Are you a writer if you are not writing your own book? And, are you an author if you are not the author of the book you wrote? The topic of ghostwriters is the hot potato of the literary world and ignoring it doesn’t make it go away. This article aims to clarify what ghostwriting is and isn’t, and give some advice on how to become a ghostwriter yourself.
What is ghostwriting?
A ghostwriter is somebody who’s hired to write a book, article or another piece of writing. While they are paid for their contribution, more often than not, they are not publicly acknowledged. The content is credited under somebody else’s name – if they are lucky enough, they might get listed as “assistant” or “researcher.”
Is ghostwriting plagiarism?
This is a difficult question; this great article on PlagiarismToday goes into it in depth. To summarize: it depends on the context and the readership’s expectations of authorship. For example, while it is widely accepted and known that celebrity books are not written by the stars themselves, college professors not crediting their students’ contributions accordingly are a different case entirely.
Who employs ghostwriters?
There are many reasons why somebody would decide to hire a ghostwriter.
The common perception is that ghostwriters work on theses on behalf of failing students. While this is certainly an existing (and not completely legal) way of making money out of your writing, it is not the only one.
Ghostwriters can be those that work on autobiographies of celebrities, write lyrics for pop stars, or blog in the name of CEOs.
They might work on a case-by-case basis, or get hired by a publisher with whom they work regularly, on multiple projects.
Should you become a ghostwriter?
The most important advice aspiring authors are given is to write, write more, and keep writing. To get to the top of their writing game, authors often look for writing jobs where they can practice, improve, and earn some money on the way.
Ghostwriting (“ghosting”) is an ideal occupation for newbie fiction and non-fiction writers. They get to practice their skills every day, work from home in a flexible schedule, and don’t need to fear too much of their content outcomes.
Jane Friedman points out that further advantages include being able to immerse yourself in different worlds, experience different views, collect valuable ideas, and get the help of a supportive and professional publishing team. Additional boons include getting paid upfront and being able to keep that important emotional distance.
On the other hand, there is such thing as too much writing. If you’re a writer as your day job, chances are that you’d like to do something else in your off-time; something other than staring at a white paper with little black marks. When you are a ghostwriter by day, you might not want to be a fiction writer by night.
How to become a ghostwriter?
It is unlikely that you’ll come across a “ghostwriter position” on your local notice board. But this doesn’t mean that it is impossible to become a ghostwriter. Here are the skills and experiences needed, as well as how you can acquire clients.
Although ghostwriting is suitable for newbie authors, it is not an entry-level position. You must be able to show a proven track record of written works and published items. You should be confident in what you are doing as an author.
Skills and experience needed as a ghostwriter:
- Experience as a writer. Write a blog, write guest posts, or try to get copywriting gigs if you can. If you’re bilingual, try out small translation jobs. When it comes to me, I started feeling more confident in my abilities when I started working at a translation agency on marketing material, both as a translator and editor. Working with text in any capacity will grow your experience.
- Good knowledge of rules of different genres and topics. Only accept work in genres you’re familiar with. Writing itself is not enough: you have to read professional work in the topics you’re intending to work with. And by reading, I mean a lot. Read at least as much as you’re writing.
- Have a niche. While it is great to experience with different things when starting out as a ghostwriter, most ghostwriters have a “niche”: a unique selling point. Are you working on lyrics for top bands? Do you write business books? Make sure to specialize in something.
- Ability to work on tight deadlines and strict instructions. As a ghostwriter, you have to gather a deep understanding of your client’s needs and expectations. At the beginning of a project, you’ll get a “creative brief”: this will be your Bible, outlining brand guidelines, expectations, and deadlines. And deadlines you will get: you can’t expect a whole publishing team to wait for you while you sit around waiting for inspiration to strike.
- Research skills. Ghostwriters not only write up the story but do the majority of the legwork. If it’s an autobiography, you’ll need top-notch interview skills. For other non-fiction ghostwriting, you’ll most likely be researching away.
- Ability to market yourself. As a ghostwriter, you’ll have to become a freelancer and learn to find (and keep) clients. The start can be quite a challenge, but if your clients are happy, your business should be able to slowly grow itself, often simply by word of mouth.
- Ability to run a business. You’ll be responsible for giving invoices, requesting your money yourself, and filing your tax return. While being a full-time writer sounds like the dream, in reality, many entrepreneurs suffer from burnout. Find that sweet spot where you know how much work you can deliver within your own limits, and when to take a day off.
How to start acquiring clients
As a start, don’t quit your day job yet! Give yourself some time.
- Look around at places like Reedsy, Upwork or Fiverr for small gigs. It is likely that your first job won’t be a New York Times Bestseller, but that’s OK.
- Get the legal side out of the way. Don’t forget to register as self-employed (depending on your country’s regulations), and have your “income & expenses” Excel file ready.
- Think about how you will invoice. You can write up your own in a Word document, but also use something like Wave which helps you better manage your invoices. It’s free for small businesses and personally helped me out so much! If you get your gig through a third party, they might create invoices for you.
- You don’t have to start by creating a website, but make sure that your social media presence is in order. Whoever you’ll be working with will check your profiles. If you have a public Facebook profile, go and hide any content you don’t want your potential clients to see – just as you would when looking for a traditional job. Have at least one social media account that is professional. In the publishing world, most people use Twitter.
- Be in circles you know. Are you a regular commenter on your favorite blog? Ask them if they’d be interested in any contributions. Ask around in Facebook groups where people know you – somebody might need your services.
And most importantly, keep your spirits up through any possible challenges!. Continue with practicing your writing, making connections, and one day you’ll be ready to take on that first ghostwriting project.