As a blogger, I don’t really consider myself the kind of writer who would get published in print, or someone who will likely come up with a bestseller in my lifetime. Don’t get me wrong - I like writing, I really do! It helps me become more expressive, I can practice creative thinking, and I do admittedly earn from it. It’s just that I’m not confident enough to venture into the world of literary fiction and even by-lines, and I shudder at the thought of having to come up with a follow-up book if one of my novels actually makes it to a bestseller list.
I brought this up with one of my closest friends who is a ghostwriter for a well-known local figure (nope, not a Hollywood celebrity!). This client of hers is known for his charity works, but not exactly for being articulate. When I asked why she chose to ghostwrite on his behalf, she mentioned that it’s a gig that paid her well, and it was also a way for her to practice her researching, interviewing, speech-crafting, and narration skills.
Our talk made me consider ghostwriting on top of the other home-based works I already do. I didn’t want to plunge into it right away, though. So I wrote down some notes about it (with pros and cons, of course), along with information my friend shared with me, and now I would like to share them with you (along with resources), in turn.
Reasons why you should consider ghostwriting (and reasons why you shouldn’t)
Of course, I am coming from a place where I have the time and a bit of a writing background to actually consider ghostwriting as a sideline. As I mentioned, I don’t have the ambition of writing something that will blow people’s minds the way a lot of novelists and fiction writers do. I do, however, want to earn more, and earning while writing sounds like a sweet deal to me.
So with that in mind, I present to you my lists of pros and cons of embarking on a ghostwriting career:
- You can exercise your creative writing and research skills - as I previously mentioned, taking on a ghostwriting client means adopting their voice, ideas, and what they want the world to know about them (or their products, services, or whatever it is they want to be written up about). This means you will have to do your fair share of researching, interviewing, and generally trying to “be” the voice for the entity you’re writing about. Think of it as a literary roleplaying.
- You will get an extra source of income - admittedly, this is my primary reason for even considering ghostwriting in the first place. I do have other home-based jobs to take care of, but the appeal of ghostwriting, for me at least, is getting paid according to the project - whether it’s hourly, for a prescribed period of time, or even on a retainer basis.
- You can write about various topics - no two clients of a ghostwriter are the same even if they come from the same industry, have the same passion or hobbies, or share similar backgrounds. You will likely come across a variety of subjects to write about, especially if the client maintains a blog or journal, or gives speeches regularly. It’s potentially a good way to challenge your creativity.
- You can work from home - this is yet another one of the more appealing reasons for me to get on board this ghostwriting ship. I don’t need to maintain or report to an office in order to deliver my ghostwriting tasks. I can work from home, right here on my desk in my cozy nook, where I already accomplish most of my home-based work in the first place.
- You can lose your unique “voice” as a writer - because you’re going to have to write in the voice that your client’s persona is associated with (authoritative, humorous, scientific, self-deprecating, etc.), it could take its toll on your own unique tone as a writer over time. Once, I was in charge of content creation in a blog for a sophisticated stylist who has a fashion jargon I had to match with equally elegant prose, and it took me months after the contract ended to shake off the “oh, dahlin’!”-type of tone that I had in my head every time I wrote for her. (Once in a while, I still catch myself hearing her voice while I write, even if it’s not fashion-related!)
- You will not get a by-line (or even credits) - this, perhaps, is the biggest concern of many writers who eventually want to be known for their own voice, style of writing, and of course, their names via published works. My ghostwriter friend has hundreds of published works both online and in print, but sadly, none of them is credited to her. Basically, you spend time and resources crafting words to make someone else look good, and then you get paid, but nothing more beyond that.
- You might get lowballed - my friend said it was initially surprising to discover how in-demand ghostwriters are. It seemed like everyone needed one at some point in their lives - textbook or ebook “authors”, celebrities who want their memoirs written, businesses who want to make their CEOs and other senior members sound polished and sophisticated, etc. But this kind of demand doesn’t necessarily spell out a fat paycheck for you right away. People can sense if you are starting out, especially if you don’t have too many impressive names in your ghostwriting portfolio yet. Negotiations can be done, but be wary of those who think writing is writing, and that there’s a flat fee for all kinds of writing deliverables, never mind the research, time, and effort that went to each one.
- It might not be a viable long-term career - even now as I’m writing this and seriously considering embarking on ghostwriting as another source of income, I have to admit that deep down, I can’t see myself doing this in the long haul. I still love planning events and doing small creative projects more, where I am at the forefront and the results of my projects often reflect on me. If you’re a creative writer who is proud of your craft, I can imagine how a career as a ghostwriter could also prove vexing for someone who is talented but has to remain behind the scenes in an anonymous capacity for a long time.
Fortunately, we live in a time when fresh content, be it for blogs, websites, etc., is in high demand. It’s easy enough to advertise your services as a ghostwriter. But where to start? Here’s a list of places you can check out, along with links to their application process:
- Gotham Ghostwriters - they are always on the lookout for writers who can do non-fiction books or novels, speeches, blog posts, articles, slide decks, humor writing, or screenplays
- Association of Ghostwriters - this organization offers paid members a valuable way to improve their craft, be a part of a group of professional writers who share their passion for writing, and find profitable projects within their network
- Upwork - since most ghostwriters are freelancers, I’m adding this resource to the list because it’s a good place to start looking for clients and projects
- Textbroker - as the site’s name implies, they “broker” content between writers like yourself and clients that need fresh content. There is a wide range of topics to choose from, so it’s a good place as any to start ghostwriting
As with any freelancer gig, payment varies and depends on several variables: experience, portfolio, the length and complexity of a project, etc. Before agreeing to a project, make sure to come up with a contract that covers all bases, including the number of revisions, terms of payment, and even a kill fee so that you won’t end up working for nothing.
Typically, a ghostwriter with enough experience under their belt can already have a pay scale based on their past clients and projects. If it’s an ebook, textbook, or anything that has over 200 pages in it, you can charge in the area of $8000 for the entire project - this is for those who don’t have an impressive enough portfolio yet, but have the skills to show for it. More seasoned writers can demand higher for a full book - perhaps $10,000 to $20,000, but some documentation and proof of past published works might be demanded by the client as a show of confidence.
You can also choose to charge hourly, which can net you an average of $47.50 according to PayScale.com. However, having a flat fee for a project that has an agreed-upon duration might work better, especially if a 50% down payment is done once the project begins, and the balance is paid off at the end of the project.
Personally, I’m already sold on the entire idea of ghostwriting for extra cash, especially since I’ve already done a semblance of it with clients in my previous employment, anyway. What I’m hemming and hawing about is the time, and also the kind of research involved with certain clients. I am especially wary of handling clients and projects with industries I know next to nothing about, such as pharmaceuticals, engineering, medicine, etc. But since I’m a good researcher and I can listen to people talk all day about what they love doing, I guess I’m a shoo-in! I honestly just don’t see myself doing this as a permanent career, never mind how potentially lucrative it may be.
Do you currently ghostwrite for clients? How are you finding the experience, and is it a career or source of income you would recommend to others who might want to venture into ghostwriting? Please share your tips, feedback, and thoughts below!