Unveiling The Mystery Of Ghostwriting
Do you love writing?
But does the thought of seeing your name out there in public make you feel nauseous?
I bet I’ve got your attention now.
In the following guide, I will be demystifying the ghostwriting profession. Not only will we discuss the basics – what ghostwriting is and how it works, but I will also share with you my top tips for becoming a ghostwriter, should you decide that this is the path you want to take.
What Is A Ghostwriter?
Have you ever seen a memoir or biography in a bookshop written by a celebrity or public figure and thought to yourself, ‘wow, I never realised they could write’ or ‘I wonder if they actually wrote this?’
Well, chances are they may well not have written it at all. Their book was probably written by a ghostwriter.
So, as the name might suggest, a ghostwriter is essentially a writer who creates content that has been commissioned by someone else (usually the publicly named author). The writer’s name or byline will never be attached to their work (i.e. they won’t get any authorship credit – at all), and the person who commissions the work will own the copyright – which means that they can amend and republish the work in whatever manner they like without consulting the ghostwriter.
‘Why would someone hire a professional ghostwriter?’ I hear you ask. ‘Why not just write it themselves?’
Well, as we’ve discussed above, a publisher may wish to publish a celebrity’s memoir because they know that it’s guaranteed to sell, however, they may not have confidence in the celebrity’s writing ability. There are other reasons too, such as the person whose name will appear on the cover not having the time to write it, or simply not wanting to.
This works in the corporate world too. For example, a person may have an award-winning blog or website but may not have the time to write all their own material. They would rather spend their time marketing or networking than actually writing.
This is when it might be more efficient and cost-effective to hire a ghostwriter to take away the pressure of creating regular content.
Now that we’ve discussed what a ghostwriter is, let’s move on to talk about the benefits/drawbacks of becoming one, and I’ll also share a little about how it works in practice.
How Does Ghostwriting Work?
A ghostwriting commission is likely to be very similar to a freelance writing commission, except of course that the commission is confidential. This means you will probably have to sign a Confidentiality or Non-Disclosure Agreement on or before your acceptance of the offer.
When you have signed on the dotted line, you will be given a brief that sets out the scope of the commission and any key deadlines. It’s essential you ensure the brief is clear and that you will be able to work within it and adhere to the timescales required.
Then, depending on whether the commission is for an article or blog piece, or a much lengthier memoir or biography, you will have a series of meetings and/or phone calls to discuss the project. Conversations may touch upon topics such as the themes and overarching narratives of the content, as well as the timeline of events in the story and the authenticity of voice and style.
The duration of this initial phase can depend on the type of commission. For example, if you are writing a memoir or biography, this ‘’fact-finding’’ process could take several weeks or even months, whereas the research element of an article may only require a few days. You may want to ask if you can record any conversations to remind you of any key details at a later stage in the process.
Then, after you’ve completed this more collaborative phase, this is where the hard work truly begins as you will have to actually produce the content that you have been commissioned to write!
As with most writing projects, this part can be extremely solitary. You must be prepared to be very self-motivated and disciplined to work hard on a project that may not interest you (and that you will not be able to take the credit for).
Here are some of the key benefits of being a ghostwriter:
- Financial reward. Well-established ghostwriters tend to get paid very well. Fees differs from writer to writer, but most ghostwriters are paid up to 15% more than the average freelance writer. And once you are established in the profession, there is rarely a shortage of work.
- Diversifying network. Ghostwriting will inevitably expose you to a diverse range of people within the industry, from bloggers, authors and influencers to celebrities and public figures. It is a great way to build your contacts and grow your network.
- Objective distance from work. Many authors will often write about subject matter which has personally impacted them, or someone close to them, in some way or form. Being a writer isn’t for everyone as it can be mentally and emotionally exhausted baring one’s soul to the world. So, ghostwriting instead (writing someone else’s story) can take the emotion out of the equation.
But there are also some drawbacks of being a ghostwriter, such as:
- Lack of credit. It’s hard to really know how you’ll feel about this until you have completed your first commission. Some ghostwriters do struggle with working really hard on a piece of work and not being able to shout about it from the rooftops! You have to think hard about what motivates you beforehand. Ghostwriting is not for everyone and that’s okay. If you are concerned this might be you, maybe consider writing a novel under a pen name, which will preserve your anonymity, among other benefits.
- Ethics. As a ghostwriter you will have to rely heavily on the brief and your project sponsor. There is a risk that you will be forced to run in a direction that you aren’t wholly comfortable with, or worse, follow a brief with little planning or direction. If you are starting out, you may not feel comfortable pushing back or asking for more input.
- Inability to develop own portfolio. Many writers feel that they don’t want to be limited by ghostwriting projects, which limit their own creative freedom and time to develop their own personal portfolio. But arguably, the skills, experience and contacts you can develop while ghostwriting could help you further your own portfolio.
How To Become A Ghostwriter- Tips
Starting out as a ghostwriter is very similar to starting out as a freelance writer, in that you will have to find a way of getting your name out there and establishing a client base for yourself in an already very crowded industry.
To help you get started, we’ve set out some easy to follow tips on how to start ghostwriting below.
Establish Yourself As A Freelance writer
Many ghostwriters start out as freelance writers or editors for a reason, as it helps to show current and prospective clients that you have a portfolio of proven experience. If you don’t have this experience, consider offering to guest blog for well-known blogs and websites. Be prepared, however, to offer your services at a reduced rate or even for free to pick up some clients for your portfolio, but this should hopefully pay off in the long run. Alternatively, you could play the long game and consider starting your own blog or website to demonstrate your skills and versatility as a writer.
Don’t Be Afraid Of Marketing Your Services
All freelance writers and ghostwriters should have a website (or a section of your existing website) offering their services and rates. Not only does this show that you are a serious professional who means business, but you can use it to highlight your freelance writing experience and your portfolio of projects/clients.
Make the most of all the other free marketing opportunities available to you, such as using social media to network and interact with potential clients and other people in the community. Another more ‘out of the box’ way of marketing your services is to guest blog about ghostwriting, which will effectively ensure that your name is publicly associated with the ghostwriting profession (it will also help with SEO and Google algorithms).
Learn The Ins And Outs Of SEO
Navigating the SEO minefield is essential. Not only so that potential clients can find you but also to maximise the traction of any content you are commissioned to create.
If you aren’t familiar with SEO, then consider taking a short online course or doing some further research to learn the basics.
Learn How To Diversify Your Voice
Most writers and authors will develop their own voice over time, which forms part of their brand/author identity so loyal readers know exactly what they are getting when they pick up a book or article written by them. But with ghostwriting you are not writing as you. And that is an entirely different skill set to develop.
You will need to be able to identify and embody the client’s tone and style within your writing in order to completely match their voice. This is much harder than it sounds!
In addition to this, if you are ghostwriting books you may need to learn to write across different genres, particularly when you are starting out.
Leverage Your Network
Word of mouth is one of the most underrated ways of gaining a new commission. But people aren’t mind-readers! So don’t be afraid to approach your existing network to spread the word that you are ‘open for business’.
Examples Of Ghostwr
You may (or may not be) surprised to learn that the following books are publicly acknowledged to have been ghostwritten.
Trump: The Art Of The Deal
This was the book that helped make Donald J. Trump a household name. It reached number one on The New York Times Best Seller list and stayed there for 13 weeks. Whilst Trump has given conflicting accounts on the question of authorship, his publisher stated that Trump played no role in the writing of the book and that it was ghostwritten by journalist and popular ghostwriter Tony Schwartz who cited it as his ‘greatest regret in life, without question.’
Richard Brandon: Losing My Virginity
This is a memoir of one of the most celebrated and successful businessmen of this century and is a must-read for aspiring entrepreneurs. It was ghostwritten by Edward Whitley, most likely to sensitively draw out a softer more empathetic side to a billionaire.
Andre Agassi: Open, An Autobiography
If you have read this book there will be no doubt in your mind that it has been ghostwritten, and not just by any ghostwriter but Pulitzer Prize winning writer, JR Moehringer. The stunning prose and skilful imagery would never have been captured by a former tennis champion.
Sweet Valley High (The Final Books In The Series)
Francine Pascal didn’t have much to do with the final Sweet Valley books, which were penned by a handful of ghostwriters. This is quite common with huge hit series books, which for a number of reasons such as time and enthusiasm may eventually be written by ghostwriters (including a few young men in their twenties!).
This extremely well-known series was published over a period spanning 40 years starting from 1980. The original author, Robert Ludlum passed away in 2001 but over 11 bestselling books were published 16 years after he died written by ghostwriter, Eric Van Lustbader.
Is Ghostwriting For You?
I hope this article has unveiled all you need to know about being a ghostwriter.
Ghostwriting isn’t for everyone, so be certain of your motivations before you start. But for those who love to write and collaborate, while remaining in the shadows, it’s the perfect path to publication.
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