Earn Big as a Ghostwriter — One Writer’s Tips

How to Be a Successful Ghostwriter. Makealivingwriting.comHow do you get paid what you deserve while doing what you love?

I thought about that a lot back when my freelance work mainly included writing for blogs and a local newspaper.

Then something happened that completely changed my writing business. I landed my first contract to ghostwrite a book.

That first project gave me the street-cred I needed to become a full-time freelancer and ghostwriter.

Want to learn how to land your first contract to ghostwrite a book and grow your freelance business? Here’s how:

Get Into the Minds of the Experts

I’m a ghostwriter. I help other people tell their stories and share their ideas. When I write a book with someone, my name doesn’t show up on the cover. I get paid, yes, but I’m also completely anonymous.

And I love it.

Ghostwriting is some of the most rewarding work I’ve ever done. There’s something powerful about serving other people’s stories. I get to hang out with people who are at the top of their professions, people with 30 years of experience doing what they love. And these people trust me with their stories, with their lives, even with their legacies.

As a ghostwriter, you really have to get into the mind of the person you’re writing about to capture their voice, personality, and conversational style before you can tell their story. But instead of bidding on ghostwriting projects for people I didn’t know anything about, I tapped into my network to find my first client.

Take closer look at your own network of contacts, and there’s a good chance you’ll find a ghostwriting opportunity there if you ask the write questions.

The Simple Question That Will Help You Find Your First Ghostwriting Gig

Ghostwriting is all about relationships, and it makes sense. If you were going to grant someone access to tell your life story, you would want to make sure it was someone you knew and trusted.

My first clients came through personal relationships: the mentor who ran a large nonprofit, the financial advisor who visited the same coffee shop where I wrote every day, the family friend I’d known since I was nine years old.

When I decided to get into ghostwriting, I reached out to people in my network and asked them one simple question:

“Have you ever thought about writing a book?”

If you want to get into ghostwriting, just ask everyone you know this question. Chances are, a large percentage of people will say, “Yes. I’ve always wanted to write a book about…” It’s sparked some interesting conversations and landed me some ghostwriting book gigs.

For example, this simple question connected me with a veteran artist with a book idea to teach up-and-coming painters how to make a full-time living as an artist without a side-gig at Starbucks. A surgeon friend of mine said he wanted to write a book to share his  unique surgery process to put his patients at ease and grow his practice. And it even got my dad to spill the beans that he was planning to write a new adventure novel.

What I find when I ask this question is that I end up having some amazing conversations, and a few of the people I talk to have three things in common:

  1. They have a great book idea or story
  2. They need help finishing their book
  3. They either have the funds to hire a ghostwriter or they have a large platform that could entice a publisher.

If you can find someone with all three of these things, you’ve found a new potential client. From there, you can begin a conversation about working as their ghostwriter.

How Much Do Ghostwriter’s Charge?

There’s a lot of variation in the marketplace for ghostwriting, but here’s a breakdown of my experience for the rates of a standard trade nonfiction book:

  • $10,000 to $20,000 – just getting started with ghostwriting
  • $20,000 to $30,000 – mid-level ghostwriter
  • $30,000 to $50,000 – veteran ghostwriter
  • $50,000 – celebrity ghostwriter or really busy

Not bad for a book right?

But pay really varies depending on the project. My non-fiction client projects are usually 20,000 to 50,000 words. I try to finish projects within four months and 300 hours of work. But I’ve had projects take as long as a year and 550 hours of work.

How you get paid can vary, too. One payment arrangement I use that works well for most clients is dividing the cost of the project into four payments:

  1. Up-front fee
  2. Approved outline/proposal
  3. First draft
  4. Final approval

5 Tips to Be a Successful Ghostwriter

If you can write, like telling stories for other people, and don’t mind the anonymity of ghostwriting, it’s worth pursuing to grow your freelancing business. Follow these five tips to be a successful ghostwriter:

1. Set clear expectations. One of the biggest reasons ghostwriting gigs fizzle out halfway through is because of unmet or unclear expectations. For example, if you’re ghostwriting a book for someone, explain the process and timeline, how many revisions they’ll get, and when you’ll need specific feedback from them. Put it in writing. Sometimes crazy stuff happens that stops a ghostwriting gig in it’s tracks. But more often than not it’s usually the small miscommunications and confusing expectations that cause a gig to fail.

2. Work with contracts. To protect yourself and your client’s rights, you need contracts. Requiring a client to sign a contract will weed out the people who aren’t committed, while protecting you in the case that a client does flake out.

3. Record every conversation. The most valuable tool for a ghostwriter is an audio recorder. To capture your client’s voice quickly, transcribe those recordings and pull exact phrases and sentences from the interview.  (As always, be sure to get permission to record.). Using two devices or methods to record an interview is a good idea, too.Voice recording devices/software I recommend for interviewing include:

  • Mobile Apps: Recorder; Handsfree.ly
  • Digital recorder: Sony ICD PX333 Digital Voice Recorder
  • Computer: Audacity; Skype Call Recorder

4. Imagine you’re talking to your client while you write. When I get stuck during the writing process, I imagine asking my client questions and then simply writing those answers down. Of course, you have to already have spent dozens of hours with your client at this point. Practice this exercise, and you’ll be surprised at how quickly you begin to think like your client.

5. Create a style guide for each client. We all have phrases or words we use regularly in our writing. Your clients have those, too. Listen carefully to the conversations you have with your clients or examine their writing for the vernacular that makes them unique. Then make a note of these words and phrases, add them to a client style guide, and use them in your writing.You usually figure this out as you go. For example, one client I worked with really hated the word “quitting.” Any time it came up to explain something in his book, he got uncomfortable.

Ghostwriting Can Change Your Life (Not To Mention Your Writing Career)

Ghostwriting is one of the most rewarding jobs you can do in the writing sphere, both personally and monetarily. When I started freelancing, I wrote blog posts and newspaper articles for as little as $10. Ghostwriting helped me realize I could make a living as a freelancer. Now I charge $25,000 to $35,000 to ghostwrite a book. More than anything, ghostwriting can allow you to do what you love while serving amazing people and getting paid what you deserve.

Just remember to ask that simple, but all important question, “Have you ever thought about writing a book?” And you’ll be one step closer to finding your first ghostwriting client.

Have you ever tried ghostwriting? How did it go? Let us know in the comments below.

Joe Bunting is a ghostwriter and founder of the award-winning website for writers, The Write Practice. He can be reached at joebunting@thewritepractice.com.

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45 comments on “Earn Big as a Ghostwriter — One Writer’s Tips
  1. Milan says:

    Hi There

    I just landed my first kindle ghostwriting gig, but I have one question as I am new to ghostwriting. Can I ask the client which imprint or name I am writing for?

    • Carol Tice says:

      You can ask — no guarantees on whether they’ll tell you. Especially if you got this gig through some kind of intermediary platform like UpWork.

      There are a ton of very low-paid ebook ghosting gigs floating around Craigslist these days — and I hope writers are smart enough to understand they’re being exploited. Longform writing takes a lot of time, and writers deserve pro rates. In my world, if it’s less than $10,000 on offer, I consider it exploitation, basically.

  2. dl says:

    This is a very interesting idea to me. I have been hoping that there was a way to get into professional writing somewhat anonymously.

    I have no formal writing experience (except for a few company newsletter articles) but I would like to write for a living. My current job is mostly great, so I don’t want to risk losing it until I have some confidence that I can make a living as a writer.

    I don’t want to ask anybody that I know about ghostwriting, because I don’t want to alert anybody to the fact that I’m interested in a career change. Are there any places you can recommend to look for ghostwriting jobs?

    Thanks

    • Carol Tice says:

      Wanting to keep it a secret that you want ghostwriting work will really make it tough, David. You’ll probably need to be a little bold. Also, grow your network with people who only know you as a writer. They’re not going to ring up your boss and tell them you’re looking for writing work.

      • dl says:

        Thank you for the reply. I’m primarily trying to avoid putting anything on my Linkedin account. Its unlikely that people would see it, but its a little risky at this point.

        I do know one person who is writing her own book. I think I’ll contact her and see how that goes.

        Thanks.

        David

        • Carol Tice says:

          David, what I think is ‘risky’ is staying trapped in a day job where a single employer has complete power to end your entire income anytime, for any reason or no reason at all.

          Full-time employers do not OWN you, and can’t control what you do in your off hours. You want to write a little on the side? Unless your full-time job is in writing, it’s a non-issue.

          Stop trying to avoid putting anything on your LinkedIn profile, and make it reflect who you want to be. They can’t stop you from being a freelance writer — plenty of people do that on the side of a full-time job!

          I personally even freelance wrote on top of a staff writing job. I just let them know who I wanted to freelance for, so they could see I wasn’t writing for any of their direct competitors, and they were fine with it. Fortune truly favors the bold in freelance writing, let me tell you.

          • dl says:

            Thank you for the good advice.

            My primary job is computer programming, so there would be no conflict. I worry too much about things like this, so I’m probably exaggerating any potential problems.

            Thanks!

  3. Richard says:

    I’ve been ghostwriting for about 6 months and I have never earned slightly close to this amount of money (I’ve written about 6 books so far, each at about 24000 words). In fact, $1000 for all of the books combined is probably closer to what I have earned! If this is true, I’m clearly looking for jobs in the wrong places. Where should I be looking?

    • Carol Tice says:

      NOT on Craigslist, or any mass online job boards. I mean, that’s like $150 an ebook! Insane. What’s your hourly rate break down to for that?

      My experience is most of the $20K-$50K book ghosting deals come through the big agencies that tend to represent a lot of these deals, and through your own network of connections — so start building them!

      Get all the testimonials you can, if you can get any from these, and move on. If you can use these as samples, great — if not, it’s time to take a break from ghosting and get a few samples with your byline on them where you can claim credit, so you have work to show prospects.

      I hope you never write at these rates again! Writers who do so depress the marketplace, and impoverish themselves.

  4. James Taylor says:

    As you said in this article, ghostwriting really needs to get such a pay for the efforts of the author. Today, it has become a trend that people are searching such ghostwriters to get their autobiography written by them. I think I could have practiced it earlier.

  5. Jeffrey Hill says:

    Its good to see how lucrative it can be, even for the beginners. As someone that likes to dive deeply into projects, I could see this being a significant part of my future writing given the opportunity.

    I love the idea of that question to throw into your network. You never know what may come your way with such a simple query.

  6. Elizabeth says:

    Ghost writing is something i’ve been researching and this article has been super informative and helpful. Thanks for sharing this.

  7. Thank you for your post, i have liked ghost writing though they charge highly but am going to start saving.

  8. Great article and advice Joe. Thanks for sharing it with us. I’ve been ghosting a blog for a CFO for 7 months now and have thought about books but haven’t pursued it yet.

    When you are working on book projects, do you single thread or complete other projects concurrently? I’d guess the latter given the time span the projects can spread over.

    Thanks again for sharing.

  9. princevinco says:

    This is really an inspiring and educative article and I had learnt a lot.

  10. How interesting that this article should pop up at this time! As well as having my own books and kindles published I have been a contributing author to others and also write for the Huff Post Business Africa’s Female Entrepreneurs series and others. I love telling other people’s stories and I do it well, so have recently been seriously considering ghostwriting. This post has pumped up my enthusiasm and given me valuable insights. I am going to start implementing these straight away.

  11. Wow, Joe, that was some great experience You’ve had with ghostwriting, and seriously, I would have really loved to walk majestically into ghost-writing. Just that I don’t have a good network to tap into, or atleast, ones that will pay to satisfaction.
    But well, I’ll bookmark this page till I have the right network for ghost-writing around me.
    My Take-away here is the project cost division as I’ve had a kind of not-so-good experience in that aspect. A couple of months ago, I designed a simple blogger blog for a client for a few dollars. After I delivered and it was time for him to pay, he held back about $5 and there was Nothing I could do about it.
    That was a lesson learnt though.
    Thanks once again Joe….
    *sharing this asap*

    • Joe Bunting says:

      Like most ghostwriters I know, I sort of fell into it, and not very majestically. 🙂 But I think you’re underestimating your network. If you don’t know people who want to write a book and can pay a fair wage, I bet you know people who do. Just use that question I mentioned in the post and have some great conversations. I bet you’ll be surprised where they lead you.

      • Carol Tice says:

        Have to agree — I feel like I’ve seen studies that a huge portion of people, especially business owners, would like to have a book, and a lot of other people feel they ‘have a book in them.’

  12. June Juniadin says:

    Wow,what a lucrative avenue of writing. Not sure if I’ll have the patience to work at a book for so long, so I think $10000 starting pay is about right. Just curious. Have you ever ghostwrite novels before? I imagine this is harder as it’s someone’s imagination we’re trying to capture.

    • Joe Bunting says:

      I haven’t but I have friends who have. The process can be a bit different, depending on whether your’e working with an established writer or someone without credentials. For the former, you will probably work on spec, expecting that the author’s credentials will be enough to get a publishing deal and thus a paycheck, but for the latter, you would do a similar process as outlined above.

    • Carol Tice says:

      June, I’m not aware of much of a market in ghosting novels…novelists tend to want to do their own writing and/or don’t have any money to hire a ghost. 😉

  13. Hey, Joe!

    This is by far the most engaging read I’ve had for a long time.

    Setting clear expectations is my take away here.

    I will start asking people in my network if they have ever thought of writing a book. And if ever I’ll be able to snag one gig because of this conversation, I’ll make sure expectations will be clear for both me and the client.

    Many thanks for sharing your experience regarding ghostwriting. It’s a great resource!

    Blessings.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Setting clear expectations is DEFINITELY important. I see an awful lot of book or ebook projects go sideways, grind to a halt, have to hire a second writer, because there wasn’t clarity on what needed to happen, who would do what, and by when.

      It’s so important to get milestone payments with book projects, because often, the book never sees the light of day. Get a big up-front!

  14. Linda H says:

    Great timing with this post. I was approached earlier this week by a publishing company who wanted to hire me to ghostwrite a book for one of their clients. I’ve never worked with them before but knew enough about ghostwriting to ask probing questions and learn more about the project. They offered $1,000 to write a 23,000 word book requiring an 8-week turnaround time and one chapter per week. I knew it was ridiculous and you’ve just confirmed it. You’ve also given me the outline I needed on how long and how many hours to require for such projects.

    Your suggestion of looking at my network and asking, “Have you ever thought about writing a book?” is excellent. I’ll get started today.

    My thoughts about being a ghostwriter are exactly with you. I ghostwrite blogs, speeches and professional bios, and I love it. Expanding to ghostwriting a book is my ideal goal. This great post is the exact thing I was looking for in so many ways.

    Thanks for posting.

    • Cheryl says:

      I was working for an out-of state ad agency that had a great client who wanted a book. The focus of the book was unclear, in spite of many requests for feedback and direction. I offered 1 year for revisions. I was paid $7000 for the job, and the book was never published ( much to my sadness). I know that the rate was on the high end, because I had never written a book before. However, I got good feedback from the publicist for my chapter transitions. I now have the confidence to pursue more book ghostwriting clients!

      • Carol Tice says:

        No, the rate was on the low end — and I don’t care if you hadn’t written a book before, if you had a portfolio. And yes, as I was just saying in another comment, so many of these projects never end up panning out, and you don’t end up with a credit that helps your portfolio, or a testimonial, or referrals, or anything.

        My personal stock reply when people approach me about books or ebooks is that my floor to even talk about it is $10,000. If that isn’t your number, move on. In general, I’m looking for $20-40K assignments with books. Writers just DO NOT understand what a HUGE time and energy commitment ghosting a book for someone is.

        • Cheryl says:

          Yes, that is so true! Thank you for your reply.

        • Linda H says:

          I agree Carol. At one point I had a person contact me to ghostwrite her memoir and wanted to pay only $45/hr over a few months. When I told her that it should be more to $5,000- $10,000 she screamed and that was that. This was before I’d heard your podcasts. Now, I ask for at least $10,000 for a small book but usually $15,000 and up. I haven’t gotten many of those takers yet, but I’m working on it. Joe’s blog is spot on and I appreciate your sharing it with all of us.

        • Heidi Mull says:

          I very much appreciate seeing actual numbers paired with actual experience being quoted here, by both Joe and Carol. It’s really useful info for those of us just starting out, who have a tendency to undervalue our work.

    • Joe Bunting says:

      Yikes. Yes, that doesn’t seem like a good price in the current market. How did you get into ghostwriting speeches? That would be a fun gig!

      • Linda H says:

        A colleague referred a client to me for another writing project. The client liked me and came back asking me to write a speech for her. She had received a prestigious award and needed to address a group of professional colleagues. So I worked with her to write the speech, which was very well received. Another time someone saw my website and simply called. He addressed a meeting of WWII veterans. Yes, it’s a lot of fun and when the chemistry works between you and the client, it doesn’t seem like work at all.

      • Carol Tice says:

        Joe, those are almost ALL ghostwritten! You don’t think university presidents, CEOs and such as sitting around crafting their own speeches, right? Speechwriting is another great, lucrative ghosting niche.

  15. Lee says:

    This is a great post. I am about to venture out on some freelancing. I really enjoy the idea of ghostwriting. I will try and put some points into practice. Thanks

  16. Rohi says:

    Thanks a ton, Joe!
    I loved the idea of asking, “Have you ever thought about writing a book?”
    I’ll start right away.
    And the five tips are great advice.

  17. Nina Chordas says:

    Thanks for the great article, Joe! I’m currently ghostwriting a blog. My question is about how I credit myself on my website, since obviously I can’t post a clip. Any tips appreciated!

    • Joe Bunting says:

      How is your situation structured with your client. If you’ve agreed to remain anonymous in your contract, you’re stuck. You can’t claim credit to anything except being the ghostwriter of a blog. If you haven’t made that agreement, you can legally claim to be the author of the blog but that doesn’t mean it would be a good business decision. I would have a quick chat with your client about it, ask what he or she is comfortable with, and go from there.

  18. Penny Taylor says:

    The style guide for each client is excellent advice.

    • Joe Bunting says:

      Glad you found that helpful, Penny. It’s usually a good idea for any client you’re doing repeat work for or larger projects. Thanks for your comment!

  19. heri says:

    Realy inspiring article…and I hope that i’ll be the next succesful ghostwriter…

  20. Joe,
    I had never imagined that ghostwriting a book could be so lucrative, especially for someone just starting out. Very impressive.

    I got into Kindle writing back in 2011 (granted, just writing my own short stories) but those stories have earned me a lot of money over the years…

    The above goes to show the real value of getting your book out there — which is why smart clients shouldn’t mind paying what you’re worth.

    Thanks for the incredible read, man. Take care!

    Elvis

    • Joe Bunting says:

      Absolutely, Elvis. I think smart business owners, thought leaders, and anyone responsible for leading a community of people all know how life-changing books can be. Unfortunately, most don’t know how to write a book. If you can help them, you can do a lot of good and also make a good living. You should try it!