2018 has been perhaps the most productive work year of my life as a ghostwriter of books, but I have very little to show for it — yet.
One book was published in 2018 that I helped write. It’s a really, really important book that is helping people whose lives have been flipped by tragedy. So, that alone made it a great year. But I also was blessed to work on five other book projects in 2018 that will publish in 2019. And talk about variety. By working on these projects, I learned how blockchain will change supply chain management, I helped craft a framework for creating “transformative influence,” I studied 41 biblical “deposits” fathers can make in their teen sons, I discovered the inside story of one of the world’s top transportation/logistics companies, and I helped develop a case for how/why love is really “damn good business.”
So, thanks to the clients who have entrusted me with their messages. Thanks to my wife for, well, being my wife (and all that comes with that). And thanks to God for allowing me to worship Him through work that is so interesting.
It’s summer, so you’ve probably noticed an increase in articles and blogs recommending books to read while you’re on the beach or otherwise decompressing from your work world. In many cases, these blogs are by authors who simply want to share the books they’ve enjoyed. Others, of course, are secretly sourced by clever PR agencies looking to promote a particular client’s book. That doesn’t make the list bad, it just makes the motives suspect. Caveat emptor.
So what do I recommend? Well, glad you asked. I don’t know what you’ve read or what you like to read or what types of books would help you with your current situation. But that doesn’t mean I can’t help you out a little.
My main recommendation is that you should diversify. Read a bunch of different stuff. Read a bunch of styles. Read fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and humor. Variety from your library keeps you from slipping into a mental rut and helps you see fresh perspectives on your work and your world. Here are my main categories, keeping in mind that in some cases there’s some overlap.
Novels – Great fiction takes us out of our world but reshapes how we view the world in which we live. The most recent really good novel I’ve read was The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, a Spanish author who brings 1950s Barcelona to life with a dark but lively mystery.
Biographies/Autobiographies – I worked on The American Immigrant, a Kindle single by Dick Gephardt and Mark Russell that profiles some cool stories. Another recommendation would be Seven Men by Eric Metaxas, which profiles seven of the most influential men in history. Unfortunately, I didn’t finish this book because I left my copy on an airplane.
History – I’m a big fan of well-written history, and I confess it’s been way too long since I spent some time in this genre. One that pops to mind is Washington’s Crossing by David Hackett Fischer. The significance of that one event changed the course of history, and this book shares why in a very readable way. Another favorite of is Blood and Thunder by Hampton Sides, which uses Kit Carson as a thread for the story of the American West.
Leadership/business –Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership by Ruth Haley Barton fits in this category. It’s written for people in ministry, but I’ve found it applies to leaders no matter their profession. Forging Grit, a short fiction book I co-wrote with Mike Thompson, also fits this bill. Other authors you can check out: Tommy Spaulding, Steve Farber, Eric Chester, Elise Mitchell, Max DePree, John Maxwell, and Mark Sanborn.
Faith-based – I recently finished Donald Miller’s Scary Close, which is faith-based self-help. Obviously I’m partial to Grow Like Jesus and Go West (by my friend Jeremy Sparks). And right now I’m reading and enjoying None Other by John MacArthur. Also, my wife and I always have a devotional book from which we read each morning.
I know people who have multiple books going at the same time, and I do this from time to time. Most often, I’m reading one book on my own and one with my wife. But do what’s best for the rhythms of your life. And by all means, share what’s been meaningful. Almost every book I mentioned in this blog came to me as a recommendation from some wonderful friend like you.
Click here for more information on books I’ve written.
One of the ways I see writers making a living these days is by selling the dream of authorship. It works like this: Thousands upon thousands of people want to publish a book, so writers who have published books provide them with training, advice, and support – for a fee, of course. Much of my livelihood, in fact, works off this model. As a ghostwriter, I help would-be authors write and publish their messages, often in the form of books.
As with all good things, however, I’ve noticed this model has a dark side. Since the Internet-of-today is all about – jargon alert! – “scaling businesses through platform building,” some writing services are going bonkers with their mass-marketing approach to the business. Some offer great advice and services. But what some are marketing in attempt to scale their businesses is – and I know this will shock you – a distortion of the truth, aka, a lie.
So at the risk of being labeled a fuddy-duddy, allow me to suggest that all aspiring authors of the world take a moment, pump their proverbial breaks, and evaluate a few deeper realities of writing and publishing. Before shelling out boatloads of money for help with your book project, carefully consider some of the deeper realities that reside beneath the “marketed truth.”
Marketed Truth: You can write a book in a few weeks.
Deeper Reality: Very few authors have written a good book that quickly. Writing with excellence takes time and effort. It’s not always hard. Sometimes the words flow easily and quickly. But it’s not always easy. Most of the time, in fact, the writing – and especially the rewriting – is challenging. Consider these words from a few successful writers:
“Easy reading is damned hard writing.” – Nathaniel Hawthorne
“A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” – Thomas Mann
“When something can be read without effort, great effort has gone into its writing.” – Enrique Jardiel Poncela
“Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.” – Gene Fowler
Marketed Truth: It’s easier and cheaper than ever to publish a book.
Deeper Reality: Services like Create Space make it easy, and you no longer need the help of a traditional New York-based publishing house. But … it still will cost you if you want a quality product. Even if you’re a great writer, you’ll need great editors (plural), a great designer to make it look good and great marketers to help sell it. You’ll have to spend time and money to get the attention of the book-buying public. And, ultimately, you still probably won’t sell very many books. Most likely, you will spend far, far more to write, publish and market the book than you will make on the sales from the book.
Marketed Truth: Everyone should write and publish a book.
Deeper Reality: Speaking of fuddy-duddys, anyone remember writer/contrarian Christopher Hitchens? I seldom agreed with much that he had to say, but that doesn’t mean he was never right. For instance, he’s generally credited with saying, “Everybody does have a book in them, but in most cases that’s where it should stay.” Very true. And Walter Bagehot, a British essayist, once pointed out that, “The reason why so few good books are written is that so few people who can write know anything.” Also true. So if you are a great writer who doesn’t have much to say or a poor writer with nothing to say, you certainly can write and publish a book. But please don’t inflict it on the rest of us.
OK, enough cold water. The point of all this isn’t to discourage most of you from writing and publishing a book. Really, it’s not. The point is to encourage anyone who is thinking about writing and publishing a book to do so with a clear view of reality. Measure the costs. Set a budget. Be smart about it.
When I talk to people who are thinking about writing a book, I almost always encourage them to do so. That’s because most of them feel a compelling need to write something that’s on their heart. The bigger question is this: To what end? I believe God sometimes tells us to write a book, a blog, an essay, a poem, or some other musing simply so that we can process a lesson He wants us to learn. The audience is me and God (or you and God). No one else.
Writers write because they have no choice. The message within them longs to break free and live in some form, and to suppress that message is nothing short of disobedience. So write. And if you are so called, publish what you’ve written. And, if so called, market what you’ve published. But no matter where your obedience to a message takes you, bury your expectations. As the great Flannery O’Connor put it, “When a book leaves your hands, it belongs to God. He may use it to save a few souls or to try a few others, but I think that for the writer to worry is to take over God’s business.”
Want Free Help? Here’s a Checklist.
Want some free tips to help you think through a potential book project? I put together this list a few years ago, and I periodically update it. Click here to read my Author’s Checklist. You don’t even have to give me your email address. All it costs you is the time it takes to click the link and read it. But, hey, if you want to sign up to receive my blog, by all means, go for it!
Click here for more information on books I’ve written.
One of the many perks of helping people write or edit their books is that I get to know some terrific people who have valuable messages to share. In fact, I sometimes boil my job description down to this: “To learn new things from smart people so I can help others by sharing what I’ve learned.”
Not a bad gig, and it pays the bills to boot!
I’ve been doing this for 20 years, although it’s only been my full-time job for about five. In that time, I’ve helped with 21 books – not including several that are still in the works. And I’ve never worked on a book I wouldn’t recommend.
So that’s what I want to do today: Recommend some books — five I helped with in some way that published in 2016 or that will publish in early 2017 and five that I read in 2016. I don’t think you can go wrong by reading any of these books or by giving them as gifts for Christmas (or some other occasion). Let’s start with the five I helped with in some way:
Go West: 10 Principles that Guided My Cowboy Journey by Jeremy Sparks. I met Jeremy about a year ago and helped him with this wonderful story about how his God-given calling (which he literally received when he was 12) led him to fight bulls in professional rodeo while also serving in the United States Air Force. He has an entertaining story that’s gritty and real and that brings to life some wonderful principles for life. The book is due out in early February, but you can pre-order it now from any online bookseller.
The American Immigrant, Volume One by Dick Gephardt and Mark Russell. This is the first of what will be several volumes of feature stories about immigrants who have helped make America the great country she is. I wrote most of the longer stories, which allowed me to interview some amazing people like Dr. Josephine Park, Nabiel Fareed, Rolando Rodriguez, and former big-leaguer Barbaro Garbey. Right now, it’s available only as a Kindle Single.
Grow Like Jesus: Practicing Luke 2:52 Discipleship by me. I actually wrote this all by myself, and it came out earlier this year. Well, that’s not true. Many people helped inspire the ideas and craft the message, which boils down to this: Jesus grew in wisdom, stature, favor with God and favor with man; we should, too, and this book tells you how.
Forging Grit: A story of leadership perseverance by me and Mike Thompson. Grit is a critical leadership quality that we all need to make it through life, but Mike and I decided to tackle it in a slightly different way from the norm. Since most of us learn from stories, we decided to create a story that unpack the definition of grit and how we can develop it. This short story is about a leader who learns grit while stranded in a remote village in Nepal following a plane crash.
Here are five other books I read this year that I also recommend (other than reading them, I had nothing to do with these):
7 Men: And the Secret of Their Greatness by Eric Metaxas. My wife and I started reading this together early in the year and only made it about two-third through before one of us (OK, me) left it on an airplane. As the title suggests, this book profiles seven amazing men and what we can learn from them. I plan to buy a new copy someday and finish it. Anything by Metaxas is worth the read.
Pray Like It Matters by Steve Gaines. This is the other book I picked up at the conference. It seems to me that many of us either don’t pray or we pray with very little passion or intentional focus. Gaines makes it clear why fervent prayer matters so much and provides a ton of practical ways to practice this critical discipline.
Scary Close: Dropping the Act and Finding True Intimacy by Donald Miller. Few people write so well and so transparently and with such insight as Miller. Even when he rubs me the wrong way it takes me in a good direction. You’ll not only relate to to his story, but you’ll learn from it (something missing in many memoirs).
If none of those fit your needs right now, here’s the rest of my I-helped-on-these-books list (with my role in the project in parenthesis). Google them …
The Heart-led Leader: How Living and Leading from the Heart will Change Your Organization and Your Life (Crown Business, 2015) by Tommy Spaulding (I was an editorial consultant and ghostwriter on several chapters)
Jumping in the Parade: The Leap of Faith That Made My Life Worth Living (BenBella, 2014) by Tim Brown (I was the ghostwriter)
Untapped Talent: Unleashing the Power of the Hidden Workforce (Palgrave, 2013) by Dani Monroe (I was the ghostwriter)
The Weekly Coaching Conversation (Evolve, 2012) by Brian Souza (I was a consulting editor)
Up, Down, or Sideways: How to succeed when times are good, bad, or in between (Tyndale, 2011) by Mark Sanborn (I was the ghostwriter)
Reviving Work Ethic: A Leader’s Guide to Ending Entitlement and Restoring Pride in the Emerging Workforce (Greenleaf Books, 2011) by Eric Chester (I was the ghostwriter)
It’s Not Just Who You Know (Broadway Books, August 2010) by Tommy Spaulding (I was the ghostwriter)
The One Minute Negotiator: Simple Steps to Reach Better Agreements (Berrett-Koehler Publishers; August 2010) by Don Hutson and George Lucas. (I was an editorial consultant)
ViewPoints (BodyBuilders Press, 2009) by Steve Shadrach (I was an editor and publishing consultant)
The Second Half: Real Stories. Real Adventures. Real Significance. (Halftime, 2008) by Lloyd Reeb. (I was the ghostwriter)
Life@Work Workbook: Marketplace Success for People of Faith (Injoy, 2005) by John Maxwell, Thomas Addington and Stephen Graves (I was a contributing editor)
Daily Focus (W Publishing Group, 2001) by Thomas G. Addington, Stephen R. Graves (I was a contributing writer)
Building Blocks For Your Life@Work (Word Publishing, 2001) by Thomas G. Addington, Stephen R. Graves (I was the ghostwriter)
The Life@Work Book: Sixteen respected leaders talk about blending biblical wisdom and business excellence (Word Publishing, 2000) by the editors of Life@Work (I was the editor)
The Fourth Frontier: Exploring The New World Of Work (W Publishing Group, 2000) by Thomas G. Addington, Stephen R. Graves (I was a ghostwriter)
The Cornerstones for Life@Work: A Case for Character, Skill Serving & Calling (Life@Work and Broadman & Holman, 1997) by Thomas Addington, Stephen Graves (I was the ghostwriter)
My insecurities were buckled in tight and driving the bus full speed toward the edge of a cliff. This was several months ago. I was sending a preview copy of Grow Like Jesus to a few friends and asking them to read it and consider endorsing it.
What if none of them were willing to read it? Worse, what if they read it and didn’t like it? What if they hated it?
Thankfully, those fears were unfounded.
Two of my favorite responses were, “There’s no freaking way I would not help you” and “Just get ready for books to fly off the shelves.” People seemed genuinely excited about the project and more than willing to help.
Now, less than one week from when the book officially “launches,” I find myself continually overwhelmed with gratitude for all the support the book is getting – not just from those who read the advance copy but from others who are promoting the book in one form or another. It’s been humbling, to say the least.
In many ways, the experience of asking friends to sacrifice something in the name of our friendship has made me clay in the hands of the Potter.
I’ve often challenged clients to ask their “networks” for help, but it’s been very different to find myself asking for favors. For the endorsements, I had asked some friends to give up a few hours of their valuable time to read the book, give an honest opinion of it, and then, if they felt so led, to write something nice that I could share with the world. Seemed like a lot to ask.
Now I’m asking people to buy the book, to recommend it to others, to pray for it, to write reviews on Amazon, and to promote it on social media. Seems like a lot to ask. It all makes me very uncomfortable. So as I battle to keep my insecurities out of the driver’s seat, here are a few lessons I’ve tried to keep in mind about imposing on friendships:
Don’t take negative responses personally. I knew some people simply wouldn’t be able to read the book and write an endorsement. Most “no’s” were gracious and understandable. But I’ll confess that a few “no’s” stung a little. I had to remind myself that they lead busy lives, too, and that I don’t know everything that’s going on in those lives. I had to remember to push aside my human nature, stay thankful for all the “yes’s,” and trust God for the results.
Encouragement does wonders for the soul. That said, it was great to get encouragement, even from those who weren’t able to help. It’s often hard to say “no” to your friends, but I saw how it’s possible to do so with grace and encouragement. When I am asked to help others, I’m now more committed than ever to responding – whether with a “yes” or “no” – in an encouraging way.
Faith is most active when I step outside my comfort zone. For me, the hardest part about publishing a book wasn’t writing it or finding a publisher, although those weren’t easy. The hardest part has been marketing it. I love promoting the message, but I get weirded out when it feels like I’m marketing “me” or when I feel like I’m imposing on others. Still, I know hope isn’t a strategy. I have to do my part. Sometimes that involves asking friends for a hand along the way, even if it makes me feel a little strange.
So, to all those who have helped and are helping with the promotion of this book, thanks. In one way or another, you’ve helped me Grow Like Jesus.
(Want to see the book’s endorsements? Click here.)