Stephanie Land has written bestselling books on marriage therapy, entrepreneurship, and social media, but you won’t find her signing copies at Barnes & Noble, nor will you see her name emblazoned on the cover of each book. Land is a ghostwriter, the woman behind the words of Gary Vaynerchuk’s three bestselling books, among many others.
Initially an editor at Random House and Portfolio, Penguin’s business imprint, Land went freelance and started getting calls from agents about ghostwriting work. Sometimes they’d ask for help with a proposal. Land would rewrite it, and the agent would ask if she could stick around for the rest of the book.
Eight years later, Land is both passionate and methodical about telling other people’s stories. As individuals increasingly look to build personal brands, she has no shortage of work. She writes a book every four to six months, with the luxury of choosing projects based on her interest. “The first thing I think is, ‘Am I interested?’” she said. Her follow-up questions include: “Do I like you? Am I going to want to spend the next four to six months talking to you all the time? Do I think I can help you?”
While ‘ghostwriter’ is the term most people understand, Land prefers consultant or collaborator. She’s not a fly on the wall; she’s an active participant in the storytelling.
“I have to ask the right questions and listen closely,” Land said. She may not be an expert in her client’s field, but she considers her outsider perspective an asset. She asks Gary V., “Why? Why does that work?,” teasing out illustrative examples. “My job is to make them dig deeper.”
Over a series of phone sessions, many of her clients will “talk out” their books. Land then condenses and polishes those ideas, aiming to capture the person’s distinct voice on the page. “Especially with the type of book Gary would write, readers want to hear his voice,” Land said. “They want to feel like they’re in the room with the person giving them the information.” Land writes a few chapters to start so her client can make sure she’s captured the right tone. Then together, the two authors build the book, layer by layer.
But does Land resent Vaynerchuk when he holds up Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook! at an industry talk and says, “Go buy my book”?
“They’re his ideas,” she said, and though many people don’t know she’s the one who brought it all together, Land still feels recognized.“Gary is particularly open about having worked with me, more so than others. But none of them hide that they work with somebody, and I don’t think there should be any shame in working with somebody.”
Land understands that great thinkers aren’t necessarily excellent writers. And even if they are, they don’t have the time to devote to a book. “They have day jobs. They’re busy running companies, running restaurants, running a medicine practice. It’s supposed to bother me that my name’s not on the jacket, but it really doesn’t.” She finds fulfillment in writing books, digging into new fields, and, of course, making money doing it.
“The day that I have a story to tell, I’ll tell it,” she added. “Right now, I’m helping other people tell their stories, and I like it a lot.”
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