Where walls are lined with shimmering new books…

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help other writers. Today I discuss an article written by William Novak…..

I’m always interested in the ego of writers. Thus, when I saw the headline in a New York Times article, “Writing Books Very Few Will Read,” I suspected it would capture me. It did.

Written by William Novak, the co-author of memoirs of Lee Iacocca, Magic Johnson, Oliver North and Nancy Reagan, the article reflects on his latest assignment: writing a private memoir for a prominent and philanthropic family.

What a job! It likely pays well. I have known ghost memoirists to make well over $100,000/book. (That said, 10 years ago, when Novak was a struggling writer, he earned $45,000 plus bonuses for Iacocca,  and never received a cent in royalties for the mega-bestseller.) But private books demand utmost secrecy. Here is how Novak describes the conundrum:

My phone doesn’t ring as often, and when it does, I can’t show my past work to potential clients because private books are, by definition, confidential. I don’t enjoy having little to say when somebody asks what I’m working on, and when I run into problems, there is no editor to consult with. I miss the advice and friendship of publishers, editors and publicists, and the simple thrill of walking into a publishing house, where the walls are lined with shimmering new books and the offices are filled with people who love them.

It intrigues me that many writers are willing to work for well less than minimum wage for the (unlikely) shot at fame that a book might provide. The same is true of actors and singers. For some, the issue is allegiance to their art. For many others, it’s the hope to secure bragging rights.

Even a pro like William Novak, who has helped author a large number of bestsellers, isn’t immune to this lure…