Learnings of a Ghostwriter

It has been a fascinating journey for me, migrating from my lifelong career as an ornery, contrarian journalist to my current role as ghostwriter, content creator, and crisis advisor. Having endured and learned along the way, I now realize: you gotta celebrate the wins when you can.

This week one triumph of my transformation showed up: the release of the new book “The Trump Century,” by veteran anchor Lou Dobbs. And I helped, as I have pointed out on Twitter, invoking a very old ad for a very old product, Shake ’N Bake.

And this baby makes three!

The Trump Century” is the third book I have helped clients write in the past two years.

“The Fixer,” by Michael Sitrick, came out in 2018, with revealing, real-life case studies in crisis management from one of the best advisors anywhere.

“Wealth Mismanagement” by veteran financial sage Ed Butowsky was published last year. It provides a breakthrough way to gauge the real risk in your portfolio and sets out what you can do to bulletproof it. I also have edited four other books.

The Lou Dobbs project was one of the best opportunities to come to me since my departure from Fox News in 2014. For that, I owe him bigly, as President Trump likes to say. Dobbs is a legend in the news business, and deservedly so.

For thirty years he espoused sound, conservative views as a top-rated anchor at CNN. In 2011 he switched to the Fox Business Network. With the rise of @realDonaldTrump, Dobbs finally found a candidate for office who was entirely in synch with the beliefs that Dobbs has held for most of his life.

“The Trump Century” will drive liberals crazy—and provide great support for the president’s fans when they encounter Trump haters at cocktail parties. Once we resume going to cocktail parties, anyway. And without masks.

From childhood, I always wanted to write books, and it was something I never managed to pull off in my long career as a journalist. For more than 25 years I worked in print and reveled the Heft of Ink. I learned my craft at The Wall Street Journal, which still rates today as one of the best-written and best-reported papers anywhere in the world.

Then I spent almost a decade as the managing editor of Forbes magazine up until 2007. And then I went into television, where the writing means less.

The written word is so much more powerful than the spoken words I delivered as an anchor of my own (short-lived) nightly show at CNBC, and, later, as the co-anchor of a daily noon program on the Fox Business Network.

While all three books I have helped write differ markedly from one another, the work has taught me a few common lessons that are good to know for leaders who want to hire a ghostwriter to help them tell their stories—and for writers, too. Here are five:

Let the client’s voice ring true. To me, the best writing sounds like the writer is speaking to you, it is more of a conversation rather than a stentorian address. What the client believes, and how he or she would say it out loud, are central to getting it right. Lou Dobbs’s voice is so distinctly his, and so well known to so many Americans, that he made this easy.

What’s your book’s real purpose. Telling your story is only the start. A deeper pursuit should lie at the heart of your book. Sometimes a book is a great method for promoting your business and landing new clients; other times it is an attempt to prosecute a particular bent. For Lou Dobbs, the real purpose of “The Trump Century” was clear: he wanted to persuade people to vote for Donald Trump and help him get re-elected.

Who can benefit from reading it? This might seem obvious to many, it was a new insight for me. A person who loves to tell a good story might think of a book for that very purpose: to tell a good story. The better approach is to figure out who can benefit from reading your book—whom do you want to help? And what can they learn from it?

Celebrate others more than yourself. In a first-person book, the risk is the reader tires of hearing from you. You can lighten the load by focusing more on other heroes of your story and what makes them great. A friend of mine is at work now on the autobiography of a billionaire who made his fortune in the media business. My friend was struck by something the client told him: he wanted this book to be not about him, but about all the people who helped him get to where he is to this day.

Avoid giving a lecture. Instead, tell ’em a yarn. Always keep in mind: nobody has time, really, to read much of anything anymore. We must trick them into it, seduce them into reading what we want them to know. The best way to do this is to tell them a series of compelling stories, each with a beginning, middle, and end. Always with an overarching question in mind: Such that what? What is the lesson the reader should learn from hearing a particular tale?

I have more trade secrets to share, and I’m still learning every day. And I realize the biggest challenge is yet to come: I must write a book of my own. All for myself.

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