Freelancing as a ghostwriter: Is it worth doing?

Are you a freelance writer who is thinking about becoming a ghostwriter? Find out what it entails and how to get started.

Are you a ghost?

That may sound like a strange question, but bear with me! If you freelance as an essay, book, article, or online content writer on behalf of another person and get paid for it, then you are a ghostwriter.

Ghostwriters are everywhere today. They write content for websites, build sales texts, and write guest posts without getting credit for them, and produce high-quality writing copies for busy entrepreneurs. And what about books? Can you hire a writer to ghostwrite your book for you?

We all know that many celebs don’t have time to write but still publish books: Hilary Clinton, Snooki, President Obama – all they worked with ghostwriters.

When it comes to non-fiction, authors aren’t shy to ask ghostwriters for help, too: Tom Clancy and James Patterson are just two who come to my mind, though Harry Houdini and V.C. Andrews used ghostwriters to create their works as well.

Is it wrong to be a ghostwriter?

I have over five years of experience in ghostwriting. No, I don’t write books or academic papers for anyone. I write texts for websites and contribute to business blogs on behalf of their brand names, not mine.

Sometimes I write guest posts for top bloggers, and they ‘forget’ to mention my name, therefore taking all the credit for my work. Still, I don’t consider ghostwriting anything wrong though some ethical moments happen to be.

When my friends find out what I do, they ask me the only question:

“Don’t you feel sad that it’s not your name under your writing?”

My answer is no. First, I consider these writings mine. Second, I’m happy to help those with no writing skills but creative ideas share their thoughts with the world. And finally, ghostwriting is a good source of income.

As well as any other line of business, it has both pros and cons.

The pros of ghostwriting

Here are the two biggest pros of being a ghostwriter.

1) Income

Ghosts work for high sums of money, especially when writing a book for a celeb or famous writer whose name sells well. If you share credits with a client, the fee is lower, of course.

But, in many cases, professional writers charge up to $25,000. Okay, no one will pay $25,000 for your 1,500-word article at Forbes or Huff Post, but some ghostwriters earn up to $2,000 for such publications.

2) Network

In this article for Contently, Nicole Dieker describes how ghostwriters can find new clients if they don’t have bylines. My case: clients help me find work by referring me to colleagues and friends. That’s why freelancers like their job: it allows networking with influencers and high-profile clients.

The cons of ghostwriting

And here are the two biggest cons.

1) No credit

As said, ghostwriters don’t get any bylines with their work. It makes it challenging to build networks and find clients, primarily if you work with people who don’t want to give your contacts and recommend you to colleagues.

Plus, some writers can feel frustrated if they don’t get any credit for work: they do want to see their bylines and let the world know it was they who created the content.

2) Niche

As a rule, ghostwriters take different works (personal essays, blog posts,  business letters, speeches, marketing content, nonfiction books, etc.), and many are proud of the ability to write in multiple styles.

On the other hand, it leads to failure in developing your own writing style. No one will recognize you for a unique writing voice, so if recognition is what you need as a writer – ghostwriting is not for you.

It may be the reason some ghostwriters disclose their names, revealing the secrets of their work.

How to become a ghostwriter

Ghostwriting is a referral business, but the question is how you can get your very first ghostwriting job? Here go some ideas:

  1. Start a blog – Let the world know about you and your writing style through a blog. It’s your best resume, as it showcases your skills.
  2. Write in different genres – Fiction is good, but your chances to become a ghostwriter will grow if you try writing in multiple styles. Non-fiction, reviews, web content, reports, speeches – show your writing voice to a broader audience.
  3. Network – A ghostwriter needs to build a personal brand and network with as many people as possible. All they can become your clients or recommend your services to others. Business owners, politicians, busy influencers… The more of them know you are ready to write or edit for them, the bigger your chances to become a ghostwriter are.
  4. Find agents – More often than not, people who need ghostwriters have agents. So, you can contact these people and ask if they are interested in your services. Even if they aren’t, you can ask for advice about what to do and how to get into ghostwriting.
  5. Don’t write for free – You can make money writing short stories online as a ghostwriter by signing up with a reputable publishing company. The best way to make money ghostwriting is by finding clients who’ll give you detailed outlines ‌you can use as a guide to improving your writing. If it’s your first project, charge whatever sum you think your client will accept. But never write for free, even if you are a newbie to ghostwriting.

The four categories of ghostwriting

Ghostwriting is not about selling your writing ideas and skills with no credits but helping others share their thoughts. Typically, ghostwriting work can be divided into four categories:

  1. You are an anonymous content creator.
  2. You use clients’ ideas and words to create content.
  3. You use clients’ ideas but generate content with your words.
  4. You pitch ideas and concepts to clients, and they approve and publish your content under their byline.

Ghostwriting a book is a different story. You won’t be able to write it without an author, so you should be ready to collaborate with him/her and do a lot of research. First, you will have to learn the topic and ask the author to recommend several works to read as research.

Your second step would be collecting all materials the author already has: notes, articles, lectures, recordings. Plus, get ready for numerous interviews with the author to understand and learn his/her points and unique voice. (You will need to rewrite and edit them afterward.)

The final step will be the author’s review and approval, and it may appear that a lot of editing will be required to make this book ready for publication.

Could you be a ‘ghost’?

Ghostwriting is not for everyone. You can’t become a ghost if you are not ready to ‘forget’ your name. Moreover, it’s not easy to become a good ghost: no one will entrust you with their writing if you are an inexperienced freelance writer with no unique writing voice.

So, if you want to become a well-paid ghost, make sure you are ready to sacrifice your credit and have experience in writing different types of content under your name. Your published works are your resume here.

A ghostwriter should know how to deal with different clients, understand all pitfalls of this profession, be ready to yield a point in a debate, and accept the rules of this game.

Think of ghostwriting as helping others share their ideas, projects, and life message. It’s you who can write and have skills to do that, so who would do that if not you? It’s your mission to be their voice. One way or another, you can always disclose yourself or publish something worth reading under your name. A good writer will always have readers regardless of the name they use to sign works.

Lesley Vos is a freelance writer from Chicago, blogger at Bid4Papers, and content contributor to publications on marketing, career, and self-development.

Photo by Sixteen Miles Out