With this first post of March, 2021, I add a new feature to my website. From today forward, each month, I’ll be offering a story about a contemporary authors — how they came to this avocation and what it means to them. We begin with Erin Donley of Portland, Oregon.
brand new graduate
Erin Donley (contact Erin at email@example.com), the force behind fourteen non-fiction books, did not set out to be a writer. Following college graduation, Erin felt unsure what field to pursue. Then, out of the blue, she landed a position at an advertising agency, which created radio commercials. Her job – sell the commercials to local businesses. Almost from the first day she began, Erin noticed an interesting discrepancy. She had much better success selling through email than in person. She went over her presentations, looking for an answer. Two facts jumped out. One, as a young, blonde, woman, she didn’t have the same credibility as her peers. And, two, on the more positive side, she excelled at written communication. This new understanding of her own potential planted a tiny seed, the one that would later lead her to seek a career as a writer.
Unfortunately, it felt to her like her job demanded that she pretend to be someone not quite her true self. As much as she enjoyed business and sales, her most abiding interests were personal and professional development. To pursue these interests, she left marketing and began working for a bookstore, where the titles focused on personal growth and self-help.
Soon after she began her new position, Erin approached the owners. “I believe,” she told them, “that I can make a positive impact on your sales and your reputation through writing a column in your newsletter.” She laid out for them her writing credentials and proposed a weekly feature, which reviewed books and interviewed authors.
a project takes off
They accepted her proposal. Erin let her own personality shine through in those weekly columns. She reviewed books on controversial topics. She drew authors out about the most fascinating aspects of their lives and careers. Every week, her column had a high open rate, the response to the reviews and the interviews were numerous, and the books she featured flew off the shelves.
The writer’s seed sprouted and pushed out of the depth of Erin’s soul and discovered the sun of a satisfied audience. Erin came to know that audience intimately and to recognize that no occupation gave her as much personal satisfaction as writing.
Questions about how she could possible support herself as a writer cropped up even as she continued to enjoy her work at the bookstore. She could, she knew, write her own book, but the topics about which she was passionate were, she suspected, too controversial to attract the corporate sponsorship she might need to be successful. In the field of personal growth literature, an author’s true income comes from teaching courses in their topic and speaking engagements before large audiences.
to be or not to be . . . a personality
Erin also had to face that publishers in the 21th century are seldom willing to take a chance on any author who does not already have a huge social media following. They prefer writers who are “personalities.” “Being a personality” was at odds with her true goal. She didn’t want to be “on stage.” Earning a living and contributing to society and culture through writing were her dreams. Having a readership for Erin was quite different than having a “following.”
a happy medium
The more she pondered her quandary, the clearer it became that the best way for her to do work that satisfied her and make a living doing it was to become a ghostwriter in the field she knew best, personal-growth books. She already knew the readers, what they were seeking, what they wanted more of, what topics were getting tired, what would hit home again. The authors were close to her heart. She had seen the heartbreak and disappointment of too many when their books would be published, but wouldn’t sell. Erin knew with certainty that she could help such authors write better books.
Fortunately, she had built up a plethora of contacts, colleagues in other bookstores and people in the book selling industry, and marketing and design experts. Also, in the seventeen years since college graduation, Erin had met industry experts and leaders in many different fields of business. Within an amazing short time, she landed a first contract. (Erin cannot reveal the names of books she ghost-writes; nondisclosure agreements are built into all her contracts.)
Her first author/client, a wealthy, impulsive individual, actually bailed while they were writing the final chapter of the book! But the process convinced her that she could keep find-tuning not only her writing, but her interaction with aspiring authors, that she was, indeed, on the road to earning a living as a writer.
where was erin?
After a while, however, she sensed a “problem” in her work with her clients. She found herself saying things like, “What about this idea? Or “How about including…?” Erin realized she had to write her own book and get her passions, beliefs, and ideas into the world and out of her system. In January, 2019, she published, Don’t Tell Me to Calm Down: Face Your Power and Find Your Peace.
Being an author, she found was a much more arduous journey than being a ghost writer. It was emotionally, intellectually, and financially taxing. She felt humbled by all the help she needed to bring the book to completion. It’s not a process she wants to repeat, but in the end, it was exciting to hold in her hand the book that was truly hers, that took her own ideas out into the world. She does not, however, feel any need to “scream from the rooftops” about it. The ideas and causes she advocates are valuable and she will continue working for them. In the meantime, she’s more than happy to return to the anonymity of ghost writing, where she can be the hidden force behind her client’s message.
a voyage of discovery
She loves her work. Through her writing she gets to dig deep into many different subjects, becoming a mini-expert at those topics, but she’s not hemmed in by any one field. Every new book is an adventure into an exciting new area of discovery.
Although she’s completed fourteen books, Erin still feels every completed manuscript is like a small miracle. She loves the way the whole publishing team works together to bring a new work into the world. She compares it to having a child. “The moment when you first hold the book in your hands is like the moment when they first place your baby in your arms.” All the hard work and long weeks of waiting has produced this thing of beauty!
Knowing that the book changes the author’s life and the lives of its readers feels “absolutely wonderful.” She knows with conviction that she is on the right path for her. Presently, along with working on her ghost-writing projects, Erin edits work for other writers and coaches aspiring authors. She is, however, building toward a time when instead of ghostwriting two to three books per year, she can be hired for one single, lucrative project per year. That’s her dream, and I’m convinced she’ll make it come true.
In the meantime, if you are reading this and you’ve been dreaming for a long time of writing your own non-fiction book, but just don’t know where to start, reach out to Erin. She has co-authored memoirs, personal growth books, how-to books in fields of business, activism and other fields. And she would love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2 Replies to “Erin Donley: Hidden Force”
What a great story! I always wondered how people got into the trade of ghost writing. Fascinating! Thank you for sharing, Jule.
Jule, nice introduction to Erin Donley! Thanks for sharing this writing journey!
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