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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