwentyone.co.uk\expert, you get my free guide ‘How to stand out as an expert with your own book.’ If you’re thinking about writing a book and you’re not quite sure about how you’re going to use it for your business and what you need to do and how you need to start off, then that’s a really good place to start. That’s a nice old freebie for your listeners.
Alison : We love a little freebie. Thank you for that. It’s brilliant. Absolutely amazing. Thank you, Ginny. I literally could have sat here talking to you all day quite happily but we’re going to have to leave it there but maybe you and I should carry on talking after this.
Ginny : Yes, definitely.
Alison : Really good. Thank you so much, Ginny. Goodbye.
Ginny : Thank you, Alison. Thank you.