Member Spotlight: Donna Peerce
How did you land your first book ghostwriting project?
The process of “Becoming” began early. At age 6, after reading a particularly fascinating book about butterflies one day, I decided that I was going to be a writer. That it would be the very best and most fun thing I could do in life. I started creating stories, small graphic novels, and even greeting cards, and never stopped.
I was first published in a regional magazine and newspaper when I was 10 years old. It was a short story I wrote for my teacher as a class assignment. It was about a little puppy that had to be rescued from the rooftop of a house by people in the community, after a big flood. She loved the story and submitted it for me. My teacher told me I should be a writer when I grew up and honestly, that gave me all the encouragement I needed. In high school and university, I wrote all kinds of short stories, news articles, and had some published in magazines and anthologies. I won a few awards for my stories, which gave me further encouragement. When I graduated from university, I traveled throughout Europe for a year and wrote travel stories for magazines. Back in the U.S., I worked in television as a Producer/Director/Writer for ABC and CBS affiliates and wrote scripts for TV shows.
I began freelancing as an Editor for small indie publishers. I sent news releases to the publishers, with a BIO, and my availability. Those projects turned into full ghostwriting jobs because the “editing” involved developing and writing the entire book! I was grossly underpaid, of course, but it was fantastic experience. My clients loved me because of the way their “edited” books turned out. The Internet was becoming more and more popular, so from that experience, I created a website to showcase my services.
Next, I placed an ad in the back of the Writer’s Digest Magazine for $200 per month. Even though the Internet was gaining traction, people still read the hard copies of magazines and newspapers. That little $200 per month was a great investment. This is how I landed my first “official” ghostwriting project. I think it was a book about an entrepreneur who had just turned 40, and all the tips he wanted to give to other men about aging. He flew to Nashville to meet me, and we sat in a bar talking about his book. He wrote down some pointers on a cocktail napkin, and from that, I developed his 250-page book. Or my first official job might have been that business fable for a client in Europe, about an old man in Switzerland and a soaring eagle, and the meaning of life. The European client self-published, and I illustrated the cover for him, as well. I can’t remember which book was first. Both paid me about $12,000 each.
I also joined an online company called Guru.com, and even though the pay was miniscule—about $15,000-20,000 at the most per ghostwriting project, which was a top fee at the time on Guru—I met some great clients all over the world and worked on a few interesting projects.
What has been your secret to building a steady stream of ghostwriting clients?
Business-wise, there are a variety of things, which I’ll highlight for you, but I think mainly it’s my persistence, diversity, mindset, “outside the box” marketing strategies, and the fact that I am always, always, looking for new clients not only in the U.S., but all over the world. It’s my openness to all cultures and peoples. I view myself as a “Citizen of the World.” We’re all more alike on this planet than we are different, no matter where we come from, or who we are. Famous or invisible. Rich or poor. I am not shy either. I can talk to anyone, anywhere. I have reached out personally to people, including celebrities, via their agents, managers, Twitter, or Instagram, and landed jobs that way. (For example, one recent famous client is a multimillionaire in Dubai!)
Reading, Experimental Writing, Different Genres: I am a voracious reader of all types of books, which I think is important if you’re a writer/ghostwriter, and especially if you write different genres, which I do, in both fiction and nonfiction. This opens you up to a wider pool of possible clients. I love utilizing literary and/or experimental writing in both fiction and nonfiction, which pushes the language further than usual, and this appeals to some. My genres include Memoirs, Entertainment Biographies, Sports Biographies, Historical Fiction, Fantasy, SY-FY, Dystopian, YA, Tweens, Magical Realism, Time Travel, International Geopolitical Thrillers, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Futuristic Mystery Thrillers, Paranormal, Alchemy, Neuroscience, Metaphysical, Thought Leadership, Personal Transformation, Business Culture, and Fables (think The Alchemist), etc. I love incorporating romance in the stories in some way if possible, and I love writing about the “Hero’s Journey” in all genres and cultures. I convert film scripts and graphic novels into novels, too. To date, I have ghosted more than 100 books in 20+ years. And yes, there are some that are New York Times and International Bestsellers.
Personally, I am interested in everything. Mostly. I am a workaholic because I love what I do. I crave learning and own 500+ books on every topic and genre you can imagine. I am also a people-pleaser and will work myself to the bone to write an outstanding book for my client. I absolutely love what I do and have confidence that I can write a great book. But as always, there’s one more step to take, one more lesson to learn. One more subject to learn about. And every book project becomes a learning opportunity because I’m always trying to learn more and become better. I treat people like we’re friends, too, and try to make them feel comfortable revealing their deepest secrets when writing memoirs. No subject is taboo. I try to always listen, listen, listen. I cry with my clients and jump for joy for their successes. I am their guide, cheerleader, therapist, and hand-holder. I have had to learn the hard way about setting firm boundaries. Being friendly can be a negative if you get too chummy with them before they earn your trust! I am always working on setting realistic boundaries. I try to be kind and sometimes that is misinterpreted as being weak. With all projects and clients, I try my best to learn from my mistakes, so I do not have to repeat them.
Mindset:I am an extremely openminded person, and this attracts people with unusual stories. My parents were extremely openminded, too and welcomed everyone into our home. I think this helped me to see that we are all connected in this world. That really, we’re all the same. The oldest of 8 children, I grew up on a rural dairy farm and had to learn how to interact with my siblings’ different personalities, temperaments, and attitudes. Not easy! We argued a lot, but they taught me valuable lessons, including patience, tolerance and how to negotiate.
Networking has been extremely important. I have been fortunate to be mentored by one of the top NY Literary Agents, and even though he is now retired, we are still friends and talk regularly because I have nurtured that relationship. I have built a priceless network of contacts including several leading NY Literary Agents and Senior Editors at NY’s top publishing houses, as well as an Oxford Literary Group in England. We get to know each other very well and I get referrals from those agents, editors, and past clients, and my website.
“Outside the Box” Marketing & Promotions: It is an ongoing process to learn how to continually market yourself in new ways, to network, and find new business. I read and research the publishing industry constantly, to keep myself informed so I can, in turn, coach my clients, and discover new avenues to showcase my services. For example, one of the first books I ghosted was Chicken Soup for the Country Soul by Mark Victor Hansen and Jack Canfield. I enjoyed reading their books and thought, “Hey, someone has to write these stories for the authors!” So, when Mark was in a bookstore one weekend, autographing his books, I got in line with all the fans and walked up to him and said hello. He said, “Oh, hi there. Do you want me to autograph your book?” I said, “No, I want to ghostwrite your stories for the books.” He looked surprised but smiled. I quickly explained that I was a Ghostwriter and gave him my business card, a little portfolio that I had created with sample titles I had ghosted (which were very few at the time), and even a sample chapter of a book. I quickly blurted out that I was great with people and writing human interest stories. He was delighted and friendly. We chatted a bit more and he said he would be in touch. That next week, I got a call from his office. Mark had read my materials on the airplane and told his office to get in touch with me. I was hired to ghost some of their books, starting with Chicken Soup for the Country Soul, which involved interviewing numerous country music artists in Nashville. He and Jack were absolutely the nicest guys. I think my actions with Mark is an example of an “outside the box” approach to finding ghostwriting projects!
Public Speaking: I currently consult for an international promotions and brand-marketing firm, and in the past, I have conducted numerous business writing, marketing, and branding workshops in the U.S. and overseas for organizations and businesses. Strengthening personal connections with others is more important to brand-building and promotions than anything else. It’s all about the personal connection we make with others.
Website, Online Presence: I cannot emphasize this enough: You must have a great website so people can find you. And if you are in the process of updating it, (as I am) send potential clients updated BIOs that will reflect the genres that are pertinent to the project. Many people write personal blogs, and that is wonderful, but honestly, I do not have the luxury of time to do this, so please forgive me if I have not blogged in a while. I do, however, blog for some of my past clients, and those articles have appeared in Entrepreneur, Psychology Today, Forbes, Success, and Fast Company.
Professionally, I belong to the Association of Ghostwriters, Gotham Ghostwriters and The Author’s Guild. I have also worked with the Oxford Literary Group in the U.K. on a few projects. These groups have brought me some of my best and highest paying projects to date. They have provided a wonderful “community” and introduced me to some beautiful fellow Ghostwriters who have become my friends. Many Ghostwriters are loners and empaths, for the most part, so to find other similar souls, is wonderful. No one understands what a Ghostwriter goes through except for a fellow Ghostwriter. It is hard work. Plus, we all share information about contracts, fees, problems, successes, and even potential jobs. We laugh with each other. We cry with each other. And I am grateful for this community.
Files of Potentials: I keep files and details of all potential clients I speak to, whether they hire me initially or not. If I’m looking for work during some down time, I’ll contact them again to see if they remember me and have thought further about my services. Oftentimes, they’ll say, “I was just thinking about you! And yes, I’m ready to take the plunge. Let’s do this!” Just in the past few months, I landed one of my highest paying projects by doing this.
What do you wish you’d known about ghostwriting when you were first starting out?
Pricing: There are many, many things. But one is to not underprice yourself. Yes, you might need the project and therefore, are willing to do it for less. That’s understandable, and we’ve all been there. But overall, don’t undersell yourself. Good clients will pay you what you’re worth. After interviewing other ghostwriters, many clients have said to me, “Well, you are by far the most expensive, but I also think you’re the best, so I’m willing to go with you.” Be confident in your abilities. Strengthen your abilities with writing, reading and research. If you’re not an expert on the subject you’re going to ghostwrite about, RESEARCH AND LEARN as much as you can. I swear, I probably have accumulated several advanced degrees via all the research I’ve done to ghostwrite some books, especially those on Quantum Science, Neuroscience, Artificial Intelligence, etc.
Contracts: Work with an attorney to create a great contract that protects you as a Ghostwriter. Be sure to stipulate how many revisions are included in the contract. Because I have failed to do this at times, I once ended up drafting about 80 pages of five different plot and character versions of a book for one client, who could not make up her mind which narrative and plot she wanted to use. I finally demanded more money, and she paid it, but I learned a valuable lesson.
Red Flags: Pay attention to red flags. If the first words out of a prospective client is: “You are the 4th Ghostwriter I’ve worked with. The others just didn’t satisfy me,” then RUN. You will never be able to please that client, although I have tried before because I am persistent and believe I can do anything. With a couple, I have ended up terminating the project and refunding all money because of the abuse, threats, calling me all hours of the night, etc. Sadly, there are people who have extreme personality disorders, who are “snakes in suits” with psychopathic issues and are extremely off-balance. Pay attention to any red flags. Do NOT take the abuse. It can cause you months of PTSD and many boxes of chocolate! As mentioned before, some people will misinterpret your kindness as weakness.
How would you describe your favorite type of project and client?
A Client Who Lets Me Dream the Story: I have learned throughout my writing experience that my favorite client is easygoing, friendly. It is someone who has a great story, whether fiction or nonfiction. It’s someone who is flexible and allows me time and space to “dream the story.” For me, writing is 80% dreaming, contemplation, and imagination, and 20% execution. Once I have dreamed the story and plot, I can write it very quickly.
Respect: I particularly love clients who respect my ideas, who will collaborate with me, and provide encouragement and support. I welcome constructive feedback. I have loved the international travel and the clients who fly me to wherever they are to meet them. These places include the U.K. and most European countries, Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, Tasmania, Japan, Hong Kong, and Africa. (Since the pandemic, we have resorted to Zoom and Skype, and that is fine with me). I do not have to meet a client in person and can easily work with them online. Even though I am a longer and empath, who enjoys alone time, I am also outgoing and love people.
What are the best parts of this career?
WRITING! I simply love the written word. There is a music, a rhythm to good writing and I love finding that melody. There is a sound in the melody that gives me chills sometimes when I write a paragraph that is just right…that paints a picture or a feeling that I have been trying to capture. When that moment comes, a type of euphoria settles over me. (No, this does not always happen!) I am an artist and musician, too, and I get the same type of magical feeling when strokes of my paintbrush create something I did not expect…It is an ethereal, timeless “oneness” with the Cosmos. I also play classical guitar and piano, and I experience this magical feeling when the notes glide from my fingers to the guitar or piano in a seamless “golden” moment of pitch and sound. I believe it is a Creative Connection to the Cosmos. When we tap into it—this light and sound—it takes over and honestly, there is nothing better. It reminds me that we are all connected, and if we tap into this connection, we will find the Gold. So, my Ghostwriting career combines the creativity that I love, the pathway to find the “Gold” in life, through the written word. I imagine everyone experiences this at times when they are doing something they love no matter what it is.
Flexibility for a Vampire: I am doing what I love as a way to earn a living! I love the flexible working hours from home. I’m a Vampire and work all night, so morning sleep is important for me. I love meeting new people all over the world on an ongoing basis. I love the opportunity to travel to exotic places and meet them and experience different cultures. I love the ongoing global education I have received from ghostwriting books of all genres and meeting people of all ethnic cultures and backgrounds. I LOVE THIS!
Full Circle: I never expect or receive much recognition from my family because I’m a “Ghostwriter” and my name isn’t plastered all over books, and everyone is pretty much absorbed in their own lives. And that’s O.K. by me. But recently, I had a pleasant surprise. My 6-year-old niece, Addison, said that she wanted to be a writer like her “Aunt Donna” when she grows up. She wrote and illustrated a little book about her friends and phoned one day to read it out loud to me. She then put it on her bookshelf as part of her “collection” of books. This brought me back full circle to the moment when I was 6 years old and decided I was going to be a writer. This was one of the best compliments I have ever received. My heart is full!
How can people reach you?
I am based in Nashville, TN, with a satellite office inside a renovated castle in Burgundy, France. Before the pandemic, I also traveled frequently to New York and LA to meet with clients and literary agents. I’m having my website updated right now, but people can still check out some of my credentials at: www.DonnaPeerceWriter.com, where they will find some good info and testimonials. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or email@example.com, to arrange a phone call so we can discuss your project, or call me at 615-279-8144 to set up an appointment. Once I know the genre of the project, I’ll send an updated BIO that reflects the titles that are relevant.
One Final Word:
As I write this, I have just learned that the great 99-year-old Betty White has passed on to the Far Country to join her husband, Allen. One of my favorite quotes from Betty, and one that I believe sums up my character is this: “Butterflies are like women—we may look pretty and delicate, but baby, we can fly through a hurricane.” ~Betty White, RIP.