Here’s to starting the new year off right! I am so excited to share with you all how I landed my first big project of the year. My hope is that a walkthrough of my interactions with this client can help you do the same, especially since those interactions allowed me to land the project over two other ghosts who were charging a good deal less than me.
If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ll know that I seriously boosted my book ghostwriting rates last year, but in 2017, while I did land some very small projects like single chapter rewrites at my new rates, I didn’t land any projects with significant scope. While it was frustrating at times, I never got too upset because I knew I was laying the foundations for bigger projects to come at fair professional rates. And now I’ve landed one! Woo-hoo! Is it a full-length, from-scratch ghostwriting project? No, but I’m definitely not complaining.
Instead, it is a rewriting project with a scope of 30,000 words. This client recently had the first draft of his fantasy novel looked over by an editing company, and after reviewing the editor’s notes, he realized he needed to do some overhauling and tweaking, especially to a few key areas of the 80,000 word manuscript. As this is his first novel, he decided to turn to a professional, and he went to Reedsy to find one. He sent a request to me and two other ghostwriters with profiles there, initially asking for 20,000 words worth of rewrites guided by his editor’s notes. (You can view my Reedsy profile here.)
Later on in the negotiation process, he came to me with one of the two other ghost’s proposed offers, asking if I could match it. That ghost was proposing a full rewrite of the whole 80,000 word manuscript for $7,500. That was a serious undercut of my rate. So how did I stand strong, uphold my rate, and still land the job? Here are a few things I believe benefited me.
1. A Prompt Response
The client sent his request on a Monday afternoon, so it was a prime time for me. I was working on something else, so it was not a five minute response, but I sent out an introduction message to him within 2 hours. Now, you may get that email at an odd time or over the weekend. If that happens, don’t kill yourself to respond in ten minutes. From my other experiences, responding within 24 hours can still put you ahead of the pack. Within 12 hours is ideal.
Why is this important? I was the first ghost this client interacted with, and I was able to establish a rapport before anyone else. A timely response also showcases professionalism. You are on top of your game, a businessperson, not the stereotypical absentminded writer type.
2. Lead with Expertise, Not a Rate
That first prompt message I sent to this client was not a proposal. It didn’t mention money or a project scope breakdown. I didn’t send any samples or even give an estimate of cost. I said hello and thanks for reaching out, briefly explained that fantasy is one of my specialties, and then asked him a few questions.
This client’s request was detailed, so I didn’t have to ask too many clarification questions. That’s always a good sign and a nice feeling. This client had already provided his target audience, his preferred publishing method, a description of the novel, an explanation of the services he wanted, and an estimated word count. But with a rewrite project, it’s important to understand exactly what the client expects you to do, because rewriting can mean something different to everyone. I’m glad I asked because this client was looking for mostly a traditional rewrite where you just rework sentences for better flow, clarity, and engagement, but he also had a few areas in the novel where he would need major reworking of entire scenes, changing what actually happened in those scenes. I usually cut my “from-scratch” ghostwriting rate (aka, I write the whole novel from an outline) in half for that first type of rewriting, but since the client needed that more extreme form of rewriting in many places, I only went down by five cents per word.
But approaching the client in this way not only benefits you and your understanding of the project, it also makes you attractive to the client. I let him know a few things about myself, establishing some rapport, which is incredibly important when someone is entrusting an entire novel to you. I also made sure those little tidbits about myself related to my work and how I specialize in fantasy. By asking those questions, I further established myself as a professional. Whenever I ask questions like this, I say something like, “In order to give you the fairest quote, I need to fully understand the scope of the project, so I have a few clarification questions.” Those questions show that I actually fully read his request, for one thing, and they also show that I understand what needs to be done. I take the lead on the negotiation right from the beginning, and that leader role helps significantly when you start talking money in your next message.
3. Always, Always Provide Tailored Samples
When it was time to talk money, I sent a proposal with a project breakdown (aka exactly what services I will provide), my proposed fee, my credentials, and writing samples. I always take great care in selecting the samples I send. I also always include a sentence or two about why I have provided that sample. For instance, I sent a sample from my own fantasy novel, explaining that it was high fantasy, like his, and that this particular snippet showcased my abilities in character introductions, interactions, and dialogue. But, that wasn’t enough, because this client’s novel is meant for a younger audience than mine. So, I sent him samples from a fairytale retelling series I ghostwrote (that client gave me permission to use 3-page samples), explaining that these showcased both my ability to write for a younger audience and to work within rich and sometimes bizarre fantasy worlds and adopt their cultures in my writing.
Because of my prompt response to his initial request, I got my offer and my samples out before those two other ghosts had even responded to the client. Upon reading my samples, the client said he was considering raising the word count to 30,000 words. He liked them so much, he wanted me to work on more of his novel.
According to him later, those samples were also an integral part of his decision to stick with me, even after he got the lower quotes from the other ghosts.
Another type of sample you can provide is directly interacting with the client’s material. I did that on another rewriting project, just reworking three sentences from the content the client provided, and it sealed the deal on the project. I also ended up doing it for this client a bit later in order to show him firsthand that I could adopt his writing style. I understand if you don’t want to do this, but as long as you keep the sample down to a paragraph or so, I don’t view it as free labor, but as a powerful negotiation tactic for rewriting work.
4. Stay Confident and Remember You’re Worth It
As the week went on, I waited for the client to receive offers from the two other ghosts and then make his final decision. When he messaged me again, he said the other ghosts suggested that he have the full manuscript reworked.
Now, I understand proposing that. It’s a sales tactic, and if a professional does a full sweep of the novel, it could potentially help the client feel even better about his manuscript in the end. What I didn’t understand was the reason they each gave him (he divulged this to me, asking what I thought). They told him if he didn’t do a full rewrite, it would be obvious that two different authors had worked on the book, that the writing styles and voices would be too different.
Uh … what? One of the main skills a book ghostwriter MUST have is the ability to adopt the client’s voice and create the client’s desired tone and style for the book. Yes, no ghost can adopt every voice successfully, and good ghosts will turn down a project if they feel they can’t deliver, but these ghosts weren’t turning down the project, just saying that they needed to redo the whole thing to sound like them.
I told the client my thoughts on this. I also told him, though, that ultimately he was the author and if he felt a full rewrite would benefit his novel, I was happy to do it; I’d just need to adjust my price. He came back saying he’d eliminated one of the ghosts from the running and asked if I could match the other ghost’s proposed rate for a full rewrite with a full proofread and set of revisions for $7,500. I felt my heart drop. That was what I was going to charge for 30,000 words, not the whole book. I did some calculations, and at my rates, the absolute lowest I could go on the full rewrite was $12,000.
In his message, the client made it sound like unless I could come very close to this $7,500 rate, he would have to pass on me. At least that’s what it sounded like to my mind. I quickly tamped down any thoughts of lowering my rate; I made a promise to myself last year that I wouldn’t do that, even if it meant passing up projects I was interested in. I know I’m worth my rates; I’ve never had a dissatisfied client, my personal writing has won awards, I’m a published author, and I know what I’m doing. (If you don’t have a set pep-talk like this for yourself, get one. Now!)
After I quelled the self-doubt that said I should lower my rate, my next reaction was to just give up—send that client a quick message saying sorry, I can’t meet that rate, thanking him for considering me, and wishing him luck on the project. I sat there starting at the screen for a while, doing my best to ignore the ugly feeling in my gut saying, “There goes another one.” Then, I gave myself my little pep-talk again and added, “I am a business woman.” What do businesswomen do in a negotiation? I’ll tell you what they don’t do, missy! They don’t back down and they don’t apologize. Now what are you going to do?! (I don’t know why my inner pep-talk voice sounds like a drill sergeant, but there you have it.)
So, the message I sent instead said that I couldn’t possibly meet that rate for X and Y reasons. I then listed my rate and my proposed deadline and framed it as “my final offer.” Then and only then did I tell him that I understood if he could not accept that offer for budgeting reasons. I told him I would still love to work with him, but I wished him the best if that was not meant to be. And I meant every single word. At that point, I was 100% okay with losing this job if it meant not compromising on promises made to myself. That confidence does leak through into your writing, and I was damn proud of that message.
It worked! The client couldn’t meet my full rewrite rate, but he preferred to work with me, and he felt that 30,000 words with me was a better investment than a full rewrite with the other ghost. Based on the client’s own words and some educated guesswork, I believe it was because I was the ghost he had the most rapport with, I was prompter, I let him know quickly that I was qualified for the job, he preferred my samples because they were tailored to him, and because I was confident in my own abilities, and it showed.
Whether you’re trying to land your first book ghostwriting gig ever, land a gig at your new rates, or just land any freelance writing gig in general in an environment where multiple people are vying for the job, these tips may be able to help you stand out in the crowd. That’s my hope, at least. I think the most important thing is that little pre-planned pep-talk. Get yourself one of those, and start chasing your 2018 freelancing goals.