Everything You Need To Know About Ghostwriting

Don’t be scared

Mr Cab Driver
Sep 15, 2018 · 22 min read
“black framed eyeglasses and black pen” by Trent Erwin on Unsplash

Who Hires Ghostwriters?

Being a ghostwriter can be a fascinating and very profitable career. It is really just a case of matching up your skills, expertise and interest with those of paying clients willing to pay good money for well-written content.

What Is a Ghostwriter?

A ghostwriter writes a piece of work, such as non-fiction or fiction, but does not put their name on it. Rather, they allow another person to put their name on it and give them the copyright to it (that is, full permission to use the work as if it were their own creation).

Ghostwriters commonly produce what is termed work for hire. They work on a project with the person who hires them on the understanding that the written outcome of the two working together will be a product the client will get full rights to.

Legal Agreements

Assigning copyright is important, but there are a few other legal issues when it comes to ghostwriters working with clients. Sometimes the idea is so much of a secret that a ghostwriter might be asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) to protect client confidentiality. In other cases, they might also sign a non-compete agreement, basically stating that they will not create a similar book for any other client.

Payment

Payment terms should also be agreed upon and set out in writing. All of these agreements should be in place prior to any substantial work being done by the ghostwriter. The payment terms will vary depending on the length of the assignment. For longer assignments such as a book, a retainer fee that represents a partial payment of the agreed-upon sum is reasonable and helps retain the services of the ghostwriter.

Who Hires Ghostwriters?

A wide variety of people hire ghostwriters. They are often busy people with websites who need content, and are looking for articles and other informative pieces they might not have the time or ability to write themselves.

Many people also want to “be a writer” in the sense of publishing a book with their name on it and hoping it will bring money and prestige. They might not have the skill to write an entire book, or the patience. Some business owners want “instant books” published digitally and in paperback so they can use them as promotional tools for their business. A ghostwriter is one of the best shortcuts for this type of person.

Famous people also often aspire to writing a book, but don’t have the skills or time. They will usually give the ghostwriter materials to be included in the book, and perhaps be interviewed. Final approval of the (flattering) book will usually rest with the client.

Some clients take a hands-off approach. They write the specifications for the job, choose from the ghostwriters who apply, and let the one they have selected get on with things. Others might look over the ghostwriter’s shoulder a bit more, or micro-manage every step.

Getting a Good Fit

Since so many people are hiring ghostwriters these days in order to outsource their content to a professional, ghostwriters can afford to be a bit choosy and only opt for projects that are a good fit. They can search through all the listings on the popular freelance marketplace sites, and apply only for the ones that:

  • Don’t sound too complicated
  • Seem to be from clients who sound like reasonable people, not micro-managers
  • Ones with a reasonable due date
  • Ones that match their topics of expertise and interest. For example, if you are a health writer, it’s probably not a good idea to tackle a big finance book

Ghostwriting is a high-demand skill, and that demand is growing. If you can write well, it could be a perfect career or second job.

“person using typewriter near white ceramic cup filled with coffee” by rawpixel on Unsplash

What Is Expected of a Ghostwriter?

Ghostwriting can be a great career if you are a talented writer who is full of ideas and are good at research and at capturing the style and tone of various publications and of clients whom you will be working with. But there are a few things you should be clear about before trying to get gigs as a ghostwriter.

What Exactly Does a Ghostwriter Do?

Ghostwriters are paid to write for someone else and let them put their name on it. You are their secret weapon behind the scenes. There is a high demand for ghostwriters to produce a wide range of content, such as blog posts, articles, non-fiction books, and even celebrity autobiographies.

Websites constantly need fresh and interesting content. Many people dream of having a bestselling book, but just don’t have the writing skills. You can satisfy all these needs and get paid doing something you love.

What Is Expected

The most obvious thing that’s expected is a written work that is error-free and delivered on time. It also has to be an original work; that is, not plagiarized, or stolen from other writers on the internet or in books. If you are going to source information in your work, a link or mention of it is common courtesy.

For certain topics, such as health, using reliable, up-to-date sources of information is a must. How-to types of writing should be accurate and clear. Autobiographies should be truthful, with all data sourced from your client. This can be through documents, interviews and so on.

Keeping Clients Happy

Client who hire ghostwriters are usually very busy people who have clear goals in mind for the projects they are commissioning. They want good writing, but they are usually looking for other things as well.

You have to do thorough research, or know a good amount about the topic already. You need to be able to incorporate any facts, figure or statistics they might give you as part of the project. You also need to try to write in their style or tone of voice, rather than your own.

In addition, you have to respect confidentiality so the client can feel certain you are not going to be unethical in any way. Finally, you have to convey reliability, so you will deliver not just this project on time, but others in the future as well. Getting happy repeat clients is the best way to ensure that your ghostwriting career will thrive.

Being a Good Communicator

The longer the project, such as a book, the more you should keep the client in the loop regarding the progress of the work. If you are using a freelance marketplace like Upwork.com, be sure to set milestones for deliverables and for payments into your account.

Keep things professional, polite and friendly. Some clients will be a joy to work for. Others will be a pain in the neck. Do your best to make the relationship a success. Once the project is completed, you won’t have to work with the difficult clients ever again if you don’t wish to.

Being Organized

Being a ghostwriter means juggling the assignments you have with looking for new ones, marketing yourself, and administering your business. It can be tough, especially if you work from home or are doing this as a second job for spare cash. Organize all your work into folders on your computer:

  • Jobs applied for
  • Work in progress
  • Your marketing materials
  • Templates

…and so on. As a ghostwriter, you need to make the most of your time in order to earn the best money, so start as you mean to go on and you should have a successful new career.


What Skills and Qualities Do Ghostwriters Need?

If a person is thinking about being a ghostwriter, there are a number of skills and qualities they should possess if they are to be successful in this career.

A Good Writer

Not surprisingly, the most important thing is to have good writing skills. There are tools online that can help you polish your grammar, spelling and punctuation, but you need to be reasonably accurate in the first place.

Most ghostwriting is non-fiction, such as blog posts, articles and eBooks. Being able to write to different lengths will also be an important skill.

A Good Researcher

In many cases, you will be expected to cite facts, figures and statistics. These help give the writing a ring of truth. Content that is very vague and generalized might have been good enough a few years ago, but clients and their target audience expect more these days. In particular, a lot of clients want you to write a book for them so they can seem like an expert in their niche or industry.

Organized

Being a ghostwriter requires a good deal of organization in several areas. First, you need a good portfolio of writing samples to show prospective clients you that really are able to write. Next, you should create a profile at every one of the freelance sites you are hoping to get ghostwriting jobs from.

Once your profile is completely filled in, you can start to apply for the jobs listed. But you should be selective. A lot of new ghostwriters will apply for any job, but this can backfire badly if the assignment is badly written or unclear, or the client is an unreasonable person.

Take the time to read each job carefully so you are clear about what is expected. You really won’t have time for a lot of back and forth with the client. Also check the client. They get reviews too, just like you will. If you see they post a lot of projects but rarely hire, they are not a serious buyer.

They could even be a scammer trying to get free work by asking ghostwriters to produce two custom articles on topics of their choosing. This is against the terms of service of most freelance sites, but many eager new ghostwriters fall for it.

You need to be organized throughout the project if you are hired, communicating with the client as and when needed. Finally, you must stay on top of your payments. It’s a good idea to get some money up front as a retainer. The rest will be paid once you and the client have both signed off on the project.

A Motivated Self-Starter

You might not always feel like writing, but you need to keep going in order to get paid and get a good review. Remind yourself of what is motivating you and you should be able to follow through.

A Good Communicator

Make sure everything is clear from the outset. Discuss issues promptly if and when they arise. If it is a short project, you might get by with a couple of emails. If it is a longer project, a brief email at the end of each day should reassure your client that good progress is being made. If you have set milestones for the project, check them off in the user interface and ask them to transfer the partial payment.

Polite and Diplomatic

Some clients are a bit more difficult than others. Famous people in particular can be quite arrogant. Always be polite no matter how rude the other person might be, and try to work with them in a way that won’t hurt their feelings or rile them up.

Reliable

Meeting your deadlines should be your main priority. You can either make excuses, or you can get the work done. Be as good as your word and you will always get repeat clients.

Being a ghostwriter can be an enjoyable and rewarding job. If you have these qualities, then ghostwriting could be the career for you.


Tips for Being a Successful Ghostwriter

Ghostwriting can be a very profitable career if you follow a few essentials when applying for writing jobs, completing them, and working with clients. This will ensure they are happy and give you good reviews, which in turn will lead to more jobs and more money.

Here are some tips for each of these tasks.

Applying for Jobs

Use the popular freelance sites. Be picky. Only apply for things you can write well about or are genuinely interested in. The more research you have to do, the longer the task will take, so you might wish to specialize in a particular topic.

Read Each Job Listing Carefully If anything is vague or sounds suspicious, pass on it. Chances are there will be plenty of other listings that will be clearer and created by people who genuinely want to hire a ghostwriter.

Check the Reviews for the Clients

See how many listings they created, versus people they hired. If they hired very few people, something is fishy.

NEVER Give Customized Free Article/s

This is against the terms of service in most marketplaces and is a scam to get free content out of eager writers. By all means put together an impressive portfolio of your own work, such as blog posts and articles, but never work for free.

Communicate with the Client before Starting

Make sure everything is clear. You don’t want to waste time going back and forth or being told you have misunderstood something.

Beware of Scope Creep

This can happen when a client starts to ask for more and more things that the original agreement did not include. You might give in once if it is not going to be a great hardship to fulfill the request, but if there is a major change or too many requests, it is best to rewrite the agreement and adjust the pay accordingly.

Stay in Regular Communication with the Client for Longer Projects

If you are undertaking to write a book, for example, a quick note at the end of each day or two telling them how things are progressing should reassure them and keep you on the right track.

Be Clear about Their Style and Tone

If you are ghostwriting for a website or a person, try to keep your writing consistent with their style and tone. This is especially important if you are ghostwriting an autobiography for a client.

Don’t be Afraid to Ask for More Information

If you are writing anything in-depth or highly personal, don’t be afraid to ask questions. But do be sensitive regarding privacy. If they hesitate to answer, don’t push.

Treat All Information You Receive as Confidential

Even if you are not asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement or a non-compete clause, treat everything you are told or given with the utmost security-consciousness. If you’re not sure something should go in the work, ask, and abide by their answer.


How to Gain Experience as a Ghostwriter

There are a number of ways to gain experience as a ghostwriter. These skills are in high demand, so if you are organized and approach this new career opportunity in a professional manner, you should soon see an increase in income, and a growing reputation as a talented and reliable ghostwriter.

You need to be able to write well, so this will be you starting point. Consider starting your own blog as a showcase for your writing skills and the kinds of topics you are able to write about. Most ghostwriters try to focus on high-demand topics like health, finance, and self-help. You can mention at your site that you are available for hire.

Ask Friends If They Need Help

Offer your writing skills to your friends and family in exchange for a recommendation and word-of-mouth marketing. Chances are they have websites and will need content.

Create a Portfolio

Once you have some good blog posts and work you’ve done for your friends, put together a portfolio of your best work. Include your full contact information at the top of the webpage and the titles of each piece of work you want to showcase. Hyperlink the title to the page for each piece of work.

Keep a Folder of Your Best Work

Also keep a copy of each of your best pieces in a folder on your computer so you can attach them as needed or upload them through an interface when applying for a ghostwriter gig. Be sure the work is error free and formatted for easy reading with a 12-point font, such as Arial or Calibri.

List Your Services on Fiverr

Fiverr.com can be one quick and easy way to get ghostwriter work. That fee usually applies per article, usually about 500 words. Check out some of the current listings and try to be competitive in terms of your pricing.

Use Freelancing Websites

Top freelancing websites include Upwork.com and Freelancer.com. Take the time to build a strong profile that will inspire people with confidence in your professionalism. Link to your portfolio to show off your writing skills.

When applying for jobs, start out by looking for short gigs that are really suited to your talents. They may take a while to find, but the goal is to get projects quickly, finish them fast, and get good reviews so more people will be willing to hire you.

Regular Clients and Word-of-Mouth Opportunities

In addition to looking for work on the main freelance websites, you should start to develop a list of regular clients who will be eager to work with you on their various projects, such as content for their website. These clients will also most likely be happy to recommend you to others.

Regular clients means the work comes to you, so you don’t have to spend a lot of time chasing it. It also means you can pick and choose your projects a bit more, selecting ones on topics you can write well about and are interested in.


How to Find Ghostwriting Gigs

There are a number of ways to find good ghostwriter gigs online. It’s really just a question of how long you wish the content to be, what topics you want to write about, and how much money you want to earn.

Length of Content

The length of content will determine how much work needs to be done and how much a ghostwriter can expect to be paid. The most common projects advertised include:

  • Blog posts
  • Articles
  • Sales copy
  • Non-fiction books
  • Fiction books (occasionally)

The longer the content, the higher the pay in most cases. Some will pay by the word, such as two cents per word. Other clients will be willing to factor in things like having to do research, formatting the book for the Kindle eBook reader, and so on. Writing is the most important aspect of what a ghostwriter does, but if you can offer these kinds of added extras as well, you can make the most of every project you secure.

The Topics You Want to Write About

When you are first starting out, chances are you will end up writing about a wide variety of topics. However, over time you will most likely start to specialize in certain topics, such as finance, self-help or health. This helps you make the most of the research you will often have to do in order to complete a project. You will soon find a number of reliable websites you can refer to over and over again as you take on new assignments.

Keep an updated list of URLs so you can turn around your projects faster and faster, boosting your per-hour income.

How Much Money You Want to Earn

Some people become a ghostwriter as a second job, working freelance in exchange for some extra cash. Others aspire to be a full-time writer, which means being very organized and efficient. It is a juggling act between getting new projects, and working on the ones you have been hired for. If you are the type of person who procrastinates or has trouble managing their time, this could seriously limit the amount of money you can earn.

Getting Gigs

Freelance marketplaces are the easiest places to get gigs. It is just a question of how much you will get paid.

  • Fiverr.com, as the name suggests, is a site where freelancers are paid $5 in most cases for short projects. This will usually represent one article of 250 to 500 words. If you want to charge more, your samples should show you have something special to offer.
  • Upwork.com is one of the most popular freelance marketplaces. It will take time to go through all of the jobs listed. They take a percentage of what you earn from each gig, ranging from 5% to 20%.
  • Guru.com is a popular technology-related site that has also opened up to writing gigs.
  • Freelancer.com is an easy-to-use site you can connect to via your Facebook account.
  • PeoplePerHour.com is a UK-based company with a wide variety of freelance gigs.
  • Toptal.com, which stands for Top Talent, claims they are an exclusive site with the best freelancers. Most of the subjects are related to website design, but you might be able to find clients looking for content as well.

Buying Credits

At some freelance marketplaces, you need to pay credits to apply for the jobs. You buy the credits in bulk. If you are not strategic about the posts you are applying for, you could waste a lot of money chasing jobs that are either not suitable, or never awarded.

No matter which site you use, always read the fine print and contact the site if you suspect anything might not be totally legitimate.


How Much Can Ghostwriters Make?

A lot of aspiring ghostwriters often wonder how much they can make. The answer really depends on how motivated they are and what types of projects they are working on. How organized they are, and how good their research skills are, can also affect earnings significantly.

Business Clients

Thanks to the internet, content is king. Every business with a website needs fresh, up-to-date content on a regular basis. Some clients will pay by the word, others by the article. The longer the piece of content, the more you can expect to earn. However, this might also mean the project will take up a lot more time, especially if you have to research the topic for the client.

While it is true that there’s a lot of free information available on the internet, some of the topics can be highly specialized. But this can be a good thing. If you are an expert in a particular field, you can charge more than just a general ghostwriter.

Marketing Clients

A lot of clients want to market themselves and/or their products and services by publishing a book in their name, so they can claim or show off a certain degree of expertise. However, they might not have the writing skills or the time to do the whole book themselves. In this case, you might interview them, read over the papers they give you, and so on. You can then use this material to ghostwrite the book. The client will then usually sell the book, or give it away for free as a type of business card that will drum up business for their consulting service, for example.

Wealthy Clients

A lot of famous people publish autobiographies, but that does not mean they write them themselves. They will usually hire a ghostwriter and give interviews. Then the writer will assemble the book and wait for final approval. This can be a high-earning project, but you might also end up with some very demanding clients who are not always easy to work for.

Being Clear about Scope

You will only ever be able to earn good money if you are clear about the scope of the project from the outset, and stick to it. You need to know how long the written piece has to be, how much you will get paid, and when it is due. For longer projects, it is a good idea to get paid a retainer to secure your services, and then set milestones where you deliver certain parts of the project and get paid. Otherwise, cash flow can start to become a problem.

Be professional by understanding the value of your time and your skills, and you should find it relatively easy to earn what you are worth.

Repeat Customers

Finally, aim for repeat customers. It is a lot easier to earn money if you don’t have to spend a lot of time applying for ghostwriting jobs.


How to Write a Winning Proposal as a Ghostwriter

One of the most important aspects of being a successful ghostwriter is finding the right gigs and landing them. The secret to this is being able to write a winning proposal.

There are different rules and regulations depending on which freelance marketplace you use, but here are some guidelines that should help you secure some great ghostwriting gigs.

Read the Assignment Details Carefully

The first thing most prospective clients will see is your proposal, not your profile, so it is important to follow all instructions carefully and ensure the details you provide match what is needed, and explain how effective you will be at providing it.

Be picky about what you apply for. For example, don’t apply for finance writer jobs if your portfolio shows nothing but health samples, no matter how many jobs listings there are.

One of the main things to watch out for is a code word. Clients put this in assignment listings at popular freelancing sites to ensure you are paying attention and customizing your proposal, not just churning out a boilerplate one.

Also watch out for any assignments that are vague or incomplete. You really don’t have any time to waste when you are working as a freelancer. The sooner you get a gig successfully, the sooner you start earning. Be really cautious with assignments written by people for whom English is not a first language, as things can get lost in translation, costing you time and money.

Finally, read carefully any additional questions they list at the bottom, and be prepared to answer them honestly. Note that the replies are sometimes visible before your proposal, so be sure to make a good impression.

Play the Match Game

Once you have found an assignment you think would be a good fit, copy and paste it into a word processing document and save it in a folder with a keyword that will help you find it again as needed. Create a second copy for your proposal.

In this second copy, delete any extra words, so all you have is a list of what is required for the assignment. Place them on the left-hand side of the page. Place the reasons you are a good fit for the job on the right-hand side of the page. In this way you will show you’ve read the assignment and put thought into how your skills genuinely match what is required.

Don’t try to get too creative, or introduce other topics into the mix. You want a happy client who will feel confident they have hired the right person — someone who is reliable and can follow instructions, not go their own way all the time.

Template Your Introduction and Conclusion

Each proposal you send will be created from the assignments you find in the freelance marketplace, but there are some items you can template, such as your introduction. State how many years you have been writing. At the end, include the URL for your portfolio, and anything else you think they need to know.

Write as you would a letter, with “Dear NAME” at the start, and a “Sincerely yours” at the end. Keep the tone friendly but formal. Date the letter as well. Then keep it in a safe place until you hear back one way or the other.

Give Your Contact Information

This might or might not be allowed depending on the marketplace. You can tell them the time zone you are working in, so you can connect with each other more effectively.

Indicate Your Availability

Tell them to feel free to contact you if they want more information, or would like a brief chat or interview. Be sure to check back and respond promptly to any requests.

Make Sure Everything Is Error Free

Maintain the highest standards of professionalism at all times.

Have you sent out any Upwork proposals? Any tips you’d like to share with us? Or maybe you have some more questions. Feel free to drop us a line in the comments section.


How to Protect Yourself as a Writer

There are a number of important ways you can protect yourself as a writer in order to have a profitable career — without getting your work stolen, and getting properly paid for it. These tips should help even new writers protect themselves.

Use a Recognized Freelance Marketplace

When looking for writing assignments, use sites like Fiverr.com, Upwork.com and Freelancer.com. They are very strict about their terms of service and the working conditions at the time. You should not give your personal information to anyone. Everything should be done through the interface so it can all be tracked.

Protect Your Best Work

Once you decide you want to work as a freelance writer, you can create a portfolio site of your best work. If you use WordPress, you can lock your content using a password so not everyone will be able to see it and steal it (a crime known as plagiarism). Some unscrupulous people might still try, but granting access on a per-case basis can slow them down.

Don’t Do Customized Work

New writers eager for their first freelance gigs will often fall for this scam. The person posting the assignment is basically trying to get free content and will usually not hire anyone.

Check the Client Reviews

Scammers will post a lot of listings but not hire a lot of people. IF you see the hire ratio is low, skip them.

Don’t Give Away Too Much Information during a Consultation

Sometimes a client would like to talk to you on the phone or via Skype. The temptation is to really show off what you know. Unfortunately, it usually means giving the person a lot of ideas that they will never pay for if you don’t get given the contract.

That being the case, use any consultation as a fact-finding mission only, to discover more about what the client really wants. Make it clear you can help (if you can), but don’t give away all the answers.

Get a Tax ID Number

A tax ID number means you won’t have to hand out your social security number when you want to invoice people and get paid.

Incorporate as an LLC

LLC stands for Limited Liability Company. This means that if anyone sues you, they are suing your company, not you personally, and therefore they can’t take everything you own.

Set Up a Business Bank Account

Once you have your tax ID and LLC set up, you can open a business bank account. Put all the money you earn from your writing into that account. It will help you keep track of everything on your taxes.

Set Up a PayPal Business Account

PayPal is one of the easiest ways to get paid online. It also has excellent free tools for running a business, such as invoicing clients and following up on any missing payments. Many of the freelance marketplaces use PayPal for buying and selling services. A business account will allow you to process much larger financial transactions, such as in the thousands of dollars.

Create a Great Profile at Each Freelance Site

Make sure it is error free and designed to impress.

Create Boilerplate Contracts

Create boilerplate contracts you can use as templates when taking on new projects for clients. Typical contracts you should have at the ready in case they don’t are:

  • Non-disclosure agreement (NDA)
  • Non-compete agreement
  • Copyright assignment
  • Work for hire agreement

Protect your Contact Information

In these days of identity theft, be cautious about who you are dealing with and how much information you are giving them. Consider using a free Gmail address for all your freelance work so you can see the assignments coming in but won’t need to worry about people knowing your regular email address and sending you spam, or trying it as your username at popular websites.

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Mr Cab Driver

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Committed to learning and sharing | Whenever I have a problem, I just sing, then I realize my voice is worse than my problem | Lenny Kravitz fan

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