Some of you regular readers may remember that I recently raised my ghostwriting rates. You can read more about why in my post about How To Overcome Imposter Syndrome. I’ve also made it one of my goals to take on two new ghostwriting clients this year. So, I started searching for jobs, but I quickly became frustrated. I didn’t know where to start. All of the outlets I’ve used in the past aren’t exactly teeming with book ghosting gigs, and it’s even harder to find one for which the client has a good budget. I felt a little lost. Googling “ghostwriter’s wanted” wasn’t working. My favorite job boards were letting me down that week.
Google didn’t completely fail me, though. I found a book on ghostwriting by Kelly James-Enger called Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks. I had already read her Writer for Hire book, which I reviewed in this post on 12 Things You May Not Know About Traditional Freelance Writing: Part One. I loved that book, and in it, I had learned that Kelly was a ghost, too, as well as a veteran traditional freelancer with a crazy number of publications under her belt. Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks is just as rich in concrete advice and tangible steps, but this time for succeeding as a ghost, whether you want to write short pieces like blog posts and business content or go all out and ghost books like I do.
Thanks to Kelly, I’m breathing easier. I was encouraged to see that I’m already doing many of the things she recommends, but even better, I have some new insights and a plan to improve on the areas where I’ve fallen short. This book fully covers starting and succeeding at a ghosting career, beginning with a thorough explanation of exactly what ghostwriting is, how to set your rates, how to find jobs, what to include in the contract, how to manage work as a ghost, and how to address common issues that can arise during a job. It addresses all the scary, confusing parts of this career path that, without guidance, can make you feel overwhelmed, and breaks them down into manageable steps and solutions. She includes a crazy amount of templates, including sample pitches/bids, various kinds of contracts, the makeup of a book proposal, and even a quiz that helps you determine if ghosting is a viable option for your experience and personality. Really, the templates alone are worth the price of the book.
The ten things I’m going to share below are just interesting and helpful tidbits found in this book (some of which I didn’t know), and they barely scratch the surface of what’s provided. So, if you learn something new below, go check out the book and support the author.
10 Things You May Not Know About Ghostwriting
- LOTS of Potential Clients: More specifically, 81% of people believe they “have a book in them.” You know the real crazy part? That’s more than the amount of people who actually read books (sadly, only about 50% of the American population actually read a book in the last year). That’s a boatload of clients, many of whom don’t have a single clue how to actually coax that book out of themselves. That’s where you come in. The only issue is finding someone who’s willing to pay you what the job is worth, but in such a highly populated sea, you’re bound to catch a big one sooner or later.
- Custom Content Publishers: There are a wide array of potential clients in the ghosting world, but one I didn’t know about was custom content publishers for companies like Walgreens and GNC, who actually produce their own magazines. They need ghosts to fill up those pages. If you want to lean more toward the content writing side of ghosting rather than tackling books, this is a viable option that pays well. Kelly suggests looking in the Standard Periodical Directory or American Business Media for these sorts of gigs.
- Copywriting vs. Content Marketing: Speaking of content writing gigs, sometimes copywriting and content marketing are used interchangeably (just to confuse everyone, I’m sure), but there is a distinction. Copywriting is the super salesy copy that accompanies a product description or screams at you from an ad. If you’re in this type of work, you’re going to be creating mostly short, punchy pieces that push a product. Yes, it’s ghosting, technically, but it’s not the sort of thing anyone puts a byline on anyway. Content marketing seeks to present a company as a leader in a field. It’s usually articles (on a company website or in something like a trade magazine) that use an informative voice to present the company and its members as experts. It usually covers a wider topic, not a specific product, and seeks to teach the audience something with a mix of interviews, facts, and quality content. Writing these is truer ghosting because it’s a substantial article you don’t get a byline for, but the pay is great.
- Book Packagers: Here’s another potential client I didn’t know about. A book packager is hired by both traditional publishers and true self-publishing authors to “package” a book. They can take it from conception to production. They basically act as a publisher, except instead of offering a contract for the right to publish the book, someone else pays them to create and publish it. Publishers hire packagers if they have a client with a great platform and a profitable book idea who can’t write the book on their own. Thus, a packager hires ghosts to write the book which they then turn into a tangible product that’s delivered to the publisher. Essentially, they are the ultimate ghostwriter middleman. If your LOI (letter of introduction) or pitch gets a packager’s attention, you land the gig, and you do a good job, you have a repeat client with a wide array of available work. Thanks to Kelly, this is where I’m focusing my pitching efforts from now on.
- Publishers: Sometimes publishers don’t want to go through a middleman. They just hire the ghost directly. This is usually for projects by big names (You didn’t think Hillary Duff actually just woke up one day and wrote a novel on her own, did you?). Big name equals big bucks. However, you probably aren’t going to land a high-profile gig like this right out of the gate, but keep dreaming big and one day you just might.
- Publishers Marketplace: Once you know who you can work for, you have to actually get in touch with them. As I said before, this was one of the main issues that led me to seek out this book, and Kelly delivered. She suggests buying a monthly membership for Publishers Marketplace ($25). The membership allows you to create a member page that lists all your information and the services you provide. Publishers Marketplace is a trusted resource in the industry, so serious clients usually look there. That’s right. Clients will come to you. I created my page for manuscript editing and ghostwriting at 10 p.m., and a potential editing client contacted me the next morning. It was a huge job (not ghosting, but hell, I’m sure that will come along, too, just give it a few weeks), and I landed the contract a few days later. Publishers Marketplace also has an amazing free searchable database that is incredible for finding legitimate clients to pitch (it’s how I’m finding book packagers), so even if you don’t want to shell out the $25, it’s still a wonderful resource.
- Royalties Aren’t Out of Reach: While credit is always out the window in a ghosting job, that doesn’t mean you can’t get a piece of the royalties on top of your fixed fee for actually writing the book. While this isn’t typically done if you’re working with a self-publishing client (they put a boatload of money into paying you and making the book; they need all those royalties), you can negotiate royalties if your client’s book is picked up by a traditional publisher. But never work just for royalties! A book is never guaranteed to sell well.
- Book Proposals: If you’re working with an expert with a huge platform, they probably want to (and should) traditionally publish. But, the traditional publishing world is a fickle mistress. In nonfiction, everything hinges on the book proposal. The book should not even be written, save for one or two sample chapters, before the proposal is accepted, because that is all a publisher looks at to make a decision, unlike in fiction where the whole manuscript is usually sent in for consideration. Guess what? Your client needs to hire a ghost for that proposal. Know the standard fee for a proposal? $3,500-$10,000.
- Not Just a Writer: Think ghosting is just pounding out the words your client can’t? Wrong. A book is a huge undertaking, and you are the guiding force making it all happen. You must function as a highly organized project manager. Your client hired you because they either have no clue how to write a book or are way too busy to do it themselves. That means you have to be the one to lay out what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, and how you and your client are going to work together. What does the client want this book to achieve? Will the client provide outlines, or will everything come from phone interviews? Will the client be your main source, or will you have to do all the research? How often will you speak on the phone? How fast does the client need to get chapters back to you with rewrites? You must work with the client to get solid answers for all these things and much more.
- Huge Earning Potential: Wanna know why I raised my rates? Because I freaking deserve to. Ghostwriting a book is long, hard work. I’ve paid my dues (too many, really) and gotten a number of solid book projects (both fiction and nonfiction) in my portfolio, and I’m sick and tired of beginner rates (and the deplorable naive college kid rates I got on my first fiction gigs when I had no clue what a ghost should earn). Don’t be me. I should have done one fiction and one nonfiction project at respectable beginner rates and then made the switch, but I started out without a clue. So let me give you one. For an average book of between 50,000 to 75,000 words, you can earn between $7,500 to $50,000+. Yeah. Rub your eyes again. $50,000, my friend. Know what I made on my first ghost gig, writing a damn novel (albeit a short one)? $300. Don’t. Be. Me. Holy God help you, don’t be me! I was 21 and stupid! Yes, this is a competitive field where you desperately need those first one or two gigs to earn credibility and get your foot in the door, but do it for a couple thousand, not a couple hundred. The average sweet spot, once you get that first break, is $15,000-$30,000. Keep those figures in your head when someone tries to tell you you’re going to “have a hard time” finding anyone to pay you more than a $1,000 to write a freaking book.
In all fairness, that first client honestly didn’t think she was ripping me off (no, I’m serious). She was a super nice person, and she was young, too, just in her early to mid-twenties. She knew nothing about book writing; she just had a cool idea she thought she could market. She also didn’t have any concept of what a writer should be paid. And yet, for some unknown reason, I accepted that she knew what she was doing and that that rate was totally normal for a beginner. This is something you will have to combat if you want to work with individuals and not, say, a book packager. Someone who isn’t a writer and has no clue of what producing a book entails thinks it’s just something you do for fun. Something that just pours out of your head in the blink of an eye because you just sort of have a natural knack for it. Writing is easy … until they try to do it. Talent and creativity are super important … until it comes time to pay for them. Don’t let people like this fool you. Please, educate yourself before you take the leap into this career. Get Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks or any reputable book on ghostwriting, understand what this sort of work is worth, and go out and land a first job that won’t let you starve. When done correctly, ghostwriting is an incredibly rewarding and truly fun job. Hell, I had loads of fun on that first gig. It got me hooked, gave me that first high. It made me realize I could make money doing what I loved. I don’t regret that project. I sorely regret how I handled the payment, but in all honesty, the project itself still brings me immense joy. It sits on my bookshelf, and I display it proudly.