Ep: 196: How this remote bestselling ghostwriter has assisted more than 450 authors with Helen Chang
In this episode, I speak with Helen Chang who is a bestselling ghostwriter, speaker, and entrepreneur.
As the founder and CEO of Author Bridge Media, she has assisted more than 450 authors to write, design, and publish their books for credibility, revenue, and raving fans.
Helen believes in the power of stories to transform people, whether through books, audio, or other viral media.
Listen on to find out how Helen helps authors share their unique stories and fulfill their life purposes.
Hey everyone. I am really excited for my guest today. I’m here with Helen. Hey Helen, how are you?
Hi, Debbie. So great to talk to you.
Thank you so much for being on the show. I’m so excited to finally have you on. I know we’ve been trying to talk to each other for the last few months, but with everything going on, it’s been so crazy. But I get to finally have you and have a really great conversation with you today. So thank you so much.
Before we get to amazing stuff more about your journey. Can you tell us about you and why you live an offbeat life?
Yeah. And Debbie, it’s such an honor to be speaking with you and on your show. You’re such a role model for so many people. And for me, I love just working from my laptop. Sometimes I’ll go to La Jolla, which has this beautiful view of the really crystal Emerald ocean, beautiful sky, and clouds. And you can hear the sound of birds. You can hear seals and you can smell the salty air.
And being able to do that and take off at my leisure during the workday to do that and still work is really what makes the digital lifestyle so worthwhile for me.
Having said that, I do have an office that I work from but having a digital lifestyle allows me that freedom and flexibility to go physically anywhere I want to while also having a virtual team.
So all of our team members live in different places and we meet by video and we all know exactly what we need to do. And more importantly, I just love working with my clients: interviewing them, writing their books, and getting their books out and published. So it’s amazing.
And our clients are all over the world too: America, Canada Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America – they’re all over the world. Having this ability to connect with people, hear their stories, and tell their stories through books is just such a wonderful privilege.
What you do, Helen, is so interesting to me ’cause I’ve never interviewed someone who was a best-selling ghostwriter before and that is such a unique job. That’s such a unique business that you have. A lot of people want to be best-selling authors and not a lot of people know that there are actually ghostwriters who help these people get to the top, right?
Can you tell us about your journey into becoming a best-selling, really successful, ghostwriter? I mean, how did you end up doing this and making this into your business?
Yeah, thank you for asking. So I did writing since I was five years old. I started by writing poetry, grew up, majored in Comparative Literature, and eventually journalism. And so I was a business journalist for many years, writing for publications like Business Week, The International Herald Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, and so on.
And what happened was that, and I was a business journalist, entrepreneurs started asking me to write their workbooks for them. And I noticed that many of them had had major failures before they became successful. And so I write these stories and eventually, like I said, they started asking me to ghostwrite.
And one day, one of my authors said, “Hey, can you ghostwrite my book?” And I said, “Sure, I’ll ghostwrite your book” And even that journey, that transition, was definitely a learning experience. Would you like to hear about that story?
Yeah, absolutely. I definitely want to.
Yeah. So what happened was that I was so excited about ghostwriting my first book and I interviewed the author. And I got his hero’s journey: his bankruptcy and having to live in his in-laws’ garage. And then eventually he got into that field that he’s in and eventually became very successful multi-multimillionaire.
And so I had gotten the scenes, the dialogues, his journey, his promise to the world, and on and on. And I was so excited and I wrote this book and I handed it in. I’m in my living room with the phone in front of me. And I’m so excited and I’m thinking to myself, “Oh gosh maybe this book will be the next Rich Dad, Poor Dad, or the next Thinking Grow Rich. It’ll be this amazing classic.”
And so I’m in the living room, I’m on the phone and the author and the marketing manager get on the phone and the marketing manager said, “This is good but it’s not publishable.” And I was like, “Oh no.” And he said, “We’re going to have to start again.” And I was, “Okay.” And I was so devastated after I hung up.
I did what somebody in any situation like that might do, I crawled into bed and I probably stayed there for, I don’t know, maybe three days or something like that. And I was so depressed and I thought to myself, “Maybe I’m not meant to do this. Maybe this isn’t my path. Maybe I’m not good enough.” I was so down. And then I thought, “I promised them that I was going to finish this book and I need to do what I said I would do.”
So I got out of bed and I went to the library, I went to bookstores, I looked up best-selling books, and I really studied what made a good business book. What made it compelling? What made it something that could be marketable and publishable?
I rewrote that manuscript and I handed it in. And so I’m in my living room again and I’m getting ready to get on the phone with the marketing manager and the author again. And I’m thinking to myself, “God, I hope it’s good enough. I hope this is gonna work.”
And the marketing manager said, “This is good. It’s marketable. We can publish.” And so that book went on to do five additions. The author was able to use it to market everything they needed in terms of the television show, their coaching classes, their mastery courses, all this stuff.
When I actually went to his live events, he was gracious enough to introduce me. People would come up to me during the break with tears in their eyes. And they would say, “That book changed our lives for generations to come.” And I was like, so astounded that my simple book could make such a difference in people’s lives.
That author spoke to me recently and he said that that book has launched a new division of his business. That’s now worth more than a hundred million dollars. So it’s phenomenal what a book can do. And after that, I got tons of referrals and I had to make a choice between my journalism job and starting a business ghostwriting books. And obviously, I chose writing books.
And before I knew it, I added team members and we were doing publishing as well and getting people’s books out there. So it’s been an amazing journey. And I’ve had the privilege now of working with more than 450 authors on more than 1500 projects. And most importantly changing people’s lives with the books that we do.
I’m never credited as a ghostwriter, I’m credited as an editor. So, unless the authors say, people don’t really know that I’m the ghostwriter and that’s totally okay with me. Because for me, it’s really important to change people’s minds and ideas and inspire them to do great things.
So that’s how I became a ghostwriter. Now I have a business doing this and it’s just been such an honor and privilege.
It’s also really interesting how we look at something that’s already a finished product and we don’t realize how much work that goes into it. And also how many people have had a hand in it, right? Because we just see the successful person and we think they can do everything: they write everything, they do everything, they run their whole business.
And if you think about it, there are so many people who are extremely competent in the back end of it because without them, you wouldn’t be where you are. So that is also a great lesson to learn that it’s not a one-man show or a one-woman show. There are a ton of people on the other side actually running it.
Indeed. And what’s fun about being a ghostwriter, I mean, basically our clients are outsourcing their books to us to write and to get done. But one thing that I love about my job is that I capture the voice, the stories, the spirit, and the heart of the author.
So basically I’m translating their ideas, their stories into book form and that’s always great. And one of the things we do is I take them on a heart message journey which is an experiential journey where we discovered their heart message, which is sort of like a universal theme that resonates and that appeals to readers on a very large level regardless of whether they’re in that particular industry or not.
And what I like about that is that it transcends geography. It transcends race, gender, background, or country for that matter of where people are and where they’re from because we really get at who they are as a spirit.
When you look back into your journey, when you finally realized that you wanted to make that pivot after the success that you had, I’m sure there was a battle, right? I’m not sure how hard that was for you to make that pivot, to make that change, to leave your journalism job.
But how did you prepare for this and kind of make yourself really prepare for what’s about to come, right? Because I don’t know about you, Helen, but with me, it’s like, “Okay, is this going to be like a one-time thing,” especially when it becomes really successful, right? When you’re like, “Is this going to be a one-hit-wonder? How can I replicate this?” How did you go about that and how did you make that change and make it successful?
Yeah, that’s a great question. So for me, I’m kind of strategic in the way I make transitions. I’m not one of those types of people who were like, “Oh, I’m going to do this. I gave up everything and I sold my house and everything just so I could go off to Argentina and live for three months,” kind of like that. I’m not like that at all.
So in this case, what I said to myself is, “Well, it’s great. I’ve written this one book that I’ve been blessed enough for this team to this author to ask me to do.” People started referring me and what I said to myself is, “When I have three authors who want this and it’s solid, then I will really consider moving forward in this.” And that’s exactly what happened.
And it was the funniest thing because I had three referrals all at the same time. There was no way I could do this on the side and do my regular journalism job. And so I really had to make a choice and I prayed about it. Ultimately we have a reason for being here on the planet but we don’t know what it is most of the time, right?
But there’s a part of us that is connected to that divine part of us that knows why we’re here and what we’re meant to do but we just never know what it is at the time. And so I just connected, asked, I hold my hand out and I put one choice in one hand I put another choice on the other hand.
And I asked, I said, “Which is the path I’m supposed to go on, stay in my journalism job or go with the ghostwriting even though I’d never had a business doing ghostwriting and even though I wasn’t sure?” And I could feel the weight in the hand that was with the books, with the ghostwriting, it was stronger energy. There was a weight and it felt like that was the answer.
So I kind of had to trust. It still took me a couple of weeks and I eventually turned in my resignation from my journalism job. And they were so kind, they said, “Well, okay, but can you still work for us part-time?” So I worked for them part-time for about six months while I ghostwrote these three books and the three books just led to more and more.
It was a clear indication that that was the path I was meant to go on and then it just grew from there. And even now I say, “If I’m meant to do this well, then let me know. And if I’m not meant to do this, and I meant to do something else, then I’ll be happy to do that.”
And we’ve been very, very blessed. I keep using the word blessed ’cause that’s how I feel. I’ve been very blessed with all the projects that we’ve had this past year, even when I thought, “Okay, well maybe we won’t have any.” The truth is that we all need to tell stories. We all have a desire, a yearning to share our truth, to share the hard times that we went through and the hard lessons we learned through that.
And in learning those lessons, we become successful or we become really good at what we do. We have a certain kind of wisdom and gravitas, shall we say. And we earned that right to share it with others. What I’m finding is that, especially in times of great change, in times of uncertainty, and in times of economic turmoil, people have an even greater need to go back to those eternal truths, that eternal wisdom.
And stories allow us to share that. Stories allow us to validate the experiences we have and to validate perhaps the failures and the sense of despair and depression that we may have had going through a certain period of experience that led to greater understanding, that led to a better way of doing things, that led to successful entrepreneurs.
Entrepreneurs are as successful as they are is because they’ve made so many mistakes and they’ve earned the right to share that with others now. So I feel that when you kind of trust and you’re able to follow your path, you’re able to serve other people and help them with their path. And so I think that faith, that trust, and that knowingness is very important.
I also find it really incredible that when we are going through some really low points in our life, obviously we don’t want to be in that situation, but when you actually come out of it, it actually becomes the best story to tell, right?
Yeah. Because no one wants to hear, “Yeah, I was born. I did really great. And then I found what I was really supposed to do with my life. It was all really easy and now here I am, really successful.” People are like, “Okay, I can’t relate to that because we all go through the struggles.” Everyone has pain, some more than others, but it’s something that it’s really relatable.
And we can definitely look at that and see ourselves in it. It’s unfortunate that we don’t necessarily see ourselves as successful or the success of it or the end of it. But we do see ourselves in the struggle and that gives you hope to continue and in the long run.
It’s not surprising to me that you are doing well even during these crazy times, because this is actually when I feel like most of us are looking at those stories to inspire us because most people are going through some really hard struggles right now. So you kind of want to be inspired, it’s like, “Okay, I need something to get me out of this dark time.”
So I’m not surprised that telling a story and having something to grasp onto is what people are trying to find and also what people are trying to give back as well.
Exactly. So I created a name for something, I call it the expert’s origin story, and we included it in every book that we write. And what it is is that every expert, every entrepreneur, coach, speaker, influencer, business leader, any kind of visionary who has a message to share, there’s always an origin story, right?
Their origin story as an expert on that particular topic. An origin story comprises the elements of things that are “okay and then something horrible happens, something challenging happens, or sometimes it’s just boredom with life”. Boredom with a system like, “This isn’t okay. There’s something wrong with having to get a job, get married, have children, and die.” You know what I mean?
So that creates something where they’re challenged and then they go off on a journey. Well, that’s their origin story. How they started just like in the Wizard of Oz, right? Dorothy lives a normal, boring life in Kansas and then the tornado happens. And then all of a sudden she’s on a journey where she has to find her way home.
Well with every entrepreneur, every visionary that writes a book, there’s an origin story. And when you have that, the reader relates because they relate to the vulnerability, the fear of the uncertainty that that particular expert went through at the time, they relate to that.
And then they want to go on the journey which is the journey of the book. And they want to see the success or the return to Kansas, shall we say, or the final battle of uncovering the truth about the wizard, uncovering and destroying the evil person, and then clicking their shoes to find out their eternal truth of coming home. That there’s no place like home.
Well, that’s kind of what a business book is like too. It’s the same arc that we follow except that it’s in the world of business. It’s in the world of that particular topic, whether that’s alternative health, a memoir, relationships, sales and marketing, or being a digital nomad, having an offbeat life.
And so every really great book has this expert’s origin story that we include at the beginning because, as you said, that’s how people relate to you. People relate when there’s a vulnerability and they’re inspired when there’s success.
Yeah. And that’s really what we look for. We need people to look up to and get inspired by. And when you have a good book, you have a good story obviously, you have a good ghostwriter like you, Helen, it really makes it come to life and it inspires so many people.
And it’s incredible what words can do and what changes you can make in people’s lives. And one of the greatest things about your business and your job is all of these people telling you how you have changed their lives.
Yeah. Thank you. And it’s the same as you, Debbie, because you have an amazing origin story: how you transitioned to being a digital nomad, how you live this life. And you were telling me earlier, of course, you’re based in New York, but you were in Florida for several months. You just have an amazing life and an amazing story too. So it’s inspiring. I’m inspired by you.
Well, definitely a struggle most of the time.
I tell people this all the time because I never want to have my audience listen to me and be just like, “Okay, everything is perfect.” No, and I say this all the time, most of the time when you’re still trying to reach for something, and even when you’re in it, you’re constantly struggling. It doesn’t get usually any easier. You just get better at what you’re doing. And that’s just the truth.
Like you’ve said, Helen, you fail enough and you get good at it because you fail so much that you can only go up from there. But most of the time it’s a constant struggle. And I think a lot of people miss that. There’s a lot of false perceptions of certain people’s lives. Even the best of the best are not just skating through.
There’s always a struggle and I think the more successful you become, there’s more responsibility, and the more people that you are in charge of. And I think it’s not an easy journey but it’s a great one for sure.
Exactly. It’s worth it.
For you, what has been the biggest setback that you have encountered right now as a ghostwriter, as an entrepreneur? Because we often hear struggles in the beginning but I want to hear about what you’re struggling with right now.
In the story world, what we say is that we’re always going through several different story arcs at the same time. Like you might be ending this particular story arc about, let’s say, your health, and then when you’re in the middle of a story arc about, say your relationship, and then you’re starting a new story arc about something else. So that’s how life is. And that’s how entrepreneurship is.
And that’s why people have a series of books too because they’re always talking about different story arcs. So for me, in my business, we have probably a dozen virtual team members. We have dozens of clients as well that we’re working with right now. So for me, my struggles as an entrepreneur have been about putting our cash flow system in place.
So this year we’ve been implementing a particular system for managing our cash and making sure we set aside money for projects that are still ongoing, making sure that we’ve implemented profit sharing for our team which has been amazing, having cash reserves going forward. That was a struggle the last two to three years because we didn’t have those. I mean, it was just like a point of great pain for me.
We had all these other things with sales, marketing clients. We had production and stuff but our cash management system sucked. And now finally we have implemented that and that’s helping us enormously.
Legal, there was a huge thing too. Because in our state, California, there’s been a whole big legal change and then rechange regarding hiring and so on. So that was a huge struggle too but that seems to have resolved itself. And we have engaged a fantastic lawyer to help us navigate that.
And so we have really good systems in place and we’re able to focus more on assisting and growing our team members such as writers and so on and helping with their development as well. And then putting in a client dashboard system for our clients so that they can see exactly where they are every step of the way for their journey.
In essence, I would say a lot of it is automating and putting in systems and processes. So it’s not just one entrepreneur’s vision. That’s not just Helen’s passion and energy but it’s just like, “Hey, we have the systems of the business in place to support all the projects that we have and to let our clients have a really seamless experience or more seamless experience going forward.”
It’s crazy how the issues and the struggles that you go through, it just changes, right?
When you first began, you had maybe two or three or five clients, and as you get bigger you have over 450 clients that you’ve had now. And it just gets bigger and bigger and you’re like, “Oh my goodness, how do I make all of these things possible?” And obviously, you want to do the best that you can.
And that’s why you’re talking about systemizing things because otherwise it just gets so crazy without it. And you’re just going to be run down to the ground and especially with so many more people to work with, it’s just not possible to do that.
Exactly. And you have to duplicate yourself like with you, Debbie, you’re very clear in bringing on guests onto this show. You have a very clear structure so that we, as the guests, know exactly what to expect and how to serve your audience. And so I think you’ve done a really nice job with that as well.
Yeah. It was, again, systemizing things, and once you do something over and over again. I have almost two hundred people that I’ve interviewed and it’s like with anything else: you learn as you grow and you just have to start implementing them. Otherwise, like I said, you’re just going to go nuts.
In the news these days, one of the words that people keep saying is unprecedented, in these unprecedented times. And I sort of feel like I hope we always have unprecedented times. That’s what life is about. That’s what history has always been about. If you take any slice of 10 years of history, it’s always unprecedented. That’s how we grow. That’s how we improve.
So I hope that we may all have unprecedented times forever going forward so that we can grow and so that we can expand as entrepreneurs. So that we can expand our teams and also impact more people in the world.
It’s also times like these that you learn how to adapt and you also learn how to think outside of the box. I think it definitely shows what type of person you are as an entrepreneur and just as a human being, how we are all really resilient. So even when things happen that are not the norm, we still survive somehow and it’s pretty amazing what we see right now, what people are doing to even thrive during these situations.
And we also have seen a huge, obviously, because there was really no option for anybody, rise of digital entrepreneurs, of remote workers. And I’m pretty happy about that because it’s really what I love. But now it just shows that it’s sustainable, right?
Exactly. And that’s how we’ve operated all along because, as a writer, I don’t really like going into an office filled with people and pretending like I’m working certain hours and I’m productive when I’m not. And just going to the cooler and talking to people and eating just to have a break when really I’d rather just lie down and meditate for a while. You know what I mean?
And so I really love how the world is becoming digital and online. And I think it’s going to be a really great world that we’re moving into.
And there are just so much more possibilities for you actually have more freedom with your time and just do more with your life when you have that. And I know a lot of people love having an environment where there are coworkers and they want to be in person. And that’s definitely understandable. But for people like us, Helen, and for my listeners, this is definitely something that is really incredible. And now there are more opportunities to do it.
Absolutely. I think there’s also that internal discipline and being able to choose when you’re actually gonna be working when you’re going to be not working, and being able to focus in an online environment. So I think those are also new skills that we’re going to have as digital nomads.
And for a lot of young people coming into the marketplace, they don’t have the benefit of a few years, at least working in an office per se where there are people giving them input and helping them develop those skills and develop that discipline. They’re going into the marketplace where they already have to be able to have those skills to be effective and productive, even without people giving them that feedback.
I’ve actually hired people like marketing people, for example, and they wanted to be able to come into an office and get that feedback and that interaction. And I’m like, “No, you need to be able to work from home.” And they’re, “Oh…,” and then they leave because they realize that they’re not equipped to actually work from home and work independently and they want to have that feedback.
Whether you’re young or you’re old, for people who are making that transition into a digital nomad lifestyle, something to be aware of is you have to create a virtual office, basically.
Whether that’s a section of your bedroom or a section of your living room, you need to be able to close the doors and tell people around you, “Hey, this is my time. I’m focused on working. I’m focused on my clients. I’m focused on creating I’m not in social mode, I’m not in family mode. So please let me leave me alone.”
And so I think that’s kind of one skillset that people need to be able to develop in making that transition to a digital nomad and offbeat lifestyle.
Yeah. It takes discipline especially when you get started because you’re not used to it. And if you’re living with other people, there have to be boundaries and it gets harder especially when you have children and family all around you, but it is doable as we know.
I know a lot of parents, a lot of people working from home who can do this. But it does, it takes a little bit of time, especially if you are unfamiliar with it, but it can be realistic. Now, most people don’t really have a choice. So you kind of learn as you go which is okay – that’s kind of with everything in life.
So Helen, let’s fast forward to 30 years from now and you’re looking back at your life, what legacy would you like to leave and what do you want to be remembered for?
Thank you, Debbie. That’s a beautiful question. Oh, I want to be remembered for creating heartfelt, gut-wrenching, and inspiring stories for other people, for myself, for the world that uplifts humanity. That lasts long after I have left this planet and that touches people’s hearts in a universal way regardless of whether I’m here or not.
That’s what I wanted to be remembered for.
Well, you’re definitely in a good place to do that. It’s a good place to be in what you’re doing.
Yes. Thank you very much. And ultimately, I think, Debbie, what I really want to be remembered for is having left a legacy of more love on the planet and the opportunity for more people to experience more love in their lives in whatever way that might be. I think that’s it.
That’s beautiful. And I think you’re definitely doing that with the words that you’re putting out there and the way you’re sharing other people’s lives, as well as a writer, which is really beautiful. And it will. We’ve had stories that even hundreds of years from now are still being looked at, made into movies even, and more books that come from it which is really incredible.
Now, Helen, if our listeners want to know more about you, where can they find you?
Well, I actually have a free gift for your listeners where they can ask to create the vision of their book. It’s just a create my book vision questionnaire and they can get it at freegiftsfromhelen.com. And then they can have access to that and many other opportunities.
That is incredible. I love that freebie, Helen. I think that’s going to be really good to take a look at.
Yeah, you’re welcome. It’s a really great comprehensive questionnaire for creating the vision, the future of your book in terms of what your purpose is for your book, who your audience is, how you want to get it out, what’s the scope of it, and so on and so forth. It’s a really nice way to set that up.
I just want to say also, Debbie, you’re such an amazing individual. And I know that in the work that you do, you’re sharing stories, inspiring people, and you’re also creating more love on the planet. So thank you so much for the work you’re doing and for the gift of this podcast that you’re offering to your listeners.
Oh, that’s so sweet, Helen. Thank you so much for those kind words. And it was such a pleasure to have you on the show. And I can’t wait to look at your freebie and answer those questionnaires too.
Thank you, Helen. It was a pleasure to speak with you.
Likewise, take care. Bye.
Audio Engineer: Ben Smith