The Permanence of the Written Word

What a year it’s been! Collectively, we’ve gone through (and are still in the midst of) a long, arduous pandemic—hopefully, with a light at the end of the tunnel. We’ve seen unemployment go up, then labor shortages become prevalent, as businesses became much more, well, busy in 2021 than they were in 2020. Hand-in-hand with that have come shortages of just about everything. 

Tuah. an inspiring short novel, is a collaboration between Jeyda Bolukbasi and Mark Graham Communications

Along with these ups and downs, we’ve seen people rise up—individually and in community—to speak out on topics that fill their hearts and minds. We’ve witnessed folks from every generation—from children figuring out how to “do school” again to seniors navigating a world unlike any they’ve ever seen—find ways to adapt.

As we go through these times, it’s important to look back and realize that while many of our current challenges are unprecedented, humans have always had to overcome adversity. No matter who we are, where we live, or what language we speak, all of us know stories of extraordinary bravery and strength.

Where do we encounter these and other stories? Certainly, TV, movies, social media, and websites such as YouTube contain no shortage of them. Daily, our screens bombard us with every type of tale we could possibly want to see, with only the touch of a button or swipe of a finger.

Yet, all of those media are constantly shifting. Visual storytelling has changed dramatically over the years, and there’s no telling what it will look like five or ten years from now. 

These light-speed changes can feel unnerving. And they may leave us wondering: where can we find something constant? 

That’s easy: the written word. 

For book lovers—and their numbers, across generations and through the years, are plentiful—there’s something about a story told via the written word that appeals differently than other storytelling media. When a writer puts words to paper, and those words appear in print, we are asked to use our mind’s eye to “see” what the writer is saying. The written word demands we use our imaginations in a way not required for other media. 

When we read, we’re asked to decipher sentences, situations, and scenes. We may encounter unfamiliar words, challenging us to increase our vocabulary. The written word transports us to places and scenarios we might never experience in real life—indeed, sometimes to locations that don’t even exist in our own reality.

This is true for nonfiction as well as fiction. When we read nonfiction, we’re challenged to see how someone else’s stories and situation can benefit and enhance our own experience. Fiction entertains and sometimes educates. Nonfiction, when written well, does the same thing. 

If you’re reading this blog, you’re likely a reader—and, possibly, you’d also like to be a writer. If so, I encourage you to put pen to paper (or hands to keyboard) and get started. 

But what if you want to tell your story, but the process of writing a book is more than you care to take on? In that case, please contact us! We’d love to help.

The Book Signing: What to Expect

Get Savvy, Stepmom! by Kristin E. Smith and Mark Communications

It’s a moment that fills many a daydream – perhaps yours, too. Picture it: you walk into a bookstore, meeting room, or other venue. There’s someone there to greet you and set you up with a podium, mic, water, and anything else you need. Chatting with your host, you watch people filter in and take seats, waiting to hear you talk about your book.

Perhaps this vision fills you with excitement. Perhaps with raw fear. Perhaps a bit of both. Either way, below are pointers for a successful book signing event:

  • Clarify expectations. Prior to the event, make sure you and the event coordinator have thoroughly discussed specifics. How will they introduce you? How long do they want you to talk? Can you use audiovisual props? Will there be time for audience questions? (Note that event length varies, but you can expect about an hour for many events, generally with 20-30 minutes for Q&A.)
  • Dress comfortably but professionally. You want the audience to see you as approachable but also as an expert in your field.
  • Make sure you’ve eaten and are hydrated – but not too much. Ensure that you’re physically comfortable during the talk.
  • Know what you plan to say. Most authors don’t read the entire time. Instead, they talk about their book and how it came to be. If the book was ghostwritten, that’s okay. The audience is interested in you, your topic, and your commitment to getting the book out in the world. Talk about how you worked with the ghostwriter to complete the book.
  • Decide what, and how long, you plan to read. A reading of 5 – 10 minutes is generally sufficient to give the audience a sense of the book’s style and content. Select a passage that’s compelling and leaves readers wanting more. Before you begin to read, explain any context necessary to understand the passage.
  • Answer questions honestly. If you don’t know the answer, it’s fine to say you’ll look into it, then follow up.

Once the talk is over, some participants will want books signed. This part of the event, too, has considerations:

  • Have backup. If you’re handling your own sales (rather than doing sales through a bookstore), bring someone else along to manage the transactions. This allows you to focus on signing books and chatting with readers.
  • Bring a favorite pen for signing. You might want to have two, just in case.
  • Ask readers if they want the book personalized. If they do, ask for correct spelling. Everyone appreciates having their name spelled right!
  • Prepare a standard phrase to write. It can be as simple as “Best wishes!” or more directly related to your book.

If all this sounds daunting, don’t worry. The book signing is a wonderful way to connect with readers interested in your subject matter. The more events you do, the easier they become, so make sure to continue looking for opportunities and staying open to requests.

Above all, relax, breathe, and enjoy yourself! This is your moment! Congratulations!

Word of Mouth Sells Books

This inspiring book was written by Anna McDermott, Gretchen Wiegand and Mark Graham Communications.

Ask most readers what made them decide to read a particular book, and the answers will vary wildly. But one theme is recurrent: “It was recommended to me.”

Why? Because humans are tribal by nature. We gravitate toward choices that others in our tribe endorse. How many times have you looked on Yelp to decide whether to order takeout from a restaurant you don’t know? How often do you ask friends or family to recommend their favorite cleaners, doctors, hairstylists, or other professional we trust with our appearance, our health, our homes – indeed, with all aspects of our lives?

Most book lovers’ tribes include other readers they know personally. However, many also turn to the book tribe known as “reader reviewers” – most commonly, on Goodreads and Amazon.

If you use these sites, you’ve likely seen such reviews. Amazon only allows readers to rate a book (between 1 and 5 stars, with 1 the lowest and 5 the highest) if they also write a review. Goodreads permits readers to rate books only, with a review optional.

Analyzing book ratings and reviews, you’ll notice that some books boast thousands, while others display only a handful. Due to our tribalism, we readers are much more likely to pick up a book with a large number of reviews (positive, of course) than a small number.

So how do authors increase their number of reviews? Here are some suggestions:

  • Build a “Street Team.” Your street team includes your A-list readers – the friends, family members, and associates who will definitely read your book. As you prepare to launch a book into the world, build a list of such supporters (and their emails). When the book is available, ask them to pick up a copy (or provide it to them for free) and, after they’ve read it, to review it online. It’s important to note that Amazon sometimes deletes reviews if they suspect the reviewer and author have a personal connection. Still, it never hurts to try.
  • Mention Reviews on Your Website and Social Media. You might quote a fantastic review, then explain how reviews help spread the word about books. Often, seeing a positive review prompts readers to post one of their own.
  • Keep Your Request Simple. Make sure readers know reviews don’t need to be long. Several lines about why they liked the book and what stood out for them are perfect.
  • Provide Links. Make it easy on your reviewers by providing direct links to your book on Amazon and Goodreads. The easier reviewing is, the more likely people are to do it.

One final word about reviews: as an author, you’ll save your sanity if you don’t read your book’s bad reviews. (Most books have them.) Granted, sometimes such reviews contain useful information – but they can be soul-crushing for authors, especially early in their careers. You might ask a friend to read them for you and let you know if there’s anything of value in them. Additionally, never reply to a review. Trying to defend your book to a reviewer who didn’t like it is a game no author can win.

When it comes to reviews, focus on quantity, quality, and keeping things positive. Your book is in the world for a reason. Your job is to make sure its tribe can find it!

Your Book: Your Calling Card on the Speaking Circuit

Risk: A Road Worth Traveling – collaboration with Craig Huntington and Mark Graham Communications

This remarkably forthcoming book was written by Craig Huntington and Mark Graham Communications.

A recent Mark Graham Communications client came to us with her book idea after giving several talks to college students about her success coming to terms with and managing her own mental health. Her goals were to end the stigma around mental illness and provide positive reinforcement to the students as they grappled with their own mental health challenges.

“I really want to give more talks like that,” the client said. “It was so rewarding, engaging with those students, telling my story and hearing theirs. I want to have a book ghostwritten for me because as I build my speaking portfolio, I can share the book with those who attend my talks. I can go deeper in a book than in a sixty-minute presentation.”

Many of us want to share our expertise, often with a particular audience in mind. Both public speaking and authoring a book (or having one ghostwritten for you) provide opportunities for us to share what we know.

A published book provides several key benefits for public speakers:

  • Credibility. Experienced presenters know that with a published book to their name, their credibility elevates. A well-written, organized, and insightful book builds your reputation both as a speaker and an author. It puts you a step ahead of others who may be vying for the same speaking gigs (at a conference, corporate event, or particular location such as a school or business). According to a 2016 HuffPost piece by Phil Simon, a frequent public speaker and technology authority who has penned eight books, “inasmuch as competition for paid speaking gigs is usually fierce, not having written a book may effectively disqualify you from the start.” Simon goes on to say, “You don’t need to write [a book]…and having written one guarantees nothing. Make no mistake, though: If the ultimate goal is to make a living speaking to the masses, writing a book certainly helps.”
  • Marketing. You can use an excerpt from your book to entice organizations to invite you to speak. When you’re getting started, if you’re willing to accept unpaid speaking gigs, some organizations will buy copies of your book instead. This is a win-win, because you receive revenue from book sales and reach a bigger audience, many of whom will spread the word about your book.
  • Depth. A book offers the opportunity to expand your story. As our client discovered, a brief talk generally provides insufficient time to explain everything you’d like to say on your subject. If you’re on a panel with other speakers, your time in front of the mic is even shorter. Having a book available to those in the audience who want to learn more allows you to tailor your talk to the most audibly engaging points.

Ready to get started? You know you have a great story. If you need help telling it, please contact us. We’d love to talk – and we’d love to get you (publicly) talking, too!

Finding Your Audience

This self-help book was written by Simon John Lee and Mark Graham Communications.

If you’re thinking about writing a book – or considering having your book ghostwritten – one question that likely has come to mind is, “Who will read it?”

If your initial response is, “Everyone!” you might want to think more deeply about this topic – for two reasons. One, because no book appeals to every reader out there. Two, not everyone reads.

The trick is to figure out who your readers are.

First, some stats: according to a 2019 Pew Research Center study, 72% of US adults reported reading a book in the previous year. Americans read an average (mean) of twelve books per year. The typical (median) reading rate is four books per year. These figures are about the same as they’ve been since 2011, when Pew Research first began conducting surveys about the book reading habits of Americans. In a 2017 Library Research Center study, 50% of women said they’d read a novel or short story in the past year, compared to a third of men (33%). Additionally, 49% of men said they’d read a history book in the past year, while 37% of women said the same.

What does this mean for authors? Essentially, it means that there are readers out there, but their number is finite. (As an aside, if you’re considering having your book ghostwritten, you will be an author – because it’s your story and your book.)

To ensure your book’s success, it makes sense to think early on about who your audience is. To figure it out, here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Why do you want to write this book (or have it ghostwritten)?
  • What’s your favorite genre to read?
  • If you could pick five people (living or dead, famous or not) to read your book, love it, and find lasting meaning in it, who would those people be? What, if anything, do they have in common? In what ways are they different from one another?
  • Congratulations! Your book is the #1 bestseller in [X] category! What is this category? Why did you choose it?

These questions can help you pinpoint the audience you want to reach. Once you know that (and once your book is written), you can use marketing and online tools to better target that audience.

Regardless of your audience, remember:

  • Begin by envisioning your book as one that you’ll love. You’ll feel more passionate about any writing project (ghostwritten or self-authored) if you consider yourself the primary audience.
  • Your book should:
    • Tell a good story
    • Provide a great message
    • Give readers food for thought

A great book – in any category and for any audience – is, first and foremost, a great book. The trick then is to figure out who else, besides you (the author), will love it. The tools above provide a starting point to help you answer that question.

The Power of Story

This inspirational book was written by C.C. Holmes and Mark Graham Communications.

It’s summer, and for many of us, that means vacation – which, for avid readers, often means extra reading time. Who doesn’t enjoy basking on the beach or lounging poolside with a book in their hands? Whether they’re reading fiction or nonfiction, during these warmer months, you’re likely to see many people getting lost in a good book.

But what does it mean to “get lost in a good book”? Ask a dozen readers and you’ll probably get a dozen answers, but in the end, it comes down to this: We all love a good story.

Lisa Cron, in her writing craft book Story Genius, explains why this is true. Cron writes, “Humans are wired for story…story is the language of the brain. We think in story. The brain evolved to use story as its go-to ‘decoder ring’ for reality, and so we’re really expert at probing stories for specific meaning and info.” Cron continues, “Story is how we make sense of the world around us.”

It’s no surprise that we’re all drawn to stories – whether books, movies, ballads, theater, or any other form. (And “story,” by the way, means nonfiction, too. Fans of memoir, self-help, business writing, and other forms of nonfiction often report that their favorite parts of such books are the specific stories the author incorporates.)

When we take in a story, we relate it to our own lives. As Cron explains, “The brain craves certainty. We like to know things for sure, so we can plan accordingly.” She writes, “Story evolved as a way to envision the future and plan for the unexpected.”

Whether “story” means an entire novel or an anecdote in a business book, we hope to relate to it and learn from it. We want to take wisdom from the story and incorporate it into our own lives. In this way, a great story gives us access to the best parts of ourselves – our memories, our hopes, and our dreams.

But what makes a great story? What’s the secret to writing a story that connects with readers?

If you’re considering writing a book, it’s worth noting that there are as many approaches (and then some) to telling a story as there are writing craft books. In Story Genius, Cron explains her approach, insisting it’s foolproof. Whether or not that’s true for a particular storyteller, it’s important to carefully craft your stories in a way that connects with readers. Doing so goes a long way toward assuring your book is long-lasting, remembered, and shared.

Sounds daunting? Take heart. Just like everyone else, you have wonderful stories to tell. If the idea of turning them into a great book feels overwhelming, it might be time to consider a ghostwriter. Explaining your ideas to a ghostwriter, having the ghostwriter organize your stories and make the language flow, can get you well on the way to putting your book in the hands of readers. Soon, your stories will bring out readers’ memories, hopes, and dreams – and your own, too!

The Importance of Voice

This WWII Trilogy was written by Carl F. Haupt and Mark Graham Communications.

Ask readers what they love most about their favorite books, and inevitably, the answer will come around to some form of this: “I love how wonderfully the story was told. I love that by the end, I felt like the narrator was a trusted friend.”

It’s not surprising that readers say this. Reading is a process of trust. As authors, we ask a lot of our readers. We expect them to devote both time and money to our books. In return, readers trust us to reward them with a story well told, using a distinct and memorable voice.

If you write your own book, your voice naturally comes through. The words that flow onto the page come from your thought processes and are informed by your experiences and views. Even authors of multiple works of fiction featuring different characters and storylines often have a distinct style. When readers pick up a book by a well-known author, especially one whose previous works they’ve loved, they enter into a trusted experience.

But what if your book is ghostwritten? How can you be sure a ghostwriter will capture your voice when writing your book?

One of the hallmarks of a skilled ghostwriter is the ability to write in the distinct voice of each client. Before deciding to work with a particular ghostwriter, ask for samples of that ghostwriter’s work. You should be able to discern distinct voices from one client’s book to the next.

Once you’ve decided on a ghostwriter, the book process generally begins with a series of interviews. As the client, you’ll spend a lot of time telling your story to the ghostwriter. You’ll be asked questions and prompted to deeply explain your thoughts and feelings about a situation or scene. A qualified ghostwriter will record these interviews, which are often then transcribed. Using this material, the ghostwriter creates an outline for the book. Reading the transcription and/or re-listening to the interview tapes gives the ghostwriter a good sense of your distinct voice.

Next, the ghostwriter should provide you with the book’s outline and a sample chapter. The intent of the sample chapter is to nail down the voice. You should hear yourself loud and clear in the sample pages. If the voice sounds stilted, but in person you tend to be exuberant, the ghostwriter has likely missed the mark. Likewise, if the voice sounds casual and breezy, yet your typical way of speaking is more formal, the ghostwriter should make another attempt to get the voice correct, before proceeding with subsequent chapters.

At this stage, it’s vital to ensure the voice is spot on. As the writing process continues, an experienced ghostwriter will carefully construct each chapter, ensuring that the voice remains consistent – and that it’s your voice – throughout the entire book.
The end result? A book that tells your story, in your voice. A book that will have readers saying, “I love how this story was told. I feel like the storyteller is a trusted friend.”

How To Get Your Book in Local Bookstores

The Art of Spies, a fascinating thriller, was a collaboration between Robert E. O’Connell III and Mark Graham Communications.

A question we frequently hear is, “How do I get my book into bookstores?” 

Seeing their book on a bookstore shelf is the dream of most authors – and authors of ghostwritten books are no exception. (Rest assured, if Mark Graham Communications ghostwrites your book, you are the author – because it’s your story and your book.) 

So how do you get your book on those shelves? If the book is traditionally published (using an agent and a publishing house), bookstores will stock it via distributors. Any copies that don’t sell are returned to the distributor. The disadvantage (for authors) is that distributors take a large cut of the sale price. If you’re traditionally published, you’ll receive an advance for your book, which helps offset this cut. Because there is no advance involved in self-publishing, the distributor model doesn’t work for many self-published authors.

So what’s a self-published author to do?

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Get It Written Before the Memories Are Lost

An award winning biography ghostwritten with Paul Wayne by Mark Graham Communications

This award winning memoir was a collaboration between Paul Wayne and Mark Graham Communications

In February on the blog, we introduced you to a Mark Graham Communications (MGC) client and ghostwriter who worked together to unravel a mystery in the client’s past. Today, I’d like to share another story about this same client and writer.

An important aspect of most memoirs is photographed. When telling your life story, you want to include a visual representation of cherished moments from the past. As with most MGC clients, this is true for the nonagenarian who is working with our ghostwriter to tell her family’s history. The client’s adult children are also collaborating on the project.

Not long ago, we met on Zoom – myself, the ghostwriter, the client, and her children – to go over family photographs, deciding which ones to include in the client’s forthcoming book.

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Physical Books are Eternal

Wired Differently is a collaboration between Todd Saylor and Mark Graham Communications.

There’s no doubt that e-books have changed the publishing landscape. No longer limited to carrying around physical books, today’s readers can reach for their reading device – tablet, phone, Kindle, Nook, or otherwise – upon which hundreds of books can be stored, then opened and read with a few finger swipes.

For many people, the advent of the e-book has changed their reading habits. The accessibility and portability of e-books (not to mention audiobooks) has transformed some previous non-readers into readers, while also increasing the number of books already-avid readers consume each year. Factor in the pandemic, which has restricted browsing in physical bookstores and libraries, and it seems unlikely that anyone would ever again choose to read a physical book.

And yet, print book sales continue to hold steady – and even, according to some reports, increase. Publisher’s Weekly reported a 7.9% increase, year over year, in print book sales for the same weeks in October 2020 vs. October 2019. The largest increase was in the adult nonfiction category.[i]

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