Search This Blog

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Become a Ghostwriter: What you Need to Get Started

Last week, I spoke at the Professional Outdoor Media Association on two topics--self-publishing options (which I'll post about soon) and ghostwriting. Afterwards, a POMA member came up to me and told me he was a longtime freelancer. 
"Great session," he said. "I hadn't thought about ghostwriting, but I realized that by writing for so many publications, I've gotten good at capturing different voices. I think I'd be good at it." I agreed, gave him some tips, and sent him on his way.  
What about you? Have you thought about becoming a ghostwriter? No? I'm not surprised--for if you're like most freelancers, you love seeing your name in print or pixels. 
I know that I never intended to become a ghostwriter. After all, why would I spend months of my life toiling away on someone else’s book? No thanks. I only wanted to write my own books, and that’s what I did.
I soon found, however, that the life of a book author wasn’t quite what I’d envisioned. I was working long hours, yet making less money than I had before, when I wrote only articles. The reason was simple—the time I spent promoting my books left me less time to write articles and other books, which cut into my income. After a successful collaboration with a nutrition expert, I decided to focus more on writing "other people's books." 
            You probably know that many celebrities and politicians use ghostwriters to pen their books. What you probably don’t know is that most authors who hire ghostwriters aren’t household names. Instead they’re professionals (think physicians, attorneys,financial advisors) who want to add “book author” to their CVs to attract clients and establish themselves as subject matter experts—but they lack the time and/or ability to write a book. They’re willing to pay, and often pay well, to get “their” books in print.
            Ghostly Attributes 
            So what do you need to be a successful ghost? You must be able to: 
  • Set your ego aside. This is your client's book, not your own. 
  • Manage the entire project. Depending on the project, you may be responsible for conducting interviews and research and keeping your client on schedule in addition to writing the book itself. 
  • Help your client determine which publishing route (traditional, POD, electronic) is the right one for his book. 
  • Capture your client's voice, and write the way he talks. 
Getting the Word Out
You have two basic ways of finding ghosting work—spread the word that you’re a ghostwriter, and go after ghosting gigs you find. Make sure your website and blog, if you have one, says that you ghostwrite. Mention it in your e-mail signature. Consider subscribing to ($20/month) for a promotional listing and a way of staying up on the latest publishing deals.
Check sites like,, and for possible jobs. And consider your expertise when marketing yourself to potential clients. I specialize in health, fitness, and nutrition, and almost all of my ghosting work is for professionals in those areas. The idea is to start with what you know and let editors, story sources, and colleagues know you’ve added ghostwriting to your repertoire.
Working with Clients 
How you work with a particular client depends on the project, budget, and time frame. For example, you may interview your client and write the book from scratch, relying on your notes; your client may write some of the book while you write the rest; or your client may provide you with background material that you use as a starting point. It depends on how much work your client has already done (and is willing to do) and how he prefers to work with you.
Make sure you know what’s expected of you, how you’ll be working, and how long the book will be before you quote a fee. And before you start work, have your client sign a written contract. At a minimum, it should include a description of the work you’ll be doing (the more specific, the better); how much and when you’ll be paid (i.e., in certain amounts throughout the duration of the project); your deadline; and who will own the copyright to the book (almost always the client).
With a signed contract in hand, you’re ready to get to work. If your client hasn’t created an outline already, that’s the first step. Once he approves it, you start researching and writing the book itself. Once the book is published, my client’s real work as an author begins. But as a ghostwriter, my work is complete—which frees me up to start on my next ghostwriting project.
Convinced? Keep ghostwriting in mind, even if you aren’t interested in book projects. Ghostwriters also pen articles, blog posts, and even Tweets, so consider ditching your byline in exchange for a check. You may find that ghostwriting becomes an essential part of your freelance repertoire.  
***This post was drawn from Secret 27: Become a ghostwriter from Writer for Hire: 101 Secrets to Freelance Success. If you want the "essential guide to ghostwriting," check out Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks: The Writer's Guide to Making Money Ghostwriting and Coauthoring Books, which includes templates of ghostwriting LOIs, non-disclosure agreements, contracts, and advice from other successful ghostwriters who pen a variety of types of books. 
And finally, have you checked out my series of ebooks on freelancing? They're still priced at $2.99 for a limited time. What topics would you like to see covered in an ebook? Comment and let me know! 


  1. Great information, Kelly. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Hi Kelly,

    Do you have a book on establishing approximate rates for ghost/edit work? I wrote to you awhile back and the ghost work I'm doing is turning out great, but I've now been asked to edit a book. The job itself isn't a problem, but I'm not sure what to quote them. I found Chapter 6 of "Goodbye Byline" very help, but I need to know the going rates or something in the ballpark for an edit instead of a ghost.

    Thanks for any help,

  3. Hi, Louie!

    Editing rates are all across the board, but I'd say somewhere in the $20-40/range depending on your experience. Or, like with ghosting, you can do a project fee, or per-page or per-word. I'm not sure what the latter rates are (though I have seen per-word rates of say, $0.012/word on sites like CreateSpace), so I'd suggest you ask to look at a few pages, figure out how long it's going to take, and then you could quote a project fee if that's what your client wants.

    Hope this helps! :)

  4. thanks kelly.

    I've asked them to send the first chapter (I have no idea what it is) but I'll apply ghost rules and see if they'll go for it. I'll let you know the deets when I get them.

    thanks again! =D

  5. My pleasure...keep me posted! :)

  6. Hi Kelly,

    First off, thanks for all your helpful posts. I've learned a lot from you.

    I'm new to freelance writing but have a keen interest in ghostwriting. As a new writer just building my credits, how would you suggest I market myself and start getting clients? Or, should I wait until I have more projects and clips under my belt? I was thinking I could start local - put up some flyers around town and just start there and see what happens.

    I've got a lot of confidence in my skills, but, as I said, I'm still building up clips and credits...



  7. Hi, Latanya--

    I do think you need to have some clips/experience to pitch yourself as a ghost--you need to be able to show clients that you can write to deadline, for example, and write well as well as capture their voices. So you may want to build your portfolio a bit more. In the meantime, though, you can certainly market your ghosting ability and may find clients who are willing to work with you, but I think most will want you to be a little more "seasoned" before hiring you. Make sense?

    Hope this helps and good luck! :)