The Complete Guide to Ghostwriting: How to Become a Ghostwriter

The Complete Guide to Ghostwriting: How to Become a Ghostwriter

You may have heard the term "ghostwriter" before, but what does ghostwriting actually mean? In this post, we'll explore what it means to write a book as a ghostwriter, who hires ghostwriters, and how to decide whether ghostwriting is a good fit for you.

What is a ghostwriter?

A ghostwriter is a professional writer who writes content (such as books, blog posts, speeches, etc.) but isn’t credited for their work. Ghostwriters are often freelancers, but unlike regular freelance writing jobs, the credit goes to either the client, the publisher, or the business that hired the ghostwriter. Ghostwriters are anonymous, hence the term “ghost” in the name. There are a lot of benefits to being a ghostwriter, but it’s not a career that’s suited for everyone. If you’re more of a behind-the-scenes type of person and prefer to just write and not have to promote the work, then this may be an avenue for you to explore!

Types of ghostwriting projects:

A client may hire a ghostwriter for many different areas of writing. You may even want to specialize in a certain writing skill or type, as that will allow you to gain experience and grow your skill level faster.

Types of projects that may be ghostwritten include, but are not limited to:

  • Company or business blog posts
  • Books for celebrities or high-profile people (politicians or industry leaders)
  • Novels/fiction books
  • Book proposals
  • Speeches for politicians, celebrities, or industry leaders
  • Online content (social media posts, online course materials, e-newsletters, etc.)
  • Case studies (for businesses, government agencies, or other industries)
  • Journal articles (including medical and academic)
  • Business reports or records
  • Non-fiction books, memoirs, and biographies are the type of ghostwriting work you’ll see most often if you’re looking for long-form projects.

Pros of ghostwriting

  • Interesting topics & clients
  • No marketing
  • Anonymity (keep a low profile)
  • Less research (usually your client will provide the research and/or outline)
  • Gain writing experience (more experience = higher pay rate)
  • Good pay (from $2,000 to $70,000+ for books and long-form content)

Cons of ghostwriting

  • No credit or recognition for your work
  • Ghostwriters need to be comfortable networking
  • May need to learn new skills (interviewing others, active listening, adapting different voices and styles)
  • No share of the book royalties
  • Need to adapt to different voices & styles
  • Difficult clients (not seeing eye-to-eye on the project or a client that constantly changes their mind)
  • Most ghostwriters won’t receive credit or recognition for their work, but there are some authors who may share the credit, in which case you’ll see “as told to” next to their name on the cover or front matter. The Autobiography of Malcolm X, as told to Alex Haley, is an example of this. Some authors—especially if they’re giving credit to their ghostwriter—may even offer a percentage of the royalties as a bonus with the agreed-upon payment. A word of caution: royalty shares should only be a bonus, not compensation for writing the book.

Questions to consider before you become a ghostwriter

Are you ok with not getting credit for your work?

While a few ghostwriters may receive credit for their work, this is the exception, not the rule. Most ghostwriters will receive no recognition and will remain anonymous. Are you ok with this? How do you feel about someone else getting credit for your work, especially if it becomes a huge success?

Are you good at interviewing people?

Ghostwriting books, especially memoirs and biographies, require you to interview people. You need to be a good listener, know how to ask the right questions and be able to observe their patterns or habits. Then, you need to take all of that information and turn it into a cohesive narrative. Are these skills that you possess or will learn?

Are you comfortable networking with others?

To be a successful ghostwriter, you have to know people who can use ghostwriters with your skills or who can introduce you to someone who does. If you don’t already have a network of people you can call on, are you comfortable meeting and networking with new people? If you’re extremely introverted and the thought of meeting new people and sharing what you do makes you break out in hives, then this may be a tough field for you.

Can you adapt to different voices as a ghostwriter?

Being a ghostwriter means you have to be a chameleon, too. You’ve got to write in the voice of each of your clients. Some may seek a ghostwriting service that uses a professional and formal tone, and some may be more casual and relaxed. You may be asked to write political speeches, journal articles, and case studies for academia or businesses. Are you good at adapting to these different voices and writing styles?

Is building your own platform important to you?

Do you have goals of becoming a published author under your own name (or pen name)? Publishing books under your own name is going to require a lot of time and effort to build your author platform and successfully market and promote your books. This doesn’t leave much time to ghostwrite other authors’ books, especially if you want a decent work/life balance. Would you rather help build someone else’s platform or business and remain behind the scenes, or focus on building your own? However, you may not have to choose if your goal is to work on short-form projects, such as online content. It’s possible to focus on shorter ghostwriting projects while still building your own platform.

Tips for getting started as a ghostwriter

Learn to collaborate with others

Ghostwriting is a team effort, and you’ll need to collaborate with the author of the project. Clear and open communication—especially with boundaries and expectations—is vital when working with someone on a project. You’ll want to meet the deadlines or communicate with the author if you’re not able to meet certain deadlines on time.

Read widely & practice different styles

Read a wide variety of writing. Memoirs, non-fiction books, journal articles, case studies, and blog posts by different people or businesses in a variety of industries. Ghostwriters need to be able to match their writing voice to the client's. By reading a variety, you’ll pick up on different things, like how certain content is structured, the flow from one chapter or section to the next, how certain words or sentences are structured to evoke certain emotions, etc.

Now, start putting all of this into practice. Use a thesaurus and play with different words. Vary the length and structure of your sentences. Write a case study or book proposal. The more you practice, the better you’ll get at writing in different tones, voices, and styles.

Start as a freelance writer to build your portfolio

Potential clients need to see what your writing and skill levels are. This means you need to show work that’s been credited to your name, and a good way to do this is to start with different freelance projects. Try pitching to different companies, blogs, magazines, newspapers, etc., and see if they’re willing to let you write a post or article for them. Even better if they let you write a guest post on ghostwriting. This gives you a chance to show potential clients your knowledge and experience as a ghostwriter.

You can create your own site or blog and start making your own posts as well. To practice writing long-form content, try writing your own book or submitting to a publication that accepts long-form essays.

You can also find jobs hiring freelance writers by joining reputable writing sites or marketplaces such as Reedsy, the Editorial Freelancers Association website (EFA), or the Freelance Writers Den created by writing freelancer Carol Tice. The Freelance Writers Den is an excellent resource, not only for finding jobs but also for learning about how to start your career and develop the skills you need to grow your business.

Network with ghostwriters

As mentioned earlier, networking with others is crucial to being a ghostwriter, so look for local, in-person networking events to attend. You can find some of them on sites like Meetup or Linkedin. Don’t be afraid to let people know what you do, even if you’re just getting started. Once you build these relationships and connect with others, you can then offer to ghostwrite for people in your network who need it or ask for referrals.

Maintain client relationships

To be a successful ghostwriter, be sure to maintain a good, strong relationship with your current or past clients and those in your network. This is how you’ll continue to get more work and referrals from your network. Ask clients for feedback along the way, so you can continue to improve your skills and provide good quality work they’ll love. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for testimonials once your project wraps up.

Ready to try ghostwriting work?

Now that you know the pros and cons of becoming a ghostwriter and five questions to consider, you can use the tips above to launch yourself into a new career as a ghostwriter!

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