I don’t like to go to my list twice in a week – actually, I’d really like to go to you daily with thoughts – but I’m making an exception right now.
Yesterday, friend and client Garrett Gunderson interviewed me in Forbes.com.
You can see the interview as it appeared on Forbes.com here, or you can read it here:
Ghostwriter Michael Levin Says: When You’re The Author, You’re The Authority
Garrett Gunderson, Contributor, Forbes.com
New York Times best selling author and Shark Tank contestant Michael Levin runs BusinessGhost.com, which has written and published more than 300 books, including a dozen national best sellers. The business began in 1994 after Levin, a Columbia Law School-trained attorney, had been fired from two law firms because the three novels he sold to Simon & Schuster before he turned 32 were evidence that he really didn’t want to be a lawyer.
Levin says his clients’ experience indicates there’s no marketing tool more powerful for entrepreneurs than having one’s own book. His clients have used their books, among other things, to create a $20 million consulting practice from a standing start, put tens of millions
of dollars under advisement for financial advisor clients, get TED talks and other highest level forms of thought leadership, and get TV and movie deals with the likes of Disney, HBO, ABC, Paramount, and Steven Soderbergh.
Levin and I have worked together in the past. When I heard that Tony Schwartz, the ghostwriter for The Art of the Deal, was in the news for trash-talking Donald Trump, I decided to reconnect and ask Levin a few questions. Here are some of the highlights from our conversation:
Garrett Gunderson: You have a talent for creating successful books. In fact, I heard Michael Gerber say you’ve created more successful books than anyone in human history. Is that true?
Michael Levin: Probably. Success doesn’t just mean the best sellers list. It means that your book is creating a 10x return or better on the money you spent hiring us. That’s my idea of a successful book.
Gunderson: What do you think about Donald Trump’s ghostwriter slamming Trump in The New Yorker?
Levin: The guy made a fortune writing that one book. If you’re going to cash someone’s check, don’t turn around and stab him in the back down the road as a career move. Too much to ask?
Gunderson: You have a team of 30 writers. That’s a lot of people holding insider information. Have you ever had a breach of client confidentiality?
Levin: Never, thank you God, in 22 years. Ghosting is an intimate relationship. Clients tell us things loved ones don’t know about. A few clients have actually written their checks to “Dr. Levin” instead of to BusinessGhost. I take that as a compliment.
Gunderson: Have clients ever shared sensitive information with you that they wouldn’t want the world to know about?
Levin: Yes. Inappropriate sexual relationships. Criminal accusations. Family secrets.
Gunderson: And what do you do when you hear those things?
Levin: Advise them not to mention them in their books.
Gunderson: You know that I’m in the financial services industry, specifically serving entrepreneurs. Why would someone like me, someone in the financial services industry, need to write a book?
Levin: We do more books with financial advisors and insurance people than any other verticals. They need books because their marketing is shockingly generic. You could switch out the websites of any two financial advisors and they’d never notice. Same Viagra photos of the older, happy couple on their bikes at sunset. Same stock images of well dressed, mixed race professionals smiling and shaking hands around a conference table. What does that even mean?
Gunderson: So what does a book do?
Levin: A book allows you to define yourself in the marketplace like nothing else. You can tell your story in full. You can explain what makes you unique. Your take on the economy or the deficit. How your childhood affected your investment outlook. Why you specialize in one particular group of people-entrepreneurs, firemen. What makes your practice different from everyone else.
Gunderson: Why does that matter?
Levin: This is the age of the specialist. You have a heart problem, you don’t go see your brother-in-law the GP. You get the best cardiologist in the city. That’s how people feel about their money – they want to go to someone who specializes in their precise situation. But they’ll never know it’s you if your marketing is generic and bland, and that’s true of 99% of advisors.
Gunderson: What do you do different to make your books successful?
Levin: First, they get finished, and published beautifully. Second, we write compliance-friendly books for our clients, which saves a lot of time and heartache. Third, we’re very strategic about the books we do for our clients. Anyone who’s been in the business world for 15 or 20 years could write a dozen different books. The key thing is to
understand what book would be most useful for their own careers, in addition to creating value for readers. Books can’t just be advertisements disguised as books. They have to create value for the reader on every page. That’s how we do it at BusinessGhost.
Gunderson: What’s the biggest mistake a person can make with his or her book?
Levin: Worrying what the critics will think. Usually the critics just consist of parental voices in our heads. The important thing is to shift one’s focus from imaginary critics to the people one’s books will serve. The book isn’t just there to make you money or get you a TED talk. It’s an act of service, not ego. Serve the reader and you will be taken care of, and royally. Magic happens whenever you do a book. The impossible thing is to predict the direction from which that the magic will come.
Garrett Gunderson is the founder and Chief Wealth Architect of WealthFactory.com, and a financial advocate for entrepreneurs.