Ghostwriting can be a lucrative writing career for those with strong writing skills and a good work ethic. Read more to discover how to make money as a ghostwriter.
What is a ghostwriter? A ghostwriter writes on behalf of someone else – someone who doesn’t have the time or skills to write the piece themselves.
The most typical form of ghostwriting is in the form of a memoir or autobiography. Someone may have a great story to tell, but as they are not a professional writer, they have no clue where to begin. They don’t know how to lay out the story, or they lack good writing skills. They’d then tell their story to a ghostwriter who would write the book on their behalf – with no credit mentioned in the book. Payment is made for the work done; however, there’s no public acknowledgement of who wrote the book.
While memoirs and autobiographies are the most common type of ghostwriting, ghostwriters can also be hired to write public speeches (think politicians), newsletters, blog posts (ghost bloggers) for influencers, or web copy. Credit will go to the company or person who hired the writer – with no mention of the writer’s name on the piece of content. You will not publicly be able to share your clients’ writing without permission being given – this can make it challenging to build up a portfolio of ghostwriting work. There are ways around that if you build up a general portfolio of your writing, showing various styles and voices.
So why would you decide to do ghostwriting over credited writing?
- Sometimes, you can charge more for ghostwriting because you aren’t getting any ‘credit’ for it.
- Less overall research is generally required – as the client provides you with all the information. You just have to put it in a clear, readable format and add the professional touch.
A few tips on ghostwriting – before you start:
- Start as a freelance writer so you have a portfolio to show. You may want to brush up your freelance writing skills in a course.
- Ensure that your portfolio shows various writing styles and genres – in different voices so that potential clients can see that you have the skills to ‘speak’ their voice in your writing.
- If you’re only planning to write speeches, blog posts, and online content, your portfolio can contain such samples. However, to work as a ghostwriter for a memoir or autobiography, you’d usually need to have published a book to show that you can write in large format writing.
- Be sure to add your ghostwriting services to your online portfolio, CV and LinkedIn profile.
A few tips on ghostwriting – once you have the client:
- Write a clear proposal or contract. This should cover how much time is spent on information sessions, how many times the content will be revised, and what the payment terms will be. There’s no hard and fast rule to the above, but being clear on expectations upfront will assist with a smooth process between the writer and the client. Usually, ghostwriters require a flat fee rather than an hourly rate, so make sure of how much time the project will take so you don’t undercut yourself. Usually, a large portion of the fee is charged in advance. On the downside to this – you are working for a flat fee, so won’t get royalties if the book is a best seller. The contract may include a confidentiality clause regarding the fact that a ghostwriter was used.
- Familiarise yourself with your subject matter (for instance, for an autobiography). Follow them on social media, and get to know them as well as possible.
- Although you generally don’t have to do research or fact check as the client provides you with the content, you DO need to gather and organise all the information they provide you for the book. Information may come in dribs and drabs – you’ll be responsible for putting the puzzle together to make it read well and be coherent.
- If it’s a life story – use a timeline, as you may not receive the information in chronological order.
- Record all your information sessions – if it’s for a book, you’ll have a lot to take in, and you’ll not be able to rely solely on your notes. Recordings will also help you to remember the tone of their voice when they mention an incident or anecdote, which will help you to convey the memory in their voice.
- Ask as many questions as possible during your info gathering sessions. Become an expert interviewer and listener.
- It’s not easy to adopt another person’s voice. If you’re writing a whole book and not just a blog post, send them the first chapter to ensure they are happy with the voice and style so that you can adapt it accordingly.
- Is ghostwriting legal and ethical? Yes, it is. However, it’s illegal to write a thesis or academic paper on behalf of someone else. You’d be crossing an ethical line with this one as the student must research, write and reference all content themselves.
- Sometimes an author will name the ghostwriter in the acknowledgements, or next to their name, ‘as told to…’.
- The credited author will always have the final say as to what does and does not go into the book. Ultimately, it’s their voice in print.
If you’re into writing for the glory and fame, ghostwriting may not work for you. You are credited financially, but you won’t get accolades and public praise for your writing – as you won’t be known as the writer. However, you can assist someone who has a great story to tell. Ghostwriting is a relatively well-paid business; it’s just not for those who want to be famous authors.