There are very few things that are 100% standard about ghostwriting. Really, the only constant is that you’re working for more money for no credit. One of the most diverse elements of book ghostwriting is the clients. While this is pretty true for any type of freelancing work, it is magnified significantly in book ghostwriting. You work with clients from all areas of life: an expert in a certain field, a CEO, a publisher, a packager, or an Average Joe. Yes, for each person you’re writing a book, and you probably have a few specific areas of expertise that you write under (mine are YA history, fantasy, self-help, and mystery), but when you’re working with people from so many different walks of life, you have drastically different goals and often drastically different personalities. And, as a ghost, you have to adapt to them all seamlessly. Not only will their voices be different, but their work styles are going to vary a lot, too. But you are the driving force behind getting the project done, so you need to know how to work with these different work styles, or at least know which you can take on and which you think you ought to pass on. So let’s break down the different types that I am aware of, whether through personal experience or extensive reading on the craft of ghostwriting. Of course, the list below will contain generalizations, and many clients may not fit entirely into only one box, but I hope this will act as a guideline for you.
1. The Clueless Novice
This is definitely going to be one of those Average Joes. Now, you may not work with too many of these types simply because they often don’t have any concept of how much good ghostwriting costs, and when they find out, they run. But I started out as a clueless novice myself, not charging nearly enough, so I’ve worked with this client. Honestly, it was an enjoyable experience that got me hooked on the work; I just wasn’t getting paid right. If you find a novice who has a good budget, you need to understand that you will be spearheading that project from start to finish. You will need to give the client constant instruction about what needs to be done next, when it needs to be done, etc. However, this also gives you a freer rein. You can power through faster, just setting up calls every now and then to ask the client any questions you’ve gathered over the past week or so. A novice is more likely to absorb everything you say and take all your direction. This makes your job easier, but be sure you do right by them. Make sure you fully understand what they want from this project (guiding them to a goal if they aren’t 100% sure) and make it happen for them, and they’ll be highly likely to recommend you to friends.
2. The Visionary
This can be one of the easiest and most fun clients to work with, though there are some precautions to be aware of. The visionary knows what she wants, and she has big plans for the book. This means the visionary is much more likely to pay you what you deserve and not quarrel about it because she knows this book can be a hit (or at least a boost to her career) and she has a strategy to make it one. This is often a rising expert looking to expand his or her platform. My latest ghostwriting project, which just wrapped up a few weeks ago (The book looks awesome! I’m so excited, and I desperately wish I could show it here.), was for a total visionary, and I had tons of fun. You, of course, want to make sure your personality clicks with your visionary, but you want that for all projects. The visionary is likely to already have an outline and some written material (she’s a gal with a plan, remember?). She is also usually willing to give you more to work with if you ask. I’ve found it’s a good idea to always ask the visionary to get her thoughts for each chapter out on paper because she has a distinct goal and tone she wants to achieve, and the more you can view her ideas in her voice, the better material you can deliver.
This relationship is often a sweet spot where you and the client are driving the project equally. You’re getting lots of direction from the client, and then you’re making it happen, and if you get it right, the client wants to hug you through the computer screen because you just made her vision come alive. It’s super exciting and satisfying for both of you.
The way you can run into trouble with a visionary is if he or she is also a micro-manager (I’ll get to that in a minute) or if there is no real drive or ideas behind the vision. Some clients have illusions of grandeur about their project but don’t know how to back it up. These are often clients who don’t have a good understanding of writing, what it can do, or what it entails. They think they have a killer idea, but they think it’s just going to magically appear in front of them if they just explain to you how great it’s going to be. I haven’t had a ghostwriting client like this (I’ve come across them, but ended up running the other way), but I have had one or two editing clients like this, and they often want work thrown in for free because this book is going to be a mega-hit and I should be honored to work on it (huge eye roll). If you get one of these visionaries, you’re driving all the work but having to shape it to an often unrealistic vision. You’ll probably end up with a disgruntled client and a throbbing headache. However, if you have the fortitude to steer this kind of client and put your foot down hard on the scope of your work, this can still be a profitable project, just a bit of a pain in the ass.
A preliminary phone interview with the potential client can quickly reveal which type of visionary you’re getting. Just ask them about their goals for the project and if they have any material already gathered. If the only goal they give you is something like “Have a bestseller to my name,” instead of tangible goals like, “I want it to target this demographic, deliver this to my audience, and do this for my career,” you’ve got the second type for sure. Now, a lack of gathered material at the start doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve got the second type. But ask them if they’d be willing to gather material/write up some outlines for you and you’ll know for certain.
3. The Uninterested Fad Chaser
Writing a book is super “in” right now because print-on-demand platforms like CreateSpace make it so easy. If done well, having a short, instructional ebook on Amazon can provide a small but steady passive income. There are also success stories of a select few authors making big bucks off of doing this, and those are the stories that drive this type of client. This client is looking to chase a fad and make a buck.
(Want to read more about print-on-demand? Check out my three-part series on The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of this type of publishing.)
But if money is the only motive, it’s highly likely that this client isn’t interested in producing a high-quality product. They have a lackluster idea that will work as nice clickbait, and they probably aren’t going to give you a lot of instruction because they just don’t really care. They’ll shrug and say, “Do whatever you think.” While this is sort of nice in a way, if it’s not a topic you yourself are passionate about, it’s probably going to be a pretty boring project that requires you to take the lead on research, outlining—everything.
There is also a high probability that this client isn’t a reader. I recently read this blog post from a very successful ghostwriter who said he always asks the client about what books they like and which books have influenced their lives. If he meets them in their home, he always checks for a bookshelf. If the client can’t answer his question and the bookshelf is nowhere to be found, he walks. Why? That person doesn’t value books, so how are they going to value what you do? That lack of value and understanding of what you do is likely to cause push-back from the client when you deliver your material. The client doesn’t care about what you write until you turn it in and then they have a bunch of silly complaints that, if you follow them, will do the book a disservice.
Most importantly for you, if the client doesn’t value books and his main goal is to turn a profit, he’s probably not going to be willing to pay you a fair price. You’ll probably get a lot of prodding for free work and have to send lots of reminders before you get those invoices paid.
If you can find a fad-chasing client who just wants a really short book and truly doesn’t care how you handle it as long as you deliver the right word count on the right topic at the right time, and who has a good budget, this can be a quick, easy buck. However, it’s more likely that you’ll need to turn down this client, whether because they aren’t willing to pay you enough or because they are just a total headache. I worked with a client like this as an outsourced freelancer for a marketing company (meaning I worked for the company and got paid by the company, not the actual book client, thank goodness). The project already had three chapters finished by another freelancer whom the client had decided he didn’t want to work with anymore, and I was hired to write the fourth. It took the client forever to pay the company for that invoice, so they dropped him and I never wrote another chapter of that book.
4. The Micro-Manager
This is the only client on this list with whom I don’t have any personal experience, so please keep that in mind. However, in my reading on ghostwriting, I’ve come across quite a few stories about this type of client. Working with this client can be a very good or very bad thing, depending on your personality type. It will also depend on exactly what type of micro-manager you’re dealing with.
The micro-manager can be a visionary on steroids. This means she’s got everything planned out, she has a solid goal(s) for the book, and she has most of the project already written out. This really isn’t bad at all, so long as you don’t mind a client who is a bit stricter on you and more picky about your writing. You’ll probably be doing more rewriting/developmental editing with this client rather than writing the book from scratch. That means your price tag will be lower, but so will your workload. Just keep in mind that when you are asked to add in new sections to the client’s material, you’re going to need to align perfectly with the client’s voice and anticipate her every need. Not a bad thing at all, but when you’re talking to this type of client in preliminary phone interviews, you’ll want to study a sample of her writing and pay extra careful attention to her voice on the phone and on paper. You want to make sure you mesh perfectly with this client before starting for both of your sakes. There’s really no compromising with this type of client. It’s her way or the highway. That’s her right, but you want to make sure you can deliver or else the project can turn into a nightmare. You also need to be the kind of person who doesn’t mind getting constant instructions and following demands to the letter. You ought to establish some boundaries, though, or else this client can end up being the type who calls you multiple times a day, every day, distracting you from your work.
The visionary micro-manager can actually be a quick, streamlined, and profitable project if you have the right, highly disciplined personality type. However, the other type of micro-manager isn’t really good for anybody. That’s the micro-manager who lacks vision. It seems like a contradiction, but the best way to describe it is a disorganized micro-manager. This person is type A and needs to be running the show at all times, but they don’t really know what they’re running toward. Their vision for the book is constantly shifting because they just had a new idea that’s totally better than the last one, and they want you to do this, this, and this to make it happen. This person may or may not have material written. If they don’t, they want you to understand exactly what they want and deliver it quickly. Then they go through it with a fine-toothed comb and tear it to shreds. They say you haven’t captured their vision or their voice, but that’s really hard to do when they can’t completely articulate that vision or voice to you. This client is nit-picky, but you’ll have a hard time adjusting yourself to anticipate what the client will nitpick on when you deliver any given piece of the manuscript.
This is way more trouble than it’s worth in any scenario (at least in my opinion), no matter your personality type. The best way to sniff this client out in the beginning is if they talk on and on about their hopes for the book and what they think it can do, but when you try to ask questions that nail down their target audience or goals, they’ll give you a rambling answer like, “Oh, the target audience is definitely millennials, but you know, some older folks might really like it, too. I think it’ll be great for everybody, really.” They’ll also probably have a list of demands of what they expect from you. However, it could be hard to distinguish this client from the visionary micro-manager at first because they may not start changing their mind until you get into the actual writing. That’s why it’s always good to have a severance clause in your contract that lays out how much notice each party has to give before stopping work on a project and how much money you are entitled to if the contract ends early.
Every client is different, and so is every ghostwriter. One of the client types above may sound like a major pain to me but a great experience to you, or vice versa. Also keep in mind that these are just the client types I’m familiar with, and again, not everyone is going to fit neatly into one category. The main thing is to start thinking about what sort of clients you want and learning how to distinguish them from the other types, hopefully before any contracts are signed. If you can do that, you know when to kindly turn down projects that aren’t going to be a good fit and how to deliver on the projects you want. Of course, no matter how you plan and strategize, the best way to know for sure is to interact with clients and do the work. So get out there and start pitching!
2 thoughts on “4 Ghostwriter Client Types (And How to Work with Each)”
Really interesting to see the different types of client and their requirements. I’ve only really come across fairly hands-off clients so far, which suits me fine. I know I wouldn’t enjoy being micro-managed! It is definitely a little easier when the client knows what they want though. I’ve dealt with someone who didn’t really know what they wanted at all. At their request I came up with a list of ideas (no extra charge!), but in the end they didn’t use any of them. Frustrating. I’m living and learning. Thanks for keeping the information coming. CJ xx
Claire, I’ve been there with the providing ideas for free thing. It’s definitely a live and learn business. Glad you found at least one client that suited you really well, though. A laid back client who still gets things to you on time and also knows what they want is definitely the dream, but if we only ever waited around for that type of magic client, we wouldn’t work very often, haha. Thanks for reading!