This past week, I’ve started pitching daily again. I’ve got two major projects wrapping up in April, and I’m starting to get a little panicky about May because of it. I probably should have gotten back into the daily pitches at the beginning of April, but hey, hindsight is 20/20 as they say. I’m feeling pretty good right this moment, though, because one of my pitches paid off quickly and in a big way. I’ve gotten some serious interest from a book packager in New York who needs to outsource self-help book ghostwriting work.
(Don’t know what a book packager is? You can read a brief description in 10 Things You May Not Know About Ghostwriting. I’m also planning to do a post dedicated to them either next week or the week after.)
Now, I don’t have an actual project in hand just yet, but getting the response is a step in the right direction. I’m on their list of potential ghostwriters now! (Pardon me while I do another victory skip.) But things could have taken a drearier turn if I had let the old, anxious, insecure Hannah come out to play when I got that first email back. Instead, confident business owner Hannah who knows she’s a badass writer with lots to offer took over the keyboard, and she’s the reason my name is on that list.
Let me explain.
Instead of a traditional pitch, I sent a letter of introduction (LOI), as is standard when dealing with book packagers. This is because, when you’re approaching a book packager, you are usually just trying to get on that list of potential writers. When a new book project comes through, the packager goes through his or her list of known writers and tries to figure out who would be the best fit. Sometimes if there’s nobody perfect for a project on that list, the packager will put up a job ad asking for a ghostwriter, and if you’re responding to one of those, you’ll want a more traditional pitch/proposal.
(I’ve written about cold pitching and responding to job ads in the past. If you want to learn more about that, check out How to Make Yourself a Hot Commodity)
An LOI isn’t too far off from a pitch, but it isn’t as short and snappy. Whereas, in a cold pitch, you’re trying to quickly convince the client of why they need your services and why you’re the best person to deliver those services, with the end goal of getting them to respond to you for more info, an LOI is more like a mini portfolio. Just like in a pitch, you are trying to convince the packager why you’re a good fit for their team, but you don’t really need to be convincing them of the importance of your services. They know they need ghostwriters. What they want to know is why they would ever want to select you for their projects. So, an LOI is a bit heavier with the accolades and past experience. You want to go heavier on the background information than in a pitch. List which genres you specialize in (only the ones that also match the packager’s specialties), what kind of projects you’ve already worked on, any successes those past projects have achieved, etc. The opening of an LOI is a little different, too. In a cold pitch, you usually lead by talking about the client’s business/book project and asking them if they’ve ever thought of hiring a ghostwriter because of A, B, and C. In an LOI, it’s a casual introduction. My LOI template opener goes something like, “I recently [visited your website/found your listing on ____] and am writing to introduce myself in case you’re currently looking for freelance authors/writers for your book packaging division. I’m an author, ghostwriter, and collaborator who specializes in how-to/self-help, YA history, fantasy, and mystery manuscripts.” It’s a lot less snazzy. It’s a gentle nudge—a casual handshake, if you will.
Anyway, I finished up my LOIs around 10 p.m. (I like to do my pitching after dinner and possibly a few video games, and I’ve usually got the TV on as background noise). I’ve just recently started pitching packagers, but from my little bit of experience, they don’t usually respond right away. In fact, some of them (usually the ones with a submission portal built into the site and that want you to provide ten pages of writing samples) say to expect a wait time of a month or two. When I got up the next morning, though, I had a response from one of them already. I could see the first sentence on the little preview window on my phone, and my heart started galloping. I saw the words “I’m very interested.” Holy shit! I opened it up, read it three times, and started to panic. It was all very positive, but my eyes kept finding the last line, where an ugly little question mark was mocking me. “Do you have any experience crafting proposals?”
If a packager is hired by an individual and not a publisher for a book project, and that client wants to go the traditional publishing route, a proposal is the first thing the ghostwriter is hired for. That proposal is then shopped out to publishers, and if it gets picked up, the ghost who wrote the proposal is hired to write the whole manuscript (usually). I know what a proposal is, but I’ve never actually written one, because all of my ghostwriting clients so far have decided to self-publish.
A year ago, I would have turned into a puddle. “Why did I even do this?” “What the hell am I supposed to say?” “Oh well, I tried.”
Not today, pal. Okay, well, I almost did this, but I stopped myself. I skimmed back over my LOI. There was a lot of good stuff in there. “Yeah …” a little voice said somewhere in the back of my head, “I did all that, didn’t I? I’m a boss ass bitch.” So what if I’ve never written a proposal? I know what they are. Hell, I know everything that should be included in them. I can’t help it that none of my former clients needed one. What I can control is how I respond. A year ago, I would have said something like, “I haven’t ever written a proposal, but I’m willing to learn.” Meh. If I’m that packager, I decide right then that I’d rather add somebody who has proposal experience to my list. Boss ass bitch Hannah, though, she came prepared. Here’s what I sent back in response:
“Thank you for getting back to me. I would love to be of service with any future self-help writing work. My previous clients have chosen the self-publishing route, so proposals were not crafted, but I am familiar with proposals and their important function in traditional publishing. I’m a fast, eager study, and I take direction well, so I am confident I could pick up the craft quickly. I make it a point to understand my clients and the goals of their manuscripts before any writing is done, so translating that into a proposal will come naturally.”
Boom, baby! Confidence. Don’t just say, “No, sorry. But I can do it if you teach me.” I wanted to explain why I hadn’t written a proposal without it sounding like an excuse. Syntax is key there. I also strung my explanation together with a sentence explaining that I am still familiar with proposals, even if I haven’t had to write one for a client. I didn’t want to just leave it at that, though. I wanted to let him know that I was willing to take direction and turn my general knowledge into effective experience, and I’m willing to take guidance to do so. But I made it a point not to say, “I think” or “I believe,” when I was saying all that. Both those phrases sound way too much like maybe. “I could maybe do it if you hold my hand and tell me what to do.” That’s not very appealing to someone who’s super busy managing multiple clients, ghosts, editors, and printers on a daily basis. I don’t think I could pick up the craft of proposal writing quickly, “I am confident I could.” Why? Well, because a proposal’s main function is to highlight the author’s platform, the goals of their book, and its appeal to its target audience. As a ghost, I seek to know all of those things before I get into a project. That’s part of the job. I already get that information from clients anyway, so why couldn’t I turn that into a proposal? I don’t think it will come naturally, “it will come naturally.” See the difference?
My packager contact did. He didn’t say, “Well, we really need someone with proposal experience. Thank you for reaching out anyway.” No, he explained a little more about what a project with his company would entail and then said, “Let’s stay in touch. The how-to and self-help market is among the strongest areas these days.” That’s exactly the response you’re looking for when you send an LOI. It’s not immediate gratification, but it’s a foot in the door. I got my high-heeled boot jammed firmly in that door because I was confident.
This applies to any new client interaction, whether it be a cold pitch, an LOI, an interview, or even how you present yourself on your website. When you’re building your career and your portfolio, you’re not going to have tons of experience in every aspect of your niche, and that’s okay. The question is, how are you ever going to get that experience if you curl up in the fetal position and give up every time you’re asked a question you don’t have the perfect answer to? You’re not.
I’m not entirely certain what it is about us writers, but we tend to be a rather timid bunch, at least when it comes to sticking up for ourselves. It’s an odd juxtaposition, because we are usually very vocal about the ideals, people, and things we care about in our lives and other people’s writing (I will fight you if you bad mouth Hermione Granger), and it comes through in our own writing, but very rarely does it come to our own defense out in the “real world.” That’s got to change.
Before you send your next pitch or LOI or whatever it is, look at all you’ve done so far and allow yourself to be proud of it. Just starting out? Don’t have any past projects to look back on? So what? You’re a writer. You’ve written something. Pull it out. Can it apply to the work you’ll be doing for the client? If yes, perfect, you’ve got your portfolio sample. If no, so what? Take an hour or two to write a blog post that relates. Don’t have a blog? Start one. Hell, pitch a guest blog post. You can do that, easy. Got a website? That’s sexy. Got some 9 to 5 job experience in a similar field? That’s super sexy. Got a degree? I’m drooling. No degree? No problem. You chose your niche because you like the subject/field, right? You’ve got something that relates. If you want to break into books, chances are you’ve started a novel and written some short stories. Not interested in books? You’ve taken some class, participated in some group or contest, whatever; you’ve got something that fits. Still convinced you don’t have samples? Make some. I’m not kidding. You want to write copy for health and fitness companies? Write a review of your favorite health bar or workout product (You can tell I’m super healthy and work out all the time, right? I’m being so specific). That client wants to see a sample? Boom, you’ve got one. So what if you didn’t get hired to write it? As long as you aren’t lying and saying you wrote it for such and such company or magazine, and you’re just presenting it as a sample of your writing style, you’re gold, Pony Boy (gold star if you get that reference).
Phew, I’m out of breath. My point is, heed the words Christopher Robin once said to my beloved friend, Winnie the Pooh. “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” You’ve got this. Now act like it, dammit!