How to Become a Ghostwriter (By Someone Who’s Actually Done It!)
A guest post by Bobby Bernal.
I'm a pen for hire. There's no assignment that I can't adapt to. I am a ghostwriter.
Becoming a ghostwriter isn't for everyone. If you're looking for praise and accolades, try something else–this job is not for you. But if you like being the one behind the curtain, you may find ghostwriting to be very rewarding.
In this article, I'll first help you decide if ghostwriting is the right path for you, and then I'll tell you how to break into the business if you want to move forward.
More specifically, in this article, you will learn:
- Why would someone want to ghostwrite in the first place?
- Why some writers choose not to become ghostwriters
- How to become a ghostwriter when you're just getting started
- Where you can find work as a ghostwriter
- Tips and Tricks for aspiring ghostwriters
As a quick disclaimer: I know this can be a rather sensitive subject among some writers. This article is here to provide pertinent information for those interested in the Ghostwriting industry. Thanks so much for your respect and understanding.
And with that, let's begin!Becoming a ghostwriter isn't for everyone. If you're looking for praise and accolades, try something else--this job is not for you.Click To Tweet
Why would someone choose to be a ghostwriter?
“Why on Earth would you want to be a ghostwriter in the first place?”
I get asked this a lot.
And to be honest, I can't reply with one clear-cut answer. It's more of an amalgamation of different factors.
There are many authors out there (maybe yourself included) who are simply appalled at the idea of being a ghostwriter. You may be wondering why anybody would want to not be credited for their hard work. Well, there are three major reasons.
You're a Wozniak.
I like to compare the setup between a ghostwriter and their client to the relationship between the late Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. You have some writers out there who just kick butt at inventing new worlds and developing intricate character backstories as if it were nothing. These are “Jobs people.” But that doesn't necessarily mean that they have the know-how and ability to put it all together. Jobs never once coded for Apple. Although his visions were years ahead of his time, he wasn't an engineer. That's where Wozniak came into play. He was the engineer who brought everything to life. The same thing can be said about ghostwriting. Some visionary authors need a Wozniak.
It's a relatively lucrative business.
Good ghostwriters tend to get paid very well. Most writers actually charge a premium on their ghostwriting services–with an industry standard of a 15% increase of their normal freelancing pay. And once you're established as a professional ghostwriter, there's never really a shortage of work. Ghostwriters often take on individual projects while continuing their own personal freelance writing. This can lead to a rather financially rewarding career.
It's a great way to expand your business network.
Often throughout the course of a project, ghostwriters come into contact with many well-known bloggers, authors, or major field influencers. In my personal experience, this alone is more valuable than the commission itself. I've had the ability to network with some of writing and publishing's best–including Kindlepreneur's very own Dave Chesson. And through this network, I've developed skills never before imagined and built a standby list of future clients.
However, not everyone agrees with me on this. As a matter of fact, I've received a great deal of vocal opposition.
Common Objections to Ghostwriting
Now that we've looked at the reasons some writers enjoy ghostwriting, we should complete the picture with the reasons some writers don't like ghostwriting at all. This will give you a balanced perspective as you decide if ghostwriting is the right choice for you. While I may not personally agree with all of these points, I do understand why some people have these opinions.
“Isn't ghostwriting unethical?”
As we all know, ethics aren't always clear cut black and white. Many times an ethical question is put up for debate based off a person's individual set of values.
But when it comes to ghostwriting, I believe the gray scale of ethics can be a little more clearly defined. For example, presenting your ghostwriter with a well-thought out outline with subsequent discussions and changes might be seen as a more ethical approach. This ensures that while you aren't actually putting words on paper, your message is being communicated to the reader.
On the other hand, somebody profiting off of a ghostwriter without any planning or direction… That I believe would be clearly unethical. There's no way I'll take a job if I have to be the full creative force. I'm here to assist you in achieving your goals. Not to do everything for you.
However, all of this is ultimately up to the person doing the ghostwriting. If a ghostwriter is comfortable with the situation, there's not much that can be done despite external objection.
“I can't stand to see someone take credit for my work!”
This objection normally doesn't come from ghostwriters themselves (because to be a ghostwriter…you need to be cool with this.) but from other authors opposed to ghostwriting in general. Although, some ghostwriters do miss a little bit of the recognition.
Some people who hire ghostwriters for large projects will include the ghostwriter within the acknowledgements part of a book. This is a very classy nod to the individual who helped bring your idea to fruition. But when it comes to small projects such as blogs, these acknowledgments are generally unnecessary.
Honestly, a simple “thank you” is often all it takes. And for larger projects, I've received gift baskets and/or a small monetary bonus for a job well done. The best reward though is just feeling the appreciation from the client.
“How can you build your own platform if you're too busy building someone else's?”
Many times this is actually a misconception. Most ghostwriters develop their own platform simultaneously. By using the skills, knowledge, and network obtained through ghostwriting, they can actually further their own platform.
We ghostwriters tend to have an exit strategy for our own personal platforms. But I thoroughly enjoy what I do and plan to keep ghostwriting for the foreseeable future.
How to Become a Ghostwriter: Keys for Getting Started
Still interested in becoming a ghostwriter? Awesome. Now, let's get into the meat and potatoes of the issue. How in the heck are you supposed to break into a business where nobody even knows your name?
That's definitely a good question. For most, it's a step-by-step climb into obscurity. For others, it's just being in the right place at the right time.
However, there are some things that you can do to set yourself up for success when starting at square one.
1. Create your own portfolio first.
It's very rare to find a ghostwriter in the business who doesn't have any personal freelance writing experience. So if you haven't started on your portfolio… It's time to get to work.
You need to have credentials.
Creating an initial portfolio doesn't have to be long and drawn out. Sometimes, just starting a simple blog is enough to land a smaller ghostwriting gig. Now, these won't be those high-paying book deals at first. Ghostwriting is not a get-rich-quick scheme.
However, if you are looking to start landing higher-end deals for ghostwriting, you're going to have to up your game. And the absolute best way to do this is by guest posting. Guest posting is when you write an article on someone else's blog under your own name. Normally, guest posting opportunities are acquired through pitching an idea to a Blogger and being accepted.
If you're looking for more information on guest posting, Jon Morrow has an ultimate Guest Blogging Certification Program. I've taken the course myself, and it just might be one of the most important courses I've ever taken.
2. Become a freelance editor.
Going through an editing track will absolutely help you out as a prospective ghostwriter. This can help to strengthen the portfolio you are developing as a freelance writer. And it's a great lead-in for an initial ghostwriting opportunity.
Let's say you do a great job editing for a client. You can always say something along the lines of:
“Thanks for the editing assignment. You know, if you're looking to write and release more books this year, I can make myself available to ghostwrite.”
If you're trying to get your foot in the door, asking directly is often the best way to do so.
3. Learn to write large projects.
If you're looking for the money in ghostwriting, it's going to come from larger projects such as books. Now, it's one thing to write a 2000 word blog post. But it's a whole new ballgame when you start writing 25,000 word books. It takes a different mindset to create long form books. On a good day, I can probably crank out 6000 words worth of blog posts. So… that would mean a novella in 4 days right?
I'm sure some of you reading this are probably laughing at me. There's no way in heck I'm going to complete that novella in a few short days. But learning to complete large projects (and on a deadline) is pivotal to heading into the upper echelons of ghostwriting.
4. Work on developing voices and styles other than your own.
This is one of the most important skills a ghostwriter needs to have. It's key to remember that, when you are writing as a ghostwriter, you are not writing as you.
You are writing as someone else.
You need to be able to match the client's tone and style. Some clients are over the top and so is their style. It may be full of curses, exclamations, and unique metaphors. You need to be able to write in that voice. If you have a client, who is–for a lack of better words–boring… You should be able to match that voice.
This alone can make or break your chance with a new client.
5. Professional communication is the key to ghostwriting success.
In order to really get your client's point across, you need to understand exactly what it is they're trying to say. Developing a professional, courteous manner in which you speak with your client is a great way to ensure that happens. Instructions and messages need to be clearly given and received, so everyone benefits in the end.
Best Places to Find Ghostwriting Work
Sometimes, you'll need to go out and actively hunt for ghostwriting work. And that's okay. It's all in a day's work. To make things easier for you, I have compiled a list of awesome places for you to start with.
If you're looking for any kind of freelance work–and that includes ghostwriting–Upwork would be my number one stop. Here you can create a profile and advertise yourself to companies actively looking for what you can provide. The platform even keeps track of how many jobs you have completed and what your service has been rated. You also can see your competing ghostwriters and base your price off of them. The one major downside to Upwork is that registering may take a while. While the form itself is your run-of-the-mill application, the platform will not accept you if your qualifications aren't up to speed or if there are too many applicants. But that doesn't mean you should give up. Landing a spot on Upwork can definitely lead to future jobs.
This place is a very unique in the way it operates. It's like an auction house for freelancers. You bid on jobs offered by clients. When you bid, be sure to include your qualifications, your price, and self-imposed deadline. Here's a trick though when it comes to bidding on yourself. Don't underbid. Bidding low may seem like a great way to hedge your bets against the competition. Often though, it's a sign to employers that you're undervaluing your own work. Or that you're new to the game.
If you're just starting out and building your portfolio, Fiverr may be the best place for you to start. While there is more competition on Fiverr than Upwork, most of the ghostwriters here are newer to the job. You may find it easier to compete with your peers instead of those who have been in the business for years. However if you are a seasoned ghostwriting veteran, you can actually obtain a Pro Status badge for your account. This helps you get more visibility and allows you to charge a higher premium.
10 Tips and Tricks Every Good Ghostwriter Knows
Now that you know the basics of breaking into ghostwriting, here are some more advanced tips and tricks for those looking to be successful ghostwriters. These recommendations are based on my personal experience and conversations I've had with several colleagues.
- Learn how to write for SEO.
This is a really good tip for those who plan on ghostwriting for blogs. If you can improve your client's SEO through your writing, you'll have no problem finding work.
- Write Guest Posts about ghostwriting.
Here's a novel way to advertise yourself as a ghostwriter. Write about ghostwriting! Whether it's benefits of, how to, or even stories from your experiences, this is a great way to get noticed.
- Utilize Social Media to advertise your services.
Social media groups are an awesome way to let people know you're a ghostwriter for hire. Just remember to only comment on relevant posts and try not to be too spammy.
- Be clear when it comes to your contract.
Always have a lawyer look at your legal paperwork prior to signing a ghostwriting contract. Many times clients will have you sign NDAs. By having a legal professional analyze the contract, you are ensuring you are protecting both yourself and the client.
- Get a deposit whenever possible.
Some large projects may take a long time to complete. And sometimes they don't even come to fruition at all. It's a huge risk if you haven't been paid a deposit and things fall through weeks or months down the line.
- Meet your deadlines.
You are getting paid to perform a service. You should always strive to meet every deadline thrown at you. But there may be situations where this is not possible. If this happens, don't surprise the client on the deadline. Talk through any issue that arises when it arises.
- The First Rule about Ghostwriting…
Don't talk about ghostwriting. Not ghostwriting in general, but your individual projects. This can actually cause severe legal ramification for you down the road.
- Picking a genre may be best for you.
Not everyone can jump from topic to topic. And if you can master one genre, why switch to another? Personally, I tend to stick with nonfiction and technical writing. Build your name as an authority and reap the rewards.
- Find work through pre-existing clients or those close to you.
When looking for ghostwriting work, the best jobs might be right under your nose. Ask clients you've guest posted for or written for already. If they liked your writing, you may just have a new project. And don't disregard friends or family. I've gotten plenty of jobs just because I know a guy who knows a guy.
- Setup a writing schedule.
Be sure to designate writing times for both your personal writing and your ghostwriting projects. And adhere to those times as best as possible.
How to Become a Ghostwriter All Summed Up
Being a ghostwriter isn't for everyone. It takes a special kind of person to do what ghostwriters do. But in truth, ghostwriters really help the writing world go round.
And if you're interested in becoming a ghostwriter, you need to understand this just doesn't happen overnight. It takes time to build a good quality portfolio and rise above the competition.
However, if you can overcome these obstacles, you may find ghostwriting to be an exceptionally rewarding career.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: BOBBY BERNAL
Bobby has 10 years of ghostwriting experience helping fellow writers successfully achieve their goals. He’s worked on multiple best-selling software development books and ghostwritten hundreds of online articles including major sites such as The Huffington Post, Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, and Adobe. Besides ghostwriting, Bobby edits technical and scientific projects for academia and journal publications. When he’s not glued to his laptop, he loves nothing more than relaxing the day away with his lovely wife and son. To contact, message him on LinkedIn.
Hey Guys, I’m Dave and when I am not sipping tea with princesses or chasing the Boogey man out of closets, I’m a Kindlepreneur and digital marketing nut – it’s my career, hobby, and passion.