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What Is a Ghostwriter?
A ghostwriter is a freelance writer who pens a text that is credited to someone else. Ghostwriters can write a number of works on behalf of a client, including nonfiction books, public speeches, online content, and book proposals. Ghostwritten fiction, on the other hand, is frowned upon and has little traction in the world of traditional publishing.
The archetypal ghostwriting project is a memoir for a famous public figure. Such public figures may include politicians, business owners, athletes, musicians, and actors. They hire ghostwriters because they either lack the time to draft a full book alone or because they do not feel confident in their own writing skills.
The credited author will always have final say as to what does and does not go into a book. At the end of the day, it’s their own name on the line, and so the “author’s voice” must be theirs, as opposed to the voice of the hired ghostwriter. This means that ghostwriting success will come when you invest in the writing process but also know when to respectfully defer to your client.
6 Benefits of Being a Ghostwriter
Ghostwriting gigs can be some of the most lucrative in all of freelancing. The benefits of ghosting, as writing insiders call it, include:
- Interesting subjects: Ghostwriting provides the chance to work with exciting clients, who in turn provide interesting subject matter.
- A wide audience: Ghostwriting can be a back door into some of the most prestigious corners of the publishing world. Some ghostwriting gigs can lead you all the way to the New York Times bestseller list.
- Upfront payment for your work: Ghostwriting almost always involves a flat fee as opposed to an hourly rate.
- Freedom from having to promote the book: With ghostwriting, there’s no need to do personal marketing such as social media posts or press junkets.
- Objective distance from your work: The chance for more objective distance than you might have with your own work. While you aren’t an interchangeable copywriter, you also aren’t creating a text that bares your inner soul. You’re a freelancer doing a work-for-hire, which can be emotionally freeing.
- Good experience: Ghostwriting provides a chance to build up your writing chops, which can then be applied in your own books.
How to Become a Ghostwriter
Ghostwriting work requires you to be both a good writer and a good listener. A successful ghostwriter can represent their client’s voice so that the words on the page “sound” like that person when they are speaking. If this kind of work sounds like a good fit, consider the following steps:
1. Choose the Right Location.
Most of the American publishing industry is headquartered in New York City, including the kinds of publishers that seek ghostwriting services. But the key to a successful ghostwriting career isn’t being in New York per se. It’s having access to the kinds of people who need their books ghostwritten. Such people could live anywhere—although a great number of them do live in New York, Los Angeles, Washington DC, and perhaps the Bay Area.
2. Build a Network.
So how do you get the attention of these potential clients? There’s no doubt that personal connections can really help, so network whenever possible. If you meet the right people, word of mouth can trickle out to new clients who are seeking ghostwriting services.
3. Ask for Recommendations.
It’s also important to actually let people know that you’re looking for work as a ghostwriter. Word of mouth has a tremendous record of influencing behavior, but that is only possible if people in your social networks know what it is you want to do. In particular, make your ambitions known to people with publishing industry connections—if you know a freelance editor or an established author, they could put in a good word for you. Often publishing houses will recommend ghostwriters to the famous figures whose memoir rights they’ve just secured.
4. Perfect Your Craft.
If you don’t have social connections, hard work can also get you a long way. The most important thing you can do is get samples of your writing out in the world. Self-publishing your own books is one way to do this. You can also take up blogging or write and record your own podcast series. No matter the format, understand that work you do under your own name can help you land writing gigs under someone else’s name.
5. Work on Your Interviewing Skills.
Typically ghostwriting jobs begin with extensive interviews between the writer and their ghostwriting clients. In some cases, the credited author and the ghostwriter go through the entire planned book step-by-step, plotting the principal message of each chapter. Some subjects will go even further; they know it’s their name on the byline and they may have granular drafting and editing notes as a result.
6. Develop Your Own Personal Style.
If you can make your name with a particular publishing company or within a network of professionals (like athletes or actors), you can make a full career of ghostwriting books, since one job can quickly lead to more referrals. If possible, however, keep carving out time for projects that you write in your own voice. You can simultaneously maintain a ghostwriting style and a personal writing style and enjoy the financial and artistic rewards of balancing both.
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