Know the Pros and Cons of Ghostwriting

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October theme: Scary, ghostly things related to writing

As a writer, there are numerous paths to take in your career and different ways to specialize. Ghostwriting is one of them.

According to content marketing platform CrowdContent.com, ghostwriters are “professional writers who craft material for others, taking a client’s vision, story or idea and creating a polished, publication-quality product that the client can attach his name to and call his own.”

You likely equate ghostwriting with celebrity memoirs, autobiographies, novel series and nonfiction e-books, but ghostwriting can be done for business writing too, such as press releases, blog posts, opinion pieces and speeches. You might have done a few ghostwriting assignments without recognizing it as such. Maybe you wrote a speech for a community leader or a VIP at your job. Or maybe you wrote a letter to the editor on behalf of someone else. Ghostwriting is just one more service to offer clients.

But breaking into ghostwriting isn’t easy and assignments are difficult to find, which can deter novice freelancers from entering the field. But there are advantages to writing for others too. Below is a brief breakdown of the pros and cons of becoming a ghostwriter.

Pros

1. Ghostwriters can earn income while pursuing your own projects. While you give up the byline, you get paid for your efforts. Plus in between ghostwriting assignments, you have time to work on your own projects.

2. Assignments can cover almost every topic under the sun. You may be assigned to write about anything whether it’s a self-help book, the Vietnam War or home decorating, you can learn plenty along the way. If you love to do research and are open to learning about different topics, ghostwriting might be the right gig for you.

3. You don’t need special credentials to enter the field. According to Careermetris.com, Advanced degrees and special certifications aren’t required to become a ghostwriter.
As long as you can write well, listen to your author carefully and take copious notes, you can succeed as a ghostwriter. As writer Jon Reiner writes, “A successful ghostwriter is first a good listener, and then a good writer.”

4. You are responsible only for writing, nothing more. Once the project ends, your responsibilities end too. You aren’t involved in other aspects of the project, such as production and marketing. Writers don’t need to be concerned with making public appearances and interviews to promote the book either since that will be the author’s job.

5. Once established in the field, ghostwriting can be lucrative. According to Fast Company, less experienced ghostwriters can earn $20,000 to $30,000 per project while intermediate level writers can earn more than $50,000. Once established, early assignments can lead to bigger and better paying ghostwriting gigs.

Cons

1. Ghostwriting is a competitive field. There are few opportunities available, and few of them are openly advertised on job boards. Assignment lead can be difficult to find and it can be painstakingly slow to develop contacts to find potential leads. Patience and persistence are needed to find that first assignment.

2. You have to give up a byline. Your name usually does not appear on the finished product. You do all the work but not the credit, though you do get paid.

3. You have to work for someone else. That person makes the decisions, which you may not agree with. You have to set aside your ego to work with them, and you will have little control over the project outcome.

4. There may be strict deadlines and fast turnaround times. According to CareerMetris.com, you might be required to work longer hours to meet a deadline because the author wants to publish a book to respond to current events.

5. The work may not be very interesting. Despite the fact that ghostwriters might cover a myriad of topics, you may find those topics boring or beyond your expertise.

Before specializing as a ghostwriter, consider the pros and cons. Which of these conditions can you live with, and which of them are deal breakers?

It might be helpful to talk to a few established ghostwriters to learn about their experience. Check out the Association of Ghostwriters to learn more about this niche.  

Despite the potential downsides, ghostwriting for others can be a satisfying way to earn an income while pursuing your own passions.


Six Ways to Develop Great Listening Skills

woman in teal dress shirt sits near wall
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As communicators, you would think good listening skills come naturally to us, just like breathing or swallowing. But just because we were born with two ears doesn’t mean we listen well to others.

Research shows that people spend 53 percent of their daily communications activities on listening compared to 17 percent for reading, 16 percent for speaking and 14 percent for writing. Yet the average listener retains only half of the information they heard immediately after hearing it, and only one-fourth of the information after 48 hours. We must all learn to listen, not out of a need to memorize, but to comprehend. That takes practice and patience.

Most people assume that good listening involves three things:

* Not talking while the other person is speaking
* Using facial expressions and verbal sounds (Hmmm-hmmm) to let others know you’re listening
* Repeating back what you’ve just heard from the speaker

This three-pronged approach called active listening has been taught for decades. But good listening is more than this, say leadership consultants Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman in Harvard Business Review.

We’re not sponges soaking up every concept, Zenger and Folkman say. Rather good listening works like a trampoline where there’s a bounce back effect. Speakers and listeners bounce ideas off one another to amplify, energize and clarify thinking.

Zenger and Folkman say great listeners do the following:

* Ask questions to gain better insight. Sitting in silence with an occasional nod of the head does nothing to confirm to the speaker that you understand what was said. Asking questions signals to the speaker that you desire to learn more.

* Make the speaker feel supported. Great listeners make interactions a positive experience for the other party, which doesn’t happen if a listener is passive, or worse, critical. This supportive environment is characterized by creating a safe environment in which issues and differences of opinion can be discussed openly and freely.

* Create a cooperative environment for conversation. Feedback flows freely in all directions. Neither party gets defensive about comments. By comparison, poor listeners are perceived as competitive; they listen only to identify errors in judgment, reasoning or logic.

* Make suggestions and provide feedback. Good listeners may challenge assumptions and disagree, but they do so with the intent to help the other party, not hurt them or win an argument.

So how do good communicators develop better listening skills? Here are a few tips from Fast Company.

1. Be present. You can be sitting in the first row staring up at the speaker, but your mind can be a million miles away writing your marketing plan in your head. Though your body is in place, your attention is not. Learn to be present in the moment. Give the speaker your undivided attention, no matter how boring their presentation may be. Avoid distractions – put away the phone, put down your pen, shut off the laptop. If you notice your mind wandering, bring it back to the present.

If that doesn’t work, imagine if the roles were reversed. If you were speaking, wouldn’t you want people to give their undivided attention to you? Of course, you would. With that in mind, be fully present wherever you are.

2. Listen to learn. Be curious. Communicators by nature are curious people, so this should not be an issue. Nevertheless, listen to gain better understanding. Don’t just listen out of politeness or because you’re supposed to. Listening out of politeness doesn’t help you gain a better understanding of the other party’s meaning.

3. Set aside your personal agenda. We each have our reasons for participating in the conversation or want to achieve something from it. Maybe it’s to ask for their help on a project or persuade a different outcome on a decision. Whatever it is, that’s your own personal agenda. “When you think of your own agenda, you shut off the opportunity to truly listen and learn something from the other person,” says Hal Gregerson of MIT Leadership Center, interviewed for the Fast Company story. “It’s important to be open to new information that you’re not looking for but need to hear.”

4. Ask questions. Listening well and asking questions shows a willingness on your part to being proven wrong, whether it’s misinformation or an assumption about something. Asking questions shows your interest in the speaker and what they have to say. It also creates a safe space to have an open discussion. Asking questions helps you learn more from the speaker and shows you are engaged in the conversation.

5. Wait to respond. Like waiting for a stoplight to change from red to green, great listeners need to sense when it’s a good time to respond and when they need to hold their tongue. One of the most difficult aspects of listening effectively is waiting for that natural pause at the end of the sentence where listeners can ask questions or offer a rebuttal. Patience is key, and poor listeners aren’t very patient. When you begin to form a reply before the speaker has finished speaking, you communicate to others that your opinion is more important than theirs. Great listeners suspend their judgment and wait for the right moment to engage in conversation.

6. Repeat back what you heard. Not sure if what you heard was accurate? Need clarification? Repeat the speaker’s words. For example, “Let me get this straight. You believe all education should be free to students? Why?” Repeating back is a technique that’s been around for decades. Management experts says it’s a proven technique that defuses arguments because it slows down the pace of conversation. Repeating back encourages further discussion and gives speakers and listeners a chance to clarify and gain better understanding.

Great listeners are not born. But with proper training, practice and patience, good communicators can become great listeners.

Finding Your Most Productive Hours of the Day – and Making the Most of Them

tiger

Have you ever gone to the zoo and observed the lions in their den? Or watch your cat, if you have one? Note how much they sleep during the day. Those lazy interludes are usually followed by short bursts of activity where they play, hunt for food, groom themselves and chase after their prey.

It may seem like they are lazy, for all the sleeping they do, but they are behaving according to their natural instincts. They have their own internal alarm clocks that dictate when it’s time to eat, when it’s time to hunt for food and when to sleep. The time when they are at rest is when they conserve energy for when they need it most later.

As animals of the human kind, we too have internal alarm clocks that go off when it’s time to eat, sleep, play and work. If we paid more attention to our internal clocks, could we too maximize our time for better productivity?

Recent studies find that for many high-level executives and top producing professionals, early morning hours may be the most productive hour of the day. By getting up at 4 a.m. or even 5 a.m., the theory goes, you can use the time to catch up on emails, read, exercise, study for a class, or write posts for your blog. At that hour of the day, it’s quiet and there are less distractions to interrupt the flow of work and creative thinking.

But just because you rise at 4 a.m. doesn’t mean it’s the most productive time of day for you. But for many of us, 4 am is just too early to start doing anything other than sleep, unless you are a cat scrounging around for its next meal. But I believe we all have a few hours each day in which we are at our most productive. Our energy levels reach peak levels and we feel recharged and ready to tackle our work for the day. But knowing which hours are the most productive for us may be tricky, and those hours are not the same for everyone.

A recent article in Fast Company outlines a few ways we can determine our peak performance hours.

1) Ask colleagues, friends and workmates to observe your work habits for a few days or a week. What do they notice? Some workers dive in to projects first thing in the morning, while others get cranky if they get a project handed to them at 4 p.m.

2) Monitor your own performance peaks. This may be difficult for some to do because it requires you to be mindful of your habits. But if you pay attention to your energy levels and note when they are at their peak and when they are at their lowest, you can quickly determine which hours may be most productive for you.

3) Track your time (and your feelings). Using a sheet of paper, jot down how you spent your day, from checking your social media to taking bathroom breaks. Try this for at least three days in a row to get a true picture of your work habits. Next to each activity, note how you felt as you were doing them. Did you feel yourself in a “zen” moment where you lost track of time, or were you ready to take a nap? Be honest with yourself. Especially pay attention to those zen periods, which proves that the work you were doing then and the time of day were aligned.

Once you figure out those productive hours, set aside those hours to focus on your toughest project, make your calls, and do you most creative problem-solving. By tapping into that productive time slot, you’ll likely get more work done with less hassle and better results.