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Monday, October 25, 2010

Ten Signs to Run Away from a Potential Client

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.


  1. Wow, Kelly, this is SO TRUE! I can't tell you how many people have said to me, "I can guarantee this will be a must write my story!" If the conversation starts out that way, I know there's no money involved...only the promise of "profits". Thanks for the reminder to not take the bait:) I might as well answer the ads that promise riches from Nigerian princes! :)

  2. Yes, and the book is almost always a memoir...I know we all want to think of ourselves as best-selling material, but sorry--it just doesn't work that way! Thanks for the post, Kristine!

  3. Love this list!

    You say: 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.

    Any ideas on how to balance your time with your client's needs? I have trouble with this because I feel the more time I spend with someone, the better product I can deliver. But how much is too much?

  4. Mridu, I think each client is different--some do need more hand-holding than others. I'm fine with one or two face-to-face meetings early on, but I make it clear that it's usually less expensive for the client (if I'm charging by the hour) and more productive for both of us to keep those meetings to a minimum. But "how much is too much" will depend on you and your client.

    Hope this helps!

  5. Potential client assume he will be invited on Oprah.

  6. When you ask the client what their budget is, they can't or won't tell you. They want to do an hourly rate but won't tell you how many hours a month they can afford. Or worse, they want to do a project rate, but expect you to work on their project 24/7. Unfortunately, that last one you sometimes can't tell up front!

  7. Don't forget the one who wants you to write it without an advance because he'll split the royalties with you (with no guarantee there will be any!)

  8. Donna, I've actually lost count of how many times I've heard that particular one.

  9. Thanks so much Kelly. I have an acquaintance who wants me to ghostwrite his book and you pointed out a couple of issues that I hadn't considered. All the more difficult when you have a relationship with the person that could be strained by this kind of working situation. Great post!

    -Mary Oelerich-Meyer

  10. You're welcome, Mary. If you want more advice about ghostwriting, I do suggest Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks. It will give you even more advice about what to look for BEFORE you agree to work with a client. :)