I do almost everything on the internet these days, including meeting with clients, coaching, editing, researching, and reviewing drafts. Every meeting is a Zoom meeting. But I’ve learned the hard way that it’s best to kick off each ghostwriting project with an in-person meeting of at least half a day.
There are four types of goals you can accomplish much better and faster in person.
Making an impression
I want my author clients to get a clear impression of me. I want them to see that I am engaged with their content, ask probing questions, and listen — and that I am creative in figuring out the best ways to adapt my expertise and my methods to their needs. The impression I want to leave is this: “Smart, honest, direct, efficient, good sense of humor but serious about the work.”
This goes both ways, of course. I listen carefully to clients to understand what’s important to them and how they express themselves. What content points do they mention more than once? What language do they use to describe their concepts? What are they confident about, and what are they nervous about? Do they express themselves verbally in a clearly organized way, or do they focus on stories and try to draw pictures?
While our interactions tend to be about content and process, there is always a meta-message about who we are. That type of impression is hard to create by video. Ideally, we should get to the end of the day and feel, “I could work effectively with this person.”
Nailing down content
I generally start with a brainstorm about ideas and titles. While I also do this sort of brainstorm as a standalone offering with authors who are writing their own books, in this case the brainstorm creates a foundation on which our whole shared experience will be built.
With sufficient time set aside, we can move on from the main idea to define an ordered set of chapters — a table of contents — using the reader question method. This is crucial for two reasons. First, it defines a series of general categories of content that I will have to assemble to create the book. And second, it conveniently breaks down the book task into subtasks — chapters — that we can get to work on.
I’ll often ask the author to deliver their standard talk or presentation on the book topic; they almost always have one. I listen carefully to this and ask a lot of questions to clarify the concepts.
This is also a great time to generate a list of case studies that the author has. Finding sufficient case studies and tracking them down is time-consuming, so it pays to raise this as an issue in our first meeting and get started on it.
Defining a process
Because we’re all together, this is the perfect time to work together to set expectations on how the writing will happen. What process will we use to gather information — will I interview the author or authors before each chapter, or will they share existing materials? What research will I do (and what research will they or their staff do for me)? Can I get them to review a fat outline before I write each chapter? How long will they take to review finished chapters?
There are always surprises when the collaboration actually begins. But by discussing process ahead of time, we can jointly set expectations, even if we have to adjust the process later.
Creating a relationship of mutual respect
I never start work like this on the basis of “I work for you, what do you want?” While I am a freelance resource, I’m not a slave or subordinate.
Instead, I communicate, “I am an expert creating a work to your specifications, let’s acknowledge each others’ time and skills and communicate respectfully.” I am the leader on process, and they are the leader on ideas; both of us are essential to the project’s success.
After a meeting like this, authors get a clearer idea of the amount of work they need to do along the way. At the same time I am showing that they can be confident with me, I am also demonstrating the level of contribution they must make for the project to succeed.
Since many of the clients are CEOs or senior executives, this can be a challenge. If we can establish a relationship of mutual respect, I will work diligently and skillfully as hard as is necessary to accurately represent the author’s vision. That relationship begins at the in-person kickoff.
One meeting is all that’s necessary
In my most successful business ghostwriting projects, I never needed another in-person meeting. We built a strong foundation in one day, and then met regularly — often weekly — to generate content, review drafts, and align ourselves around schedules.
Treating the author’s time respectfully means making the most of this kickoff meeting. It sets the direction for everything that follows. Assuming the author has a strong idea and the writer excellent skills, the kickoff sets us all moving in the right direction. That’s an investment that pays off in both efficiency and quality as we turn an idea into a book.