The demand for behind-the-scenes writers is growing as busy time-poor entrepreneurs, consultants, subject experts, speakers, and corporate executives look for someone to write a blog post, a white paper, or even a book.
Both fiction and nonfiction publishers also look for ghostwriters to help authors who may want to publish a book but just don’t have the time or expertise to write it themselves. It’s the ghostwriter who will spruce up a manuscript or write a book from scratch. Literary and entertainment agents also need ghostwriters to write a book based on their celebrity clients’ book ideas so that they can sell it to a publisher.
What It Takes to Be a Ghostwriter
But breaking into ghostwriting is not an easy task. Many successful ghostwriters got into ghostwriting after working on smaller writing projects and gaining the experience they needed in learning and developing the craft of writing.
So, if you’ve got considerable writing experience and you want to start ghostwriting, you need to know a few things about being a ghostwriter.
1. Ghostwriting is About the Author
Being a ghostwriter means being a behind-the-scenes writer. You have to understand this deeply and know that you are writing for someone else, in someone else’s tone and voice, and that you won’t be getting credit (in most cases) for all your hard work (although you will be getting handsomely paid). This means when you see your work published, there is no glory for you. The quicker you come to terms with that the better it will be for you.
What you need to do is capture your client’s way of writing—style of speech, pace, tone, and writing style—and write their book the way they want it. It’s about the author, not about you.
One issue you will face is swapping repetitive words contained in your client’s rough draft with other word choices that resonate with your client’s vocabulary, personality, and their viewpoint.
It helps that you get to know your client better through regular face-to-face conversations and through updates on the phone. Another method is to capture client interviews and discussions on an audio recorder so that you can pull up exact phrases and sentences quickly. Excellent interview skills will come in handy if you are ghostwriting so that you can extract relevant information from your client.
2. Ghostwriting Can Be Lonely
Freelance writing is a lonely business, and ghostwriting can get even more solitary. You will be spending most of your time on your own, working on someone else’s book—giving you no opportunity for interaction except with your client. In many cases, you will have to sign a NDA (nondisclosure agreement), so you won’t even be able to talk about your project with other people.
When your client’s book is released, they will probably attend many book events and other promotions, along with receiving recognition for the book.
But for you, this will not happen. No one will know your name or hear about all the great work you did, and that that can be quite disheartening.
It’s essential for you to connect with other ghostwriters and build up a support network. Join groups and local associations, attend meeting and workshops, and learn to grow as a writer.
You will find like-minded people you can talk to, discuss similar topic and issues with, and even make new friends along the way.
3. You Need To Be Business Minded
Even if you are writing for someone else, you need to remember that you are in it to make money. This means that you need to treat ghostwriting as a business venture. So set up your website, invest in tools you need to practice your trade, network, and present yourself as a business owner.
Develop a pricing structure which covers your workload and your expenses. Ghostwriting involves large-scale projects, and sometimes they can spiral out of control regarding time and money. You need to know when to work on spec and when to charge based on the time you spend on that project.
It’s also a good idea to discuss and set expectations with your client before the project begins. Let your client know what you can do and what you cannot. Explain the process and the timeline, how many revisions are included in the cost, and when you will need feedback from them.
Before you begin the project, make sure you get your client to sign a contract which will help in mitigating any conflict. Do not start work until a contract is signed by both parties.
Develop strong project management skills as you deal with different clients and have various deadlines to meet. Take the help of various project management and time management tools to be on top of your schedule.
4. Be Patient
Getting a ghostwriting gig takes time, and completing a project takes even longer. Even if you have ghostwritten for somebody in the past, it doesn’t mean that you will get another gig soon. Ghostwriting is a pretty secretive business, and since you can’t really claim any accolade for the writing you have done, it gets challenging to let the world know the kind of work you are doing.
But those who hire ghostwriters often know others who need ghostwriters, and they are likely to recommend you if they have had a good experience with you. You should always ask your existing and past clients for referrals to get new business.
Also, people looking for a ghostwriter will eventually find you if you build a great website. But you have to be patient until that happens.
If you’re a novice ghostwriter then maybe you can start writing legacy stories for free. There are quite a few people out there looking for someone to write their family history.
Build your portfolio steadily as you go through one project after another and spread the word through smart marketing techniques, networking, or finding initial work through online marketplaces like Upwork.
But most of all, be patient till your big break comes through.
Becoming A Ghostwriter
Ghostwriting is not for everyone. But if you’re prepared to receive no credit for your work and still want to write for someone, then you have a very lucrative niche in your hands. With ghostwriting you get to use your writing skills to share someone else’s ideas and stories, and that can be very rewarding—because it is your skills that make this possible.
So, are you a ghostwriter? What are your experiences with ghostwriting? What has worked for you, and what hasn’t worked well?
If you liked this post, here are some other articles you might love:
- How to Overcome Writer’s Block Once and For All
- 11 Things Good Writers Do: The Writing Habits of Successful Authors
- 7 Awesome Writing Experiences You Can Have Next Year
Tom Corson-Knowles is the founder of TCK Publishing, and the bestselling author of 27 books including Secrets of the Six-Figure author. He is also the host of the Publishing Profits Podcast show where we interview successful authors and publishing industry experts to share their tips for creating a successful writing career.