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Author practices

How a Good Ghostwriter Helps You Find Courage and More

Posted on: January 10th, 2018 | No comments 


Becoming an author can help you grow your career or business, or share a story you feel must be told. You will have new opportunities to speak and write. A book opens doors.

The problem is that writing any book is a challenge even for professional writers. Writing a good book is very hard.

We have seen many highly-accomplished business people humbled by the process. They may have run big corporations, led thousands of people, and started magnificent enterprises.  Yet after months of toiling alone they show up at our door because they can see for themselves that, “It’s just not good enough.” Or perhaps they were turned down by agents and want to know why.

These are the clients we love to work with most because  A) they usually have strong content and ideas and B) they are high quality professionals with the great work ethic that writing a book requires.

They just don’t know the craft.  We, on the other hand, have spent our lives working on books.

Herb and I often marvel at how the same writing issues seem to come up again and again. So I thought it might be helpful to share the three most common challenges we see, and explain what we do to help.  Here goes.

Ivy Leaguers and CEOs

Can they write? Of course they can. They aced their way through grad school. They’ve been writing briefs and proposals and emails all their lives. They’re used to having an audience listen to what they say. The problem is that they often send us pages of really smart stuff that reads more like an A+ term paper—not a book.

  • How a ghost can help:  Facts are great, but not enough. A good ghost helps this writer get his or her unique voice

The Power of a Great Book Cover Design—and What To Do When You Hate Yours

Posted on: February 1st, 2017 | No comments 

Your editor sends you the JPGs in an email.  “Here is the cover design for your book. We all think it’s great!”

You eagerly open the file and . . .

Ugh.  Your stomach thuds, you feel like maybe you are getting the flu.

Here is one of those difficult transition moments I’ve written about before. When you were writing your manuscript, you were the master of your universe.

Now, you are a member of the team and have far less control. The journey of taking a manuscript to become a published book is filled with these experiences.

The cover may not be what you’d envisioned. Take a deep breath and stay calm. Your initial reaction may not be the best.

Most publishers want to hear the author’s ideas for a cover design. After all, you are the expert on your book and you (should) know your market. But unless you are a bestselling author, your contract probably says you have cover “consultation,” rather than rights to “approval.”

Your best recourse is to act as collaborative partner.  Remember that publishing professionals see the book cover as their expertise.  Book cover designers spend their lives honing a visual language for connecting with readers. They also design with issues in mind that you probably have not considered—for example, that a cover should look good as a small thumbnail on a mobile screen.

That said, we’ve seen our share of disappointing covers.  If this happens to you, here’s what I suggest.

  • First ask yourself a tough question:  Do you object to the cover because it doesn’t fit your subjective aesthetic preference?  If so, this argument alone will not leave you in a strong position. Instead, ask yourself  Will this cover speak to the right market?  If not, be prepared to explain, specifically, why.

Building Your Thought Leadership: Do Digital Op-Eds Make a Difference?

Posted on: September 23rd, 2016 | No comments 

You’ve had an interesting journey in work and life.  Whether you went to Africa to fight the Ebola virus, or innovated a new management technique, you’ve got a story to tell, a message to share, a company or book to promote.

You’re not naive. You know TED isn’t going to call you right out of the box.  But how do you build your reputation as a thought leader on your issue? We help our clients go about this work in many ways—from speaking gigs to media relations to book development.

But right now, let’s talk about the impact of publishing op-eds and “thought pieces” online.

Getting what we in the business call earned media–i.e. reporters and producers feature you or your work in magazines, newspapers, radio shows, or television–is harder than ever (and therefore even more valuable).  But it’s easier than ever to get published—online—with an op-ed or essay or blog post. Editors now have to feed their 24/7 content machines.

Is everyone is going to read your Huff Po piece, or that essay you wrote for Slate?  No.  But getting published online for a reputable media outlet builds your credibility as a thought leader.

It’s your job to then spread and amplify it.  Post it on your website,  your social channels, your blog, and feature it in your next email newsletter.

By building several of these bylined pieces, you have a much better chance of getting featured and profiled by major media down the road, or even next week.

Don’t get us wrong.  It’s not to easy to develop and  publish a bylined piece on a site like, Fast Company, or Harvard Business Review. Here are some tips that we give to our clients all the time.

  1. Be original. Or at least bring a new or surprising angle on an old

Letting Go: A Note to Authors When Submitting to Your Editor

Posted on: September 22nd, 2016 | No comments 

A few weeks ago, my oldest son Gabriel left us for his junior college year abroad ​in Athens, Greece.  It was a bigger transition than sending him to college in Wisconsin. Yes, we can fly to Athens if absolutely necessary, but he isn’t looking for that, and the flight is long and expensive.  So this represents the first time he’s really on his own beyond a day’s travel. We are thrilled for him.  But for us, it is more difficult that we expected.  It’s another way parents need to let go, and so far he’s doing well and we aren’t looking over his shoulder but enjoying the occasional Skype or text.

Whether it is birthing pains or kids leaving the nest, transitions can leave many of us feeling fragile and anxious.  This is also true of many authors when it’s time to submit their manuscripts.

Unless you’ve written one, it’s hard to understand the mental energy required to write a book to trade publishing standards against a deadline.  Writing is original, one sentence at a time thinking, and that requires the mind’s most energy-intense work over months and years.

Authors need to navigate handing over the manuscript to the publisher without getting caught up in negative feelings or fears that can make it hard to think clearly.

None of this is to say you shouldn’t advocate for your views and concerns–or even take action if a publisher is damaging the book.  But I’ve seen how important it is for authors to distinguish between their free-floating transition anxiety, and a genuine need to advocate for themselves.

For authors, while your editor and marketing team have loved your proposal, now you are entering a new relationship. Your editor has sole responsibility for turning your pages into a quality finished product, one that lives

Well-Established Authors Share Their Digital Storytelling Tactics

Posted on: October 10th, 2014 | No comments 

On my last post I talked about how first-time authors should use social media to build awareness about themselves and their work. But what about the rest of you who are advanced bloggers, Twitter users and the like? You should step it up to the next level.

This article in Mashable talks about the creative and sophisticated ways some authors are using digital and social platforms to tell stories, connect with audiences and promote their work. While these ideas make sense for authors with well-established followings and readership in fiction, first-time authors can also get some inspiration. I especially liked the idea of posting or tweeting about a variety of subjects—focusing not only on your book but also on topics that you are passionate and knowledgeable about and causes your involved in. The key being: take the time to be interesting and thoughtful.

No Author Platform? Three Ways to Get Started

Posted on: October 10th, 2014 | No comments 

I got a call recently from an agent who received a book proposal from a business professional. She liked the book idea and wanted to take it on but the prospective author had no platform. The agent wanted to know: Could I help?  It raised a good question that I think other authors frequently wonder about: How do you start from nothing?

First I went to the author’s website. He used the site mainly for speaking engagements. The design was fine, but it needed to be professionally written to market his profile and expertise.

1. If you have a website, make sure it is good. For any person or brand, think of your website as your house. It is a reflection of you and it’s the place people will go to when they want to know who you are. It’s your chance to express your value and expertise to readers so take the time to figure out how you are different from others in your space. Ask yourself: Who is your audience? What do you have to say? And watch out for typos—they will put off a reader.

After looking at his author website, I Googled his name. A fairly minimal list of results came up. The agent wanted someone to help him write and place stories and blog posts under his byline so he could start to make a name for himself. This brings me to my second point:

2. Write and place some stories on blogs, even small ones, to show off your point of view and writing. Try Huffington Post or the online version of a magazine you admire. But don’t underestimate the power of guest posting for smaller, lesser-known sites. The main point is to get your voice out there. Re-post content on your own website and share the link through your

Email Marketing and You

Posted on: July 2nd, 2014 | No comments 

Major kudos to New York Times David Carr whose latest Media Equation column on email marketing,  “For Email Newsletters, A Death Greatly Exaggerated,” is immensely valuable to all of us who promote our ideas and services and a fascinating case study in how we use information as users of the Internet.    Carr spoke to the editors of popular newsletters about why they are gaining in popularity despite being the “cockroaches of the Internet,” a supposedly outmoded form of digital communication.

What a great reminder to nonfiction authors and other thought leaders that you should collect email addresses and offer newsletters targeted to your most valued audience.  A food history author can send a historic recipe each month; a personal finance guru can curate saving and retirement tips; a yoga author could send meditations and mindfulness reminders.  As Carr notes, all you need technically are services such as Mail Chimp or Constant Contact that are popular and easy to use.  Remember to be clear up front what potential signer-uppers are getting for their subscription, and make it clear that you won’t share their names or send them other stuff they don’t want.

I know how hard it is.  My own newsletter is running late.

Media Interest Growing in What It Takes to Be a Liberated CEO

Posted on: June 13th, 2014 | No comments 

We were excited when Scott Leonard, author of The Liberated CEO (Wiley 2014), hired Big Fish Media to help him and his team get the word out about this intriguing book.  Over recent weeks, media coverage has been growing, with strong interest in Scott’s program for reinventing the workplace.   Among recent developments Scott appeared for a lengthy segment on the Unfinished Business radio program aired on KNX and KFWB hosted by Renee Fraser and Betsy Berkhemer-Credaire.    Financial Advisor ran a feature summarizing his three-year sabbatical and how it applies to the book; published Scott’s article, How You Can Recharge Your Entrepreneurial Batteries with a Working Sabbatical, Fast featured his piece, Everything You Need to Know to Become a Remote CEO, and Upstart Journal ran a feature, and an essay by Scott, as well.

And there’s far more coverage and interviews which you can check out on the’s in the press page.  Why do you think Scott’s message and strategies are connecting across a number of audiences?  I’ll discuss this in a future post.


It’s Never Too Early: Self-Promote Your Self-Published Book While You’re Writing It

Posted on: January 14th, 2014 | No comments 

Big Fish Media is chronicling author Susan Price in a series of posts as she navigates the world of self-publishing. We follow the choices she faces, the decisions she makes, and the challenges she encounters in all areas, including research, production, and marketing. We’ll also offer tips, resources, and insights about self-publishing.

By Sarita Venkat

Susan is in the home stretch of completing her manuscript. As an expert on the topic of family philanthropy (she’s been immersed in the field for 15 years), Susan is writing a book titled Generous Genes: Raising Caring Kids in a Digital Age, which builds upon her 2001 book The Giving Family. Generous Genes will reflect the way kids are using technology as a tool in their giving. She started writing her book in earnest in early 2013; countless hours of research later, along with more than 100 interviews, and nearly half the words toward her goal of having a 60,000 word manuscript by February 1, 2014.

But, similar to the conundrum many writers face, it’s been challenging to keep up the writing momentum and find the time to promote her yet-to-be-published book (she’s also accepted a few paid consulting opportunities; while enticing when she’s getting no advance for her book, they have added a further wrinkle to her already tight schedule).

Publicity is critical at all stages of the self-publishing process so it’s never too early to promote your tome. As someone who has traveled the traditional publishing route with her previous titles, Susan will miss having a publicity department supporting her new book. (“Even though people complain that they didn’t get much help from the marketing folks, they still do some things for the author.”)

For example, Susan took advantage of the 2013 holiday season to generate buzz for her book

HR Magazine Features Article by Client Van Horn on the Recession and its Impact

Posted on: November 2nd, 2013 | No comments 

The October 2013 issue of HR Magazine features an article by Heldrich Center Director Dr. Carl Van Horn that draws upon the findings from his recent book, Working Scared (Or Not at All): The Lost Decade, Great Recession, and Restoring the Shattered American Dream, and distills the causes of the Great Recession and the devastation it brought about for American workers.  Big Fish Media provided editorial and media outreach services for Dr. Van Horn’s landmark book.

What Van Horn labeled the “lost decade” is characterized by several factors, including the longest recession on record, the highest unemployment in 30 years, and a drop in median family income. He identifies four forces that are driving labor-market transformations: globalization and offshoring; mergers, acquisitions, and restructuring; the transition from industrialization to a knowledge- and service-based economy; and deunionization. Van Horn explains that these forces contributed to the widespread dissatisfaction that American workers have as they try to support themselves and their families in the face of reduced benefits and decreased or nonexistent training and educational opportunities in the workplace. As the United States struggles to recover, Van Horn notes that it must “develop more aggressive pro-growth policies and devote greater effort to enlarging the nation’s economic pie rather than fighting over the best way to divide it.” Read the article online or request a print copy.