Professional Writer [Interview]


Adopted from a live interview By Gail Mercer MacKay
6-Figure Freelance Writer Blueprint

Gail: Richard, there has been a lot of excitement in our writing community about your success. Can you tell us your process for ghostwriting and freelancing?

Richard: Well, the first thing is to be confident. You need to be confident of your value. Never go for the low-ball bid, never try for the nothing jobs. Go big, all out, and you might be surprised at what you get.

Let me back up and give you a little history. I used to work for Trader Joe’s as the Director of Computer Operations. That was about three years ago. I’d been there 20 years, and it was a fantastic job. I did very well and loved working for them, but the stress was killing me.

I decided to make a go at being a writer because that what I’ve always wanted to be. I moved to Florida from California to work in a more relaxing, less stressful atmosphere.

One of the first things I did was to get a job at a ghostwriting shop. My first gig paid $1,000.00 to write a 25,000-word book. That might sound like a lot, but considering the work needed, it is a ridiculously small amount of money. Practically slave wages. That didn’t last very long because it’s impossible to live on that kind of pay – it turned out I could make more working as a fry cook at MacDonald’s.

I was taking a lot of courses, and one of them stressed that $1,000.00 gigs are actually harder to get than the $20,000.00 gigs. They take more work—

Gail: That’s an interesting comment. Can you elaborate?

Richard: Because the people who want to do $1,000.00 gigs are looking at the money and not the project. It’s very uncomfortable. When you’ve got somebody who’s willing to drop $10,000 to $30,000 on a book, they’re more focused on the book. Sure, they’re looking at the money, but it’s secondary. It’s a whole different flow than the people who are focused on the money.

Also, it’s just as hard to land a $1,000.00 project as a $20,000.00 project, so why not get a $20,000.00 project? Why bother with the $1,000.00 project?

I began taking that attitude – I’m very, very confident – joined a couple of ghostwriting groups, and started getting projects. I modified my LinkedIn – this was before I became a LinkedIn Branding Specialist – and after some work came in the first page of results when you search for ghostwriter using LinkedIn’s search engine. I started getting hits on ghostwriting directly off LinkedIn.

Before long, I picked up a couple of projects, landed up one locally for somebody who needed – I’m also a computer security expert – a book written on computer security. He wanted his security book rewritten. That wasn’t a ghostwriting project, and I asked for a good rate, got it, and finished the book on time and on budget.

Gail: That’s great – and a great example of how confidence pays off. The right attitude and a belief in yourself.

Richard: This book is online now. It’s called “Cyberheist” and it’s on a site called, a big computer company. They’re local to me, so it was easy to get interviews and such.

Those were my first two gigs working on my own after leaving the ghostwriting company.

I don’t take small gigs – I really don’t even look at them – because they’re a lot of work. And I’d rather get six $10-15,000.00 gigs a year than fifty $1,000.00 gigs a year; you know what I mean?

Gail: Yes. You have to factor in cost of sales as well as cost of administration.

Richard: It’s just as much work.

Then I decided, I’ve always wanted to write my own book – that’s really my goal, to write and market my own books – and that’s a whole different game than the freelancer world. It’s entirely different.

For me, writing books is easy. I’ve got almost thirty books on Amazon now, some under pseudonyms. I can kick a book out in a month. Sometimes I can write and published a 10,000-word book in less than a week. Not only that, it’s a good book.

Once it’s written, I have it proofread, the book cover made, publish on Amazon and let it start to sell.

As my books went online, I realized that they weren’t selling very well. I concluded that while writing a book is easy, marketing is not something I’ve ever been trained to do.

That’s probably pretty common for most writers. Marketing is not what we tend to do. Marketing requires that you be a little extroverted, and a lot of writers aren’t extroverted.

[Laughter] And I was a computer person, and computer people become computer people because they’re introverts generally. Computers are easy to talk to. [Laughter]

I was having trouble with the extroverted thing and caught a lucky break when I was offered a job as a branding specialist. This forced me to have to network more and talk to people.

Since I’ve been a VP and a Director of a fifteen billion dollar a year company plus have a technology background I tend to get the high-end profiles; the C.E.O.’s the C.F.O’s and so forth.

I found myself talking to high-level people at major companies, which is kind of weird for me. [Laughter] Going straight to the top of a three billion dollar a year company or a five billion dollar or a fifty billion dollar a year company and talking to the C.E.O. or C.F.O.  Usually, it’s the C.F.O. level, the level below the CEO.

When you’re interviewing for a profile, there’s always time to chat. And they ask what I do, and I tell them I’m a ghostwriter and bestselling author. This starts a networking process, and it only takes a few seconds.

The way I get gigs is directly from LinkedIn. I get those leads because I’ve optimized the heck out of my profile, and I spent a lot of time each day networking.

None of this networking is done to sell. It’s not advertising. It’s not who do you know- who do you know that can help me? It starts with, Who do I know, that can help you? That’s the way networking always starts. It doesn’t start with what I need; it starts with how can I help you?

Then you start helping people. Before long they’re helping you back because nobody wants to have a one-way ticket – well, most people don’t. So they start helping you.

I just had somebody email me today he’s got a $15,000.00 ghostwriting gig that he wants me to bid on. Out of the blue! We talked, maybe I won’t get the gig, but at least I get to bid on it.

Gail: — That’s awesome. That’s true. You know, I don’t want to interrupt you because that’s great, but I do want to call out that, because of what you’re doing, it’s what you’re doing for other people. It’s a Zig Zigler Quote “If you help enough other people get what they want you will always get what you want.”

Richard: Oh, exactly, exactly. The guy I mentioned is a big networker. He is one of the founders of BNI. If you’ve heard of that group…

Gail: –Yes I have.

Ron SukenickRichard: His name is Ron Sukenick, and he’s one of the founders, back in the 60’s and 70’s. I had just started putting together a series of books called, “Interviews with Influencers” and as part of that, I interviewed him. So, I got a ninety-minute interview with one of the top influencers in the world.

It was very, very productive. He explained how networking really works, and how relationships are what makes you actually become significant as opposed to just always scrambling for business. The book has been published on Amazon and is called Ron Sukenick’s Tips on Expanding your Business by Building Relationships.

That was a few months ago.  I already was heading there, but the conversation with Ron made me move much more aggressively in that direction.

Gail: What about your own books?

Richard: So, like I said, I have sixty books on Amazon. Some I’ve written under Pseudonyms some under my name. They weren’t really selling, so I decided to take some time to figure out why they weren’t selling. I picked one of my books, Focus on LinkedIn, because I know there’s a market for this book. It’s something that people want.

Focus on LinkedInThe first thing that I found out about a book is you have to create a high-quality book. The number one thing is the cover, and Focus on LinkedIn has a really nice cover. I’ve run it through a lot of people, and it really attracts the attention, and it matches certain colors and things.

The second thing you want is a good title. My title is actually a little weak, but I’d already done a lot of branding with it so I kept it that way.

The third thing you want is a good description on Amazon. The description really has to pop.

I got all those things correct. The next step is to get reviews. Once it’s published, you have to get reviews. I got fifteen reviews, and I thought, That’s pretty cool. Fifteen reviews outta be fine.

I submitted to BookBub and BookBub turned me down, hands down. The book didn’t have enough reviews, it wasn’t high enough on the rankings, even though it was selling okay.

Book Bub for those of you who don’t know is THE list to get into. If you get accepted by BookBub, your book will sell 10,000 copies or 1,000 copies. The writer’s dream in the self-publishing world is to get on BookBub, but it’s really hard to get into their list.

Actually, I got a little upset. How dare they, right? I did some asking around and found out what you need is a lot of reviews and to boost the book up in the rankings.

I put out a note out on LinkedIn that said, “I need reviews – you get this book free if you give me a review.” 1,200 people asked me for a copy of the book within 24 hours. I was pretty busy because I didn’t expect that. Yeah, 1,200 people all got a free book.

Gail: What a great strategy – that’s awesome.

Richard: Yup. I think 63-64 of them have come back with reviews, which is a pretty good return. When you send out free ebooks, maybe one in forty actually ends up writing a review. Getting 60-70 out of 1,200 is not too bad, and they’re still trickling in. I still get apologetic emails saying, “I’m sorry I haven’t gotten to it yet.”

Once I did that I put it on a special promotion, a mailing list, and managed to get 1,000 sales in 24 hours. BOOM the book went up to 500 in the ranking which put me on Amazon’s headlines as a Best Seller in three categories.

Now I can call myself a best seller, which is what that means. For three days it was a best seller in three different categories, which is really difficult.

After that, I submitted to BookBub again and got accepted the same day.

Gail: –What a terrific story. How exciting for you and for our community to learn from you.

Richard: –Now I’m on BookBub. My ad is coming out in July. It’s a great accomplishment. I’m curious to see how it sells on BookBub’s business list with 440,000 subscribers.

Another thing you can to do as a self-published author is, since it’s your book, you can put whatever you want in it. I have links to my other books, links to my ghostwriting services and links to products that I recommend. All of this is in the back material where it doesn’t get in the way.

If somebody reads my book, and they happen to turn to the back, they’ll find my promotional materials. These say, “Oh, by the way, I’m also a ghostwriter, and I’m also a freelancer. And you can buy my other book by going to Amazon, and you can join my mailing list and all this other stuff.”

I’m getting hits off of that. It’s not huge, but it’s free. It doesn’t cost anything except the time to do it. It’s the same in all my books – it’s kind of a template.

So you see, you want to have a strategy when you publish your book, to have your book also serve as a lead magnet. So you have lead magnets going to your book, and then your book serves as a second level of lead magnet to your other stuff.

Gail: How about now, what’s the process, are there any tips for, because I’ve never done it. I’ve never published a book on Kindle or Amazon, so how easy is it to do and what is the royalty structure?

Richard: Price the book less than $2.99 and you get 35%. If you price the book at $2.99 or over you, get 70% of the price of the book.

The advantage of making it less than $2.99 is you’re going to get more sales. The advantage of making it higher than $2.99 is you’re going to make more money. It’s kind of a give and take.

Amazon has a neat little tool on Kindle that will recommend a price for you based on other books of the same subject. It’s actually really cool. It will tell you, for example, this kind of book normally sells for $4.99. Do you want to sell it for $4.99? The tool tells you what price gives the author the best profit.

As far as publishing the book goes, how easy is it? It really kind of depends. You have to write a description, and that’s copywriting. If you’re not a copywriter, then you’re probably going to write a junky description and the book’s not going to sell as well as it could.

You have to have a good title and a good cover.

What you are doing is marketing, you’re marketing your book. Amazon isn’t going to market your book for you until it hits best seller. It doesn’t do anything for you. Think about it: 6,500 books are published on Kindle every single day.

Gail: Amazing how many people are out there publishing. Every day? That represents a great opportunity for the writers in our community.

Richard: Every day. So, Kindle, Amazon is not going to do anything until you stand out in front of the crowd. You have to do that. Don’t think for a moment that all those companies that ask for $5,000.00 to “publish and market your book” do it for you. They don’t. You have to do it.

Gail: I love your strategy, though. Hosting it on LinkedIn saying, “If you give me a review you get a free copy of this book.” And that’s fantastic that you know, that you got 1,200 hits on that. I kind of think that a lot of it’s because of the title, because of the topic, like you picked a topic that people are interested in, so it’s obviously going to be of interest to readers.

Richard: Well, that was a little bit of marketing research on my part, plus I’m also a LinkedIn Branding Expert, which gave me a clue that it would sell. I wanted to find a specific subject that would sell.

You see, I’d already written a book on computer security and it turns out to be a super competitive and a very slow selling niche. That book didn’t sell very well. I’m actually putting that on a special pretty soon.

You have to pick a good niche to sell, and there’re tools out there to do that. There’re some really, really good tools to help you find the right niche and to help you pick titles and things like that.

I am taking another approach starting this month – I’m doing speaking engagements, on computer security, plus on LinkedIn. I’m going to sell the book that way. I’ve found that on speaking engagements, the book sells really well. I put it on a table in the back. You know, ten copies, sell them for $15-20 each, and I sell out.

Of course, that’s small potatoes, but it also lets me promote my LinkedIn business and my other businesses. Plus it’s fun.

Gail: Yes the speaking can help elevate your brand and get you more awareness. And one thing you should get is lots of pictures, you probably already are doing that, take lots of pictures of you speaking, lots of pictures and just build your LinkedIn banner or a Twitter banner that show pictures of you being up there – that’s all social proof.

Richard: Well, yeah that’s, the other thing I’m doing because part of the whole thing of building a website is creating what’s called “Evergreen”. These are posts and things that don’t expire.

I transcribe my talks and speeches – if they are any good. Then I take snippets from them and use those on my website and my blogs, my email letters

Like this particular talk, I’ll probably use a few snippets for my email list and so forth.

The speaking is a great way to do that because you’re talking about a subject that people want to hear. And you’re answering questions that people have asked. So you just take that, transcribe it and send it out to your list or put it on your blog.

You can get the transcriptions done on Fiver, which is one of my secret weapons. I do a lot there. If you’re not familiar with Fiver, they host very inexpensive consultants.

My covers cost me $5-25, for both the paperback and Kindle version.

Audience Question: I’m really interested in your LinkedIn guide, but my question is about do you promote yourself as an expert in LinkedIn, I guess this is a question I’m dealing with right now, how specialized you should be, how small niche should you address. Are you all in one or…?

Richard: Well, I actually promote myself as a writer who can write on anything. I can say that because it’s actually true. I’ve written a memoir for an Afghan politician; I’ve written highly technical computer books, business books, and all kinds of other topics.

When someone wants me to write them a book, I’ll look at anything, and I’ll just tailor my conversation to their niche. I don’t exclude markets. As a freelancer, I’m not going to exclude a market just because that’s not my niche. I can do research – I’m very good at Google research. Of course, there are some niches that I won’t touch for various reasons.

For example, I’m writing a weekly blog for a medical guy. I’m not a Doctor; I’ve never had any experience in medicine but he wants a blog, and he’s paying me to ghostwrite blog entries on LinkedIn, once a week. It’s not a lot of money, but it’s a retainer and retainers are great. [Laughter] Retainers are awesome because it’s steady income.

Gail: And it’s good to get that steady income. And then it grows, it often grows. It rarely stays steady, it eventually grows.

Richard: Well, another thing that happens is they start recommending you.

Gail: Yes. But I want to come back to your whole approach to writing the book and the way you’ve been promoting it. I’m just in awe of what you’ve done. It’s fantastic, and it got me thinking of doing something similar myself.

Gail: Richard, thank you so much for your time, we really appreciate it. I love your knowledge and your expertise, and congratulations on your success and I think you got all of us thinking about some things that we can do ourselves in terms of writing a book and promoting a book ourselves using these common tools.

I hope you enjoyed reading this interview.


Richard Lowe
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Love what you did with LinkedIn to get reviews. You just helped me make up my mind to do more there.


Awesome article. Great information about how to market your book on Amazon.
Great to see that you write on a variety of topics for your clients which goes against the popular advice of picking a niche if you want to succeed as a writer

Kim Steadman

This is one of those posts that’s just chocked full of GREAT nuggets of information! You truly are one that has been in the trenches, started from ‘scratch’ and is making a living and a loving doing what you DO… talking the talk and walking the walk.

Mat Gunnufson

Wow Richard. Amazing Content. Thanks for sharing. I can see how you had your success. You truly earned it!