Ep 42 New Harry Potter stories; Novella competition; Book trailers; Create your author platform; and what kids want to read. We also talk to ghostwriter Sally Collings.

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In Episode 42 of So you want to be a writer, the best books of 2014, how authors are selling books on YouTube, the Novella competition, why sitting makes you depressed, the art of social media for writers, what kids really want to read, 12 new Harry Potter stories to come, creating your writer platform, an interactive novel, Writer in Residence Sally Collings, gifts for writers, why you should be networking and more!

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Show Notes

The best books of 2014 (yay for the inclusion of The Mapmaker Chronicles!)

How authors are selling books on YouTube

The Novella Project Competition III

Prolonged Sitting at Work Impacts Anxiety, Depression

The Art of Social Media for Writers

What Kids Want to Read: An Infographic

J.K. Rowling To Release 12 New Harry Potter Short Stories This Month

Create Your Writer Platform: The Key to Building an Audience, Selling More Books, and Finding Success as an Author

Annabel Smith’s interactive novel adds a whole new dimension to reading…

Writer in Residence

Sally CollingsSally Collings has edited more than 350 books and is the former non-fiction publisher for HarperCollins and editorial director for Amber Books. She is also an acclaimed author, ghostwriter and co-writer. Sally has written five books of her own, including Sophie’s Journey and The World According to Kids, and co-written or ghostwritten half a dozen more, including Shane Jacobson’s memoir The Long Road to Overnight Success and The Simple Things with Antonia Kidman.

Formerly from Sydney, Sally is now living in Palo Alto, California and works as a writing partner for entertainers, athletes, entrepreneurs, business leaders, and ordinary people with extraordinary stories.

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Allison Tait
Valerie Khoo / Australian Writers’ Centre

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@valeriekhoo

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Transcript

Valerie: Thanks for joining us today, Sally.

Sally: That’s a pleasure as well to speak with you.

Valerie: You are talking to us all the way from Palo Alto. Just tell us what brought you to Palo Alto and what do you currently do?

Sally: Palo Alto, I don’t know if everyone knows, but it’s like the heart of Silicon Valley here in California. My husband is working on a tech based start-up business and so it’s a little bit like the gold rush here. Everyone that has any idea or has anything to do with technology is here trying to make a buck or 10 million of them. So that’s kind of what brought us here. I was keen to be here too because most of what I’m doing at the moment is ghostwriting so I’m working with people on books and America is a huge, huge market to do that in.

Valerie: Wow, so you’ve ghostwritten a number of books now. Just in case some listeners aren’t sure, because I know you do ghostwriting and you do co-writing, right?

Sally: Yes, they become slippery terms.

Valerie: Can you just kind of define them for us?

Sally: Sure. Ghostwriting typically is a very invisible process, which I guess is why it’s got that name. A writer creates a manuscript on behalf of another person so typically it would be working for someone like a celebrity or a business person or a politician, someone who is high profile and therefore people want to read their story but they don’t necessarily have the time or the expertise or the know-how to write it themselves so a ghostwriter comes in and is kind of a writer for hire and works with that person. It usually involves interviewing them or looking at material they’ve written in the past like speeches or checking out videos of their presentations, and just getting inside their skin. So it’s a little bit like being an actor. You have to really think your way into that person’s mind and write their book in the way that they would write it if they had the time or the capacity.

Valerie: What’s co-writing then?

Sally: There’s a kind of gray area between the two. A lot of people talk about deep ghostwriting, which is where the ghostwriter is completely invisible. There’s no credit, there’s no mention of them for all intents and purposes the name on the celebrity or whoever and there’s no one else involved. Sometimes a ghostwriter might be credited, sometimes only inside pages or on the acknowledgements. Sometimes the same job might be done by someone who’s actually credited on the cover as a co-writer so you often see books that will say something like written by X with Y, and that would be a co-writing situation but inside the industry, it’s generally acknowledged that in a situation like that the person whose name is with, the second named person is most likely the person who did the heavy lifting of actually most of the writing.

Valerie: And why would, sometimes, people want to have the co-written credit and sometimes not? Is there a case of if you don’t get the credit, you might get paid more or how does that work?

Sally: Yes, there are a lot of considerations there and you’re right. Sometimes if for example if I agree to do a deep ghost with no credit, then I would expect to be paid a little more in consideration of the fact that I’m not getting any of the sort of marketing benefit of having my name on the cover. Sometimes it’s down to the publisher too so they might feel that a book will sit better with its readers if there’s just one name on the cover. Sometimes it seems it’s a distraction to have an additional name. But other times, especially if the ghostwriter has a profile or is a well known writer, there might be a perceived benefit in having their name on the cover. So it just varies from case to case. Sometimes it’s down to the author that they just want the perception that they weren’t able to or didn’t write it themselves. The feel that it’s an integrity issue also it might be down to the author, it might be down to the ghostwriter, it might be the publisher’s decision and sometimes there’s a bit of wrangling and wrestling to find the best decision that suits all of the parties.

Valerie: And so for you as a ghostwriter slash co-writer, what’s your preference? Do you want to be invisible, do you like that or do you want to have a credit on the cover?

Sally: I don’t necessarily insist on a cover credit. You know it’s nice to have but because my background is in publishing – I worked as a publisher and editor for many years – I understand the commercial considerations that might mean it makes more sense for me not to be on the cover. So for example I’ve just started working with a professor at Stanford who has a fairly personal story to tell. It’s going to make more sense, I think, for it to be purely her name on the cover but I hope and expect to get a credit inside because that’s nice for my portfolio, but I don’t think that I need to be front and center up there with her.

Valerie: So you’ve ghostwritten slash co-written some books with some pretty famous people, the comedian Shane Jacobson. His memoir The Long Road to Overnight Success, and also Antonia Kidman’s book, The Simple Things. What are some of the biggest challenges when it comes to ghostwriting, especially with some big names?

Sally: I think I’ve been really fortunate to work with just some great people. I think sometimes when you work with celebrities or high powered business people, there’s a lot of ego on the line and it’s hard to find the right relationship between them having respect for the fact that you’ve got a job to do as the writer and the writer having respect for the fact that it’s that person’s book really at the end of the day. So I’ve been lucky in that.

I think most ghostwriting or co-writing jobs that I take on always start with a little bit of a negotiation, a bit of a dance to try and work out, so how are we going to work together? How are we going to do this? So in the case of Shane Jacobson, he’s the most eloquent, funny person. The best story teller I’ve ever met so it very quickly became an evident that he’s so good at saying stuff and at storifying his life, you might say. All I had to do was to be the one to listen and to turn that into some written form. So I asked questions, he talked. I turned it into a manuscript, fairly straightforward.

With Antonia, we had a very different process because she’s a journalist in her own right and so we had to find a way where we could both contribute to the writing in an equal but different way so we kind of split it up in writing that book, The Simple Things, which is written back and getting back to the essentials in your family life. She would kick off each chapter and write kind of a short essay about why it’s important to do certain things like reducing screen time and recycling and doing those good green eco things that we all know we should do, but a lot of us don’t. Then I’d go into the details, so how do you do that when you’re busy and you’ve got a family? So that was how we did that. So I think one of the challenges is just working at how do we cut this cake.

Valerie: So as you say, you need to get into the skin of the person. How do you capture someone’s voice, especially a bloke? Do you have a particular technique or process you can walk us through?

Sally: It’s a little bit intuitive. I guess what I try to do is listen to them as much as possible so that if they have done presentations or in Shane’s case, I watched every movie he’s made. He does a lot of public speaking. I made sure to watch videos of him speaking and I take notes of their word use and I think about how they put a sentence together. Are they scattered, do they put things together in a short way? Do they talk in an emotional level or is it more physical, at a different level? I guess often it’s a matter of just trying and seeing what happens so usually I would start off by putting together something brief, not even a chapter and just saying, “Look, here’s how I think your written voice should sound. What do you think?” And usually there’s quite a bit of to-ing and fro-ing because there’s quite a big step moving from someone’s spoken voice to their written voice. So we’ve got to find that together.

Valerie: So it sounds like you try and master the voice first before you extract all the information for the whole book, is that right?

Sally: Yes, it is. It’s very much trying to just nail, you know, who’s turning up here? Is it going to be, in the case of Shane, is it Shane the joker or is it Shane the philosopher? Is it a little bit of both? Who’s turning up here? So that’s one of the considerations. The other one is ‘what story are we telling here’ because just about everyone’s got more than one story to tell so what’s the story we’re going to tell here?

Valerie: So if, let’s say, you’ve mastered the voice or you think you’ve captured the voice, and now it’s time to extract the information. Obviously there are different types of books; there are business books, as you’ve said, there are memoirs. If it’s a memoir, let’s say, we’ll take that one first, do you have a framework or a process? Do you start from kindergarten, start from childhood and do it in a sequential way or how do you actually download everything from the person after, of course, you’ve done your own research like watch all their movies or watch them speak and that sort of thing?

Sally: I do some fairly fundamental things. I usually put together a time line which I might do by talking through that person’s life. It can be incredibly time consuming but just plotting out what are the main turning points, the things that were significant, that made a difference. The phases and episodes that we need to consider in this person’s life which doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s going to be the structure for the book, but it’s a fact finding mission for me to know that here’s what’s on the table. So a timeline is one of the first things.

A cast of characters is another thing I do. Just talking through so who’s important in your life? Who is important in school, in your family, in your young adult life, once you got married, when you lived in Vietnam for that year? Who mattered at that time in your life? I try to put together that cast of characters to get that sense of who is important in this picture. And again, some of them might never appear in the final manuscript but it just helps me to paint that picture of what their life is like.

Valerie: On a practical level, how do you record that? Every writer is different and some people would just write it in a word document. Other people would do index cards and other people would plot the timeline on a wall. What do you do?

Sally: I do what I really want to do. I want to use software called Scrivener.

Valerie: Oh yes, love Scrivener.

Sally: Do you know that one?

Valerie: Absolutely, in fact I met with the developer yesterday.

Sally: Wonderful.

Valerie: Of Scrivener. It’s a fantastic platform.

Sally: Yes, so that will be an ideal tool for me. I’ve gone halfway through their tutorial working out how to use it so I’m determined to use it for the next project that I’m just starting now. But what I actually do at the moment is I have little folders of information so I’ll have a folder of background material and a folder of timelines. They’re all Word documents and sometimes Excel spreadsheets just stored in as logical a way as I can figure. Usually also have an ‘everything’ document which literally I paste into this one document everything I have, so that when I’m thinking to myself, where is that little piece of information about their best friend when they were in kindergarten, I can search that one document and find it. It’s not perfect so I think Scrivener is the way forward.

Valerie: Yes, definitely, especially if you’re doing that with your ‘everything’ document it will be a lot easier for you to use Scrivener. So that’s memoir, but, let us say, it’s a business book. Of course there are elements in memoir especially an entrepreneur discusses their journey, but essentially it’s a business book. When you write a business book you often need to download a lot of information that can be like learning a whole new craft. You have to learn about finance all of a sudden or about technology or whatever the topic is. Do you actually bother to learn it or do you convey information that is given to you by the person?

Sally: I guess the first thing I’d say is I tend not to do very dense and high level business books. One of the things about America is that it’s incredibly niche and segmented. There are a lot of people that do that kind of thing far better than I do. The business books that I have written tend to be a little bit more narrative driven. I’ve just completed one project on Family Businesses, so multi-generational family businesses and something I had to do there was to really get my head around what does it mean to be a multi generational business? What are the risks? What causes them to fail? So I had the opportunity to work with a think tank – they were the advisors on the book. I literally had to say to them, “You need to give me the family business 101, you know, the dummies crash course on family enterprise.” So they did that.

They came up with a PowerPoint presentation and they just did a video conference for two hours and told me everything that I needed to know at a top level about multi-generational family businesses. So, yes, I did feel like I needed to really bone up on that subject area. I’m always reluctant to simply, especially when you go into depth and complexity at a book level, to lean completely on information that the subject is giving to me. I try to have as much of a comprehension as I can and I guess having worked in publishing as an editor working in book publishing, you have to turn your brain to lots of different subjects. So I guess that’s one of the things. One of the attributes I have is the ability to fairly quickly get a grasp of new subjects as well as things that I love about what I do too.

Valerie: I know that this question is probably going to make you say, “How long is a piece of string,” but I get asked that all the time so I’m going to load it onto you and that is, people often ask me how long is the process going to take like you know from starting to talk to the subject to having at least a first draft. How long is that process going to take?

Sally: Yes, look, it’s a little bit of a string length kind of a question.

[laughter]

Valerie: Yes.

Sally: And again I guess there are a few factors at play. Sometimes I will be brought in as ghostwriter by a publisher who wants a book produced quickly for a particular release date. So they will say to me, “You have four months to write this. Can you do it?” And after I’ve fallen off my chair and gotten up again I’ll say yes or no. [laughs] But if someone says to me, “How long will it take you to write this book?” I certainly won’t say four months because a typical book takes me around six months, seven eight months to write, but it depends on a lot of things. Sometimes when you’re working with a celebrity or an entrepreneur or a business person, they’re just not terribly available.

They might be away in traveling, filming, recording, for a week or two or three at a time and so I might be at a point where I need their approval on some chapters or I need some information from them, I need an interview, and I can’t move forward without them. So it’s always dependent on them actually making themselves available and these days I write that into my agreements that I will make certain dates so long as they make themselves available, but a typical time frame will be about six to seven months for me.

Valerie: And during that period, let’s say, well, I guess whether it’s memoir or not, but how much time would you spend with the subject? It doesn’t have to be in person, of course, it might be interviewing on the phone, whatever, but how much interviewing time is there for that download?

Sally: I would say a fair number on that would be around about 50 hours of interview. That would probably be a fair figure. And that might be 30 hours with the subject together with a dozen interviews with the people around them – family friends, colleagues, whatever it might be, so in terms of actually recording and taking down interviews, about 50 hours worth of material as well as kind of conceptual time. So we might spend 10 hours together up front just working out what the story is, getting down the timelines, talking about the cast of characters, all of those, that kind of background brain-dump kind of material up front.

Valerie: I think when people come to you to potentially work with you as a ghostwriter because they have a particular story to tell, are there some common misconceptions because you know I caught up with somebody yesterday and he wants to write his book and he was asking me about a ghostwriter and one of the things he was saying was, “Look, I just don’t have the time.” And I said to him, “Well you’re deluded if you think that ghostwriter is a mind reader. You’re still going to invest a hell of a lot of time.” So what are some of the misconceptions similar to that that people have when they come to you?

Sally: I guess number one would be the idea that once they engage in ghostwriting, they can just leave the ghostwriter to it. I guess the only exception would be if you’ve written, I don’t know, a series of speeches or a series of essays and you literally wanted the book to be an edited compilation of those. Well, something like that would probably take very little time from the subject. But other than that, I guess probably one of the biggest misconceptions is around money. A lot of people come to me and they say, “Look, I have the most remarkable life story. People are always telling me I should write a book. I know it’s going to be a best seller. Will you write it and we’ll go halves on the profits?” Well, yes, I try not to laugh at the time too because you know, with most books, there is no profits. It’s a really, really hard risk undertaking to write a book. So I guess I now have a phrase on my website. I say something like “I ride my bike on the road on weekends. That is my risk taking activity. Your book is your risk taking activity.” So, yes, I guess that’s one of the things.

Valerie: I can one you up on that one because we regularly get people who will contact me and say exactly what you said, “I’ve got a great story, I’d really like to write it, I know it’s going to be a best seller and would one of your students like to ghostwrite it for me in exchange for the experience.” [laughs]

Sally: Oh yes.

Valerie: But anyway.

Sally: In fact it’s a really good point because often people gasp a little when I say, “No, I charge a fee. I’m a writer for hire. I charge for my services,” and I tell them what I charge. There’s an intake of breath and I just say, “Look, there are people around who are desperately keen to get their first book up and running and they may well do it for a very low fee but I am not that person.

Valerie: Yes, exactly. You’ve mentioned you’ve been a publisher. You’ve been a nonfiction publisher at HarperCollins. When you were there, what sorts of books did you publish and what would you as a publisher, if you put your publisher’s hat on, would you be looking for in a nonfiction book?

Sally: When I was a publisher, I worked across a whole gamut of areas. It was everything from sex and astrology through to political history, yoga, surfing, memoirs, just anything. No I won’t say anything and everything, it was somewhat focused but not terribly cooking, it was the works. In terms of what I would look for, when you’re a publisher you get thousands of submissions hitting your desk in the course of a year and a lot of perfectly competent very well thought out, very well structured, some of them are dreadful and scrappy and verging on insane.

Valerie: [laughs] Verging on insane?

Sally: Oh yes, I guess you get a certain number of people . . .

Valerie: Who are aliens descended on earth and taken over that way?

Sally: Yes, you know. I am the reincarnation of Genghis Khan and here’s my story. You do get some pretty crazy stuff but I guess the only I could define in a total sense, what I was looking for, is something that is so remarkable that it would make me jump off my chair and run into the office next door and say, “Oh my God, you’ve got to read this.” You’re always looking for the thing that’s going to just jolt you off your seat because you see so much that’s pretty good, you know, that’s fine, that’s kind of interesting, I think I could probably sell that to someone, but most often that’s not enough.

You need that “Oh my gosh, this is just outstanding, and that might be the voice, the way it’s written. It might be someone who has that remarkable story and incredible platform from which to tell it. It might be someone who’s had an amazing life story and they regularly speak to audiences with 500 people and they’re just in a really good position to tell that story to people.

Valerie: Can you give us some examples of books that jolted you out of your seat?

Sally: Yes, let me think.

Valerie: And while you’re thinking, how often did you get jolted out of your seat?

Sally: Not as often as I would like. I don’t know if it was a ‘jolted out of your seat’ but, I worked with Janet De Neefe on her book, Fragrant Rice, about her life in Bali and at the time there wasn’t so much said or written about living in Bali and it was just the most gorgeous manuscript that took you somewhere else. So that was quite something. I’m trying to think. I’ve worked with Professor Chris O’Brien on his memoir Never Say Die. He was a head and neck surgeon who tragically got brain cancer himself. His manuscript didn’t make me jump off my seat, but he himself is just the warmest most fantastic personality. Telling a story about cancer is a really hard ask. To get anyone to buy a book on that but he, tragically passed away a few years ago, was just the most compelling warm individual.

So it’s a little bit like in the way Lee can write about his refugee experience and people want to hear it. They want to kind of be a part of that story just because of him and his amazing personality. So it’s those kinds of stories that there’s just something about that person that you want to hear from them.

Valerie: I know I put you on the spot there. I might put you on the spot again and say, which of the books that you’ve written or co-written did you enjoy the most and why?

Sally: I mentioned Shane. I’ve got to say it was so much fun working with Shane. He would always come up with the right anecdote and I could literally say to him, “Look, Shane, you mentioned that thing about when the Volkswagen caught fire and sank in the creek. Could you please tell me about that?” And he would just bang, just come out with that story in such a perfectly, perfectly paced and tall way. It was just so much fun and he was the warmest and most generous person to work with. Incredibly funny, very, I guess, respectful of my time and what I was doing on that project because sometimes you do get people who are fairly demanding, which is fair enough but it’s nice to feel like you’re being recognised as a professional who’s doing a job. So, yes, I would work with Shane again any time.

Valerie: You’ve been a publisher but then you obviously transitioned into writing. Publishing is very different from writing. It’s an entirely different process. When and why did you decide to do that?

Sally: I guess it was prompted by babies. I had two children in quick succession. I had thought that I would return to working for a publishing company but I took maternity leave with no specific plans about what would be next. I guess in one of those rather bizarre life change things, both of my parents passed away very quickly after my first daughter was born and I guess I felt completely knocked askew so I shelved my plans to go back on to the career paths and I decided to be, at least for a time of three months editor and writer.

That was when I started and I didn’t think of it as ghostwriting at the time but I would be asked to work on projects that involved maybe interviewing someone to draw out their story more or writing just little bridging pieces to tie together chapters in a story. Bit by bit I started to move into that area where I wasn’t being the editor suggesting changes, I was actually being the person expected to write it. So it was kind of an incremental change if you like and eventually I thought, you know I think what I’m actually doing or what I’m loving doing is ghostwriting. And then the big step, of course, was to write a whole book.

When you work in publishing, people will often say to you, “When are you going to write a book of your own?” And I always used to joke and say, “Well I don’t have the attention span. I couldn’t possibly.” Eventually the opportunity came to write books and I just discovered that having worked in them and with them, it was a quite a step or a leap to write them but I guess I had an aptitude for doing it.

Valerie: So you wrote Sophie’s Journey, which is about a very high profile subject. Can you tell us how that came about and what that experience was like?

Sally: Yes. That project was really the one that tipped me over from editor to writer. I was invited to write that story by HarperCollins. Sophie’s parents had approached them and they had been discussing a publishing deal and I think Sophie’s parents, Ron and Caroline, had thought that they might write the book themselves because essentially what they wanted to do was a book that would paint a picture of all the people around Sophie. For anyone that doesn’t remember Sophie, she was a little girl who was severely and profoundly burnt in a fire and she survived only to, just over a year later, to be hit by a car and, again, be struggling for her life.

So her parents wanted a book about everyone who had helped to save her life not once but twice so the ambulance driver, the police, the medics, the helicopter pilot, the teachers, the therapist, everyone. Harper Collins told them “This is quite a big ask, we think you need a writer on it.” So one day I got a call from HarperCollins to say, “Do you know Sophie Delezio? Have you heard about her? Would you be interested in writing her story?” I had heard of Sophie and was very moved by her story. I gathered together my courage and I said, “Yes, I would love to do that.” So that was really the first book that had my name on the cover that I’d written from beginning to end. I interviewed probably 50, 60 people for that book and it’s very much written in an as-told-to style. I tried to not kind of intervene and I think that was one of the reasons I was asked to do it because I guess a journalist might take more of a grasp and bring their voice sort of a little bit more. I guess what they wanted was someone to just bring those very diverse stories together so that is what I did.

Valerie: So now in Palo Alto you are ghostwriting but I understand you also consult and help people with their book proposals, is that right?

Sally: Yes, that’s right and often they kind of come together because often when people approach me and say, “I need a ghostwriter. Can I engage you?” If they’re looking for a publisher, our first step is for me to work with them to write a book proposal. That might involve writing a couple of sample chapters and writing out the content outline, chapter breakdown, thinking about marketing and who’s going to buy the book, what the competition is. So I put together all of that package, if you like, with a person and go and seek a publisher.

Valerie: There’s a lot readily available on how to write a book proposal in a sense but what do you see when you’re dealing with your clients as the most common mistakes people make when they’re preparing their book proposals?

Sally: What a great question. I guess one thing I would say on that is that I had to learn all over again how to write a book proposal when I came to the US because they’re vast documents here. It’s 10,000 to well maybe 15,000 words in total would be a typical book proposal. They’re huge.

Valerie: Like a mini book.

Sally: Yes.

Valerie: Yes, unbelievable. The first time I saw one, my jaw dropped. I happened to have the book proposal that Tim Ferriss prepared for The 4 Hour Work Week, and I just looked at it and went, “That’s a freaking book.” It’s insane. In Australia it’s completely different.

Sally: Yes, typically because even at once you’re a published author you still need to pitch your ideas to get the next book up so writing a proposal in Australia, I would typically write maybe six or eight pages, very skimpy in comparison. But in terms of what mistakes people make, I often find that, especially and this is purely talking about non fiction, it’s a completely different kettle of fish from fiction, but people focus purely on the book content itself and often neglect to really think about the marketing, their platform, the audience, you know, that bigger context. So in particular I’ll have someone with, say, that remarkable life story, fantastic story to tell, great voice, great way of telling it.

But they have to make it very clear that they are someone that people want to hear from. So that they are the Shane Jacobson or… they might not be famous or a celebrity at that level, but that they have a way of reaching people. They’ve thought about that. They know how to get this into people’s hands because that is so much part of the package for a non fiction writer. So that would be the mistake that I see people making is to neglect that area.

Valerie: Back on the American book proposals. If there some listeners who are interested in writing a book proposal to an American publisher, what else is in it that’s not in the Australian ones, why is it 15-20,000 words? What do they put in there that’s in addition to what we’re used to?

Sally: I suppose one of the big things, and this has happened over the last five years I guess in Australia, the expectation that you’ll have those sample chapters is huge, so that represents about 7,000 words perhaps of material in its own right, because typically if you’re going to do sample chapters to go with the proposal, it needs to be about 10% of the finished length of the book.

But I would say that there are just more details so when it comes to writing a chapter breakdown, for example, in Australia you might just write a chapter title and a sentence of what that chapter would be. In America, it would probably be a couple of paragraphs, quite detailed, quite in-depth, just describing the material to be covered, the perspective, the point of view, some of the main points. It might even contain some quotes from the chapter so it’s quite detailed, and certainly the analysis of comparative and competing titles needs to be very detailed to stand up in the American market.

So you might list six or eight titles that might be in your main competition comparisons and you need to write maybe a couple of hundred words on each just to describe why your book stands out or compares well to them. And, you know, the market too, not just saying ‘this is a book for divorcees in their 40s’, but breaking down what that demographic is, what change there is… just being very detailed and numbers driven, using as much data as you can get to support your position that there is a need for this book.

Valerie: Tell us a bit about how you structure your day. You do quite a diverse range of things so how do you compartmentalise or get into any kind of routine because you could be consulting on a book proposal, you could be ghostwriting, you could be interviewing somebody to download their life. What happens in your week?

Sally: Probably having kids helps because you’ve got the structure of picking kids up from school and all that kind of thing. I try to have one big project at any one time. I’ve found from bitter experience that trying to or being in the full flow of writing two books at a time is too hard because I get very, I guess, emotionally invested and mentally invested in the work I do and so it’s almost like, I don’t know, trying to two time someone. You’re trying to be the main person to the two people at once. It just doesn’t work for me.

So I tend to have one main project so that might be a book proposal, writing some chapters, or it might be a full book, and then I’d have a few couple of things ticking along at the same time, because although I can’t do two things at once, I like to have a little bit of variety just to give my brain a break and to keep variety in my day. So typically I spend maybe four, five hours on that main project and then I have a couple of things in my pocket to keep me interested at the end of the day.

Valerie: And so what does the future hold for you? What are some exciting projects that you’re keen to get stuck into over the next year or so?

Sally: One exciting thing I’m working on is… I am just about to launch a new service through my company, Red Hill Publishing, which I call personal memoirs. It’s for people who don’t have a commercial story that is for a publisher but it’s for families and friends who want to catch the memories maybe of a parent or a relative and put them together into a really gorgeous book.

So especially right now with the holiday season coming up, I figured it’d be good timing, so I’m launching.

I have a feeling that a lot of people are like me. When my parents passed away, they didn’t tell the stories, they didn’t leave behind any written record of what their lives were about and I regret that. I regret not having that for my children, my grandchildren so I figured that I could combine my ability to interview people to draw out their stories with my experience as a publisher and create, really bring that trade publishing expertise to create gorgeous momento books for individuals. That’s the big thing for 2015 is delving into that and building that.

Valerie: Wonderful. We look forward to it and we’ll put the link to your website in the show nights as well. On that note, that brings us to the end of our chat today and I want to thank you for sharing your insights. You’ve got such a wealth of experience not only as a publisher but also in your ghostwriting career as well and I’ve certainly learnt a lot just in our chat so thank you so much for your time today, Sally.

Sally: That’s a pleasure. It’s been great talking to you.


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