Many people in places of high influence have important insights to share with the world, but not all of them have the extra time to turn those thoughts into a whole book.
Chances are, you’ve probably read a book or two thinking it was all written by the author credited on the front cover, but in reality, the words were artfully strung together by another party—a ghostwriter.
What Is a Ghostwriter?
A ghostwriter is essentially someone who writes on behalf of another person. This work can include any written output like speeches, articles, blog posts, web copy, articles, and email newsletters, among others. The company or person that hired the ghostwriter gets the credit for the work.
The ghostwriter will need to learn how to write in the credited author’s voice. This might prove a challenge, but it can also help improve your writing in the long run.
Different ways for the ghostwriter to capture the author’s thoughts and ideas include conducting interviews, transcribing notes, or putting together other primary sources. Because the client needs to supply all content, ghostwriting requires less research on your part.
When the book is published, the client’s name appears on the book and the ghostwriter’s name does not appear anywhere. If the ghostwriter writes a blog on behalf of a person or a company, they don’t get a byline either.
For example, some of the biggest children’s and young adult series like The Babysitters’ Club, Sweet Valley Twins, and Nancy Drew use ghostwriters while keeping the author’s brand name. For Nancy Drew, in fact, Caroline Keene is a fictional author name, created as part of the Nancy Drew brand.
The Difference Between Ghostwriting and Co-Authorship
Ghostwriting isn’t the only way for more than one person to write a book together. Another alternative is co-authorship.
Bestselling fiction author James Patterson is open about the fact that he works with co-authors. His publisher states that out of the 150 books to his name, 114 of them are New York Times bestsellers.
He normally works with these collaborators by giving them a “narrative framework” which shows them what to write for the novel. According to one of his co-authors, Mark Sullivan, this involves weekly phone calls, regular “brutally honest feedback,” and a relentless pursuit of making the book the best it can be.
After all the hard work, the co-author’s name appears on the cover with Patterson. This is a key difference from ghostwriting.
Is Ghostwriting Ethical?
Some people question whether writing a book and publishing it under someone else’s name is ethical. Perhaps a helpful answer to the question is looking for clues in the author’s intent.
For example, if the author has a lot of knowledge about a certain subject but just doesn’t have the writing prowess to put his thoughts into an engaging book, ghostwriting comes in handy.
The author’s name may already be established as a well-known brand, but they hire ghostwriters to finish stories published under their name.
This is the case with Francine Pascal’s Sweet Valley Twins series, where ghostwriters write according to a detailed outline.
On the other hand, if the author does not have the expertise required for a subject, yet hires a ghostwriter to produce a book which misleads people into seeing him or her as an authority on the subject—well, that’s a bit more shady territory.
How to Become a Ghostwriter
If you are thinking of becoming a ghostwriter, here are some steps to get you started on the right foot:
1. Build Your Portfolio
Because you need a portfolio to show prospective clients, you need some examples of your work that you can call your own. You might want to consider starting as a freelance writer to build your portfolio.
Writing your own book is also important so that you at least have experience writing a full book. Some ghostwriters recommend writing at least two or three of your own books to give you a feel for writing something long.
Writing more than one book, possibly in different genres, will also give you experience in dealing with different voices. This is a crucial step, since ghostwriting will require you to write in another person’s voice.
2. Consider Becoming a Freelance Editor
Another way of getting your feet wet in the writing world is becoming a freelance editor. One advantage of working as an editor is that some clients might add your name as an “editor” for their book.
Additionally, once you’ve built a relationship with your clients as an editor, you can offer your services as a ghostwriter, should they every wish to use one.
3. Get Used to Working on Big Projects
People hire ghostwriters to write pieces of different word lengths, but the most lucrative projects by far are ghostwriting books. Attorneys, doctors, and other highly influential people hire ghostwriters to write books for them, such as their memoirs.
Writing books is a whole different ball game than writing short blog posts and articles. Before you offer to ghostwrite a 50,000-word book for another person, be sure you have the endurance to finish one yourself.
4. Practice Writing in Another Person’s Voice
If your goal is to become a published author yourself, experts would tell you to develop your own voice—your written “voice” might be witty, sarcastic, bubbly, matter-of-fact, or any number of other qualities. But if you plan to be a ghostwriter, you need to be flexible and adopt your client’s voice in your writing.
You might be able to get this practice as a freelance writer when writing for different companies that have specific guidelines. For example, a business-focused blog will require a voice that is quite different from a more conversational how-to piece.
When a client hires you as a ghostwriter, first familiarize yourself with the project and the client. Check out their social media, read the content they post, read any books they have published previously, and get to know them as much as you can.
Then, try writing a sample in your client’s voice and send it back to them for approval. That ensures that you are able to emulate their voice for an effective ghostwriting partnership.
5. Be Professional
When you meet potential clients at a social gathering, you need to have a way to market yourself. If you don’t have your own business cards ready, definitely consider ordering some. They should include your website (with samples of your work) and a professional e-mail address.
You should also build up your professional network. Writing guest posts is an effective method of marketing yourself as a ghostwriter: you can write helpful articles on the subject of ghostwriting, and then include your ghostwriting services in your author bio.
Lastly, being professional means giving your best effort to every project you undertake. Your clients may have other friends in theirs networks who will need a ghostwriter in the future, and word of mouth can go a long way.
How Much Does a Ghostwriter Get Paid?
The agreement between the ghostwriter and their client is such that the ghostwriter usually cannot share their work in public. This can make it tricky for the ghostwriter to build a portfolio.
So why would someone choose to be a ghostwriter instead of a freelance writer with their own byline, or at least having work that you can use in a portfolio?
One reason is that people tend to pay more for ghostwriting services compared with freelance writing services.
Ghostwriter Kelly James-Enger shares the average fees she and other ghostwriters have earned:
- $12,000 for a book of 30,000 words
- (Kelly also earned $12,000 for reworking a 55,000-word memoir)
- $15,000 to $25,000 for a nonfiction book of about 40,000 to 75,000 words
- $30,000 to $50,000 per book may even be possible for more established ghostwriters
And because ghostwriting projects end when the book is published, the ghostwriter does not have to worry about promoting the book. Instead, you can take on another project, making the work and pay more stable and predictable.
How Do I Market Myself as a Ghostwriter?
Marketing yourself as a ghostwriter is an important step in finding a steady stream of work. Use social media to market yourself as a ghostwriter.
Update your profiles on Facebook and LinkedIn, among others, to describe yourself as a ghostwriter for hire. Some ghostwriters got their start by offering their services on Facebook writing groups.
Where to Find Work as a Ghostwriter
The great thing about ghostwriting is that you can find clients both through personal connections and through online sites. The following are some of the best sites to find freelance ghostwriting job opportunities online:
- Upwork: Upwork offers a great amount of freelance writing jobs, including ghostwriting. Freelancers can create a profile and when clients post jobs, the freelancers can bid for the jobs.
- Freelancer: Freelancer connects freelancers with employers for various services, ranging from web development to marketing, with writing as one of its most popular categories.
- Freedom With Writing: This website compiles writing contests and calls for submissions for freelance writers; they also offer to send you a list of companies hiring writers once you sign up for their e-mail list.
- Verblio: This website collects US-based content writers and offers their services to clients.
- Guru: Guru is another website that connects freelancers with employers. Writing is among its most popular services.
- Writology: This website specifically offers writing and editing services using freelance writers and editors.
Is Being a Ghostwriter Worth It?
Ghostwriters can make a full-time income, but it may take a while before you reach that point. Your first gigs may be low-paying projects, but you’ll gain valuable experience writing in another person’s voice.
After you gain experience, you can start focusing on high-paying clients, such as authors or other professionals. The important thing is to make sure you offer your best service to every client, and build your portfolio through excellent writing.
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