As a freelancer, your time is limited--and precious. When you ghostwrite, you're likely to get plenty of interest from potential clients. Determining which of those have promise (along with a budget to pay you) and which do not is an essential skill for successful ghosts--otherwise you could go broke listening to people tell you about the bestsellers they think you should write for them (no money up front, of course--but you'll get a share of the profits).
Red flags vary, but when they pop up, I suggest you tread very carefully--and decide now whether you want to waste any more of your time on this "client". Here are 10 warning signs that should make you flee for the hills--or at least have a plan to do so:
1. Potential client insists book will be a New York Times bestseller (or wants you to guarantee same).
2. Potential client uses phrases like “shocking cover-up, “once-in-a-lifetime story,” “plenty of people want me dead,” “you’ll never believe that this really happened,” etc.
3. Potential client refuses to talk money. Run away, now.
4. Potential client refuses to sign a written contract with you. (Why not?)
5. Potential client misses phone calls or fails to do something (such as sending you a signed contract or check) that he said he would.
6. Potential client insists that he could write the book, but he doesn’t have the time. (Really? And I could perform brain surgery...if only I had the time.)
7. Potential client wants a writer “like Jon Krakauer or Malcolm Gladwell” or some other big name. Unless you can write like them, you've got a problem. (Usually this desire is paired with a budget of about $400.)
8. Potential client doesn’t have a working knowledge of technology—i.e., wants you to mail hard copies so he can edit by hand and you can “type” his changes in.
9. Potential client wants you to meet constantly, or spend weeks face-to-face working on the book. I'm a self-employed business person, not your new best friend.
10. Potential client doesn’t know what he wants. Or keeps changing his mind, or waffling on going forward. Let him go--if he's waffling early in the game, it will probably get worse in the future.
Readers, what about you? What warning signs scare you off? I'm sure there's more and I'd love to add to this list!
Want to know more about qualifying potential clients--and kicking the rest to the curb? Check out Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks: The Writer's Guide to Making Money Ghostwriting and Coauthoring Books. Or for a more in-depth intro into ghosting personalized for your background and experience, consider signing up for my ghostwriting e-class. You'll come away with everything you need (an idea of what clients to pitch, a letter of introduction, and a marketing plan) to break into this lucrative field.