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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Good Advice for Every Freelancer: Never Say Never

I never expected to become a ghostwriter. In fact, the first time I heard about the idea of collaborating, my knee-jerk reaction was “no way!” Turns out I was wrong.

It’s been almost ten years since I first heard Sarah Wernick speak about how she got started as a coauthor. Wernick’s first book, Strong Women Stay Young (with Miriam Nelson, M.D., a researcher at Tufts University) was a New York Times bestseller and launched her successful coauthoring/collaborating career. During a panel at ASJA’s annual writers’ conference Wernick talked about how she identified potential clients, wrote book proposals, and then wrote the books with the experts after they sold to traditional publishers. She wrote one book a year and made a six-figure living doing so.

I still remember sitting in the conference room and thinking, “Wow, she’s making a lot of money!” Yet my next reaction was just as strong. I didn’t want to spend a year of my life toiling away on someone else’s book. No thanks.

So I wrote off the idea, pun intended--until years later, when I realized that if I wanted to keep writing books (and I did), I couldn’t afford to spend so much time marketing and promoting them. I coauthored a successful book with Ellie Krieger, R.D., got serious about collaborating with experts on their books, and started ghostwriting as well.

So never say never. When I started freelancing full-time on January 1, 1997, I started my Novel. The novel. The novel I had dreamt of, fantasized about, and consoled myself with for years. I’d written short stories (none of which were ever published), but my goal had been to write a novel since I majored in writing. And I got fourteen chapters down before I abandoned it. My next two attempts, novels which I started January 1, 1998, and January 1, 1999, also failed.

I was crushed. I couldn’t pursue my dream--I couldn’t even finish a novel, let alone get it published. I was a failure.

I couldn’t admit that to anyone for a long time. Finally I told one of my oldest friends, Abby, who I’d met in my first fiction-writing class about my failure. “I just can’t write a novel,” I admitted.

Abby has been meditating, doing yoga, and embracing a Zen approach to life since I can remember. She was quick to contradict me. “You just can’t write a novel right now,” she said.

It barely registered at the time, but she was right. Another year passed before I felt the urge to write fiction again. What was different this time? Well, I wasn’t just venting about my misspent years as an attorney (although once again my book featured an unhappy female lawyer). I felt more passion for this book, and I finished the draft in four months, and finished the final draft in 364 days. (I’d given myself a year to write it.) That novel (Did you Get the Vibe?) sold to the second publisher I contacted about it.

Imagine if Abby would have said, “Yeah, you’re right,” when I said I couldn’t write a novel. Or, “What’s the big deal? Most people can’t.” Or “Well, I didn’t think you could.” I couldn't write a novel at the time. But I could--and I did--later.

So be careful what you say about your freelance career. And never say “never," "I can’t,” or even, “not for me,” without adding “at least right now.”

***Thinking that maybe "right now" is the time for you to get started ghostwriting? Check out Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks: The Writer's Guide to Making Money Ghostwriting and Coauthoring Books (Kindle version).


  1. This is just the perfect post for me today. It's so perfect it's like one of those "woo-woo" moments people talk about. Thanks!

  2. Glad to hear it, Lisa! Just imagine the Twilight Zone theme music playing...