See Jane Co-Write

Thursday, August 30, 2012

When Texas socialite Joanne King Herring, the woman portrayed by Julia Roberts in the movie Charlie Wilson’s War, wanted help writing her memoir she didn’t choose a big shot author from the New York Times best seller list. No, it was Birmingham’s own Nancy Dorman-Hickson who was selected for the job, thanks to her Southern roots and her ability to find common ground with people.

The importance of being able to relate well to others was just one of the many tips Dorman-Hickson offered Tuesday evening during her presentation “A Ghost Story: My Life as a Co-Writer and Print/Web Writer.”

At this event, hosted by my organization See Jane Write Birmingham, Dorman-Hickson discussed ghostwriting and collaborative writing, freelance writing, and personal branding to a crowd of 30 local writers. 

Is co-writing for you?

The primary difference between ghostwriting and co-writing is with ghostwriting you won’t receive any credit for helping with the book. Your name won’t appear on the cover and you’ll even have to sign a contract stating that you won’t reveal your connection to the project. With co-writing, you will receive credit, but it’s still important to check your ego at the door. As Dorman-Hickson explained when recounting her experience with Herring,  the person you’re working with gets the final word when making creative decisions.

With co-writing, you may be paid a flat or hourly rate. Dorman-Hickson said that on average the hourly rate is about $73 per hour. Flat rates run the gamut and can range from $6,000 to $150,000, but typically average at about $22,000.

To be a successful co-writer you need much more than good writing skills. This is a job that will call for you to be an editor and to manage people.

If you think co-writing is for you, one of the best ways to land co-writing gigs is by networking with other co-writers. You should also place a profile on, Dorman-Hickson recommended. And don't be afraid to approach prominent people and offer to help them tell their story.
The Truth About Freelancing

During her talk, Dorman-Hickson was very honest about the realities of freelancing. It is nearly impossible to survive as a full-time freelancer these days because most publications pay writers such meager fees. But don't be discouraged. Learn to maximize each assignment you get and also think outside the box. Market your writing services to companies that haven't been hit as hard by the economic downturn.

Buidling Your Brand
Dorman-Hickson also discussed personal branding because whether you want to admit it or not, to be a successful writer, you have to build a successful brand for yourself. This may sound like a daunting task, but it can be easier than you think. A few things you'll need: business cards, a website and/or blog, and an e-newsletter.
You can even use your email signature and your voicemail greeting as promotion tools.
Give presentations to writing groups and book clubs.
And work on your elevator speech. Be sure that you can give a short, yet captivating description of what you do at a moment's notice.
One of the things from Dorman-Hickson's talk that stood out to me most is the idea that one of the best ways to help your writing career is to help other writers with their careers. That's exactly what I strive to do with See Jane Write. It's nice to know I'm on the right track.

Scenes from the See Jane Write August Event


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