Ghostwriting is when a writer pens a work that another person will get the credit for.
However, a ghostwriter career involves a bit more than that! First, you, as the “ghost” writer, must channel the credited author’s own ideas and voice into the work. This will entail spending months interviewing the credited author before you even start writing. Also, depending on what the final work will be, you might need to speak with people who know the author. You’ll need to familiarize yourself with the author’s voice, whether in other writings or more generally. If the author has already written and published works, you must imitate their authorial voice. So when you’re thinking about how to start a ghostwriting career, you should consider just how journalistic a job it is—at least at the beginning!
Usually, when people think about how to start a ghostwriting career, they look to writing a memoir or autobiography or some other type of nonfiction work. And it’s usually for a politician or celebrity. While that type of ghostwriting is common, it’s not the only form. Ghostwriters sometimes work for established fiction writers. One famous example is the person who wrote under the name of romance novelist V. C. Andrews after her death. Another novelist who had ghostwriters writing under his name was Tom Clancy. The demand for Clancy’s books became greater than what he could realistically produce on his own. Thus, his publisher hired ghostwriters who closely followed his style.
Individuals, businesses, and nonprofits also often hire ghostwriters to run blogs or write social media posts for them. For these assignments, the ghostwriter must be familiar with the subject matter or organization the blog is intended for. In addition, the ghostwriter must have a handle on SEO (search engine optimization). SEO is the practice of using certain keywords and phrases to make a particular web page rise higher in the search rankings. This brings more readers to that page.
Thus, whatever the ghostwriting project, it’s definitely more work than just writing something and signing it over to someone else’s name. However, ghostwriting can be a lucrative source of income for a freelancer or established author. According to this article from the Writer’s Market, ghostwriters can charge (on average) $36,000 for the entire project. And prices can range from as little as $5,000 to as much as $100,000.
A ghostwriting career begins with, well, being a writer. It’s rare for a writer just starting out to find a professional ghostwriting gig—no matter how good your portfolio might be. Therefore, it’s essential to have at least a few published works under your belt before you pitch or apply for ghostwriting projects.
Even if you are already a well-established writer, you’ll run into another challenge. You have to come to terms with the fact that you are working for a client and that your entire job is to convey that person’s unique voice. You can’t insert any hints of your own. This will mean that when your client insists upon creative and stylistic choices that you may take issue with, your client wins the day. Always.
Much of the advice on how to start a ghostwriting career overlaps with the steps that are important for starting a general freelance writing career.
Luckily, there is an organization specifically for ghostwriters. The Association of Ghostwriters is an excellent place for online networking and learning tips of the trade, even if you’re a beginner. You’ll pay a membership fee, but for the associate fee ($69 a year), you get access to a monthly newsletter, telephone discussions with other members, a private Facebook group, and professional development teleseminars. That’s more than enough to help you start down the path of a promising ghostwriting career.
So don’t be scared off. Ghostwriting takes spirit and resilience, but it can lead to a long and productive writing life.