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Hocus Pocus Focus

One of the most common mistakes I run into, both as an editor and as a ghostwriter, is when the author wants to write too much. They know all the ins and outs and exceptions and nuances about their subject, and they try to cram it all into one book. This is not only unnecessary; it makes for a bad book. The readers don’t need to know everything the author knows – only what applies to them, and what they care about. If you try to cram too much in, your important points will get lost.

As a ghostwriter, it is my job to help my client find the right focus for their book. I look for the story arc, the common themes running through the story, the primary hook for the readers, and why anyone would want to read this author’s ideas. This is not that easy, because often my clients cannot answer these questions directly.

I once had a client who I met at a book fair, where I had a table promoting my ghostwriting services. He came up to me and said, “Oh, I want to write a book – I need to talk to you.” I said, “Great – what do you want to write a book about?” And he says, “I don’t know.”

Now there was a challenge. He just felt that he had a book inside him somewhere, but he’d never written anything, or thought much about what he wanted in his book, until that moment. You meet a lot of “tire-kickers” at book fairs, but this guy was serious. He actually hired me to help him find out what his book was about. I charged him a consulting fee to spend some hours talking about why he wanted to write a book, what his passions were, who he wanted to reach, and so on, and I recorded the conversations. Eventually a focus for the book did emerge, and he then hired me to ghostwrite it for him.

The book was about psychic hunches and how to follow them through.

If you’d like to know more about ghostwriting, I’m giving a FREE teleclass titled “Why Do People Hire Ghostwriters – or Why they Should” on August 5th, 4pm PST/7 pm EST. For more information and to register, go to

Kim Pearson is an author, ghostwriter, and owner of Primary Sources, a writing service that helps others become authors of professional and compelling books and articles. She has authored 6 books of her own, and ghostwritten more than 30 non-fiction books and memoirs. To learn more about her books or services, visit
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  1. I agree; too many books have too many pages. Most books should be no more than 300 pages. The worst examples are found in biographies, where the authors often drown the interesting things in a flood of redundant detail.

    Cold As Heaven

  2. That's a very good point, Kim. I have "shot myself in the foot" many times because I am proud of how much I know about a topic and I overdo it and confuse people. At first the advice I received was that I should explain each of the additional points, but then I realised that I really needed to simplify instead and tighten my focus. It was a valuable lesson.

    Word 4 Writers on HearWriteNow
    Blood-Red Pencil

  3. The YA novel I'm reading now is too long by half. I feel like I'm skimming now just to get to the last hundred pages where (i hope) the action builds up.

    This current revision I've been eliminating lots of little details I think might be too much.

    Good post!

  4. Great story! Seems like so many people think writing a bestseller is a snap...a real cushy job. For those who try, reality soon sets in!


  5. Good points--putting something on the page because you spent hours researching it and by gum, the reader needs to know that does nothing but slow the read. I don't mind long books--I figure I'm getting more words per dollar spent, but only if those words propel the story.

  6. Great information on ghost writing, Kim! Thanks!

  7. I love that. Serendipity at work. Interesting post, Kim.


  8. Wonderful story about the fair guy, Kim. And it's true about putting too much into the book. Usually, about 75% of the research you do does not (or should not) go in.

    Straight From Hel

  9. I did some research once about surveying. I learned how the Romans did it, what was used then and now, etc. etc. What I wrote was that (character name) used measurements on a mini black board (OK I didn't say that, but I describe it. Anyway...very little of what I researched actually made it to the written word.
    N. R. Williams, fantasy author

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