To succeed as a ghostwriter, you need two important proficiencies upfront: 1) you need to work in discretion to create a piece of writing that a client has hired you to do; and 2) you need to work quickly and skillfully to write copy based on the client’s outline or thought-process. Some writers do not find ghostwriting artistically rewarding in the general area of freelance writing. Many writers object to attributing another person’s name to their time-consuming work; nonetheless, freelance ghostwriting does pay above average rates, and will provide steady income, including referral-building networking relationships during slow periods of your writing career.
Is ghostwriting deceptive? You decide…
Working as a ghostwriter may demand you to compromise some of your work ethics and integrity in exchange for necessary work. A client might ask you to write a 1,000 word scientific article, providing you with just an abstract topic and a possible working title; or he may ask you to write a 100-page eBook, supplying you with only half-formed chapter outlines and a request to mirror the style and voice of a well-known writer. Here is where the uncertainty of ethics and integrity come into play. Ghostwriting stands somewhere between ethical and unethical work, at least in the public’s eye. The author, whose byline appears on the final book or article, might not have composed a single word. Readers may feel tricked and deceived if they realized this. No matter how you view it, the first step of ghostwriting is securing a contract: a client is paying you to use your creativity and valuable writing skills to create a piece of writing to which you solely promise never to allege authorship.
Integrity and Work Ethics
If you decide to ghostwrite, make sure you don’t undermine your own principles. How would you feel if a client asked you to write a 150-page book “in the style of Stephen King” or to complete a project that involved interviewing the president of the United States–and you had to forfeit full credit and your byline and attribute all of your hard work to the client? If you differ in opinions with any portion of a project, then you may want to move on and find jobs more appropriate for you.
Of course, you are always balancing between the
two: if you remain faithful to your principles and turn down too many ghostwriting jobs, you may fail financially. You might also lose some excellent writing contacts. If your client is well-known in the literary field, or he has hired other ghostwriters before, he can presumably fix you up with future ghostwriting gigs or funnel high-paying work towards you. The choice is yours. Consider what is important to you and what feels unworthy to you, and say yes to jobs accordingly.
Never ghostwrite for free
No matter what the project is, you should never ghostwrite for free (or if a client pledges to pay you “future royalties” on the work). This rule is true for freelance writing overall, but twice as true with ghostwriting. If you’re writing articles for magazines and websites for free using your own byline (or commonly referred to as “spec work”), then you have some control for receiving future income if the magazine or website ever turns a profit. Your byline is on the articles—it is 100% yours, and you own it completely.
Always ask for payment upfront
If you’re not writing using your own byline—if you are, indeed, selling the copyright to your own work (which ghostwriting is)—you must have your client pay you ahead of time, ranging from 25 to 50% of the whole project. Requesting payment upfront shows the client that you take your work seriously; it is also a forewarning to anyone who’s thinking of scamming you. If a client is unwilling to compensate you at least 20% of the project upfront, then ask why. If you dislike his answer or his answer sounds flaky, then don’t accept the project. All reputable clients will advance payment to you so you can begin a project. This is why you and the client have a written contract in place.
Beware of phony job ads
If you choose to forego an upfront payment, then you put yourself in a precarious position: you stand very little chance of receiving payment for your hard work if the client swindles you. Unfortunately, ghostwriters (and freelance writers in general) do encounter shady entrepreneurs and individuals who use web based job sites to seek aspiring, naive writers to compose articles for free. These phony job ads guarantee payment “in the future” (along with promises of a being published, gaining valuable experience, and receiving future work, and so on). Never ghostwrite for free. Use your precious time to ghostwrite for money and always request upfront payment before you begin a project.
Adhere to client’s instructions and deadlines
Once you have received partial or full payment for a ghostwriting gig, you need to follow all due dates and finish the work diligently. Ghostwriting usually has time-driven deadlines and rigid criteria about subject matter and writing style, not to mention final approval from your client (whose full name will appear on your work, in the
To avert rewrites, meticulously proof your work and adhere to materials that the client provides you. If the client lacks specific instructions, then expect to work longer on the project (as this may require additional research and perhaps interviews), but you will also experience extra creative independence to fit into the writing process.
Why writers love to ghostwrite
In all its glory, ghostwriting is not only a steady paying niche of freelance writing, but also one that offers a unique level of creative freedom, and the opportunity to write from someone else’s point of view. If you maintain your integrity and good work ethics, pick your clients wisely, write artistically and skillfully, and adhere to specific directions, then surely you will triumph as a freelance ghostwriter.