welcomes as our guest Ally E. Machate. Ally is a bestselling book collaborator, award-winning editor, and expert publishing consultant who loves using her insider knowledge of the publishing industry and wealth of experience to help others reach their publishing goals, whether it’s showing a writer how to improve a manuscript, get an agent, or self-publish, or ghostwriting a book to help an entrepreneur skyrocket her business platform to new levels.

Since 1999, she has assisted, guided, and supported would-be authors on their publishing journey and takes pride in serving as their books’ best ally.

Norm: Good day Ally and thanks for participating in our interview.

Please tell our readers a little bit about your personal and professional background.

Ally: Thanks for having me! I think that intro covers it pretty well. I’ll add that I’m in this business because I’m committed to helping serious authors reach their publishing goals, whatever those might be, and I couldn’t do it without my team at The Writer’s Ally. Together, we’re able to offer our clients a better range of specialties and types of editorial support so we can help them see their book projects all the way through to the proverbial shelves.

Norm: How did you get started as a book collaborator, editor, publishing consultant, book doctor and ghost writer? What does each entail?

Ally: I suppose my first start was working with a teeny tiny book publisher in upstate NY where I was going to college. Because of its size, I got to do a little bit of everything from helping with acquisitions to editing to creating marketing plans. Then I was fortunate enough to snag a position at Simon & Schuster in what ultimately became the Touchstone Fireside imprint. I learned a ton, but left after several economic downturns had significantly reduced staff across the publishing world. I’ve been independent ever since.

So you see I began as an editor, but I’ve parlayed that experience into a variety of related services, all focusing on helping authors at different points along their journey to publication.

“Book collaborator” is kind of an umbrella term for the other services, all of which involve working with authors to produce and perfect their manuscripts. As a ghostwriter, I partner with experts to write their books, often from scratch. As a book doctor, I partner with authors and publishers to help fix manuscripts that need serious editorial help, and typically on a tight timeline.

As an editor, I work with writers who have completed drafts or book proposals and help them and their projects reach their fullest potential. And I bring my wealth of experience with all of these services and my Big Five publishing past to bear on consulting projects, where I help authors figure out the best route to publication for them, the right topic for a book that achieves their business goals, and even how to create the right kind of platform to effectively market the book they want to write or have written.

Norm: Where do you see book publishing heading?

Ally: We’re already seeing the emergence of hybrid publishers (some following subsidy models and even using crowdfunding) that can offer individual authors distribution and marketing channels that larger publishers have access to but self-publishers do not. They’ll become attractive partners for emerging authors who don’t have the following a big publisher wants to see. And from a consumer perspective, we’ll see more outlets designed to help readers sort the wheat from the chaff as far as self-publishing and small publishing—right now that old stigma is already fading, but there’s still a lot of terrible product out there and a lot of readers who unnecessarily shy away from good indie books because of it.

They’ll turn to these new taste makers and reviewers the same way readers of traditional books used to look to the New York Times Book Review and their local newspapers for help finding the gems. But these new reviewers will be online and also providing content through apps and podcasts instead of print publications, which have pretty universally shut down or shrunk their book review sections.

As for traditional publishing, I think more of these big companies will offer ancillary services to their authors to help them develop broader platforms and products that build on the book, the way Hay House has done for a long time. Some big publishers have already started with things like Speaker Bureaus. It’s the best way to grow a mid-level author into a huge bestselling author quickly, and with the right ingredients that approach could make for excellent mutually profitable partnerships.

It’s a really fascinating time for book people.

Norm: What are the most important characteristics of an author? 

Ally: I’d say the most important characteristics of a successful author include tenacity and perseverance, true passion for the work, a hunger for learning and growth, the ability to connect with other people (esp. their readers), and a willingness to be authentic. Social media has completely changed how we as humans buy things. Authors can no longer afford the mystique of the secluded shy artist. They have to be involved in the world. And also, technology has seriously amped up the “noise” of the marketplace. We’ve gone from a few hundred thousand books published each year, which was already a lot, to over a million published each year. It’s harder than ever to get noticed amidst all that. So successful authors must be able to navigate that landscape (this is where that tenacity and perseverance come in).

Norm: What are the biggest mistakes authors make? 

Ally: The very biggest is probably rushing things. There seems to be a lot of pressure in this information age where the new writer has put the time and energy into writing something and it’s like, “Well, now I have to take the next step” and that next step is either send it out or publish it immediately. You shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that just because you wrote it, it should be published. If you’re serious about becoming an author, as in someone who publishes more than one book and makes even a part time living at it, you have to be willing to learn your craft and that can take time.

Which leads to the second big mistake a lot of writers make, and that’s writing in a vacuum. It isn’t impossible, but it’s rare that a writer can grow sufficiently without regular, objective feedback. That can come from a great writing partner, a supportive and invested critique group, or even hiring a professional freelance editor. It’s really, really hard to get the objectivity you need about something you’ve created, especially when you are just starting out. That kind of distance is a skill you earn over the course of many revised books. 

Norm: What's the worst advice you hear authors give writers?

Ally: Anything that treats writing like some "artsy fartsy" inspiration driven touch of magic. That’s just crap. I have yet to meet, hear about, or read an interview with a successful author who doesn’t sit down regularly and write—and who doesn’t end up tossing the majority of what they’ve written before they get to the gold. Inspiration can definitely hit, but it tends to strike more often when the pump is primed, so to speak. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield should be required reading for anyone who even thinks about becoming a writer. It talks a lot about the insidiousness of resistance and what it really takes to make good art (and why it’s not magic…or at least, why magic won’t happen without hard work first).

Norm: What would you like to say to writers who are reading this interview and wondering if they can keep creating, if they are good enough, if their voices and visions matter enough to share? 

Ally: First of all, every voice matters. If nothing else, the Internet has taught us that there is an audience out there for pretty much anything (even some super, super weird stuff). So don’t think that you have nothing to say or that no one cares. Someone will, you just have to find them, and respect them enough to give them something worth reading.

I think writing has become so romanticized that there are an awful lot of people out there who think they want to do it, but don’t want to do what it actually takes to write well, let alone get published. So I’d say, if you’re struggling, ask yourself seriously: How bad do I want this? Because if you don’t want it bad, you’ll never get there. And also, that is totally okay. If you just love writing stories for fun, do it! Don’t let anyone make you feel bad for not trying to publish it and for goodness’ sake don’t let alone pressure you into self-publishing. If you kinda thought you’d like to be an author but you actually don’t like writing at all, that’s fine! Let it go. There are surely other hobbies that you will get more enjoyment from.

But if you do want it, if you’ll never be happy with your life unless you can learn to write a great book and share it with others, then hang in there. Do the work. Learn what you need to learn. Get pep talks where you can. Always, always grow. It’s a long road, but you will make it. There’s a great saying about how the biggest difference between published writers and unpublished writers is that the latter gave up. So don’t give up! Just keep learning how to be better.

Norm: Why are self-help books popular and why have you been drawn to this genre?

Ally: I guess they’re perennially popular because human beings always want or need to learn something, and books offer a way of doing that at a fairly accessible price point.

I’ve come to specialize in prescriptive nonfiction because I know firsthand how a book can change your life by offering a new perspective or a new way of dealing with something. Like, you read a book on personal finance and now you understand how to better budget your household or invest for your future. Or you read a self-improvement book and you have a whole new set of tools for introspection and growth that helps you have more fulfilling relationships and a happier life. I am passionate about helping people with expertise to share get their message out to a broader audience. I like to say that I help people help even more people through their books. How awesome is that? 

Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you, your services and your writings?

Ally: If you’re a writer who wants to ensure your novel, memoir, or other nonfiction book successfully achieves its goals, find out about our editorial team at THE WRITER'S ALLY.

I send out a monthly newsletter, usually attached to a helpful article or tips, and I also run a lot of free webinars these days that I’ll promote to my list first. So visit the site and sign up—you’ll get our free checklist “Are You Ready to Publish?” 

Norm: What is next for Ally Machate?

Ally: I’m working on a lot of great stuff for 2016. I’m in the process right now of revamping my websites, and then am planning to roll out a lot of exciting new offerings like group programs and online education opportunities as well as ebooks. Sign up for my mailing list to be among the first to receive announcements and special offers.

Norm: As this interview draws to a close what one question would you have liked me to ask you? Please share your answer. 

Ally: “What complaint or fear do you often hear writers expressing about working with an editor?”  And the answer is, I hear a lot of new writers who are afraid that an editor will either try to change their story or that the editor will just be outright mean and crush their souls.

But the vast majority of true, professional editors would never try to make you feel bad or hijack your story. We see it as our job to help you write the story you want in the best way possible. Now, will we tell you if your ending just doesn’t make sense? You bet. Is it possible that to make your story work it needs to be changed significantly? Yes. But, we suggest these changes because we’re trying to help you express your vision a way that other people will want to engage with it—not because we want you to write the story we want you to write.

And though it’s important to have an editor who is honest and can tell you what is and isn’t working, who can show you where you need improvement or to “kill your darlings,” a professional will do so in a manner that is always constructive and supportive. A good editor is your partner, not your enemy. We love writers and we love books! That’s why we’re in this business, after all.

Norm: Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavors 

Thanks so much for the opportunity to spend some time with your readers!