Startup of the Week: Gotham Ghostwriters Takes on Book Writing

mbStartups is pleased to announce the Startup of the Week: a weekly post dedicated to the newest faces in new media.

In honor of National Novel Editing Month, this week’s featured startup has a network of talented writers and editors.   Founded in 2008, Gotham Ghostwriters is a full-service writing firm based in New York City. Gotham President Dan Gerstein was doing consulting work in politics, he said, when the “proverbial light bulb went off in my head.” At first, the service connected freelance writers to busy executives who needed someone to write speeches. After a year of Beta testing, the site has expanded to include Gotham Bookwriters, a ghostwriting and editing service for thought leaders and would-be authors who need help turning their ideas into a book. We recently spoke to Gerstein and Gotham ghostwriter Ellen Neuborne, who co-wrote Toy Tips: A Parent’s Essential Guide to Smart Toy Choices with toy expert Marianne M. Szymanski, about the surprisingly rewarding field of ghostwriting.

“What’s fascinating is that it’s an entire spectrum of clients” who come to Gotham Bookwriters looking for help, said Gerstein, from “CEOs and celebrities to average people.”   For writers who don’t need an entire manuscript written for them, Gotham can also connect writers to appropriate agents, fine tune book proposals, edit manuscripts and give advice on publishing platforms.

About the “Ghosts”

Gerstein’s network of writers grew from the 11 years he spent as a communications strategist and speechwriter on Capitol Hill. Gerstein has worked on campaigns for Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman and is also a contributing columnist for the Wall Street Journal and The Politico and a regular analyst on Fox News, CNN and MSNBC. For each project, he recommends a handful of writers based on their expertise, leaving it up to client to select which writer they’d like to work with.   “There are so many talented writers out there who make my job easier,” said Gerstein.

One of those writers is Ellen Neuborne, a former marketing editor at BusinessWeek and business reporter at USA Today who has worked as a freelance writer and editor for over a decade. In 2004 Marianne M. Szymanski, a toy expert Neuborne had often used as a source for her articles, approached her with an idea for a book. When Toy Tips: A Parent’s Essential Guide to Smart Toy Choices hit the shelves, Neuborne found herself with an “and” byline and a new career. “I got a kick out of doing something substantial with an interesting person,” she said.

Neuborne ghostwrites two to three books per year, depending on how time-consuming the projects are. “I thought I would miss it,” Neuborne said of her byline, but the “people I work with appreciate me.” Neuborne also has a good website to maintain her presence online and said she appreciates the help she gets from Gotham in recommending her services to prospective clients.

The Business Model

Gotham’s business model is part consulting firm, part agency. Gerstein acts as an agent for the writers, connecting them to clients whose projects match their skill sets in exchange for an agent fee. He also helps negotiate the terms of the contract, which is helpful for writers who are unsure about what to charge. “I made a decision early on to establish writing as a premium service,” Gerstein said. But at this point, negotiating “is more art than science.”   The flexibility in price allows the company to work with a wider range of clients from Fortune 100 CEOs to grandparents .   And improvements in electronic and self-publishing platforms, Gerstein said, “have opened up a world of possibilities.”