What is a ghostwriter?
A ghostwriter is a writer paid to produce a text without their name being credited on the final work. In some cases a ghostwriter may only be hired for part of a project and in some cases they may be responsible for the entire final text. This can be of any genre including non-fiction, blog content and fiction.
How do I become a ghostwriter?
The first thing you will need to do is make sure you are allowed to work freelance. Find out more about becoming self-employed in the UK here. You should also consider honing your skill as a writer before you start charging clients for your services. Attend creative writing workshops, take evening classes on writing and study texts from other writers. You need to think of your writing skill as a tool that needs constantly sharpening and improving; you cannot expect a client to pay for your expertise if you haven’t put the time into learning the craft.
After you’ve done that, you can get to work advertising your services. If you are still new to the industry, make sure you price yourself appropriately; be aware of your value and the fact that you are going to improve as you go along.
10 pieces of advice for new ghostwriters
- Be aware of genre. There is more to being a good ghostwriter than just being a good writer (although that is important, of course). A skilled ghostwriter also needs to be able to anticipate the needs of the genre you are writing in and adapt accordingly. In some instances, this may actually mean turning down a project that doesn’t suit you. Don’t be afraid to tell a client that you are better suited to writing fiction if that is your preferred genre. Whilst it may seem daunting to narrow your range of available jobs, the more you specialise, the better quality you will produce which means you will receive better reviews, bringing in new or higher paying projects.
- Offer a range of prices. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to charging for creative content. Try to have a few different price points so that you can charge your clients correctly. For example, if you are writing a short story for a client, the work and research that goes into it may be disproportionate to your rate per 1000 words. Don’t be afraid to charge per hour for these types of high-research jobs or charge a higher rate for them.
- Don’t over-commit. This is a common faux pas with all new freelancers, but especially those who produce creative content like writing because it can be hard to measure the time and effort required for a creative project before you’ve gained experience. My advice for this is to stick to shorter projects to begin with (such as blog posts and short stories) until you’ve gotten used to your writing process.
- Allot time for advertising. You may be juggling a couple of small projects, feeling like you can take on more, but have you thought about the time it takes to interact with clients, advertise online and provide quotes? Make sure you set aside time to create quality adverts and bids on site like Freelancer instead of copying and pasting the same advert and hoping for a response. Bringing in new clients is just as important as satisfying current ones.
- Find a support network of other writers and ghostwriters. Freelancing can be a lonely way of working, especially if you are a social person or used to an office environment. Find a Facebook group, Instagram community or Twitter hashtag to interact with so that you can find people doing the same jobs as you. This will also help you to find an appropriate price range for your work and be aware of some of the pitfalls other writers have come across.
- Write at the time you are most productive. If you are an early bird, make yourself get up at 6 am and write, but if, like me, you are a night owl and find it easier to write from the afternoon to evening, capitalise on that time. Writing is a creative process and when you’re on a deadline you need to avoid writer’s block wherever possible. If you know that you can put higher quality words onto the page at 5pm than at 9am, embrace that. Just make sure you are keeping yourself healthy, exercising and getting enough sleep. Your mind is your tool and you need to keep it sharp.
- Plan ahead to edit your work. Whilst lots of employers will use their own editors after you’ve delivered the project, you should aim to hand over a clean copy to the client. This means it should be free of typos, spelling mistakes and basic grammatical errors. If you aren’t good at proofreading your own work, hire the services of a proofreader to give it the once over. You can’t expect to charge a decent rate if you’re sending over messy content, however good the plotting and characters are.
- Have a portfolio of short samples for each of the genres you are going to offer. The best way to do this is to publish it to a blog or website so that you can send clients the links.
- Offer a free custom sample to your client. Your client needs to know what they are getting before they hire you. Whilst I don’t advise doing entire projects for free (even for the promise of reviews – don’t fall into that trap!), providing half a page of sample writing based on your client’s brief before you start the job will instil confidence and make sure the service you are providing is what they want.
- Plan your stories thoroughly and share your plans with your clients. It can be tempting to free-write, but you need to have step by step chapter plans, character descriptions, and setting ideas mapped out before you start writing. Spend time researching your setting. Create multi-faceted characters (read more about how to do that here). If something changes along the way, that’s okay, but make sure you are updating the client to give them the best service.
As with all freelance professions, communication is key. Ghostwriting can be lucrative, fulfilling and skill-building work if you do it correctly.
Good luck and enjoy your work!