Ghostwriters: What are your clients’ odds of getting published?



I was just having this discussion with a friend the other day, wondering where people ever got the impression that attracting a traditional publisher is easy. It’s never been easy to convince the likes of Random House, McGraw-Hill, John Wiley & Sons, or Simon & Schuster, to name a few, to publish a particular title.

Today it’s even harder, as publishers have become extremely risk-averse, cutting royalty advances to a few thousand dollars, and almost ignoring any first-time author who doesn’t have tens of thousands of people on their email list, following them on Twitter, and liking their Facebook business page. It might be easier to get into Harvard than to get a book contract at this point.

Yet it must seem fairly easy to folks not in the publishing world because 99% of the inquiries the Association of Ghostwriters (AOG) receives from would-be authors indicate that they intend to pursue a traditional publishing arrangement. I interpret this to mean that they think they have a chance of interesting an editor at a major publishing house in paying them money for their never-before-told story. Now, I’m not saying that their story isn’t one-of-a-kind or fabulous or riveting – it may very well be, and I’m saying that sincerely – but without a substantial author platform in place, the odds of it being published are very small indeed.

That’s the reality, no matter how disappointing.

So I find myself running through a mental checklist when a potential author/client asks for help in finding a ghostwriter for their book. If they:

–          Aren’t a celebrity

–          Don’t have 10,000+ people connected to them through social media

–          Don’t have an email list of at least 5,000 people

–          Don’t have a way to sell books, such as through committed speaking engagements

–          Aren’t willing to commit to a buy-back of at least 2,000 books for their own use

I typically try and educate them about the benefits of self-publishing, once their book is written. Self-publishing often makes a lot of sense, for several reasons:

–          The author controls the pace of work, which can be faster when you’re working independently

–          The author controls the look, feel, and design of the book itself

–          The author typically earns more money per book than through a royalty arrangement

–          Lining up a distributor, and making a book available for sale online for e-readers, has become much easier in recent years

Granted, working with a major publisher also has many advantages:

–          Credibility

–          Hand-holding from an editor throughout much of the process

–          Hired editors, proofreaders, and indexers

–          An established publishing process

–          Built-in distribution

–          No need for an up front investment, as self-publishing does

However, I think we all need to begin educating the general public about the general likelihood of having any first-time book get picked up by a major publisher. Typically, it’s very unlikely, and self-publishing is an excellent Plan B.

Do most of your clients intend to approach traditional publishers?

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Marcia Layton Turner


  1. Kelly James-Enger on June 3, 2014 at 1:04 am

    Great post, Marcia. I agree that most of my “private” ghosting clients (as opposed to being contacted by a book publisher or packager, for example) plan to pursue a traditional pub house. I typically spend at least 15 minutes on the phone educating the typical client about how the traditional process works, why it’s much more challenging to sell a book to a house than they may believe. My attitude is, if the client has a solid idea and a strong platform, it’s work doing a proposal and trying to sell it to a traditional house; otherwise, I suggest that the client self-publish.

    I usually say something along the lines of, “this may not be the news you *want* to hear but it is the way the industry works now and you’re better off knowing it now.” Clients aren’t always happy to hear the news but I do think they appreciate my honesty!

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