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Q&A with Marcia Layton Turner '83

Marcia Layton Turner ’83 is a writer who has authored, co-authored or ghostwritten more than 50 nonfiction books, including New York Times bestsellers, award-winners and titles that have sold millions of copies. She has also written articles for magazines like Inc., Entrepreneur, Businessweek, Black Enterprise, Realtor, Chief Content Officer, Woman’s Day, Health and dozens of trade journals. She has an M.B.A. from the University of Michigan and a B.A. with honors from Wellesley College, and she founded the Association of Ghostwriters in 2010.
Share a little about your career and what you've done since completing school.
I think in high school I heard or read that adults would likely have three careers, versus the one our grandparents and great-grandparents did. I always imagined that meant I would pivot from one career to a totally new endeavor, but my career path has been more evolutionary than anything else.
Today, I think most of my Tower Hill classmates who were in English classes with me would be shocked to hear that I’m a professional writer. When I headed off to college at Wellesley, I still didn’t really understand how to effectively complete a writing exercise. Sure, I could spell and I understood basic grammar rules, but my writing didn’t flow logically. However, at Wellesley you could choose between a final exam or paper in a lot of classes, and I always chose to write a paper. After three and a half years (I graduated early) of writing dozens of papers, I’d actually gotten pretty good at writing. I didn’t realize it, however, until I started the MBA program at the University of Michigan right after college and had no trouble earning As. It was a pleasant surprise.
After Michigan I took a job with a subsidiary of Eastman Kodak Co. here in Rochester, New York, was then recruited into Kodak corporate, and left a few years later to run my own marketing consulting firm. Throughout all of those jobs, I relied heavily on my writing skills. Eventually, I decided that’s all I wanted to do—write.
I started with books. My first was one I wrote for my dad—it was a guide to help fine artists better market their works. From there, I landed book projects with major publishers and then earned a reputation as a ghostwriter. That’s about 80% of what I do today—ghostwrite business books for CEOs, entrepreneurs and business owners. I’ve had New York Times bestsellers, award-winners and titles that have sold millions of copies.
And I would never have been able to develop the skills that I now have if not for Mr. Russell’s English classes at Tower Hill. I dedicated one of my books to him; I’m so grateful for his instruction and encouragement.
Why do you do what you do?
I feel so lucky to be paid to learn from business gurus and experts. Every day I learn something new and am then challenged to figure out how to explain new concepts to other people. Since I love to learn, it’s the ideal job for me.
Why did you decide to establish the Association of Ghostwriters?
I founded the Association of Ghostwriters in 2010 after realizing that many of my colleagues and I were ghostwriting books, but that there wasn’t an official organization that would provide a way to connect us. So I created one.
It’s a small group, but most members continue to renew year after year, so I hope that means they’re getting something out of it. My goal with the association is to help ghostwriters improve their marketing and business development efforts, so they can attract more work and earn more money. That’s the primary purpose, really.
What are you passionate about at work?
My most enjoyable days are spent helping clients figure out how to tell a story or explain a concept.
What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
Besides visiting my two children at college whenever possible, and permitted, I’ve recently been spending a lot of time completing assignments for the doctorate of business administration (DBA) program that I’m enrolled in at Temple University. I love learning, so although being back in a classroom is a little stressful, having debates and scholarly discussions is fantastic. When I’m not writing or studying, I try to get outside to enjoy the village I live in, which is on the Erie Canal. Oh, and I’m an eBay PowerSeller, just for fun.
What was your experience like at Tower Hill?
I entered Tower Hill in ninth grade, after transferring from Friends School, and immediately felt at home. The students were smart, kind, ambitious and fun. I worked hard—I think we all did—but the teachers made sure we knew that the work was well within our capabilities.
I lived only a couple of blocks away, so I walked (typically arriving late) to school. I played field hockey, though not very well, froze in the winter playing soccer speedball, ran track and sang in the chorus. I have great memories of high school.
How do you feel that Tower Hill influenced your life and career?
Tower Hill taught me how to study—really, how to learn—which has shaped my career and my life. My Tower Hill experience kicked off a series of very fortunate events that continue to this day.
Thanks to my classmates and teachers, I graduated feeling fairly confident that almost anything was possible if I worked hard enough. I was sure that was true for all of us.