Karen Cioffi is an author, ghostwriter (for children’s books), freelance writer, and editor. She is also the founder and manager of Writers on the Move, a marketing group of authors who cross-promote to generate visibility, build authority, and boost sales.
Bonnie Ferrante: Welcome, Karen. Thanks for being here. You are both a published children’s author and a ghostwriter. Can you explain what a ghostwriter does?
Karen Cioffi: Hi, Bonnie, first I’d like to thank you for interviewing me. I’m thrilled to be here.
Yes, I’m both a published children’s author and a ghostwriter. Interestingly, at one point, the ghostwriting seemed to just take off and it’s put my own work on the back burner.
A ghostwriter writes content for a person or company, called a client. The client pays the ghostwriter for the content. In my case, I write children’s stories for clients. It may be a picture book, chapter book, or middle grade book. Usually, the client has sole ownership of the finished product and it’s the client’s name that appears as the author. The ghostwriter’s only compensation is monetary, usually.
I mentioned ‘usually,’ because there are times when a client requests a partnership in authorship or a percentage of any monies made from the book in lieu of a full monetary payment to the ghostwriter.
Putting it simply, a ghostwriter is a writer for hire.
Ferrante: What is the most common problem you encounter with writers seeking your assistance? Where do they seem to have the most difficulty?
Cioffi: To be honest, I don’t really have any problems with my clients. They all have a deep desire to have a children’s book in their own name and they’re very appreciative of the work I do for them.
Of all the clients I’ve worked with over the years, there was only one who didn’t understand that after numerous revisions and edits you eventually need to end the story. While revising and editing is necessary, you have to come to a point where you say, “Okay, it’s done.”
In regard to my clients, I think they seem to have the most difficulty in understanding what happens next. In other words, after the story is written, then what.
They’re not sure if they should self-publish or traditionally publish and how to go about either. So, along with writing the story, I also give them some ‘next step’ advice.
Ferrante: You have written a lovely children’s picture book entitled Days End Lullaby. It includes music to the words. Have you written other songs?
Cioffi: I’ve written two songs. The first, which is Day’s End Lullaby, was written because my first child wouldn’t sleep. I’d walk our hallway, back and forth, with her in my arms and just came up with the lyrics and melody. Then it became our family lullaby.
Then when my first grandson was born, I was inspired to write another song, I Love You So.
Ferrante: Your other book, Walking Through Walls is a children’s middle-grade fantasy adventure, set in 16th century China. What drew you to this topic? Have you been to China? What research did you do to prepare for writing this novel?
Cioffi: Walking Through Walls is based on the ancient Chinese tale, Taoist Master and the Lao Mountain. I happened to meet a Chinese nonfiction author in an online critique group. He knew I was a children’s writer and gave me a rough outline of the tale.
When I read the outline, I loved the morals and values the story dealt with: laziness, selfishness, greed, and deception. This drew me in. The story was too complex for a children’s picture book, so I started writing it as a chapter book. Then it evolved into a middle grade story.
I’ve never been to China, but would love to visit one day. To get the right ‘flavor’ for the story, I did a lot of online research, such as the culture, the time period, the agriculture, and so on.
Ferrante: How long do you usually work on a book? Do you have any tips to share?
Cioffi: Walking Through Walls took me about two years to get it where I felt it was ready to submit. Nowadays though, my process is quicker. With practice and experience comes confidence and skills – this makes writing easier. When working on my clients’ books, I usually write a simple middle grade story within two to four months. Picture books take me two to four weeks.
As far as writing tips, I’d say read, read, and read. Analyze the stories. Notice how the story evolves. Notice how it holds your interest and engages you. Then write, write, write. Along with this, there’s an old copywriting tip: write the actually text of ‘good’ content. This though is only for writing practice. You obviously would never use the content of others in any other fashion.
Ferrante: You have a fabulous blog for writers, http://karencioffiwritingforchildren.com/blog/. Where do you find your inspiration for posts? Do you have a favorite that you think every writer should read?
Cioffi: Thank you so much, Bonnie. I’m honored that you mentioned my blog. I find inspiration for my posts from just about everywhere. It could be from a book, an interview, an article in a magazine, other blogs, or social media. I subscribe to a number of blogs, so information and inspiration comes right to my inbox. J
I kind of feel that if a topic is interesting and helpful to me as a writer, it will be helpful to others also.
I also write posts on my own writing experiences and what I see my clients dealing with and needing help with.
I actually do have one article I wrote in particular that I think every new writer or ‘wanna be’ author should read:
Ferrante: What is your favorite saying or quotation?
Cioffi: I have a lot of favorite quotes, but narrowing it down to two, they are:
“Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”
(Not sure of the original author of that quote.)
“It’s not what you’ve done that matters – it’s what you haven’t done.”
~ Mark Twain
If I had to choose between those two, I’d pick the first quote.
Ferrante: If you were a professional artist, what would be the theme of your drawings or paintings?
Cioffi: That’s an easy one. If I were a professional artist, my theme would be mountain and water (lakes, oceans, islands) scenes. I love this type of nature – it’s calming.
Ferrante: If you won $2 million tomorrow, what are the first three things you think you would do or buy as soon as you had the check in your hand?
Cioffi: As a former accountant, my first thought would be I wouldn’t get two million. J Possibly one million. And, one million doesn’t go very far.
But, assuming I actually received two million, the first thing I’d do is put $1 million towards my family’s home mortgages. Then, I’d set up savings for my grandchildren. Then, I’d buy a small lake front home (something I’ve dreamed of for a long time).
Thank you again, Bonnie, for affording me this opportunity!
Ferrante: You’re most welcome. You have provided some important information for writers here today. Thank you for participating.
Walking Through Walls will be reviewed on this blog on October 28, 2016.
Note: the three random questions are from “Chat Pack – Fun Questions to Spark Conversations”.