Could you become a ghostwriter?
Before I ever published anything with my own byline, I’d already sold 4 million books as a ghostwriter.
Book ghostwriting is much more widespread than you’d suspect. Many writers—even well-known names—also use their skills for hire. Sometimes they’re credited. Sometimes they’re completely incognito.
Why do they do it? Well, money—obviously. Established ghostwriters get paid at a rate that’s fair for the time they spend. That’s pretty remarkable at a time when book advances are dwindling and authors are struggling to earn a decent living from book sales. Journalists, too, are finding that ghostwriting is a good career move. While magazines and online publications cut their staff to the bone, the book trade needs reliable wordsmiths who can quickly produce manuscripts to a brief, or interview a notable person to write their life story. But the ghostwriting world is broader and deeper than memoirs and celebrities. The deeper you dig, the more opportunities you find.
Even fiction publishers use ghostwriters. Funnily enough, people are surprised to hear this. But if you’re a fiction writer, you already know you didn’t learn your craft overnight. Neither can many of the people whose names go on novels.
There are other advantages besides money. Ghostwritten books are quicker to research than your own work. The client is your walking, talking source. You get to work with others instead of totally solo—although that can have mixed blessings and sometimes you have to be a diplomat. Quite frequently, in fact. You’ll earn every cent.
Ghostwriting can make a refreshing breather. My own books are literary, and take a lot of slow-burn development. But when I ghost, I can step into someone else’s shoes and life, shape their stories, adopt their voice, and write for their audience. And I can finish in a matter of months—instead of years.
Who hires ghostwriters?
Publishers might look for ghostwriters to help an author they’d like to publish. You might spruce up an existing manuscript or write the book from scratch. Ghostwriters are also needed by literary and entertainment agents. A client might have a book idea and need to get a writer on board to sell it to a publisher. Writing book proposals is a significant part of the ghostwriter’s work.
What qualities does a ghostwriter need?
Ghostwriting is not for beginners. But if you have solid writing craft skills, you’re on.
You also need a cast-iron deadline ethic. Somebody will be waiting for your manuscript or proposal document, with their eye on the clock and the money they’re shelling out. Often a book has to be written in a screaming hurry. I once ghostwrote four novels in one year while dodging around illness in the family and a separate and unexpected funeral.
Did I mention you’d earn every cent?
You need to be good at interviewing and earning the trust of the subject. That’s lovely if you get on well with them. You have to be willing to respect their work, their achievements and their goals. But sometimes you have to use ingenious wiles to get enough good book material.
You need business survival instincts. If you’re a freelancer, you’ll already have some of this, but ghostwriting involves big projects and it’s easy to let them spiral out of control. You have to learn when to work on spec and when to charge, what your time is worth, and how to manage the demands and give your best while guarding your energy.
And you need to abandon your identity. You’re a medium, channeling the book the client would write. And at the end you hand it over and slip away—with your haul of secrets and your lips sealed.
How do you find ghostwriting gigs?
If you’re already active in the writing and publishing community, then you can start by letting your publishing contacts know about your interest and availability as a ghostwriter. Similarly, for writers who are active within a very specific sphere of professional expertise, one of the first things you should do is spread the word throughout your professional network.
Interested in pursuing the life of a ghostwriter? Roz has put her experience into a course. Find out more.