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Ghostwriters are some of the most fascinating content creators behind the scenes. They write songs, books, and even best-selling autobiographies for your favorite celebrities!
You don’t know these writers, and honestly, that is the point!
They’ve got one of the best jobs in the world: writing for other people for a living.
Ghostwriters are their own bosses, writing miscellaneous pieces of content, and they make their own schedules.
But what is a ghostwriter? How do you get started in the world of ghostwriting? And why the heck would you want to be one in the first place?
You’ve got questions, and below, I’m spilling all the facts about this lucrative career that actually has a low barrier to entry.
What is a Ghostwriter?
A ghostwriter is NOT, in fact, someone who dresses up like a ghost and writes. But I couldn’t resist the opportunity to include that ridiculous photo in this article.
A ghostwriter is someone who is commissioned to write something for someone else, and that person will ultimately take credit for the work that is produced.
A ghostwriter assists the client in expressing their ideas and also does background research to support the client’s desired goal.
The term ‘ghostwriting’ comes from the idea that the one who is doing the actual writing is like a ghost – they are in the background of what was created.
According to The Writers for Hire, “The term was coined by Christy Walsh, a sports agent, who first put a team of writers together to write player autobiographies.”
The term ‘ghostwriter’ is used to cover a lot of ground. Ghostwriters can be listed with other titles too including, but not limited to:
- Research Assistant
- Content team member
- Even copywriter!
How we define a ghostwriter: Someone contributing to, or writing a complete work of, text, literature, web copy, or other creative endeavors without being recognized as the originator of that work.
Why Consider Ghostwriting If You Don’t Get Author Credit?
The same reason most people write most things: money.
“I may not get the credit, but I’ll take the cash.”
I personally say this all the time as a ghostwriter myself. I’ve written articles, blogs, social media posts, and even full-length nonfiction books for clients.
My clients get all the credit, but I still get paid. I’m perfectly happy with that.
Not everyone agrees though. Some people can’t imagine giving anyone credit for the work they painstakingly put in to complete a piece of content. And look, I get it!
It’s easy to understand why this idea may rub someone the wrong way.
An aspiring writer may cringe at the idea of anyone taking credit for their work. Ghostwriting is often stigmatized and the ethics behind employing a ghostwriter can seem questionable.
Claiming credit for someone else’s work may feel like it’s a mere step away from plagiarism, theft, or fraud. The idea of an original author allowing it seems ludicrous.
What you need to understand about what a ghostwriter does, however, is that they are not writing for themselves. They are commissioned to write it for someone else.
Let’s be clear: If you choose to write on a topic that interests you, and you come up with all the ideas, you are entitled to credit for your ideas.
That is unless you were commissioned to come up with those ideas on behalf of someone else!
Maybe you’re an author that creates a book series in which you are the sole author, or maybe you’re a journalist that has done the research and is now reporting on your findings.
If you are a good writer, you have a gift. But not all people with great ideas write well or have the time to commit to writing down their thoughts. This is where ghostwriters come in.
I like to say we give a voice to the voiceless and to the people that don’t know how to use their voice themselves.
In most cases, ghostwriters use the client’s ideas, the client’s thoughts, and the client’s purpose to make a tailored product that reflects that specific client.
Examples of Ghostwriting in Practice
Consider this example: When you see an advertisement on television, someone wrote the script for that ad. You may or may not be able to find out who wrote it, but the ‘credit’ for what is said in the advertisement goes to the business it advertises.
Or think about a politician. He or she will usually have a speech writer on their team. When that politician gives a speech, they are not using the speech writer’s ideas – they are sharing their own thoughts and beliefs.
The speech writer is there to facilitate the presentation and to save that politician time.
Ghostwriters are not writing for credit, and they know this going into the job.
This does not necessarily mean that their work will go unacknowledged. For example, sometimes they are publicly thanked for the service they provided in various ways.
But that credit is not the point. They are writing for the client, and they are paid for the work they do. In the best cases, they are paid handsomely for it because they aren’t getting the credit!
In many cases, particularly in mainstream media and entertainment industries, ghostwriters have to sign nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) stating they will never publicly tell anyone they wrote the piece they are being paid for.
If they violate that NDA, they can be sued!
Types of Ghostwriters
As you can see from the examples above, ghostwriters can come in a wide variety. While some ghostwriters generalize, they more often focus on certain areas. Below are the most common types of ghostwriters.
Blog Ghostwriters and Web Writing
This is possibly the most common form, or at least a good starting point, for someone new to ghostwriting.
Many companies have blogs that talk about topics that relate to their business, and they engage their customers by educating them and giving them helpful advice. They often use ghostwriters to write this content.
Nonfiction publications can mean writing for magazines or journals, or even full-length books.
Ghostwriters in this area tend to be experienced and have better-established reputations, but this is not always the case.
Memoirs and autobiographies are typical assignments for ghostwriters in this area, and it is common for a well-known athlete, celebrity, or politician to employ a ghostwriter to write their books.
Another area is how-to manuals, guides, or informational books. These books are usually less focused on authorship and more on delivering information to the reader.
Ghostwriting is Common in Creative Media Too
Often overlooked, ghostwriting is a big part of creative media – particularly music.
A music publisher may commission a ghostwriter to make the lyrics of a song for a new artist, or even with parts of the melody.
Ghostwriters of this type sometimes will be acknowledged in the album release as a contributor, but this is not always the case.
Ghostwriting can also be used in fiction, though this practice is generally more frowned upon because of the creative nature of the work.
A publisher may use an established pen name to ensure book sales, giving the ghostwriter the characters, outlines, and summaries of other books within the series to assist them in creating new works.
If you want the experience of writing a novel, this may be a good place to start practicing the development of your craft.
Academic ghostwriting is also something that happens, but you may want to avoid it. It’s not illegal, but the ethics of writing academic work for someone else is questionable at best.
Most institutions view academic ghostwriting as fraud. While this doesn’t directly affect the writer, when dealing with a client that is engaging in academic fraud, there may be more headaches than the paycheck is worth.
How Much Do Ghostwriters Make?
Compensation for ghostwriting largely depends on experience and reputation levels (Even if you are an experienced writer, if no one knows your name, you are starting at the bottom).
The average of most websites seems to agree that a standard beginning wage is $1 for 100 words with the average blog post being somewhere between 1000 to 2000 words.
As you gain more experience, your level of compensation will grow.
According to Salary.com, “The average Ghost Writer salary in the United States is $39,866 as of October 27, 2022.”
How to Earn More as a Ghostwriter
One thing I have seen some more experienced ghostwriters do is include stipulations in their contracts for additional compensation based on the success of the piece.
For example, a ghostwriter might be willing to take a lower upfront fee of $0.05/word with additional bonuses related to the sale price.
In this case, let’s say it’s a book that is 10,000 words. At $0.05/word, they earn $500 upfront. In their contract, they include a clause that they will also receive 10% of all future sales.
If the book sells at $10 a piece, they would get an additional $1 for every sale. If the book sells 1,000 copies, that would be another $1,000 in the ghostwriter’s pocket.
While many ghostwriters would prefer a higher rate upfront, choosing a compensation plan like this could be more lucrative over time if the work is a commercial success.
How Do I Get Started Ghostwriting?
This means having a basic understanding of spelling, grammar, style, and tone. There are a lot of tools out there that can assist you with this.
Without a foundation in the basics of writing, however, you will spend a lot longer editing your documents, and they may not flow as well as you would like.
Here are some other basic skills to consider if you want to get into ghostwriting:
Typing Speed and Accuracy
The duration of time spent on a project is directly related to how much you make per hour. In other words, the ability to type quickly and accurately help speed things up.
When being paid per word or per piece, the faster you can type while maintaining accuracy, the more you will make per hour.
It’s recommended to be able to type at least 50 words per minute with 90% accuracy or better.
If you need to measure how fast and accurately you type there are a lot of online test sites such as those found on Typing.com:
But you can also do it on your own. Take a book or a document of some kind, and set it up so that you can read and type what it says without interruption.
Set a stopwatch, and type for five minutes. When the time is up, do a word count and divide by five: this is your typing speed.
Next, do a count of how many of those words are correct, then divide by the total word count and multiply by 100 – this is your accuracy score.
There’s no need to be discouraged if your speed or accuracy isn’t there yet. These are just recommendations. You can still start ghostwriting, and your typing speed will get better with time.
Basic Research Skills
You are going to be dealing with a subject that is unfamiliar to you as a ghostwriter – at least in the beginning. This means that you need to know how to research, and how to be efficient when doing it.
Knowing how to look up something in Google is a start, but research doesn’t stop there.
Distinguishing fact from fiction and knowing what is a reputable source and what is not is key.
Efficient research is also the other element of developing strong research skills.
Research can last a long time if you let it, and there will always be something you have missed. But the more time you spend on research, the less time you will have for writing.
Pro Tip: Become an expert in a niche and sell your ghostwriting services primarily in that!
This will help you spend less time on the research and more time on writing content!
As with typing, research is a skill that can come with time and experience. Don’t be discouraged or put off by having to write about something you do not know about.
Half the fun of being a ghostwriter is having to explore new ideas – you learn a lot on the job you wouldn’t have learned otherwise.
Good Communication Skills
A ghostwriter who cannot communicate will struggle to keep clients. A big project can take weeks or months to complete. During that time, your client is going to be asking you questions, or you may have questions for your client.
Being available, polite, and professional will go a long way to ensuring that your client trusts you.
What to Do When You Drop the Ball
Sometimes, the unexpected happens. You can get pulled away from writing by an emergency, or have come across something that will need to be researched in more detail. These are the types of things that can make you miss deadlines.
Letting your client know as soon as possible avoids you having to explain to your client why you missed a deadline.
In most cases, they will usually be more than happy to work with you. That is, as long as you communicate openly and honestly!
Ask for Feedback on Tone and Style
If you are being asked to write something that sounds like your client, then you need to know their tone and style of communication. This might mean conducting interviews with clients.
You must be able to pay close attention to their responses and learn their communication style.
A ghostwriter is in the business of helping others communicate their ideas. You need to make sure that you can communicate effectively to succeed.
Do You Need Any Special Equipment to Be a Ghostwriter?
You may probably already have everything you need to get started.
A Reliable Computer
Most everyone has a computer these days, but with smartphones and other devices, they are no longer the household necessity they used to be. However, a computer is an absolute must.
In a pinch, it’s possible to hook up a keyboard and mouse to your smartphone. You may even be able to get away with it for a while. But a smartphone will not offer you the versatility and ease of access a computer will.
If you don’t have a computer, the good news is that you don’t need anything fancy – there are basic computers available for $100 or less. You won’t be running any high-end software on this computer, but you won’t need to.
By the way – I’ve known writers who got started at their local libraries using the computers available for free to begin their ghostwriting careers!
A Reliable Internet Connection
As a ghostwriter, you may be called upon to do a lot of research. You will also be expected to communicate with your clients.
The best way to ensure you can handle both is to have a reliable high-speed internet connection.
While not required, investing in writing software is highly recommended. For example, you will probably use tools like Google Documents, Google Drive, Microsoft Office, and Grammarly.
Google Documents (or Google Docs) is free and it comes with all the features you need to get started, including a cloud drive to store your documents. If you need to share your document with someone, the collaborative features allow anyone to jump in. Alternatively, Microsoft Office has a subscription cost of $70 a year.
Grammarly is also a must, especially if you are only working on Google Docs. The good news is Grammarly has a free version that will check your spelling, grammar, and writing style.
The professional version will cost you $144 a year, but it comes with plagiarism detection and full-sentence rewrites to help you be a more effective writer.
How to Become a Ghostwriter in 5 Steps
You have the skills and you have the equipment. Now, where do you start?
1. Establish a Presence
You cannot find clients if clients can’t find you. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to get yourself out there.
If you have the money or the ability to set up your own small business, complete with a website and domain name, by all means, go for it. But you don’t need to do that.
These sites give freelancers a platform to market themselves and hunt for jobs amongst thousands of job postings.
Each site has its advantages and disadvantages, and nothing is stopping you from joining more than one (though you will probably find yourself gravitating to one over another).
2. Build Your Profile and Your Portfolio
Knowing how to market yourself is a skill. Most sites will offer you a profile page so that you can sell your skills and experience. Don’t neglect this!
You can start blogging for free at Medium.com, so there is no excuse to not work on a portfolio of pieces you can share with potential clients.
The sooner you have portfolio pieces you can share, the sooner you will get higher-quality clients.
As you do work you will want to curate your portfolio – a showcase of the best work you have done. This shows your clients your range and your skill set in action.
Be careful though. When you work on a client project, remember you are selling the rights to that work to your client. If you’re ghostwriting, you will need permission before posting it as part of your portfolio.
3. Network and Build Your Business
Everything comes in time, but it comes faster when you know the right people.
Keep in touch with your clients, and encourage them to share your name with others.
Continue building your profile and expand your visibility on the web. Above all, keep a professional attitude in your work and towards your clients.
You are establishing a reputation, so missed deadlines and poor communication will hurt you.
4. Pick a Niche
While you may be doing general work in the beginning, at some point, you will probably want to specialize in an area or two of expertise.
Your niche can become what you are known for, and your reputation in that niche will bring you more clients.
There is nothing wrong with enjoying general work if you want to continue to do it, but it’s recommended to have at least a few specialties.
5. Have Patience, Have Faith, and Persevere
It may take a few months to get the ball rolling while you develop your brand and build your client list. During this time, you may be working for less than minimum wage, or there may be gaps between paying jobs.
This is part of the experience. While this can be scary, don’t let it stop you or make you quit – instead, let it motivate you to reach for the next level.
Improve your skills and have faith, and you’ll soon find yourself in the middle of one of the best jobs in the world.
5 Tips for Becoming a Better Ghostwriter
Getting started is only the first step.
The more you write, the better you will be. The more jobs you do, the more your reputation grows and the more clients you secure.
You can ghostwrite as a side gig to your main job, but if you want to turn ghostwriting into a profession, then below you’ll find what you need to know.
1. Treat It Like a Business and Not ‘Just a Gig’
Set time aside to manage your business. Work can quickly take up a lot of time – don’t let it stop you from taking time to work on your presence and engage new clients.
You also need to take care of yourself. You are your own boss, so give yourself breaks and try to keep a regular schedule. You are also your own employee – don’t slack off at work just because you’re the only one watching.
2. Educate Yourself
The more you know, the more you can offer your clients and the more effective you can be as a writer.
For example, if you work in web writing or are a blog ghostwriter, search engine optimization (SEO) will be something you run into frequently. Look up courses in SEO (link to ours) and Google Analytics – Hubspot and Google offer these and many other courses for free.
If you find courses that offer certifications, these are an awesome way to expand your profile and show your clients that you are the expert that you say you are.
This may seem like a silly recommendation, but it’s true. The best writers read other people’s work.
This isn’t just so that you become well-read, but also so that you can study new styles and tones. This is extremely important in a profession where you may be called upon to mimic those tones.
4. Check Your Ego at the Door
Remember always that you are writing for the client.
You should advise your client if you think that there is a better way to express certain things, but ultimately, they have the last word on the work they are paying you to do.
Keep your ego in check and don’t let their feedback and choices bother you.
5. Write for Yourself
You will (hopefully) be getting a lot of work as you go down the path of becoming a ghostwriter.
But don’t stop there. If you have a novel in your head, take some time to write it out.
If there is a research project or something you want to investigate, then do it. Just because you don’t have a client paying for the project, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pursue it.
Take the time to develop your own style and how you express what you want to say. Not only will this help you become a better writer but it will also be something that you can add to your portfolio without having to ask anyone else because it is yours.