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If you're looking into freelance writing, chances are you've thought at least once about whether or not to start a career as a ghostwriter. After 12 years of ghostwriting myself, I think it's safe to say that I love this career. It's one of the more lucrative careers in writing you can dive into. But it's also one of the hardest.
As a ghostwriter, I have seen it all: dream clients, bad clients, good projects, projects that made me want to shoot myself in the knee. Being a ghostwriter has helped me stretch my own imagination, connect with some amazing people, and hone my writing skills. So, with all the great things about being a successful ghostwriter (and the money, to boot), why aren't there more of us floating around, you might wonder?
The truth is, I have no idea how many ghostwriters are actually out there. I have a few friends, I network with some through groups on LinkedIn or Facebook. But all in all, I have no idea how many of us there are. Ghostwriting is terribly hard to break into and difficult to maintain. Not only are you taking on the job of writing, which is difficult in and of itself, but you have to do it in another voice while mimicking another author's style, oh — and you don't get credit. None. Zilch. You can't even list your accomplishment into a portfolio to try to win more clients.
No referral programs. Nothing. So, until you become well known, every gig feels like you're landing your first gig.
So, here are some of my best tips to help you start a career as a ghostwriter.
- Remember what a ghostwriter does. A ghostwriter helps other people tell their stories. As a ghostwriter, you will help professionals teach their audience, you will help novelists build the worlds in their minds, and you will help other people rebuild their memories to tell their stories. It's all about them and their stories, and not at all about you and your ideas.
- Establish expectations right away. Make sure your clients know exactly what they will be receiving in exchange for their money. Will you offer editing and revisions? If so, then to what extent? What about file formatting? Marketing copy or blurbs related to the project?
- If you aren't already familiar, start learning how to publish. Most of the projects that you'll be working on will end up published in one form or another. And about half of the clients I interview ask me about the publishing process: where to start, the difference between self-publishing and traditional publishing, materials needed. As a ghostwriter, get used to doubling as a publishing consultant.
- Remember, this isn't a hobby. You are launching a business, and you are the CEO of that business. No matter how much you love writing, you aren't doing this for your enjoyment. Put together a business plan, establish some regular hours of operation, determine your fees, invest in some learning materials, and build a marketing plan.
- And speaking of business, remember to charge like a business. Develop your budget and determine what you need to charge to cover that budget. A lot of new ghostwriters march onto the playing field but then don't know how to negotiate fees. Or you have a lot of new ghostwriters hoping to get noticed and they try to stand out by undercharging. In either case, you can end up trapped. Charging too little at the beginning can make it harder to raise your rates later. Additionally, the industry itself suffers a bit. I've attended webinars and plenty of sites about writing books and hiring ghostwriters where the “expert” encouraged people to find a ghostwriter for $60 to write a complete book. And the reason they do it is that there are people who will work for that little.
- Forget about how passionate you are about writing. The first people I see to fail at ghostwriting are the people who finish and publish a book, and then decide “that was so much fun, I should turn it into a job.” Yes, writing is fun. Yes, it's a great job. And as much as I love the idea of being able to tell you “find something you're passionate about and make it your career,” the fact is choosing a career based solely on your passion for the craft involved is just as likely to make you lose your passion for that craft as it is to make you successful.
- Decide on where you plan on finding the majority of your clients. There are sites that will help you find clients. UPWork, Freelancer, and Fiverr are all popular websites for hiring freelance professionals and for finding clients. Their fee structure allows you to have a membership at almost no cost, search for jobs, and get hired quickly and easily. But, fair warning, these sites are notorious for low-paying projects. Don't expect to be able to sustain your business on these sites alone.
- Build a website. As a ghostwriter, you won't have to worry as much about building an author platform. But you will need to put together a funnel and begin marketing yourself as a freelance writer and make it easier for clients to find you outside of those types of sites.
- Remember that your contracts are meant to protect both you and your client. Your contracts should contain the basics such as the work that is being done, the fees involved, and anything else specific to that project. They also need to include clauses that explain what will happen should the client decide not to pay, and what will happen should you not complete the work. All of my contracts include a paragraph explaining that copyrights and ownership exchange hands only when the project has been paid in full, and failure to pay results in me publishing the work under a pseudonym until payment is made.
- Join some clubs and associations. Ghostwriting is lonely. It's the one aspect about this career that I hadn't planned for. And because I'm an introvert anyway, when someone warned me about how lonely it would be, I didn't think it would bother me. But there is something isolating about not being able to share your work with other writers for feedback, or even just to be able to joke around about a funny sentence you just wrote. There's no pat on the back for when you finish a novel, no empathetic push for when your motivation runs low. Nothing.
Need more ideas? The Association of Ghostwriters has a ton of resources to help you network — including help finding clients.
Did you enjoy this article? Here are a few more blog posts you might enjoy about freelance writing and ghostwriting:
- Ghostwriting: Life as an Invisible Author
- What does it Take to Freelance your Services?
- If You're Really Serious About Writing, You Will…