Ghostwriter, editor and journalist Zoe McDonald on the wellness genre and writing a great book

By   Hannah Bickerton 3 min read

whitefox: helping brands, thought leaders and writers create beautiful bespoke books

Zoe McDonald is a freelance ghostwriter, content creative, editor and journalist. She has collaborated with authors and publishers on many book projects, with a focus on wellbeing, psychology and self-help – working with executive coaches, scientists, influencers, entrepreneurs, thought leaders, CEOs and memoirists and publishers such as Penguin Random House, Hay House, Harper Collins and whitefox to co-create a wide range of books. Her book projects include Penguin’s Calm and The Source, Fit Vegan for Hay House and Pavilion’s Pilates Made Easy. Zoe has written features for a range of national magazines, including Red, The Simple Things and Planet Mindful.

Hi Zoe! Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you became a ghostwriter for book projects, specifically those focusing on wellness and self-help?

I spent the first ten years of my career working at Hearst UK, finishing up as Features Editor at a wellbeing title. After that, I went freelance and started ghostwriting. Alongside my writing and editing work, I’m a trained psychodynamic counsellor, so I’m interested in every aspect of mental and physical health.

How would you define ‘wellness’? Is it a relatively new genre, different from self-help?

For me ‘wellness’ is about optimal health, committing to live well and do what you can to become the healthiest, most resilient version of yourself. Self-help has slightly negative connotations in some quarters, and there is often a bit of sniffiness about the genre. Wellness is self-help 2.0, and now that even macho thought-leaders accept self-care is essential for optimal functioning, wellness has become mainstream.

Do you think there has been a rise in the popularity of books in the wellness space over the last few years? If so, why do you think this is?

The pandemic forced everyone to reassess their priorities. The wellness benefits of simple activities such as walking, prioritising family and spending time in nature, recalibrated our sense of what really matters. The impact of long-covid also reminded many of us just how important health is. We saw that we couldn’t take our wellbeing for granted. Recent research into neuroscience has also proven that many of the activities that enhance wellness, from time spent in green space to exercise and meditation, have impressive benefits for cognitive function and mood. In this context, wellness titles aren’t so easily dismissed as ‘fluffy.’

Reflecting on the range of book projects you have worked on, what key elements do you believe make for an interesting, engaging and helpful book in the wellness genre?

I think an engaging structure is key. I often work with thought leaders who have devised their own models to describe their ideas. Often these models can be enhanced, shaped and ‘played’ within the initial stages of the ghostwriting process to make sure they are as strong as possible. Human interest stories and engaging personal experience always help to bring non-fiction to life, and with wellness, it is helpful if authors are happy to share their own journey and struggle to avoid any holier than thou guru vibes! Practical exercises and tried and tested techniques are key to a good wellness read, with easy-to-understand, everyday tips that readers can put into practice.

What writing advice would you give to aspiring authors currently working on a book in this genre?

Think about the ‘received wisdom’ that exists in the area you are exploring and how your book seeks to disrupt or correct it with a fresh view. Thinking in this way forces you to articulate your unique approach and turn your wellness perspective into an elevator-pitch style ‘sell’ that will inform your storytelling, argument and recommendations.

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Hannah Bickerton
Hannah Bickerton
Hannah has worked in marketing for nine years, specialising in strategy development for start-ups and EdTech companies. Having recently jumped across industries to join the Whitefox team, Hannah isn’t a complete stranger to the publishing world with previous employment at Macmillan and TES Global. She is now dedicated to ensuring that anyone who has something interesting to say knows all about whitefox.