Spending long, fruitless hours scouring job boards for book ghostwriting work can be exhausting and discouraging. I have yet to come across a job board that has book ghostwriting as a category, which makes it very hard to do a proper quick search. If you do find a listing, you must then go through the process of figuring out if the poster actually has the budget to pay you fairly or if they’re trying to peddle experience and royalties (which have absolutely no guarantee of actual payout) as compensation. Instead of looking over job boards, you can track down experts in one of your specialty fields and cold pitch them. That’s a great way to find clients who have nice budgets and who understand the value a book can bring to their career, but it, too, is very time consuming. You have to conduct multiple online searches to get a list of potentials, and then you have to assess each potential client to determine if they really are the right fit and to tailor your pitch to their needs. (It must be said though, that this method can have a great payout if you can pull it off.) Needless to say, there’s a reason I have fewer ghostwriting jobs than editing jobs in my portfolio.
However, if you’ve read my latest income report or my post on 10 Things You May Not Know About Ghostwriting, you know that, thanks to one of my favorite authors on freelancing, Kelly-James Enger, I’ve recently begun approaching book packagers for ghostwriting work. Book packagers are production companies that wear many hats. They take book concepts from conception all the way to “ready to sell” final products. While their areas of service and expertise will vary, they can provide their clients with ghostwriting, editing, design, formatting, printing, and even marketing services. The thing you need to be most concerned with is that they often hire ghostwriters to bring their client’s ideas to fruition. For every project that comes in, they will go over a list of known ghostwriters and approach the ones they feel are best for an individual project. You want to get on that list. So how do you do it? Here are five things you need to know to get started.
1.Who Are You Working For?
Book packagers produce books three different ways. One, a large traditional publisher signs a book deal with an expert or celebrity who has a great, marketable idea and huge platform, but who lacks the time or ability to write it him or herself. The publisher hands the project over to a packager to produce, and the publisher markets and distributes the book when it’s done. Two, the expert or celebrity wants to self-publish and goes to the packager him or herself. Three, the packager develops marketable book ideas in-house, hires authors/ghostwriters to write the books, and then uses their own platform to market and distribute the books.
You are technically working for the packager either way, and your payment comes through them. However, most of your interaction will usually be with the client/expert. If a traditional publisher is involved, you may be communicating regularly with the editor there, and you may have to find a balance between what the expert/client is telling you and what the editor is wanting out of the book. If that’s the case, you need to understand upfront who is making the final decisions, who you answer to first, and who you direct your questions to. The packager will be happy if the client is happy. If the project is totally in-house, you’ll be coordinating with an editor within the packaging company. From what I have seen so far, packagers that deal in fiction are the most likely to keep work in-house, though there are exceptions.
2. Some Experience Required
Don’t panic. You don’t need a have a bestseller in your portfolio. You don’t have to have years and years of experience on your resume either. However, your chances of getting on a packagers list with no experience is slim to none. Think about it. They work for publishers. They need to keep that relationship strong with strong material. The ideas they work on in-house are selected for marketability, but they need a strong product to make it work. They aren’t going to take a chance on a total newbie when they probably already have a nice list of options to work from.
Here are few things that will get you a packager’s attention:
- One or two book ghostwriting projects: This is the absolute best option. They don’t have to be bestsellers. They don’t even have to be long. They can be short ebooks. Any sort of real experience with an actual, complete book project is great. Even better if those books have gotten good reviews on Amazon.
- A published book of your own: If you got it traditionally published, that’s super impressive, but it’s not necessary. If you did true self-publishing, that still shows you’re very familiar with how the whole process works and that you’re dedicated to your craft. If you went through a vanity publisher or even another book packager, it still shows you’re familiar with the business and, most importantly, that you can actually complete a book. Many people start a book, but more than half never finish, much less publish. (Don’t know the difference between self-publishing and vanity publishing? Check out Pros and Cons of Self-Publishing.)
- Substantial Experience in a Given Field: This is one you’re definitely not going to have as a brand new freelancer, but if you’re a long-time freelancer or writer of any kind who is just now branching out into books, this would be a viable option for you. If you have specialized in a certain field and written many, many articles, blogs, etc. within that niche, that level of expertise can potentially land you the job without an actual book project behind you.
If you have just one of these, you’re in pretty good shape; no reason not to start pitching and getting your name out there. If you have some sort of mix, excellent. All three? Hats off to you; what the heck are you waiting around here for?
3. Letter of Introduction:
If a packager doesn’t have a great fit for a project in their list, or if their first pick is too busy, they will post the job on a job board or send a notice out to a network they belong to. That would be when you send a tried and true pitch. However, most of the time, you’re going to want to send an letter of introduction. An LOI is a professional introduction that makes the packager aware that you are available for work, that you’re interested in their company, that you have the qualifications to work for them, and even better, that your specialties align with theirs. Just like publishers, packagers usually specialize in specific genres. You want to make sure you send LOIs only to packagers whose specialties match yours, or else you’re wasting your time and theirs.
Anyways, a letter of introduction is not an application to a specific job. It’s not an immediate yes or no for work. It’s a request to write for the packager in the future. An LOI basically has three parts: introduction, qualifications, and call to action. Your intro should go a little something like:
I recently [visited your website/found your listing in _____] and am writing to introduce myself in case you’re currently looking for freelance authors/writers for your book packaging division. I’m an author, ghostwriter, and collaborator who specializes in __________ manuscripts.”
Then you list your credentials, past projects, why you’re a good fit; all that good stuff. Then the conclusion should go something like:
“I’d appreciate it if you’d keep me in mind for future books that may be a good fit for my background and experience. I’d love to answer any further questions you may have.
Thank you so much for your time! I hope to hear from you soon.”
This conclusion is a call to action because it spells out that you would like to be contacted for future projects, prompts them to ask you questions, and tells them you look forward to speaking with them, prompting them to get back to you, hopefully in a timely manner.
4. The Power of Networks
To get their brand out into the world, packagers often join networks where they can create member pages so clients can find them. Some of these networks require casual searchers to also have the membership (usually networks that provide lots of industry-related resources), but some are free, such as Publishers Marketplace and the American Book Producers Association. These networks are a great place to start when you’re sending LOIs because it saves you the time of doing a million Google searches, trying to find the right keywords that will get you the perfect match. The network member directories will not only have links to the websites and list the packager’s specialties, but they will also give you a direct email, usually to the president or editorial director. No more rooting through websites for the right contact info or having to settle for the general info inbox.
5. The Rare Application Form
Most of the time, you find the packager, take a peek at their website to make sure you’re a good fit, send an LOI, and you’re done. However, some packagers are actively seeking writers, and they will actually have an application form to fill out that requires a resume, cover letter, and samples (the favorite number seems to be 10 pages). From my experience thus far, I have only found two packagers who do this, and both deal only in fiction. I’ve sent LOIs to many packagers that deal in both fiction and nonfiction genres, and none had an application form requirement—just the two that only worked on fiction projects commissioned in-house. However, a bonus of both of those packagers is that if you land a job with them, your name goes on the book. It’s a work-for-hire deal, as far as I can tell (I may be wrong), but it’s not total ghostwriting. I’m pretty excited about my applications to those packagers, but both ask that you wait two to three months before checking back in because they have lots to read through.
Once you’ve paid your dues and found a job or two the hard way, book packagers are a great option for finding work. They have nice budgets, usually, so go ahead and raise your rates before you start sending out those LOIs. Good luck, and check back in and let me know if you land a new gig with a packager!