Dennis Michael Burke
Author & Ghostwriter
Text or Call: (602) 908-4067
You just won the Nobel Prize or you have a million social network followers, or Taylor Swift just broke up with you during your latest film. Your agent will call Random House or another major publisher, or they will contact your agent. A seven-figure advance will be negotiated, and a seasoned ghostwriter will be paid out of the advance—maybe half. You will give the writer about 40 hours of interviews, and you're done. You and the ghostwriter will share book proceeds according to what your agent negotiated, and that cash fall will begin after the publisher has been paid back for the advance, which is rare.
You were there when it all began—in the corporate cafeteria where the Happy Face was first created from a spill of yellow mustard and dark chocolate sauce. The corporate politics and billionaire antics that followed would make a great film, but first, we need the book. You think some major publishers will be interested, and you might be right. How do you approach them? Major publishers have bouncers at the door. They are called agents. Very few major publishers will take your call or even your mail unless it comes from an agent they know and respect. If they didn't have this filter, they would be overwhelmed with calls and manuscripts—thousands per day.
SO... you need an agent. If you don't already have one, you will need a book proposal that includes enough sample chapters to show great writing, a plan for the unwritten chapters, and a marketing plan that describes how you will help market the book to bookstores and other events in your yellow Volkswagen, how many books about Happy Faces have been prior bestsellers, and estimates of worldwide interest in that symbol and emojis generally. You can do the chapters and proposal yourself, because you have skills, and you can join a local writing group to give you feedback.
OR... you can hire a ghostwriter to create the chapters and the book proposal. Expect a pro to charge between $5k and $10k for that work, which is not much pay per hour, as it's a lot of work to do successfully.
Your book chapters and proposal will help you find an agent, and they will use the same material, improved by their guidance, to approach publishers.
Your life so far—and it isn't over—is full of great memories, adventures and life lessons. You want to make a record of them and someday pass them on, and you should. There is no greater family treasure than a memoir or diary, and the more time that goes by, the greater its value increases. All you need is a spiral notebook and a pencil to get started. There are resources to keep you going. A local Meetup group on memoir writing is surely available in your community, either as an in-person weekly meeting or via Zoom from anywhere. If you do nothing else, do this: get a good digital recorder and turn it on as you go through your albums of family photos and you start remembering stories. Your stories need not be in chronological order. Just get them down. Do this over several days or evenings, then have the recordings transcribed and printed out, as no one will know what your digital recorder is when they come across it in 100 years. "Is this a shaver, do you think?" Transcription services are cheap on the Internet. Your electronic and printed manuscript will be easy to turn into a more formal memoir if you decide to do that. A relative can edit it, or your Ai friend can do it and make it sound like Annie Dillard or James Joyce (you will have an Ai friend very soon).
It's a breeze to publish your book on Amazon. There is no cost for doing so, though it isn't going to sell unless you spend a few hundred or a few thousand dollars advertising it on Amazon, Facebook or Google. If you want bookstores to carry it, you'll also need to upload it to IngramSpark, which is a bit more technically challenging than Amazon, but (at this writing) cost-free to you.
I have written other people's stories for a living. Some have been national bestsellers. Even so, unless your name is Michelle Obama or Stephen King, publishers will never send you enough money to buy more than a very small yacht, for which you will need oars. But it's a living, and it's great fun and a great honor to meet the people I have met, from a Midwest bank robber to the president of the World Bank.
For over twenty years I have had a great agent who has opened the doors to the largest publishers for me. Sometimes I pitch her a book idea, and she scowls or says, well maybe, then tests the waters with one or more of her friends at Random House or another publisher. Some of my books have come through that process.
A second way is when someone thinks they are worth a book and they approach my agent directly. If she thinks there is a book there, she might take the project on the condition that a professional writer is put on the team. Maybe I get the call, and the first bit of work will be sample chapters and a book proposal, often paid by the subject of the book and reimbursed from the publisher's advance. Most books take the better part of nine months to complete, then another year or two for the publisher to review, design, and promote for distribution.
You'll find MANY writers advertising on the Internet who will ghostwrite or otherwise assist your writing. Their fees vary greatly. My agent normally negotiates half the advance and royalties for me, if I am to essentially write the whole book. She usually suggests I be paid between $5k and $10k for sample chapters and a book proposal.
Please don't use any of this information as an excuse to not get started writing your story, even if, for now, it's Post-it notes on your refrigerator. Life is short and beautiful, and even our ancient ancestors left their footprints in the mud and their stories on cave walls.
If you're thinking of hiring a ghostwriter as a gift to help an elder member of your family preserve a lifetime of stories, that is a truly fine idea. A good ghostwriter asks the right questions and listens carefully, creating something of beauty and a deep appreciation of the importance and blessings of life.
I have sometimes edited and rewritten someone's already-written memoir. It's not the main thing I do, but I will do it if asked, because ghostwriters could always use an extra $2k or so and because I like the editing process when a good story deserves burnishing.
I'm based in Phoenix but am often in LA and DC. In-person interviews are important for memoirs, though much can be accomplished via phone and Zoom. If you think you have a life story that should be written, and you want to talk to a seasoned and successful ghostwriter about it, text me at 602-908-4067.