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How to Get Into Ghostwriting

Look at the most successful writers in the modern publishing industry and you’ll notice a pattern; those who reach the top often work for themselves, manage their own intellectual property rights, and cultivate a community of zealous readers. However, getting to that level and maintaining the business isn’t for everyone. Some don’t have the intrinsic motivation to produce consistently without a boss or client to hold them accountable. Others have no desire to oversee their own marketing, which is essential for author success. And many dislike being the face of their brand.

That’s why some authors turn to ghostwriting. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, ghostwriters write books, articles and content for other people without getting credit. They never see their name on a book cover or article byline and sometimes have to sign NDAs.  They also typically don’t own their ghostwritten work’s intellectual property rights. Approached by a client, they simply work for hire and never acknowledge their projects again. It might feel like leaving money on the table, but many authors like the anonymity and guaranteed paycheque. They also love not having to market their creations. Some just do it alongside writing their own books to supplement their royalty income or help them transition out of a day job.

While it’s not for everyone, ghostwriting can be lucrative for authors who embrace it. Some authors can’t keep up with demand so pay ghostwriters, and many entrepreneurs lack the writing chops but want website content to rank highly on search engines. There’s plenty of work. Plus, on average ghostwriters earn 15% more per project than named copywriters. But how do you get started? As with any writing venture, there is no single path, but there are several actions you can take in unison to improve your chances of success. Today’s blog post will explore a few, teaching you how to make yourself an attractive ghostwriting prospect and use your skills to build a lucrative side hustle.

Improve Your Craft

Becoming a stronger writer won’t get you initial gigs but it is essential if you want your side hustle to generate meaningful long-term income. Consider your practice a dress rehearsal. By honing your craft before you even start your first project, you’ll produce slicker work and save time you would otherwise spend correcting errors on the job. What’s more, you’ll create a better first impression for your early clients, which will accelerate your rate of word-of-mouth referrals.

How do you improve? The method is simple, but it requires you to be tactical and indiscriminate during early projects. You see, most authors fall into one of two camps. They either:

  1. Plan to write anything for hire as long as it keeps the money flowing
  2. Plan to double down on a lucrative niche that fits their interests

Option B is often more enjoyable, but you can’t be picky when trying to improve your craft and score early clients. To start, hone your craft on whatever projects come your way. The more work you accept, the quicker you’ll improve in general. If you can get work writing self-help articles, read a few and analyse their tone and lexicon. If novels are your best bet, work on writing large projects and master story structure. Aim to become an objectively good writer who can produce effective copy in lots of key formats. That way, you’ll build your portfolio, writing skillset and client base all at once until you can afford to be choosy.

Build a Portfolio

Clients sometimes ask ghostwriters to sign NDAs. These stop them from being able to talk about past projects, or even acknowledge their involvement, unless given permission. If this is a route you want to take, you’ll need to rely on two alternative methods to promote your services:

  1. Word-of-mouth recommendations from clients
  2. An impressive portfolio of non-ghostwritten work

If you’re reading this post, there’s a good chance you’re an author, already published or working on your first book. That’s good; you can use it as part of your portfolio. Depending on its quality and level of success, it will help you convince potential clients that you can write a book. Your own book is the one project you definitely can discuss in public.

Or, if you aren’t an author but prefer to write smaller projects — blog posts, for example — you could approach businesses and offer to write content for their websites as a regular, credited copywriter. Offering a reduced fee, possibly alongside a recommendation to their own email list, is a great way to get started and attract further clients. If you can prove you’re able to write SEO-friendly blog posts and product sales pages that rank well on Google, that will give you extra credibility. Credited copywriting will likely pay you less than ghostwriting but it’s a fantastic way to build a public portfolio.

Get Formal Credentials

You don’t need qualifications to succeed as an author. However, social proof indicators help convince potential clients to trust a ghostwriter’s ability. A common credential clients look for is a degree in English, creative writing, journalism, or another related field. That at least proves you’ve gone through a formal education programme that, in theory, should have trained you to write to a higher-than-average standard. If they want articles written on a specific subject like genetics or business then they might, instead, expect a biology or business management degree. These don’t necessarily trump real-world experience, but mentioning a related degree when promoting yourself is a key way to catch the eye of some clients.

Don’t worry if you don’t have a degree, though. Many people also consider real-world experience and results when looking for credentials. Have you, for instance, contributed to a USA Today bestselling box set? Do your own books have good reviews? Are you an award-winning journalist? Have you spoken well on a popular podcast? Are you a qualified martial arts instructor? Have you worked as a nurse or won rosettes jumping horses? These are all formal credentials you can use to pitch yourself as an expert worth hiring in a specific niche.

Expand Your Reach

Every new ghostwriter lacks clients and a professional reputation when they start working. Taking on small jobs, charging less than average and working for people you know personally can help kickstart the process as an unknown but, at some point, you must charge more and work with strangers to make ghostwriting a sustainable, worthwhile venture. Expanding your reach is key and there are several ways to do it. If you’re a savvy marketer, you could promote your website on social media to reach beyond your current circle. If not, how about creating an account on freelancer marketplaces like Reedsy, Fiverr or Upwork?

Both tactics will help you attract clients quickly but word-of-mouth recommendations makes the difference long term. In business, there’s a famous idiom attributed to many successful individuals: “Your network is your net worth.” This is truer for ghostwriters than it is for most entrepreneurs because, while they can’t discuss their projects to pitch their services, their clients can, and often do if they’ve had a good experience. It’s why expanding your network is essential when ghostwriting; the more clients you meet and impress, the more ambassadors you create for your brand. So attend networking events and don’t be afraid to ask for referrals. Expanding your reach is the best way to expand your income.

Be Professional

Movies, TV shows and books often stereotype authors as scatter-brained creatives with uncompromising “artistic integrity” and poor time management skills. The inaccuracy is unusual, considering these characters are written by writers who should realise the description doesn’t align with many professional creators, including them. In reality, those who succeed both commercially and critically tend to be extremely professional operators, blending discipline with a commercial eye and strong business savvy.

The same is true for ghostwriting — more so as their careers rely on professional connections. If you want to attract clients and impress them enough to recommend you to their friends, you must be professional. That means adhering to confidentiality agreements and hitting deadlines. It means onboarding clients, recording their details, following briefs and putting aside your ego when accepting feedback. Promoting yourself as a professional and then backing up that claim by exceeding expectations is a sure-fire way to turn a gappy ghostwriting schedule into a full one.

Professional ghostwriters reportedly charge anywhere between $0.03 per word and a staggering $5.00 per word. As a newbie, you’ll likely begin on the lower end, but don’t let your starting point deter you. Specialising can help you increase your fees, as can marketing to grow your reputation. It’ll take time, but committed writers can eventually earn a decent living from ghostwriting. In the meantime, if you’re struggling to see progress, remember: it gets easier. Stick with it long enough and word-of-mouth referrals eventually take over your marketing, sending you more work than you could possibly fulfil.

Daniel Parsons

Daniel Parsons

Dan Parsons is the bestselling author of multiple series. His Creative Business books for authors and other entrepreneurs contains several international bestsellers. Meanwhile, his fantasy and horror series, published under Daniel Parsons, have topped charts around the world and been used to promote a major Hollywood movie. For more information on writing, networking, and building your creative business, check out all of Dan’s non-fiction books here.