I ghostwrite a lot of thrillers for my valued clients. (Surprised? Don’t be!) Naturally they often ask questions about the writing process and the relative importance of various elements including character development.
My fiction clients often ask me if I think their novel could be a success, or even a best seller. My answer is that once you reach a certain minimum level of professionalism in your writing – which takes some work! – then it all depends on your story and if it resonates with readers. Or more specifically, with many readers who otherwise would have no reason to read your book. That is, people who aren’t your friends and family.
It really does depend on your story. Take, for example, genre fiction, and specifically romance novels or their various subcategories of romance mystery, romance thriller, western romance, and so forth. The authors and publishers who produce these books, which are highly profitable, have an advantage because they know their audience and can give them what they want. The plot lines are standardized, the protagonists of a type, the locations familiar (or exotic, if that’s the subgenre), and the sex scenes carefully calibrated to fall within a range between “mild” and “scorching.” The book covers are very carefully designed to show two people in a physical or romantic relationship (depending on the level of heat), and to give the reader sufficient clues about what to expect. Often the faces aren’t fully shown, which allows the reader to imagine being in the scene.
Once the basic requirements have been met, all that’s left is to deliver the goods. It’s almost like filling in the blanks.
This is why authors of literary novels often tear out their hair when reading a genre novel. “The writing is terrible!” they cry. “The author of this book breaks every basic rule of good fiction writing! How can they get away with it?”
It’s true. If you flip through the pages of a genre novel, you’ll see many writing sins. These include boring “information dumps,” where the author will introduce a character (using many adjectives) and then immediately spend the next few paragraphs telling us about the character – where she worked, why she didn’t have a boyfriend, and how her mother was lingering near death in a lonely rest home. This is meant to help us “get to know” the character. It’s very bluntly done, and most writing teachers will tell you it’s a terrible habit to get into. But it’s part of the genre.
The bottom line is this: the books that sell are the ones that are well written within the limits of the genre and which connect with the reader.
- Thomas Hauck is a published author and professional ghostwriter.
I don’t post many client testimonials because when I see them presented on other sites they often seem facile and, well, untrustworthy. But recently an Upwork client posted a five-star review of my services that went above and beyond what I ever expected. Here it is:
“Thomas was an absolute superstar editor and delivered on everything he promised and MORE. He was extremely professional – communicating quickly and often, sticking to deadlines and writing chapter summaries of the key things he had edited. He even went a step further and fact-checked our content without being asked and picked up on some pretty serious inconsistencies that our previous editor hadn’t even noticed! Additionally, he also helped write our contents page and adapted our book structure and added in subtitles where necessary so the chapters had a real sense of consistency. He added so much value to our book and I would 100% use him again in a heartbeat! So – if you are looking for an editor, look no further because THOMAS IS YOUR MAN. Thanks for your all your help – have saved you as a favourite freelancer!”
You can see it on Upwork here.
I’m so very fortunate to have so many wonderful clients!
- Thomas Hauck is a professional author, ghostwriter, and book editor.
On the job site Upwork, I recently saw a job posting by a gentleman from France. As part of the qualifications to bid on his book project – which he did not describe in any detail – he wanted all bidders to take the Upwork “English sentence structure” test.
I also noticed that he had only five bidders for his project. Normally, book editing jobs attract up to fifty bids.
I wrote him this note:
“I’ve noticed that you have very few responses to your project posting. Most similar jobs have from twenty to fifty bids. Perhaps this is because most professional editors – like me – don’t think that particular Upwork test is relevant to real-world job success. I looked at the first few questions, and they were highly academic. They want you to be able to identify the various parts of sentences. While this skill is of theoretical interest, it has very little to do with the art of book editing. You want an editor who can help you engage, captivate, and even thrill your reader.
“May I ask you the subject or genre of your book? Is it a novel? A self-help book? A business book? This is an important question. Every book is different, and every genre has its own style and attributes. What works in a novel may not work in a business book. Even the use of grammar can be different across genres.
“You may be worried that if English is your second language, you may not be able to differentiate good editing from bad editing. I understand this. But In the USA we don’t have an equivalent of the Académie française. There is no judging body of language or grammar. There is only the requirement that you communicate with your readers, no matter if they are kids in farm country or CEOs on Wall Street.”
In a novel, you can break the established rules of grammar as much as you like – as long as you know what you’re doing! This is particularly true of what a grammarian would consider an incomplete sentence – one without a verb or a subject. Such as, “He stood in the rain. Freezing, alone. His mind dull. Devoid of rational thought. The cruel sky, black, brooding.” Etc. You get the idea! The bottom line is always communication.
• Thomas Hauck, editor and ghostwriter, serves independent emerging authors and major New York publishers.
One of the features of the English language is a built-in level of redundancy within a certain set of commonly used symbols. While this redundancy provides the writer with choices, it can also make for confusion and, at least among editors, arguments about whether you can use a symbol to express an idea or whether you should write it out using the twenty-six (or 26) letters of the alphabet.
Here are some common examples of our language giving the writer a choice between using a “shorthand” symbol or writing out an idea:
1 = one
15 = fifteen
2,500 = two thousand five hundred
& = and
% = percent
$ = dollar(s)
@ = at the rate of, or at a particular digital address
# = number, as in the quantity of something, or a list number
+ = plus
Numbers have long been a source of contention among editors. In my experience as a ghostwriter of books ranging from novels to self-help books to business books, I’ve found that when the book is “literary,” such as a novel or memoir, the convention is to spell out every number, with some exceptions as noted by the Chicago Manual of Style. These exceptions include street addresses, phone numbers, and the time of day (sometimes). In a novel, for example, you would always write out something like, “The castle was one thousand five hundred years old.” You would never write, “The castle was 1,500 years old.”
At the other end of the spectrum, for non-literary business books, the use of symbols is expected. For example, you would write, “The company shipped 45 units of the product every hour at a price of $56.00 per unit, with a defect rate of less than 1%.” You can violate one of the most ironclad rules of literary writing, which is to never end a sentence with the “%” symbol. You must always write, “…with a defect rate of less than one percent.”
The Challenge of Writing Business Books
In a narrative business book, things can get really confusing! There will be times when a number or symbol will appear in a narrative paragraph, and its use seems odd. For example, “The Ajax Company manufactures a complete line of household goods ranging from dishwashers to can openers. They ship to every continent on the globe, and their customer service center in Boise, Idaho is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.”
Because the paragraph is narrative, it seems wrong to use the numbers 24 and 7. It looks like commercial copy, not like a book. You want it to read, “… their customer service center in Boise, Idaho is open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.”
But in the next paragraph, you present a lot of data: “In 2018, the Ajax Company achieved an ROI of 8% on sales of $8 million, with an EBITDA of $580,000, putting the company, with its workforce of 1,200 employees, in the top 10% of the white goods market in the four-state region.”
Note that we wrote “four-state region” rather than “4-state region.” This is because the convention is to write out numbers ten and below – except when you’ve got a string of numbers:
“On Tuesday, Ajax shipped 75 washers, 60 dryers, 14 home freezers, and 6 walk-in freezers.” You could write out “six walk-in freezers,” but if a business person is glancing at the row of numbers, it might make more sense to keep them uniform.
Businesspeople also love to use symbols such as # and &. For lists in column form, the pound sign makes sense:
But in a narrative, always write out the word “number.” Such as, “Ajax aims to be number one in its market.”
As for the ampersand, I never use it unless it’s part of a company or law firm name, and it appears on their company documents. Examples include The Procter & Gamble Co. (P&G) and the law firm Kirkland & Ellis.
As a writer, always strive for consistency and clarity, and keep in mind the expectations of your reader!
- Thomas Hauck is a professional author, ghostwriter, and book editor serving global clients.
Congratulations to my valued client Al Diaz on the publication of his new book “Mastering the Habits of Continuous Improvement.” Rooted firmly in the industrial principles of Deming, Shewhart, Juran, McGregor, Ohno, Shingo, Pareto, Ishikawa, Rother, Sutherland, and Schwaber, this incisive and information-packed book was written for organizational production leaders to help them reduce or stop the interruptions in their time and focus their team like a laser on delivering predictable, reproducible outcomes each and every time.
This compact book shows managers how to practice and master the core mindsets, habits, and principles that will lead them and their team from sitting on the sidelines to making a difference in the gemba. (Within a lean context, the Japanese word “gemba” refers to the location where value is created.)
Over the last twenty-five years, Al Diaz has coached or trained thousands of students in Lean, Six Sigma, Lean IT, Kanban, Scrum, Scaled Agile, Project Management, and Software. As a program manager, speaker, mentor, author, and coach, Al has served top software and technology companies including Hewlett Packard Enterprise.
By following the advice in “Mastering the Habits of Continuous Improvement,” with step-by-step improvements you can bring your manufacturing processes to their highest level and ensure you stay well ahead of the competition.
- With the highest level of personal service, Thomas Hauck helps emerging and veteran authors write, edit, and publish their books.
I do a lot of book editing for my clients. Typically, my job is to clean up the text and make the emotions more vivid or (in the case of business books) the arguments more persuasive. I help my authors organize their thoughts and connect with their readers.
A common problem I encounter is wordiness. Too many extraneous and useless words, used to present the same idea over and over again, will create a soggy, leaden text that quickly becomes boring. If done to excess, all those extra words start to look like filler the author shoveled into the text to boost the word count.
Here’s an example of an unedited paragraph about the responsibilities of a nonprofit board of directors (not an actual client sample – I’ve written this for this post):
“The primary responsibility that the board of directors faces when they collectively go about their business of guiding the nonprofit through its daily operations can be summed up in just a few words. Without oversimplifying too much, it’s safe to say that the typical nonprofit board, in the course of their appointed duties as overseers of the 501 (c)(3) charitable organization, has an important task. In general, you can assert that it is governance rather than management that is their calling; and while some experts may disagree, we can safely say that in the majority of cases of nonprofit boards of directors, this is the path they take. Governance is what the board should occupy itself with, rather than management, because this is what a board is for, and it’s unwise to stray from its most important function and mission.”
It’s a perfectly acceptable paragraph – Grammarly found nothing wrong with it! But it’s deadly dull and stupefyingly uninformative. It takes up space while delivering scant nutrition.
Here’s the same paragraph reduced to its essence:
“The nonprofit board of directors must always concern itself not with the day-to-day management of the organization but with governance.”
This is what the reader needs to know. All the other verbiage was useless. Remember: Never use ten words when one will do!
- Thomas Hauck is a professional ghostwriter and book editor serving global clients and major publishing houses.
I’m not being crass. I give that answer because novels are highly subjective works of art. A novel can always be improved. Authors often spend years writing and re-writing before they are satisfied. For this reason, it’s very hard to say when a novel is “finished.” It’s only finished when you’re tired of it and want to get it off your desk!
Think of it in terms of an automobile. Some books are like little Fiats – basic transportation. Other books are like BMWs – better and more costly. Still others are like Ferraris – supercars that everyone wants. Many books begin as a Fiat. It will get you where you want to go, but it’s not going to win any awards. Could it become a BMW or even a Ferrari? It could, if the author works very hard and learns more and more about how to write novels and keeps making it better and better. The number one thing a writer must do is read lots of the best novels in their genre and analyze them and try to make theirs match them.
Having said that, often the best and most fair way for my client and I to proceed is for my client to hire me for one workday and let me edit as much as I can in that one day. I’ll get as much done as I can on a portion of the manuscript. Does this mean the part I’ve edited could not be even better? No! Even a Ferrari can be made better. Any book can be made better.
If my valued client believes he or she got what they wanted for one day, then they can hire me again. If not, then at least they’ll have an improved book and they haven’t lost much.
That’s my very best advice.
– Thomas Hauck is a professional book editor and ghostwriter.
Some of the greatest business books are fables set in the animal kingdom. This is because fables give the author great flexibility to distill a story down to its essence and make it universal. “The Path to Leadership: An Amazing Story of Challenges and Personal Growth“ by Ronnell D. Crittenden introduces us to Maximus, a young lion who’s just been passed over as the new leader of the pride. Dejected, he goes to sulk under a tree. He’s roused from his melancholy stupor by Busy Beetle, who gives him a fierce pinch and tells him to get out of the way because he’s blocking his burrow. Impressed by the forthright attitude of the diminutive bug, Maximus confides in his new friend. Busy Beetle tells the lion to journey across the desert to find Ancient Raven, who will give him leadership advice.
A Book With Many Lessons
An exciting and arduous journey unfolds, and as you might imagine, by the time Maximus finds Ancient Raven…. well, I won’t give away too much of the plot. Let’s just say that this book is packed with solid leadership lessons that will benefit anyone in any position – solo entrepreneur or CEO of a big corporation.
The author, Ronnell D. Crittenden, is the founder of BridgeView Equity Partners LLC. Ronnell’s commitment to lifelong learning led him to the University of Oxford-Said Business School, where he completed the Oxford Private Equity Program and Oxford Chicago Valuation Program from 2016-2017. Ronnell continued his studies at Harvard University-Harvard Law School and completed the Program on Negotiation in 2017. He also happens to be an amazingly wonderful and nice person. Buy this book…. you’ll love it!
- Thomas Hauck is a leading independent ghostwriter and book editor.
Success is a very simple three-step process! As my valued client Jamar J. Hébert reveals in his powerful new book, “Dream It. Plan It. Do It.: A Personal GPS for Everyday People in Pursuit of Extraordinary Dreams,” the path to success is not complicated. But as he points out, too often the day-to-day burdens of life can weigh us down and prevent us from seeing clearly. We end up staying stuck in the mud, unable to move forward.
We often allow regret to hold us back, or we feel guilty, or like we don’t deserve to succeed. But we all have dreams, don’t we? What if we held onto our dreams, then planned how to make them come true, and then acted on our plans?
Jamar Hébert is an entrepreneur and founder/CEO of J. Hébert Companies, LLC, a business development and marketing firm that focuses on increasing customer satisfaction by incorporating new and traditional trends. In “Dream It. Plan It. Do It.,” he has designed a comprehensive roadmap for discovering and pursuing your purpose by creating easy-to-follow exercises to help you identify your interests, passions, talents and skills; make a plan; and then work your dream to make it come true!
- Thomas Hauck is a professional author, ghostwriter, and book editor.