Becoming A Ghostwriter 101
What You Should Know About the Profession of Ghostwriting
Ghostwriting books for other people can help a writer add to their bottom line while working on his or her own creative projects - or it can be a writing profession unto itself.
According to writer Marcia Layton Turner, founder and executive director of the Association of Ghostwriters, time-starved entrepreneurs, speakers, consultants, doctors, and corporate executives who want to blog, or develop a white paper, or write a book to raise their profile are relying more and more on behind-the-scenes writers, creating more opportunities in the marketplace for those who'd like to ghostwrite.
But aspiring ghostwriters should also understand that being paid to write under someone else's name is very different than authoring your own book or even writing a magazine article or blog post from an idea you came up with.
Ghostwriting is all about helping others convey their message in their own voice.
If you're a seasoned scribe who is considering expanding your repertoire to include ghosting, or you're new to freelancing and you're interested in becoming a ghostwriter, here's what Turner says you should know about being a ghostwriter.
Ghostwriting is not an entry-level writing position.
You need to have a strong track record as a successful writer managing multiple (and often large) projects before you can succeed at managing someone else’s project, all while writing in their voice. You should be prepared to show clients sample of your work, ideally including ghosted projects.
Ghostwriting is not about you.
Being a good writer or author isn’t good enough—you also need to capture your client's voice and tell the story as he or she would. Sure, you can write, but can you match a client’s vocabulary, pace, and style of speech as you craft a document as if you were him or her? Here's the real test: Can you do that even if you think your style / creative vision / prose is better? While you can advise your clients (see #3), ultimately, they are paying you to write what and how they want you to. You have to be comfortable doing that.
You need to be a book publishing consultant in addition to being a writer.
Massive changes in the book publishing world have raised the bar for getting book deals with major publishing houses; at the same time, market forces (like online distribution through Amazon.com and other online book retailers, and the democratization of marketing via social media) have increased the credibility and audience potential of self-published books, making DIY an option for more authors.
With so many variables, in addition to advising clients on how to structure their writing project, if you can also help them weigh the pros and cons of their various publishing options, you will be in even higher demand.
(Of course, you can get lots of information on the traditional publishing industry and on the self-publishing arena from this site…)
You shouldn't think of yourself as a writer; instead, you should think of yourself as the owner of a ghostwriting firm.
You may get a genuine thrill from writing and structuring a book, but you need to act like an entrepreneur, not a hobbyist. Invest in marketing tools, spend time networking, build an online presence, and present yourself as the business owner you are.
Meeting deadlines, organizing reams of notes and research so you can find it immediately, and juggling multiple projects will help you exceed client expectations and earn more money.
Price yourself according to your level of experience.
While novice ghostwriters should price themselves lower than their more experienced editorial services colleagues. Then, once you get a few solid credentials, increase your fees so you’re more competitive with ghostwriting veterans. This will help keep you from being overwhelmed with lower-paying work.
Being "invisible" can get lonely - networking is key
Named book authors occasionally get to have readings or do signing or have friends and their high school English teachers email them when they see their name in a review. Ghostwriters… not so much. So it's important that you have a support system. Hang out with other ghostwriters, at least virtually, though in person is ideal.
Freelance website FreelanceSuccess.com is a good start, as is the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA), where experienced writers congregate, or the Association of Ghostwriters (AOG), which is specifically for the anonymous-minded help keep you in the know about developments in the marketplace, as well as keep you in good "ghost-ly" company. Ghostwriters Unite! is a conference that brings together ghostwriters to discuss shared experiences and the many facets of the industry.
Take the opportunity to ask questions, pick up tips for landing and managing new projects, and make friends with people who know exactly what a ghostwriter's day is like before you take on the potentially profitable cloak of the invisible author.
Getting hired as a ghostwriter... or hiring a ghostwriter for yourself
Learn more about how to find ghostwriting jobs. And if you're in need of a ghostwriter yourself, read this article from Gotham Ghostwriters about what to know about hiring a "ghost."
Marcia Layton Turner has authored, co-authored, or ghosted nearly 30 non-fiction books… as well as articles like this one. She currently earns the bulk of her income from ghostwriting books for entrepreneurs and senior executives. She is also the founder and executive director of the Association of Ghostwriters.