My valued clients hire me because of my expertise as a ghostwriter and book editor. They value my opinion and experience, and depend on me to tell them the truth, at least as I see it.
But some writers don’t want to hear it!
I recently provided a free test edit of the first 1,000 words of a chapter written by a prospective client. This is something I do routinely. This was a book about improving your performance in business, and the chapter was about the importance of body language. The writer’s chapter began with a two-page description of the author watching old films of Michael Jordan playing basketball. The films were from the height of Jordan’s career in the 1980s. According to the writer, you could learn a lot about body language by watching how Michael Jordan interacted with his teammates over the years.
This case study seemed far-fetched to me. It seemed to me that the writer (a man in his thirties) was enamored of “superstars” and the NBA, and while to him the body language of Michael Jordan was endlessly fascinating, I provided a rather blunt assessment, and advised him to cut the MJ section altogether. I wrote:
“On the development side, I must tell you honestly that in my opinion the Michael Jordan case study is not helpful and should be cut. These are the reasons:
1. This happened in the 1980s. It’s ancient history. Many readers don’t know and don’t care about Michael Jordan.
2. Many of your readers will be women and others who don’t care about basketball. To them, it’s boring. The only sports metaphor you should ever consider using is NFL football, which has the widest appeal.
3. As a reader, I want information that helps me solve my problem. This story doesn’t help me. It’s just not relevant. Of course MJ went from a gawky kid, eager to please, to being a confident star. It may be an interesting journey to watch, but it’s not moving me forward.”
I see this quite often: Men who write business books and who forget, or don’t realize, that young women constitute a rapidly growing segment of the business population. You cannot write a business book today without considering that a large part of your potential audience includes nontraditional people (i.e., non white straight males) who are just as ambitious and hardworking as anyone. And think of this: I’m sixty years old, and if I think references to Michael Jordan are boring and dated, then what’s a twenty-five-year-old going to think?
Anyway, the writer didn’t hire me. I think he talked to another editor who flattered him by telling him that his Michael Jordan story was brilliant. And for a few people, it might have been. This is a very subjective business. However, I will never flatter a client just to get their business. My job is to provide the best possible advice, which does not mean “take the money and run.” My clients deserve better than that!