Ghostwriting Guide: What We’ll Cover
If you are a strong writer and want to make great money from anywhere in the world, then becoming a ghostwriter might be perfect for you.
• Maybe you are exhausted by the song-and-dance of building a brand and marketing on social media.
• Maybe you are ready to only work with a select number of clients who truly value your writing talents.
• Maybe you want to build your writing portfolio or live your best life anywhere you choose.
If you have always wondered what it would take to become a well-paid, sought-after ghostwriter, this ultimate guide to becoming a ghostwriter is for you.
BECOME A GHOSTWRITER: PART 1
What Is a Ghostwriter?
Ghostwriter Definition 1
A ghostwriter is a writer hired to write books, articles, blogs, songs, or speeches for someone else. The ghostwriter’s name does not usually appear on the work, and the person for whom they are writing may even request that the ghostwriter’s identity remain top secret.
Ghostwriter Definition 2
Another way to think about ghostwriting is like being a seasoned guide and writing partner who “holds the pen” as you bring your client’s vision and stories to life in a clear, effective, and engaging way.
Let’s Talk Ghostwriting Money
Ghostwriters usually get paid a flat fee, by the hour, or by word count. Some highly sought-after ghostwriters can negotiate a percentage of royalties if the work becomes published, but taking royalties isn’t advisable in place of upfront money (if the client isn’t a megastar) or likely possible (if the client is a megastar).
Ghostwriter vs. Co-Author vs. Book Writing Coach vs. Editor
There are many ways to help clients progress from concept to completion. Here is a quick overview of the main roles and the differences between them.
As we looked at above, a ghostwriter is someone who writes content like books, blogs, songs, speeches, or other prose for another. A ghostwriter usually does not get public credit unless an author wants to acknowledge them. Most ghostwriters should assume they will get no public credit and retain no rights to the work once the agreement is completed.
Another writer who works collaboratively with the main writer and does get public credit; usually the author who contributed more or has a bigger reputation is listed first.
• Book Writing Coach
Someone who helps another to write their book by giving advice, feedback, and accountability. They sometimes get credit via a thank you inside the book.
Someone who edits another’s written work. The depth of editing can range from simple proofreading to heavy developmental editing (with a price difference to match). An editor sometimes gets public credit.
Which Will You Be?
Sometimes you will act as two or more of these above. Whichever roles you want to have is up to you and the arrangement you make with a client.
As a ghostwriter for high-ticket clients, I find myself being a Ghostwriter, Book Writing Coach, and Editor. Sometimes they shout me out on social media or thank me inside the book, but most times I stay completely in the shadows! 👻
Famous Ghostwritten Books
Okay, ghostwriting sounds interesting so far, but how prevalent is it really? Let’s take a look at some great examples of famous works that were ghostwritten, so you can see just how widely accepted it is these days.
- The Art of the Deal by Donald Trump
- All of Gary Vaynerchuk’s bestselling books
- Losing My Virginity by Richard Branson (he acknowledges Edward Whitley in the prologue for helping him write it)
- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey (Ken Shelton served as writer and editor)
- An American Life by Ronald Reagan (largely ghostwritten by journalist Robert Lindsey)
- The Search for Justice: A Defense Attorney’s Brief on the O.J. Simpson Case by Robert Shapiro (cover credit given to Larkin Warren)
- The Bible 👀
It’s More Common Than You Think, Too!
In fact, according to an NPR article that interviewed a literary agent for ghostwriters:
“…if you look at the nonfiction bestsellers list right now, at least 60 percent of the books are ghostwritten. That’s because celebrities sell books, but they can’t necessarily write them.”
To add to this, someone who is running a multi-million dollar business does not have the time to sit down and write a book, but they may very much want one under their name and are very happy to pay for help getting it done. This happens more than you even know!
BECOME A GHOSTWRITER: PART 2
Benefits of Being a Ghostwriter
You can take advantage of many benefits as a ghostwriter. Here are some of my favorite ghostly benefits:
1. It’s fun.
You can earn money writing about things you are interested in without needing to be an expert in the field. Earn while you learn.
2. No risk.
You can use your ghostwriting skills to write in any genre or industry (both nonfiction and fiction) without affecting your author brand. This is especially great for authors who are trying to become known in a particular field but want some extra income working in other fields.
3. No shaking your booty on TikTok (unless you want to).
You don’t have to be a marketing maven to be a sought-after ghostwriter. Now, if you want to upsell book marketing or other promotional services on top of your paid writing project, more power to you! But it’s not required.
You can work from anywhere in the world. I’ve been to 44 countries as of the time of this writing.
You can set your own hours and decide your workload. I have a toddler and only work part-time hours while he’s young, but still make enough to live in Southern California.
6. Powerful networking.
You will build relationships with top business leaders, entrepreneurs, celebrities, influencers, politicians—you name it! The most famous person I’ve worked with is—oh, sorry. I can’t tell you! 👻
7. Be well-paid.
You can make great money as a ghostwriter, especially as your *secret* reputation and confidence grow. Clients pay top dollar when they know they’re getting someone who can write quickly and effectively without disrupting their brand image or reputation.
I actually stumbled into being a ghostwriter and realized that I could put my writing skills to work while building my ideal lifestyle and work-life balance. Other benefits poured in–like I listed above–that I didn’t even anticipate at first.
Benefits for Ghostwriting Clients Who Hire You
At first glance, it may seem like a bad deal for a client to pay a bunch of money in exchange for some writing (which is likely easy for you to produce). Don’t worry! It’s a very fair and happy deal for the client too.
Here’s a short list of why professionals, influencers, celebrities, athletes, politicians, business leaders, and successful entrepreneurs who value their time are more than happy to pay well for the work of a ghostwriter.
1. Avoid something they hate to do: writing.
Clients who look for a ghostwriter tend to hate writing, or at least they don’t enjoy it enough to want to spend their valuable time doing it or trying to get better at it. By removing something they hate from their plate, they will love you for life.
2. Save time.
Clients save tons of time by working with you to write a book. They won’t have to learn how to write a good book (which would take years of practice), stare for hours at a white page, get better at editing, or bang their heads against the wall figuring out Scrivener or other book writing and formatting apps.
3. Save money.
Because of the time saved, your ghostwriting clients can focus on other activities like growing their online brand, marketing strategy planning sessions, running their team more effectively, spending quality time with family and friends, taking a much-needed vacation, or other projects they get more income or joy (which can lead to more income too) from doing.
4. Get their book (or other writing project) done.
Clients get the results they want in their business and life–namely, becoming published authors (if your project is a book) or having compelling web copy, email newsletters, or ebooks (if your project is something else).
Without your help, the writing project may well never happen.
5. Increase their confidence.
Completing a book is on the bucket list for most people. And, if you do your job well, you will give positive feedback about the book’s topic and share a genuine enthusiasm for helping your client bring it to life. This positive reinforcement from a strong writer will boost their confidence, and having the book live and well-written, will take their self-esteem to the next level.
6. Grow their business.
Having written a book helps your clients grow their businesses, get more speaking gigs, raise their speaker fees, and increase their income. Improving the writing in other areas of their business helps build their brand, communicate their mission, and attract more of the right people into their ecosystem.
If You’re Still Struggling With Taking Money In Exchange For Ghostwriting
There are tons of skills in this world, and none of us can be super pros in all of them. Think about your own life. What do you (or would you) gladly pay money for someone else to help you get it done?
For example, I hire:
• Mechanics to fix my car because I don’t have the time or interest to do it myself.
• Personal trainers to help me get in shape because I work harder when I have a knowledgeable guide by my side (and, trust me, if I could pay someone to do sit-ups for me to have toned abs, I would).
• A marketing agency to help me get my ads and funnels working well because I already have a vision for how I want it to work, a professional who’s in it day in and day out can do it faster, more effectively, and thus help me earn back the money I invest in them and then some.
The same goes for others hiring you as a ghostwriter.
Who Makes A Great Ghostwriter?
I’ve been writing my whole life. First as an academic nerd in school in the 90s, then as a high school teacher in the early 2000s, and then as a paid freelancer since 2011.
From my personal experience–and from interviewing hundreds of guests on the Copy That Pops podcast–this is a list of ideal candidates for becoming a ghostwriter who can command high-ticket offers with confidence:
1. Introverts, extroverted introverts, or extroverts who:
- are tired of the ‘hustle’
- >are sick of the painstakingly slow process of building a brand on social media
- don’t want to dance on TikTok 😝
2. Writers who:
- want to earn enough money by writing (so that they have time to work on their own projects, too)
- are looking for publishing credits (where allowed) and experience to add clout to their writing submissions
- want to solidify their reputation ahead of launching a personal writing career
- hate genre restrictions and want to experiment in different niches without risking the reputation they’ve worked hard to build around their author-name
- adore the process of writing — “not merely having written”
3. Entrepreneurs who:
- want to get paid to improve their craft as writers
- grow as business owners (like a well-paid apprenticeship model)
- add additional service offerings
4. Traditionally published authors who:
- have publishing house schedules that are so far out that project gaps leave income gaps
- need to supplement low advances
- want raise funds for marketing their books
5. Recent graduates who:
- are strong writers
- want to make enough money to live a lifestyle that fits their goals and dreams
- crave freedom and flexibility (and don’t want to get sucked into the 9-to-5 hell)
6. Professionals who:
- are burned out or bored with their jobs
- want to start a business that can grow to replace their full-time income when they’re ready
This list above is not exhaustive, but hopefully, it gives you a great idea of the types of people I’ve seen do very well as well-paid ghosts.
Do NOT Become A Ghostwriter If…
While ghostwriting can be a great gig and even career, it’s not a great fit for everyone. I do not recommend becoming a ghostwriter if:
1. You aren’t a good writer.
Writing isn’t just about perfect grammar and punctuation; as long as there are no serious errors, readers today will overlook small blemishes. But it does take more than just putting words on paper for content to come alive with meaning, purpose, and clear organization. For someone else’s idea or story idea to become something worth reading, you must have honed your writing skills.
2. You aren’t a good listener.
One of the best ways to ghostwrite effectively is to interview your clients or have a detailed conversation to extract the meat of the content from them. From there, you can transcribe the conversation and/or take great notes and turn it into clear, polished prose. You need to be a good listener to be a great ghostwriter.
3. You are impatient, stubborn, and don’t have communication skills.
Working with clients takes strong interpersonal skills. Not only do you have to make sure their voice is heard and represented in the final product of your writing, but you will also need to be encouraging and reassuring.
Putting a book out tends to trigger anxiety, fear of criticism, overwhelm, and flare-ups of the imposter syndrome, even when someone is getting great ghostwriting help.
I sometimes feel like I’m not only a ghostwriter but also a cheerleader and psychologist–and I enjoy that aspect of helping people see their stories have true value for the world.
To be a top-level ghostwriter, you don’t have to be able to command a room but you do need exceptional one-on-one skills.
4. You don’t like deadlines.
If you dread making good on your promises or deliverables by certain dates or you procrastinate beyond reason, this will cause problems for your clients who are counting on you to deliver on time.
5. You hate the idea of others claiming your writing as their own.
Imagine a book you write for a client becomes a New York Times bestseller, will you…
- Scream at the TV every time you see the author talking about his or her book?
- Be unable to keep your ghost authorship to yourself?
- Demand royalties from the author even though that wasn’t in your agreement?
If you answer ‘yes’ to any of these questions above, then do not become a ghostwriter. A proud ghostwriter is happy if the book does well, can keep secrets, and is ready to move on once both sides of an agreement are fulfilled.
If you are a professional who honors commitments and lives up to high standards, you’ll do great as a ghostwriter.
If you are still working on your skills, self-development, or ability to keep secret things a secret, work on those first.
BECOME A GHOSTWRITER: PART 3
Getting Started as a Ghostwriter
1. Core Basics
As we’ve covered in more detail above, the core basics to get started as a ghostwriter include, your needing to:
- fully understand what ghostwriting is
- write and research well
- be a good listener
- have strong communication skills via phone and email
- have good EQ skills (emotional intelligence)
- be good at time management and hitting deadlines
- keep private information private
- recognize that helping another to write their book is a legitimate and common practice
- believe you can do it too
2. Writing Samples
In addition to these basics, it can also be helpful to have a portfolio of written work you can share with prospective clients. From my experience, only about 10-20% of new leads ask for sample writing because my highest-paying and easiest-to-work-with clients have all been referred to me and were pretty much ready to go. However, having a portfolio can also be a confidence booster for you! Sometimes we forget all the great stuff we’ve done.
Now, if you’ve written for big names or worked on books that had commercial success, you may not be able to say with whom you worked. You can still share generally the types of authors you’ve worked with.
For example, I can say things like, “I’ve worked with multiple 2 Comma Club Award Winners, 8-figure business owners, top podcasters, Instagram influencers, and leaders in the US military.”
This doesn’t name names but gives people a sense of my experience.
3. Author a Book of Your Own
Speaking of writing samples, you may have been able to guess that my favorite ghostwriting project is a book. Books are meaningful and impactful for your clients (and your their clients). Almost anyone you ask will say they have ‘write a book’ on their bucket list. Yet, writing a book is not easy for someone who does not enjoy writing and cannot keep thousands of words organized and ready to dazzle a reader. Therefore, strong ghostwriters of books are a hot commodity.
So, a great way to both gain internal confidence that you can write a polished book and reassure prospective clients is to have published a book of your own (whether in your name or a pen name).
But before you freak out and think, “Now I need a publishing deal and a minimum of 18 months to toil away!” Take a breath — I got’chu.
I wrote AND self-published two of my own books in under 30 days each (and also had them hit #1 in multiple relevant subcategories on Amazon). Check out my (dare I say awesome?) training on how to become an Amazon bestselling author (free, ungated).
4. A Website
Having a website where potential clients can see examples of your work, testimonials, client case studies (from ghostwriting clients who are okay with your sharing), and more information on how you like to work with people can be helpful too.
That way they can get an idea about you, your personality, and what you offer before reaching out for a conversation or committing to working together.
5. Social Media Accounts
See the next section for more on social media for professional ghostwriters.
How Can I Find Work as a Ghostwriter?
If you’re inspired to pursue ghostwriting as a side hustle to make extra income or even a full-time career, here are some ways to find work as a ghostwriter:
1. Reach out to your inner circle.
Talk to your friends and family and ask them if they can think of anyone who might be interested in your services. Even if your goal is to write higher-ticket projects like books, be open to writing for smaller projects like blogs, webpages, and Facebook ads to build a relationship with ideal clients.
2. Network with professionals in multiple industries.
To get great referrals, you need to network with successful, driven, and kind people. 80% of my high-ticket clients came as direct referrals from people I had gotten to know through attending events, interviewing people for my podcast, going on other people’s podcasts, and just being a good human and supportive friend–with no strings attached.
People can sniff out transactional and pushy salespeople, so don’t be like that. Don’t push business cards in people’s faces or ask for referrals from people you have only just met. Take the time to get to know people, build real relationships with those you gel with, and look for ways to add value to help them without expecting anything in return. Don’t underestimate the power of being likable and kind.
3. Network with other writers and ghostwriters.
Many times I’ve passed on a writing opportunity (because I was too busy, the topic wasn’t up my alley, or the person had a smaller budget than what I proposed for their project) and referred the client to another writer I knew would be a great fit. I’ve also gotten clients from other writers for similar reasons.
The world is abundant, and there are enough clients to go around! So make connections with other writers and once you trust each other in delivering quality work, set up a referral exchange and ‘share the wealth’!
A place to start? Join a writers’ group in person or online. Not only can you take advantage of the shared knowledge of the members, but some groups also have job boards or client referral opportunities to share. (Secret Ghostwriting Society coming soon — email info@CopyThatPops.com to inquire about the waitlist).
4. Optimize your social media accounts to act as “mini sales pages” for your services.
Any social accounts you have on LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok should have visual and written consistency so that you show up in a clear, compelling way. You don’t have to post non-stop, around the clock, but you should take time to optimize your profiles.
Make sure it’s clear that you are a ghostwriter-for-hire, highlight some of your accomplishments, and feature social proof via testimonials and case studies (wherever possible). If your profiles are convoluted or confusing, potential clients will assume that working with you will not be easy or professional.
5. Use social media to search for clients or writing jobs.
On platforms like LinkedIn and Instagram, search keywords like “freelance writer” or “ghostwriter” to see if anyone has posted jobs or is writing to ask for referrals for a ghostwriter. You can also do this to connect with other writers (see item #3).
6. Try to win jobs on freelance sites.
You can also make profiles on freelance job sites like UpWork, Guru, and Fiverr. Those will take a bit of time to build up good reviews and prove a high “job success rate” calculated by their algorithm, so you will have to start with really low prices in order to win clients and prove your skills.
BONUS: 👻 Mystery Item 👻
We teach our “Single-Point Client Acquisition” strategy in our Ghostwriting program (email info@CopyThatPops.com to inquire about the waitlist), which does not require a social media dog-and-pony show or wasting months on job sites begging for work.
How Much Can I Get Paid as a Ghostwriter?
As with many careers, there can be a huge range for ghostwriter compensation. From $0 to hundreds of thousands of dollars, the more experience (and confidence) you have, the higher price you can ask for and get.
If you’re just starting, it’s best to start low, or–gasp!–even do a short writing project for free just to prove yourself to a prospective client. Consider writing a 750-word blog article for an influencer you respect and send it to them with no strings attached. If it is great and will serve their audience well, not only will they gladly use it, they will likely hire you on the spot for more and more writing projects.
Newer ghostwriters tend to start out charging $20-$50 per hour or $1-$3 per word, as they gain more experience and build their writing portfolio, they raise the rates.
Many clients prefer to know the all-in cost of a writing project and fear getting a bill for 35 hours of work to map out the outline of a blog post.
So, you can also set a flat-rate price for your project. For example, you could charge $375 per press release, $500 per blog post up to 750 words, and $15,000 for a 20,000-word book.
You could also consider offering ‘upsells’ to your flat rates like:
- optimizing keywords in a blog post
- book formatting for Kindle and print
- writing author bios and book descriptions
- editing web copy and ebooks
- helping your book author clients hit #1 Amazon bestseller (like I’ve helped hundreds of people to do!)
Also, in your proposal, consider detailing information about additional fees in case the scope of the project expands. (This tends to happen often for large projects like books!)
Okay, but what about bigger bucks? Yup, that’s possible too. With more experience under your belt and confidence on sales calls, you will be ready to raise your prices higher and work with fewer clients per year.
“Top-tier ghostwriters can make hundreds of thousands of dollars per book, and professional ghostwriters often write several books a year.” Source: NPR
Therefore, becoming a ghostwriter can be a very lucrative career if you know how to put all the pieces together.
How Will I Get Paid as a Ghostwriter?
For smaller projects, you can ask for partial or full payment to get started or wait to send a bill after delivery (although that leaves you more open to chasing down payments, which is no bueno).
For bigger ghostwriting projects like books, payment generally comes in installments based on time or deliverable milestones throughout the project.
In either case, tools you can use include Quickbooks Online invoicing, Stripe credit card processing, PayPal, or even bank wire transfer. Each option has different fees, user interfaces, and levels of ease/convenience.
Before reading this article you probably knew generally about ghostwriting. Maybe you even did a ghostwriting project without naming it as such. Or maybe you didn’t think it was possible to get someone to pay you (well) to write for them.
Most famous people with books had theirs written by someone else. But it’s not just Hollywood-types who need help with big writing projects. And it’s not just elite (albeit sometimes secret) ghostwriting pros who can get great gigs and command high prices.
At its core, ghostwriting is very simple: write content for someone who wants to publish under their name but doesn’t have time to (or isn’t interested in) doing it themselves.
Ghostwriting greatly benefits your clients, and benefits for ghostwriters abound as well! You can work remotely, set your own hours, and earn a very livable income.
Ready to Get Started?
If you’re looking to make some extra money on the side or want to make ghostwriting for great people your profession, then you are off to a great start already just by reading through to the end.
I hope this ghostwriting article was helpful, and if you want to dive in deeper with me, email info@CopyThatPops.com to inquire about the waitlist for the Secret Ghostwriting Society.
PS: I did not hire a ghostwriter to write this ghostwriting blog. 👻
PPS: Training on how to become an Amazon bestselling author (free, ungated).