Ghostwriting: Mysteries Unveiled
I am often asked the question, “How do you get contracts as a ghostwriter?” The answer to that question can get a little complicated, and personally, I feel no two ghostwriters’ experiences are the same. But I am happy to share with you what I know and what I know from other ghostwriters whom I’ve had a chance to work with on projects.
Let me try to break the answer down into chunks. You can find ghostwriting contracts . . .
- Through a colleague.
- Through your clients.
- Through your agent or manager.
- Through calls put out by publishers and private clients through organizations where freelancers flock.
But before I go into answers 1-4, I often suggest to writers that they weigh the pros and cons of ghostwriting against their own financial, personal, and emotional goals first.
- Let’s define financial goals as $$$.
- We’ll define personal goals as those things you want to achieve purely for the sake of achieving them. Call this your bucket list goals.
- We’ll define emotional goals as those things that bring you joy and contentment.
Now that we got that out of the way, let’s weigh the pros and cons of ghostwriting to help you determine if ghostwriting is right for you!
Here are a few pros of ghostwriting to consider:
- Ghostwriting can help pay the bills. Generally, ghostwriters are paid a flat fee for their work based on the length, format, and genre of the book in question. You write someone a book of X-thousand words, the company or person ponies up X dollars. The amount offered can really vary. If you haven’t checked out my vlog on YouTube, please do so. I posted a whole thing on how to figure out what your time is worth to you, and if a job pays enough to be worth your time and attention. Ghostwriting can help you fulfill financial goals.
- Ghostwriting can be great for your resume. Knowing that others have paid you money to write for them looks great for potential clients if you plan to a) coach or mentor other writers as a freelancer, b) ghostwrite for more clients, c) apply to graduate school in related fields, or d) enter the corporate world as a writer writing stuff that is similar to what you’ve ghostwritten already, and e) ghostwriting could even help boost your appeal to agents and editors if you’re trying to pitch your original work, too. If an editor or agent knows you’ve ghostwritten chapter books for someone else, then you must know something about something! Ghostwriting can help fulfill personal goals for your career.
- Ghostwriting can teach you a lot about discipline and deadlines—just how fast can you put a manuscript together? Ghostwriting can make you a better, faster writer when there’s no time to hem and haw over everything you’ve written. You’re under contract. You have a deadline that is generally, in my experience, never that long from today. ? Count that toward a personal goal if you would love to learn how to be efficient as all-get-out with your writing.
- Ghostwriting can offer an emotional boost when writing your own work gets depressing. Having a ghostwriting contract has never made me feel bad about myself. It’s only made me feel good, knowing that someone is willing to part with money for my writing that’s actually not mine. How ironic is that? Now my original work, on the other hand, can be depressing sometimes, especially when I’m in that mode where I can’t stand looking at another word of it again. Ghostwriting can help fulfill an emotional goal of needing to feel wanted and in demand. Check!
- Ghostwriting is a chance to work with many amazing editors you didn’t even know existed. I always find the new relationships I make in publishing to be a great reward with any contract. Ghostwriting can help fulfill an emotional need to be a part of the larger publishing pack! Yes!
- Ghostwriting just sounds cool to other people. You’re a ghost? Really? Wow! Count that as an emotional boost to the gig when other people think it’s cool that you’re a ghostwriter, especially when making small talk at boring parties.
- Ghostwriting can be a personal goal in itself. For me, I feel like I’m always up for anything. This is why I write for so many formats. I did a whole video series about this for WriteOnCon a couple of years ago. I love any writing challenge, and when a ghostwriting opportunity arises, I am always happy to check out what the gig is all about to see if it’s something I want to try just so I can say that I did it! ?
- When you devote hours to ghostwriting (generally flat-fee) versus your own work (royalty-based), you may wonder if you would have made more money on your bestselling book that you never finished because you chose to ghostwrite instead. Personally, I have never regretted ghostwriting. This may be because I don’t take every ghostwriting job offered to me. See #1 under Pros. Remember the vlogs. Figure out what your time is worth. I would advise that you only take the ghostwriting jobs that make financial, personal, and emotional sense to you. If you don’t, ghostwriting can get in the way of your financial goals.
- Ghostwriting means your name is not on the book, and you don’t get royalties (generally). You have to be mentally okay with a situation like a bestselling author getting loads and loads of credit for the awesome book you wrote. I personally love seeing books I’ve ghostwritten get great reviews. It thrills me when I see a book I wrote sell well, but not everyone can handle someone else or a company getting the credit or the money. Ghostwriting could potentially damage that ego of yours, so watch out for that if your emotional well-being could be at stake.
- Remember those deadlines? Ghostwriting often comes with a quick deadline. Something happens with the author or the publisher is hot on getting the next books out, and the author physically won’t be able to produce so many titles that quickly to keep pace with market demand. So naturally, ghostwriters are called in to help. Other times, the people you are ghosting for are not writers themselves. Ghostwriters who write for celebrities get called in for these projects, too. In this case, you have to be sure whomever you’re ghosting for — Oprah, maybe? — is happy with your work on top of the deadlines since generally celebrity books have to be produced quickly. The book business is very much like Project Runway with celebrity books. One day, “you’re in.” And the next day, Heidi Klum is telling you, “you’re out! Auf Wiedersehen!” Yes, deadlines there will be. It’s very different than when you’re pounding away at your keyboard for NaNoWriMo. In that case, you don’t actually have to finish anything in a month AND make it good. As a ghostwriter, you need to try to do both in a very limited amount of time. If you fear you won’t be able to hack the heat of a hot deadline, then ghostwriting could hinder you from other personal goals that could feel more rewarding — like taking a trip to Bali instead!
- Ghostwriting does have a certain stigma associated with it, depending on who’s talking. I personally think that’s all hooey. But if you’re a sensitive flower, and you’d wilt if some snooty writer said to you, “well, you’re just a ghostwriter,” then ghostwriting may not be for you. Your emotional well-being could take a hit. If instead you deck the person and tell them you ghostwrote their #1 selling book, then maybe ghostwriting (or prison) IS for you. ?
So there are a few of the major pros and cons. Now let’s talk about how people get ghostwriting gigs. Remember 1-4 above?
- Through a colleague. This is by far, in my best judgment, what seems to happen the most for work with major trade publishers. Editors ask editors who they know who can do the work. They ask the authors they know if they can do the work. If the authors they asked can’t do the work, those authors suggest other authors who they think can do the work. So what does this mean for you? Befriend other writers. Be part of the loop. Let your writer friends know you would love to ghostwrite one day. Get the word out through your networks so when your peeps happen upon an opportunity, you’re the first person that comes to mind when they see something.
- Through your clients. If you’re a writing coach or mentor, your clients may ask you to ghostwrite if this is clearly a service you provide, so don’t forget to mention this on your website or other promotional material and let your clients know that you can ghostwrite for them or for people they know who are looking for ghostwriters.
- Through your agent or manager. If you have an agent or manager who takes a cut from writing gigs they help sell, then ghostwriting jobs is certainly one of them. Literary agents and managers will get calls put out by publishers looking for work-for-hire talent. So if you have an agent or manager, let them know you are willing to ghostwrite so they know to forward requests your way.
- Through writing-related/freelancer organizations. I’ve also seen this happen a number of times—requests that come through creative writing programs at graduate schools or job postings on websites like Upwork and Freelancer. The digital age is here, folks! Flock where freelance writers flock online, and you’ll find people looking for ghostwriters. Generally, sites like Upwork and Freelancer make it easy for you to post your profile and list ghostwriting as a service, on top of all the other things you can do to help out someone in need of writing help!
I hope this helps answer your pressing questions about ghostwriting. Hopefully, it feels far less mysterious now. If there are questions you have that I didn’t cover, feel free to comment below and I will attempt to answer them for you.
Happy ghosting, everyone!