Why You Can’t Afford Me. (It’s a Good Thing.)

Judy Katz of GhostbookstersJust about twelve years ago I made a major transition, and closed the midtown Manhattan offices of my Public Relations firm. Through running a sizeable business and the day to day drama of dealing with my staff’s personal issues, I had essentially become everyone’s Jewish mother. As a result I could not do as much actual writing as I would have loved to do. When I took this leap of faith I made two critical decisions:  First–by transitioning to ghostwriting I could do what I love: use my writing skills to help people become successful authors, then help them get published,then use my public relations skills to promote their book.

The second decision: I would not be bound by what others charged, but would instead charge what I thought I was worth. My fees were considerably higher than many other writers. But, given my many years of experience as an award-winning, in-demand writer (for magazine articles, speeches, blogs, brochures and other promotional material), I thought my asking price was justified.

At first this did seem like a foolish decision: many of the would-be authors I met were unable to pay my fees and instead wanted me to work solely for the back-end. In other words, they expected me to write their book or book proposal, reach out to get them a literary agent, who would  negotiate a large advance for the book and ancillary rights,  do promotion to make their book a New York Times bestseller (and perhaps a blockbuster motion picture) and then share a percentage of the profits.  Well, we are all delusional to some extent, but these arrangements would have had me living in a refrigerator box on the cold hard streets of Manhattan.

Instead, I suggested to one of my PR clients that she might write and publish a book, and that it would be the ultimate marketing tool. She now calls it her $8 million book, referring to the extra business she attracted.  Full disclosure: we printed 7,500 copies at her expense, and mailed them to her target CEOs with a powerful cover letter. The phone is still ringing.

Recommendations followed, and a trickle of new author-clients eventually recognized what I offer in terms of personal hands-on service at each stage of publishing — from the writing and editing, to design, to trade and self-publishing, to marketing and PR.  They saw value in the successful track record I bring to every project, whether it be mainstream published or published as an independent entrepreneurial book. They saw how I give each book and client my full attention. Soon the trickle of new projects became a steady flow.

Now I am in the much-appreciated position of being able to take on special projects that I absolutely love, for writers whose wishes are ambitious but also realistic. Some want higher paying clients. Some want paid keynote speeches.  Some want bigger brands or personal reputations.  Some simply want to tell the world their story or leave a legacy for their families.  I can’t guarantee how many books will be sold, but when I know what they want their book to do for them–that’s something I can guarantee. And I still do not work for the back end.

My fees, which start at $50,000, and can be as high as $75,000 to $100,000 for some of my larger book projects, are often beyond the means of would-be authors.  However, I help anyone who comes to me by finding them a less expensive ghostwriter who will work for their budget. No one is turned away without getting my sage advice and contacts, because I think having a book in your name is not a good-to-have but a must-have if you want to be even more successful.

There are lots of good ghostwriters who are less expensive. I will be delighted to help you match up with one– my pleasure. Meantime I will continue working on a select few books that truly excite me. It also makes me proud to see how thrilled my clients are with the end results. They never fail to include me in their acknowledgements, with lavish praise.

Here is a piece of advice for all prospective authors–and anyone else trying to make your way in the world.  Whatever your profession is, please do not sell yourself short. In my field, many writers and editors discover too late that they asked for too little but now are morally and contractually bound to their deal.

With patience, and some really smart self-promotion (I can also give you some advice on that), you will find those people who can afford you, and even more important—those people who will truly appreciate you.

And that, my friend, is a very good thing!

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