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Dan Gerstein’s Gotham Ghostwriters Lends An Invisible Hand: Creating Better Books Podcast With Howard Lovy

Dan Gerstein’s Gotham Ghostwriters Lends an Invisible Hand: Creating Better Books Podcast with Howard Lovy

In the latest episode of the Creating Better Books podcast, ALLi News and Podcast Producer Howard Lovy interviews Dan Gerstein, CEO of Gotham Ghostwriters. Dan discusses the different forms of ghostwriting available to authors, from books to speeches, and how these services can fit various budgets and needs. The conversation also touches on the growing demand for ghostwriting in areas like business and memoirs, reflecting on how this trend is shaping the publishing industry.

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Listen to the Podcast: Dan Gerstein of Gotham Ghostwriters

On the Creating Better Books podcast, @howard_lovy interviews @dangerstein, whose @GothamGhosts lends an invisible hand to authors. Click To Tweet

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About the Host

Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than 35 years, and now amplifies the voices of independent author-publishers and works with authors as a developmental editor. Find Howard at howardlovy.comLinkedIn, and X.

Read the Transcripts: Dan Gerstein of Gotham Ghostwriters

Howard Lovy: My guest is Dan Gerstein, CEO of Gotham Ghostwriters, and no, it's not a Batman archvillain. Gotham Ghostwriters does exactly what its name implies.

Hello and welcome to the show, Dan.

Dan Gerstein: Thanks for having me, Howard. We are big fans of ALLi here at Gotham Ghostwriters and the indie author community movement. So, glad to be here.

Howard Lovy: Wonderful. First, before we get into what Gotham Ghostwriters does, tell me more about your background and how you got involved in ghost-writing.

Dan Gerstein: Sure. So, I have been writing professionally, technically since I was in high school. I was, in essence, a glorified copy boy at the Sports Department of The Hartford Current, and then during college I was a stringer for them and then got hired to be a sports reporter out of college.

Then I moved on to become a speech writer on Capitol Hill, and that was my first introduction to ghost writing, because in our world, we think of ghost writing as any form of writing for hire or collaborative writing, and I {inaudible} speech writing under that umbrella, and I learned a ton from that experience, and then ended up having a long run as a communications advisor, policy advisor, as well as a speech writer.

In 2004, reached my limit, got a little burned out, so I ended up moving to New York, and I started doing communications consulting. What started happening was my friends in PR and politics who knew that writing was a strength of mine would occasionally come to me in a panic and say, can you help us write the speech or write an op-ed, and I didn't have the time or, frankly, the inclination to do that at that stage of my career.

So as a favour, I would just introduce them to my other freelance writer friends. It took five to 10 minutes out of my day, no big deal. I'm a natural born connector, and most importantly, I liked being in a position to help my friends.

Didn't think anything of it until it kept happening more and more, and after about the 20th time it dawned on me, I'm preferring providing a service here, and maybe there was a business opportunity. There was clearly a demand for high level, specialized writing help, and there were all these terrific freelancers out there. What was missing was an efficient and effective mechanism to help demand find supply. So, that was the genesis of Gotham Ghostwriters.

What I came to appreciate was the typical communications agency model really wouldn't work here, where you hire a bunch of people and we're generalists and try to be all things to all people, and we would provide a much better solution if we moved in the direction that the internet was taking everything towards customization and specialization.

So, there was already this amazing talent pool of freelance book ghost writers and speech writers and thought leadership writers, but it was inaccessible to outsiders. So, what we aimed to do was to help organize and curate that network and play the role of matchmaker and be in a position, not just to help our clients find a good writer, but to be able to connect with a handful of writers that are custom matched to their needs and priorities, have experience in the format, some knowledge based on the subject matter. So, they can choose with confidence based on the intangible style, chemistry, taste, things like that.

We started about, let's see, about 15 years ago. I did it as an experiment for several years before really committing myself to it full time and ever since then, at our founding, we really started on the things I knew how to write, which was speeches and white papers and op-eds, but organically, people started coming to us to ghost-write books, and over time, that became the dominant part of the business. Today, we have a network now of more than 3,500 writers, editors, editorial consultants, and more than 80 percent of the projects we're working on at a given time are where we're helping people write and publish books.

Howard Lovy: That's great. I think these matchmaking services are wonderful. I'm, I belong to Reedsy. I'm one of the Reedsy editors, which is something similar, matching authors with editors. This sounds like the same kind of idea, but with ghost-writing.

Dan Gerstein: Oh, I would say there's a big difference. I'm very familiar with Reedsy. Reedsy is a bulletin board that provides a wider range of options to people, but what it can't do is think critically and strategically about making smart connections and playing that true role of matchmaker, and that's particularly important when it comes to ghost-writing, where there's a one-on-one relationship, whether it's with an author or speaker, and thinking about not just the resume and the credentials, the experience, but also style and how two different people will mesh and whether that relationship will work.

That is what I think is our secret sauce and what sets us apart in the marketplace.

Howard Lovy: I see. Okay, sorry, I didn't mean to mention your competition.

Dan Gerstein: It's a really, really good part of the conversation, and I don't mean to disparage Reedsy, and for many of the services in the publishing space, that Reedsy helps a lot of authors find really great partners. I would just say when it comes to the ghost-writing piece of it, where, again, the relationship and the connection and trust between the author and the collaborator really drives success to the relationship. Having an expert intermediary thinking about how those pieces fits together, I think is a real value add.

Howard Lovy: It takes a lot of trust to let somebody else be your voice.

Dan Gerstein: That's right.

Howard Lovy: So, tell me, what are the different kinds of ghost-writing? I guess it can be everything from a book to an article to, I don't know, a Bar Mitzvah speech. I mention that because I used to ghost-write all my brother's Bar Mitzvah speeches.

Dan Gerstein: Yes, and as a matter of fact, it is becoming so specialized. There are these niche services that help people write wedding tokens. There's ghost-writing for dating websites. There are people who specialize in ghost-writing novels. Wherever there is some kind of writing need, where people don't feel comfortable doing it on their own, the market has responded.

Again, this is a great example of the internet has revolutionized different industries and sub industries is through simple search or through dedicated platforms like Reedsy, it's so much easier to get access to really specialized talent than it ever was before, and I think that's great.

That means that more voices who are speaking in the marketplace or speaking on digital platforms now have resources available to them that they never did before.

Howard Lovy: This wouldn't be a podcast about writing in 2024 if I didn't ask about artificial intelligence, and that's just a standard question I ask of all my guests now.

Is this a potential competition? Does it enhance the process? How do you see that affecting your livelihood?

Dan Gerstein: It's a question I get asked a lot about, and here's our shameless plug, we're co-hosting the first ever convention of Ghostwriters on January 22nd in New York City, and we're going to have a panel of experts focused explicitly on this question of how AI will impact the work of ghost-writers and the profession writ large.

I'm really curious to see what will come out of that conversation.

Here are my impressions of how this is going to play out, which is, if you think about the editorial services marketplace, there's three tiers. This is a rough distillation, but there is the very basic copywriting, content marketing, basic blocking and tackling, where a lot of people will farm it out to freelancers that they find on Fiverr and Upwork. Many of whom do not live in the US and are willing to work at very cheap rates.

My suspicion is, as generative AI becomes adopted on a mass scale, that is going to decimate that marketplace. Those jobs, those gigs are going away because AI can do it for free and arguably more reliably, as well as more cheaply than the writers doing that work today.

The second tier where it's more sophisticated writing, but still short form, whether it's writing for brands or basic reporting of information, I think you're going to see a transformation of the role of the writer into synthesizer and editor, and where they're going to be leveraging AI, putting in the prompts, and then refining what comes out, fact checking it, harmonizing with the voice of the organization.

So, I would say, broadly speaking, it's not that those jobs are going to go away en masse. I think the role is going to shift, essentially over time.

Howard Lovy: Editing some of the garbage that AI spits out?

Dan Gerstein: That's right.

And then I think, at the elite levels, and particularly in the work that our writers do, whether it's writing books, writing speeches, white papers, reports, things like that. I tend to think, and maybe this is a little Pollyannish, but I tend to think it's going to actually be very beneficial to our industry for two reasons.

One is there is no way that the technology can replace or approximate what happens before the writing starts and when the biggest value adds, if not the biggest value add of working with the high level writing partner, is that creative dynamic and dialogue that happens before anything is ever written, about the conceptualization, about the framework, the stories you're going to tell. All that requires creativity and strategic thinking that you can't generate from a prompt.

Secondly, I think that's going to make book ghost-writers, speech writers, thought leadership writers, even more efficient in the work and then allow them therefore to take on more work and earn more money.

So, there are going to be some challenges and we're going to discuss that at the Gathering of the Ghosts convention, but overall, I think it's going to be a net positive for professional ghost-writers.

Howard Lovy: My limited experience with it is that ChatGPT is a lousy writer. Maybe I'm doing the wrong prompts, but also you mentioned some of the other tiers, the lower tier, I've hired designers, book cover designers whose English wasn't very good, and then suddenly I'm getting flowery prose from them, which I guess I don't mind. It's a way of communicating, but I could just tell it's ChatGPT. It's not them writing.

Most of those listening to the show are indie authors who come from a wide range of backgrounds and are often experts in the niche.

What does Gotham ghost-writers offer them, either whether they want to become a ghost-writer or something that could help them in their own work?

Dan Gerstein: To your first point, there are a lot of people entering the ghost-writing space, but there's such high demand for high level content. I think there are going to be opportunities for authors of all stripes to diversify their professional portfolio and their income by doing some ghost-writing work and leveraging their skills and help other people tell their stories. So, that's definitely one way.

Then secondly, leaving aside Gotham ghost-writers, but what can ghost-writers offer to indie authors?

I would say that the work of ghost-writing is beyond just writing a full manuscript, and we use this term as an umbrella term for collaborative writing. It covers everything from conceptualization to developmental editing, to book doctoring.

A number of the folks in our network have become experts at coaching authors, and so there are so many ways that indie authors, particularly those in the early stages of their career arc, maybe they're working on their first book, can leverage the resources of skilled editorial professionals without having to make the major investment you do to hire professional ghost-writers, to help them achieve the results that they're looking for.

Howard Lovy: Okay, are there a specific niches or genres in ghost-writing that are more, I guess, lucrative or in higher demand now?

Dan Gerstein: I would say we have a lot of data points to work from. I would say the three biggest demand areas are in business and general thought leadership, because there's such a premium on thought leadership in the business world, and to some degree also, the advocacy world, and a book is still the premier way to showcase your expertise and therefore get a credential that accelerates the process of building a platform and getting taken seriously. Secondly, memoir, different forms of narrative nonfiction from family histories, corporate histories, autobiographies, and to a large degree, I look at how social media has transformed publishing at large.

So many people now have the ability to tell their stories, and through these digital platforms, whether it's LinkedIn, Medium, things like that.

What that's led to is a democratization of publishing, and that concurrently with what your audience knows very well is that book publishing has similarly become democratized. It's so much easier to birth a book into the world than it ever has before, and that I think is a very constructive trend line. But as a result, that means more and more people are deciding to tell their personal or their family or their business story, without having to think about, can I sell this to a publisher? They have other means for doing it. Now they have the ability to do that.

Whether they're doing it, like a lot of indie authors doing it, where they're publishing literally as a DIY and really just having it there for their posterity or to share with friends or business associates, to those who want to use it as a way to inspire others and will publish with more premium hybrid publishers, and leverage the resources they have to get their book to reach a wider audience that traditional publishers typically do.

Howard Lovy: Is there a big cost barrier, though? As an editor, there are some people who are known politicians or sports figures or entertainment figures, who have the money to spend, but I get others who are, this is just an heirloom book for my kids and grandchildren. Are they priced out of the ghost-writing process?

Dan Gerstein: Are they priced out of the ghost-writing process? Not really. If you think about, again, working with a collaborator, there are different ways you can leverage the expertise and the skills of a professional writer/editor that don't involve paying them to write the entire book.

So, there are lots of different resources and options for authors to, again, benefit from working with a professional collaborator that don't get into the tens of thousands of dollars, and again, from our standpoint, that's great because it means that a lot of people are going to go ahead and write their book, and it means it's not a question of, should this book be in the marketplace, should it be published? Is this the best version of the author's voice that they'll feel proud to put their name on the book? And again, it's never been easier to do that because of the resources that are available to people.

But yes, if you want to engage a real professional ghost-writer, because either you don't have the time or the ability and/or the ability to write a full book on your own, I would say, again, if you're thinking about a standard business book or memoir and at least 40-50,000 words, you're going to have to spend at least $20,000-$25,000 to get a good return on your investment. And if people who are doing it for less, then you're running into kind of risky territory. You're going to get subpar, inferior quality products that you're not going to be proud to put your name on.

Howard Lovy: A lot of our listeners are not only authors, but they are one-person businesses, and I'm assuming running Gotham Ghostwriters must come with its own unique set of challenges.

What lessons have you learned that could be valuable to indie authors as they manage their own writing business?

Dan Gerstein: Wow, that's a great question.

I am an accidental entrepreneur. I never imagined I would be in this position. It's not something that plays to my strengths. What I've come to appreciate over time is what I am good at, what I'm not good at, what really engages me and what doesn't. Then to think about, okay, focus on the things that I do well, and then form partnerships with people who do the other things well, and then not think of it.

Again, because I think even if you're a one-person business to write, produce, publish a book, a lot of times you're going to need, or if at a minimum want some professional help to do things that you're not necessarily skilled at or comfortable doing. And I say this to our clients all the time, who may not be indie authors, but that writing a book is like launching a pop-up business where you're both the CEO and the product. Because for so many of our clients, their first goal isn't to sell a lot of books. It's to share their story, share their expertise, leverage the book as a marketing vehicle. Lots of different reasons to publish a book these days beyond selling it and making money.

In those cases, they have to think about it as, I'm putting this thing out into the world, how do I do it effectively? Again, if you don't have the time that a lot of indie authors are like, this is your profession, this is what you've dedicated your professional time to at the moment, then you're going to need some help.

And to think about, okay, what resources do I need, and then allocating a budget for those resources. Again, just like you said, some people can't afford a ghost-writer, but they can hire a skilled editor or coach to maybe help keep them on track and conceptualize the book, all that.

Other people are going to need help in terms of doing PR and marketing, and there are an amazing array of individual PR and marketing consultants that are now working with authors. So, that's probably the biggest lesson I've learned, is know what your strengths are and then hire for the things that are not.

Howard Lovy: So, how do you envision the future of ghost-writing and in general and also the future of your company? Is there anything that's evolving that's new?

Dan Gerstein: I would say two things are new. Again, one is the democratization of publishing has broken down these barriers to entry that now enable tens of thousands of people to write and publish books every year. I think that trend is going to continue to grow, and that's going to drive continued demand for professional editorial partners. Sometimes it's going to be ghost-writing, sometimes it's going to be developmental editing, book doctoring. There's a spectrum of ways to work with a professional editorial collaborator.

Then I also think that with AI, we're going to see the market flooded with content, and a lot of it is going to be very pedestrian. So, to stand out, just think about how much content there is now, with the AI, there's going to be a dramatic explosion in the sheer quantity of written content out there.

So, how do you stand out? A big way you're going to stand out is by working with a professional writer and/or editor to elevate the quality of what you're doing to write something that's really resonant and relevant.

So, to me, leaving aside my company, I've never been more bullish about the opportunities that are going to be there for people who are great writers.

Then you think about it generationally, Gen Z, pure digital natives being weaned on TikTok. This is anecdotal, but I've heard from a lot of my peers in PR agencies, communications agencies, working corporate communications, the writing skills of this generation as a whole are not very strong, and so I think that, again, is going to drive a lot of opportunity for others to fill that gap.

Howard Lovy: That makes me feel better. There's still room for human writers because that's what I do as well.

That's all I have. Is there anything else that you want to add about, about your company or ghost-writing in general?

Dan Gerstein: No, I think that the best message I can deliver to the indie author community is first of all, I really admire the combination of courage, grit, and hustle that so many indie authors have.

There are lots and lots of resources under the ghost-writing umbrella that you can tap into to help you, even if at a point where you're looking at some of these self-published authors who are becoming really notable for their sales and building big audiences, there's an opportunity to multiply and amplify the content you're putting out in the world by working with other writers.

Look at the James Patterson model. No one is complaining that when they buy a James Patterson book, they're not getting a James Patterson book, but he is working with a team of writers. He provides the vision and architecture for these books, but he relies on other writers to help expand the stories that he can tell under his brand.

I think that is an indicator of where the future lies, and we're going to see more and more of that, where authors, whether they're traditionally published or indie published, employing other writers under their vision to produce more and more books that their audience is demanding.

Howard Lovy: I like that. We're all in this together.

Dan Gerstein: Yes.

Howard Lovy: Yeah. Wonderful. Thank you, Dan. I appreciate you appearing on the Creating Better Books podcast, and we'll keep an eye out for future developments in ghost-writing.

Dan Gerstein: Thanks for having me, Howard, and appreciate the opportunity to partner with ALLi and wish you all well for the new year.

Howard Lovy: Wonderful. Thank you, Dan.

Author: Howard Lovy

Howard Lovy is a novelist, nonfiction author, developmental book editor, and journalist. He is also the news and podcast producer for the Alliance of Independent Authors. You can learn more about him at https://howardlovy.com/


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