Telling your Story Through Ghostwriting with Gotham Ghostwriters’ Dan Gerstein

November 12, 2020

Ghostwriting to glory.

Dan Gerstein is the CEO and Founder of Gotham Ghostwriting Agency. 

Dan never expected himself to be an entrepreneur but after many years of working as a writer, he saw the need for an agency to match ghostwriters with politicians, celebrities and authors in need of speeches or books. Gotham Ghostwriting helps ghostwriters and entrepreneurs connect and benefit each other.

Listen in on Dan speak about how Gotham Ghostwriting began and more in this episode of The Thoughtful Entrepreneur above and don’t forget to subscribe on   Apple Podcasts – Stitcher – Spotify –Google Play –Castbox – TuneIn – RSS.

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0:00
Welcome to The Thoughtful Entrepreneur Show. I'm Josh Elledge, Founder and CEO of UpMyInfluence.com. We turn entrepreneurs into media celebrities, grow their authority, and help them build partnerships with top influencers. We believe that every person has a unique message that can positively impact the world. Stick around to the end of the show; we'll reveal how you can be our next guest on one of the fastest growing daily inspiration podcasts on the planet in 15 to 20 minutes. Let's go.

And with us right now, we have the founder and CEO of Gotham Ghost Writers. I feel like we need the Batman Music Playing underneath. It's Dan Gerstein. Dan, thank you so much for joining us. Thanks, Josh. It's funny you say that, because like when I first launched the business, and I came up with a name, a friend of mine said, It's perfect. It has Batman and Ghostbusters mashed up together.

1:00
Ah, I like it, you know, um, the in your background. So you've been on the communication side. And you also were involved in politics and for a particular candidate that got got some quite some notoriety. Got some good notoriety?

1:18
Yes. So I started my career as a newspaper reporter at a college for four years from my hometown newspaper. But I always had the political bug. And when Bill Clinton got elected, I moved to Washington and I ended up working with my home state senator joe lieberman from Connecticut. Oh, my gosh, and worked on you know, it is centered office than on his vice presidential campaign without Gore, and then he ran for president in 2003. In the Democratic primary was unsuccessful. And after that, it was time to kind of move on to another phase of my career. So I moved to New York, started doing communications consulting on my own. Yeah. And that was sort of the run up to Gotham ghostwriters

1:54
for someone who did their stint in politics. How would you describe that?

2:00
Um, I had an amazing experience, in large part because I was in this bubble of substance and integrity. Lieberman was an amazing guy to work for, he was really interested in ideas interested in innovative policy, most importantly, interested in working across the aisle to try to get things done and solve problems. And he built a team around him, that was one of the best group of people I could ever imagine working with smart, dedicated, full of integrity, and that experience have really spoiled me. And I learned a ton from both working with Lieberman the environment I was in, but also from my colleagues. So I had a great experience. The problem was what was going on outside the bubble, ultimately, kind of started to Leach its way in and I just decided I, I couldn't take it anymore. And I needed a break.

2:53
Yeah, I feel like I have a lot of friends and communications. You know, I've worked in Communications and Media and that sort of thing. And like, I feel like everyone gets to do their stint. And it's, it's, it's, you know, it's really fun when you're in it, but it can kind of suck a little bit of the life audio.

3:11
Yeah, depending on the situation. No question.

3:15
All right, good. So from there, you're in consulting for six years, in mainly on communications.

3:22
Yeah, I went from working with Lieberman. And I came to New York. And I just basically hung out my own shingle and worked with a lot of nonprofits and advocacy groups and helping them fine tune their message, tell their story launched issue advocacy campaigns, and it was, you know, is a nice transition out of day to day politics. And I still got to leverage my passion and my skill set to help people. But what started happening was, my friends in PR, and politics would occasionally come to me because they knew I was a writer, and they would say, hey, my boss has to give a speech, where we have to write an op ed for a major paper, can you help us, I really didn't have the time or the inclination to do it. So I would just introduce one friend to another friend, I had all these freelance writer friend, I didn't think anything of it. I'm a natural born Matchmaker, and connector. And but it starts just kept happening. And by the time it kind of dawned on me, I'm performing a service here and how we should be getting paid. But more importantly, there seemed to be a business opportunity, some unmet need in the marketplace, there was all this demand for high level writing and this amazing community of freelance writers out there, but no trusted, reliable, effective way for demand to find supply. So that was sort of what inspired me to launch Gotham ghost riders to try and solve that problem in the marketplace, which I was in a good position to do, because I knew a lot of writers and but I also had a very good sense of how to make good connections, and which is essential in collaborative writing.

4:48
You know, so, go ahead and explain what Gotham ghostriders is at a high level.

4:55
Sure. I'm on it on the surface. We're a ghost writing agency. We help people write books. And then speeches, white papers, all kinds of long form content. But in terms of the business model and how we operate, we're kind of a mash up between a search and recruiting firm and a literary agency, we have developed a very large, vast network of more than 2600. writers who specialize in all kinds of different books, writing speeches, writing white papers, different kinds of thought leadership content, also have expertise in certain industries and topics. And that enables us to do something that I think few other agencies can do, which is to present a customized solution for any client's writing needs. And pairing them up with a writing partner who is not just a good writer, who is experienced in this, the form the genre, and has some knowledge base in the subject matter. So these are handpicked, pre vetted qualified people that the client can then choose with confidence, based on the intangibles of style, taste, and most importantly, chemistry because when you're working on a book with someone, it's a very intimate relationship. And it's very trust dependent. And so as much as resume and skills and creativity matter in this, what matters even more is the collaboration, the relationship, and the trust that goes into that. And that's part of our special sauces thinking about how the client and the writer will work together and how the relationship will gel?

6:24
Yeah, I mean, I can't tell you the number of times that I've seen in my own network, people asking, Who knows a good ghostwriter. And, yeah, how was I was anyone else to know, who's a good ghost writer, or if you start just searching the web, you start searching Upwork you know, that sort of thing. And you think that it's going to be the right fit for you? And I mean, there's just so much that goes, you know, you know, I think of the work that we put into hiring painters for our house, you know, and some people put far less work into hiring a ghost writer, for their, you know, for their bs resistance, you know, they're there. They're their big name, the big claim to fame, the book that they're going to live with for the rest of their life. And, you know, it's it can go it can go wrong. How can hiring a ghostwriter go wrong? Oh, many, many ways.

7:23
For those

7:26
who aren't watching the video. reaction to that was like, oh, if you were taking a drink, you probably would have joked a bit. Just that. Yeah.

7:34
So um, you know, it's funny what you said about how people are kind of always asking, Hey, I gotta find a ghostwriter. You know, other than our agency, and there's one other competitor we have, which they do very good work, as well as just a very different business model. The two most common ways people find a ghostwriter for a book is either to phone a friend, or Google some names. Yeah. And both of those are very risk, heavy solutions. No good. Because like, you know what happens? We hear this all the time. And I call these are these subset of clients, refugees, because they've been burned by someone else's recommendation. And a lot of times what happens is, yeah, my cousin's a writer, and they introduce them. And then, you know, they vouch for them, they look at the, you know, the guys that are pretty good resume, but no thought went into, does this writer know the subject matter? Has he written a book before? And most importantly, are they reliable and competent professional. So one of the ways it goes wrong is, you know, some will recommend a writer for a business book. And it turns out the writers a novelist, right, they don't, they don't know anything about write this. Alright. The second thing is, you know, a lot of creative types can be a little flaky. And if you don't do the due diligence, and look at their work product, and talk to some of their prior clients, you can start down the road. And you know, you can spend 10s of thousands of dollars even upfront to hire someone, and they and they just disappear. I've heard these kind of horror stories over and over again. And then another way is just stylistically is to make a decision based purely on resume and you could be really terrific writer. But if you want someone who's writes in the style of the economist, and then you hire someone who's more irreverent and more like a National Lampoon style writer, it's not going to work, you're and you're going to get frustrated, because they can't deliver the product you want. They can't capture your voice, which is a really, really important standard in terms of evaluating ghost writers. So there's just so much risk involved. And that's one of reasons why I think we're a good solution for a lot of different people. As we take the burden off the plate, the searches can be really time intensive. And secondly, we take most of the risk out of the equation because we've developed this network a knowledge of the space and can connect our clients to writers that again, they're pre vetted, they're qualified, they're going to do a good job. Then the client can then step in and screen them to see who they mesh well with who they have chemistry with, who they're going to trust. And again, it's not foolproof, but I can count on one hand the number of times where a client has had to fire a writer, because the writer was incompetent or unethical,

10:21
or That's too bad. So for someone who does want to produce a, you know, let's say, a bit of a business book, hundred 20 pages, they have, you know, maybe they have a lot of notes scattered around, they've got a lot of stuff, it's probably 75% up in their head right now. Or, and maybe, you know, 15 20% of it is kind of written down and different blog posts and transcripts of speeches, that sort of thing. And they want to produce a, you know, a decent work, nothing, you know, they're not aiming necessarily for the New York Times, but they want to have something to kind of support their domain expertise and and use as a marketing tool, that sort of thing. What does that project a project like that in terms of like scope is that? And again, I know that there's going to be a range on what that looks like, for sure. But what do you think that range is? Now both in scope of work, and then investment?

11:25
Um, let's talk money first, because that's the thing that people ask, often ask, what you need to know up front. Our rule of thumb is if you're going to produce a business book that you don't just want to have out there to check a box, but that you want to, you know, be a really good reputational enhancer and help build your platform and credential you used to be prepared to spend at least $30,000. to hire a professional, competent ghost writer who will produce something that you're proud to put your name on, I would say the mean, is more in the range of 40 to 60,000. Again, to get someone who's done this multiple times, who's going to make the process easy for you. And again, this harkens back to your prior question about the the problems people run into with hiring a ghostwriter is there's a difference between someone who's a good writer and someone who has an experienced skilled collaborator, because one of the things that collaborate professional collaborators are really good at is, just like you said, taking the ideas and the stories out of people's heads, right. And then secondly, they're good at managing the author and the client in the in the workflow, because that is a big part of successfully operation is, every author has a different work style, they have a different way of communicating, and being able to adapt to that. And like the best ghost writers are kind of like chameleons, they adapt to the author's style, both you know their voice, but also their work style. And some authors, they want to meet with you in person, and they want to tell stories they want you to listen, others are very much like much more business like, here's my you know, vision for this chapter, I want to spend 15 minutes on the phone. And the client has to figure out and a process and a work plan that has to lead to a good result. Part of that also is managing the author's expectations. If they have a work, work plan that doesn't give the ghost writer access, and it goes right to that can't really do the job. Well, it's a really important skill to have to be able to kind of encourage the author to see it's in their best interest to give them more access, rather than complaining that oh, you know, you need to spend more time with me.

13:42
Yeah, you know, beyond the actual ghost writers of the collaborators that you connect with? Do you also assist with the publishing and promoting?

13:52
We do. Um, so we kind of work with parallel tracks with a lot of our clients. So the first obviously, is helping them bring their book to life and, you know, creating a great text. But we're also set up to help them figure out what's the right publishing path for them. And in some cases, it's very obvious, they're going to go with a traditional publishing path, they have a big platform, they're the CEO of a big company, they're going to get a book deal. So in certain cases, we'll just help them, introduce them to some agents, we know right, and work with them on the proposal, then there's other authors that could kind of go either way. And then it's helping them assess their options and then figure out okay, is it really realistic to try and get an agent? Or is it better to kind of directly submit to smaller independent presses, and then be in a position to have a plan B for them if traditional publishing workout. And then the third bucket really is people who either they know they want to self publish or work with a hybrid publisher, or they just don't have any chance of selling their book to a publisher. In those cases, it's then working with them and we, we say we're being their Sherpa. It's guiding them through the self publishing marketplace, and then helping them figure out what's a reputable, reputable company. Your platform to work with that will help them achieve their objectives. And that's a key thing, right? And I'm sure you've run into this. Every author has their own priorities and objectives for their book. And one solution that works well, for Josh Elledge might not work well for Dan Gerstein. And so a big part of what we do, just like with the ghostwriting process, heavy, heavy listening, right is paying attention to their priorities, paying attention to their goals, asking the right questions, and then being able to position to guide them to the right solution, so that they see this is the path to success for them. And again, it might be a different path for you know, someone else they know,

15:40
going the traditional publishing route, and has to be fiercely competitive today. More so than any other time. And, and I mean, from the outside. I wonder just how valuable that is compared to 10 years ago?

15:56
Um, it's a great, great question. And I do this assessment with a lot of our clients. Because generationally, if you're basically over 5055, self publishing still has the stigma, you want the legitimacy that comes with a traditional publishing, and a lot of that is based I hate to say it on pride and ego. But if you're under 50, you know, you're you're much more practical and agnostic, you're looking at sort of like, Okay, what platform is best for me, and increasingly, for business authors, especially if your goal is not to sell books, but to have the book as your badge, your credibility, all those things, right. And I'm self publishing or hybrid publishing is a really great option. And and we encourage people again, to do that assessment strategically, instead of say, for example, if your goal your you work in tech, and you want a book out there in six months, because you want to own a certain idea, yeah, the first to market trishal Publishing is a non starter for you. Because right, despite all the advances in just in time inventory, and on demand publishing, traditional publishers slot your book in, and there's often more often than not a lag of six to 12 months. But after you turn in your readership, until the books actually released in the marketplace, and that's a that's just a deal breaker for a lot of authors who want speed to market. And then increasingly, there's authors who have their large platforms, they can sell books on their own, and they realize they don't need the traditional publisher, and they want control over their IP, and they want to capture more of the sales revenue. And in that case, again, self publishing, basically, or working with a lead hybrid publisher is a much better solution for them.

17:33
Yeah, Yeah, no kidding. All right. So Gotham, Ghost writers.com. If someone wants to kind of learn more, kind of start diving into your world a bit more, what should they look for? What should they do?

17:48
So I think our website is a good overview of our services. And then we always do a free consultation with authors are interested in working with us because we want them to understand what our value is. And to be comfortable. Because just like working with the ghostwriter, they first have to trust us, they have to believe that we are set up to help them succeed. And we will be a supportive partner because our role doesn't end once the match is made. We are there to support the relationship and be there, again, to provide advice and publishing to review drafts if there's they want a fresh set of eyes. And you know, as sometimes it happens to help if there's a communication breakdown between the author and the ghostwriter. And then, you know, we have a, you know, we can't really disclose who our clients are publicly, but we can selectively with people are interested in knowing who we've worked with, at least give them a breakdown of some of the kinds of books we've done. And then give them references. Because again, we want them to feel comfortable. It before engaging us to do a search.

18:56
Yeah. And not just books, right. You also for someone who's got a high profile speech, and they need some assistance with that as well.

19:06
Yes, I have to say during COVID, our speech writing practice, and thought leadership practice has, has slowed down considerably. But yes, you know, my background, I was a speechwriter for many years. Yeah. And I'm a co founder, actually, the professional speech Writers Association. So our network of speech writers is unmatched in the in the country. And we're in a great position to help people, not just you know, given the current climate with, you know, formal speeches, but zoom presentations, speech coaching, doing video scripts, and doing decks and presentations.

19:43
Yeah, yeah. Awesome. All right. Dan Gerstein. Again, your website GothamGhostWriters.com. And this is a lot of fun. Thank you so much for joining us. Thank you for having me, Josh. I appreciate your interest.

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