Issue #441 July 21, 2022 | 22 Tammuz, 5782
By Harry Glazer
By his own account, Michael Levin’s start in the ghostwriting business was not entirely auspicious or a sign of the success that lay ahead.
As he tells it in a narrative on his website: “I received my J.D. from Columbia Law School in 1985 and went to work as an attorney in Boston. There were only two problems—I didn’t like being a lawyer, and I kept failing the bar … Two years after graduating from Columbia, I was all but unemployable in Boston’s tight-knit legal community. … I figured that if I didn’t try to make it as a writer now, I never would.
“Unfortunately, within four years, at the same time that my Columbia classmates were making partners at their firms, I was a starving writer, literally. I was dead broke, and actually qualified for heating assistance in Massachusetts, because my annual income was so low.”
What did he do? A mentor suggested he start offering writing classes, while pursuing his dreams of success as a published author. He ended up filling the classes (it helped that he’d already sold three novels to Simon & Schuster) and built a booming teaching business. That led to opportunities to teach writing at UCLA, then at NYU, then to students asking for his help with their manuscripts. This led to requests for him to co-write or ghostwrite other peoples’ books. And thus began a career that, as he calculates now, has enabled him to play a major role in the publication of over 900 books thus far.
Many of these books are high-profile and highly regarded publications, such as one with Major League Baseball legend Dave Winfield, another with YouTube celebrity chef Nealy Fischer, one with FBI agent Joacquin Garcia, one with prominent Hollywood publicist Howard Bragman, one with motivational author Zig Ziglar, and more recently a book with Angela Harrison, George Floyd’s aunt, “about how the killing of Floyd changed the world.”
Within the past few years, Levin opened a new facet of his successful ghostwriting business, Michael Levin Writing Experience, which focuses on capturing and conveying the life experiences of Jewish leaders. Levin’s new business line, Jewish Leaders Books, highlights Jewish leaders in a variety of settings and can offer assistance not just with writing their stories but also with publishing, distribution, and marketing the books.
Levin moved with his wife, Suzanne, and their four children a year ago to Bergen County. Suzanne handles the finances of his ghostwriting business, which has a staff of 12 people in different locations across the globe (including a typist studying in Mongolia, an administrative assistant in South Carolina, and writers in Long Beach, California; and Athens, Georgia). They moved here from Boston because the New York-New Jersey area offers more options for schools for their kids and because he realized that, as a ghostwriter, “what I do, I can do anywhere.” They attend Congregation Bnai Yeshurun in Teaneck, which he describes as a “fantastic, great shul” with an inspiring rav, Rabbi Eliot Schrier.
In his Jewish Leaders Books venture, Levin highlights the life stories of a range of individuals who each see themselves as a major contributor to the Jewish community. He told The Jewish Link: “There are many ways to lead—financially, organizationally, spiritually, or in quieter, behind-the-scenes ways. The term ‘leader’ is actually quite broad. And someone does not have to be acknowledged by others as a ‘Jewish leader’ to be published by Jewish Leaders Books.”
As with the book projects he’s completed with leaders in other spheres of society, Levin is committed to working with “positive people, who are sharing a positive message. I don’t support attacks on others, or naked advertising for a company.” He has already helped write and publish dozens of books in the body/mind/spirit domain, including quite a few books with rabbis who are interested in advancing their unique perspectives on Torah study or communal life. He has also worked with many people to create books that preserve individuals and family memories.
Levin sees himself as someone who helps accomplished individuals, who are not writers by trade, to share their experiences and perspectives and to make sure “their story shouldn’t die with the author.” As he told The Jewish Link: “For many busy people, writing their own story is not the best use of their time. I’m here to facilitate the best way for them to get their ideas out in the most effective way.”
At the same time, he cautions prospective authors not to expect that their books will be a bestseller or provide a steady income stream. “Most books don’t make much money through book sales. Often, clients use their books to attract new business, for branding, standing out in the world, as a method of thought-leadership, or as a means of preserving their experiences.”
Perhaps the best testament to Levin’s skills as a ghostwriter for Jewish leaders is the warm praise he’s received from Jewish leaders he’s already assisted.
“My father, Victor Carter, was a leading industrialist and philanthropist in Los Angeles for decades and Michael Levin worked with me to capture his story, from his upbringing in Russia to his conquering of not one but three industries, including the film industry,” said Fanya Carter, author of “All the Best.”
“Michael was a diligent partner, a thorough interviewer, and an outstanding writer, and I’m very proud of the book that we created together. My father was a true Jewish leader in every sense of the term, and I would recommend Michael to any leader seeking to tell his or her story.”
Matt Spielman, author of “Inflection Points,” said: “Michael is the reason why I was able to publish a book. And the finished product is much better than I could have achieved by myself. Michael offers an invaluable service delivered through a true partnership. Simply stated: one of the best decisions I have made in my career.”