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Salting a Bird’s Tail: A Ghost Writer’s Tale
by Nanci G. Huyser

I corralled Terry and his wife Debbie Jo after church one Sunday. Our pastor was out of town and had asked Terry to speak in his place. Terry Holland is an inspirational speaker, rancher, entrepreneur, and retired (20 years PRCA) professional bull rider. He shared several gems that morning with the congregation and included the powerful story about a neighbor’s serious injury and eventual full recovery.

“Terry, have you ever thought about writing a book?” I asked. “Because you really need to.”

“Yeah. Lots of folks have told me that.” Terry shook his head. “But I ain’t a writer.”

“Well, I am. You’ve got to write a book! And I can help.”

Debbie Jo gave me a skeptical look. “Have you ever tried to put salt on a bird’s tail?”

“Don’t think so,” I said.

“Trying to work with Terry is like that.” Her comment referred to the difficult if not impossible task of getting close enough to a bird to sprinkle its tail with salt and the overwhelming energy such a feat would require, if accomplished.

I hadn’t considered writing a book for someone before, but knowing how often Terry speaks for various groups, I realized having a book to sell could create income for him to make up for the occasions he didn’t receive funds to cover his speaking expenses. And after hearing him myself, I knew for sure this book had to be written.

Using a couple of videos combined with several tape recordings, I started transcribing stories. Highlights of my research included attending bull riding school three different times and meeting champion bull riders and bull fighters. Not only did I learn about the sport, I also sat on the back on a champion bucking bull, Prime Time, (in the chute, of course), for a taste of the heart-pounding excitement bull riders feel as they climb into a chute and onto the muscular back of a four-legged package of dynamite.

Finding a publisher for our project proved quicker and easier than I expected. At the Northeast Texas Writers Organization conference, I met with Dan Case, one of the speakers and the editor for AWOC.COM Publishing. After emailing my manuscript to him, Dan gave me suggestions on several aspects and encouraged me to finish it.

We could have pursued publication with a large publishing house, but there are several reasons why I’m glad we didn’t. A small publisher doesn’t have multiple hoops to leap through and various committees to gain approval from prior to accepting a manuscript, which translates to a finished project ready in less time. Working with a small publisher is simpler and easier with fewer editors and levels of organization involved. Terry sells books at speaking events and trade shows, so it’s important to get books fast and at a good price. Our small publisher provides a good discount based on quantity and quick order delivery.

Terry and I drew up a simple contract specifying how I would be paid. However a joint project is approached; always create a clear, understandable collaboration agreement that spells out each party’s responsibilities and how royalties will be divided. A written agreement is always necessary even if you’re writing for or with your brother or best friend. A contract can prevent misunderstandings, save many headaches, and usually avoid potential legal issues.

When preparing an agreement and deciding payment methods, here are a few aspects to consider. One approach for determining compensation is for the writer to receive a cut from the books sold by the author plus a percentage of the royalty of books sold online and through distributors. Another option is to charge a fee upfront for the writing project, with or without a percentage of books sold, taking into consideration the amount of time the project is expected to require. If you charge a fee, provide language in the contract addressing additional payment if the projected timetable is exceeded or other work is added.

There isn’t one specific agreement to cover every situation—design one that works for you. And remember, contracts must be in writing to be enforceable—a handshake is not sufficient.

I wasn’t looking for a book to write, but when the idea presented itself I pursued it. If the idea of ghost writing sounds interesting, look for those opportunities. Consider leaders of various organizations in your community and people you know or are acquainted with. Whoever it may be, make sure it’s someone who speaks (more often, the better) and either doesn’t have time to write or isn’t a writer. Not everyone who has a great story wants it to be told, so avoid becoming discouraged in the process of finding the right project. Remember it may take time and more than one inquiry. Don’t be intimidated by the process or afraid to ask questions.

It took me quite a while to get that manuscript into polished form, but our book went to the printer and became available the first week in December 2008. And I can honestly report, the “bird’s tail” has been salted! And it’s paying off for both Terry and me.

© Copyright 2009, Nanci G. Huyser

Nanci has published poetry, photos, articles, devotionals, and finally a book in December 2008. Kilgore, Texas, is home for Nanci and her husband, where she is currently working toward a bachelor’s degree in English from LeTourneau University in Longview.

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