Many writers find themselves spooked when considering ghostwriting as a freelancing path. Writers struggle to make informed decisions about ghostwriting because the publishing industry largely keeps the practice hidden.
When I took my first ghostwriting job twelve years ago, there were no books or podcasts or courses on ghostwriting. I stumbled through crazy scenarios to learn the business. Ghostwriting is lucrative and abundant if you know how to navigate, but it isn’t for every writer. Here’s how to know if you’ll be happy walking that not-so-scary path.
Holding tight to your vision is understandable. We’ve all bled onto the page and spent years crafting the perfect relay of sentences to the end. Dogged possessiveness and defensiveness, however, often stem from writers who believe they have a finite number of ideas.
It’s time for writers to stop referring to their artistic core as a well. Wells dry up, cave in, fall apart, or are buried under urban progress. Creativity is more a source code inside a writer’s DNA—ever-present, infinite, and fundamental to who we are. Frequency and variability in writing projects upgrade that source code.
Writers who are overly possessive and defensive about their writing aren’t in a mental space to grow their craft. Perhaps they are enamored with the idea of having written instead of writing. The luster of award banquets and release parties and book signings fade. If the magic of writing for you lies in the intimate relationship between writer and reader, that mental and emotional transaction through words, ghostwriting honors that creative state.
The busiest ghostwriters are the ones who lean on former or current careers. Degrees or experience surrounding topics your clients need ensures you’ll speak their language, write with swift confidence about the subject matter, and never lack opportunities. Your professional expertise, when paired with ghostwriting, makes you an invaluable resource to clients who are increasingly discovering that the pool of capable writers in the workforce is shrinking.
Successful ghostwriters rarely work with tunnel vision. At any one time, wheels are in motion for courting possible clients, engaging in professional and craft development to add value to your services, and, of course, writing. Tedious rituals of getting in “the creative zone” fall away when a client needs an article or book blurb on a fast turnaround. Adeptness at pivoting means overdelivering for your client, a practice that keeps project referrals—and income—robust.
Ghostwriting is a cooperative effort. Each new client occupies a unique position on that interactive spectrum, depending on project needs and your work history together. If you’re fortunate to ghostwrite for a publisher, you become part of a talented team of editors, proofreaders, and marketing specialists, all working together to ensure the highest quality product reaches the market. Team scenarios provide immense learning potential and a safety net, ensuring you won’t drive larger projects off into the ditch. Increased efficiency equals more projects and more income.
To engage readers, writers execute with emotion. If you are unable to shut off emotion when it comes to the business side of publishing, you will struggle with ghostwriting. There is a time to create and ignite your passionate side, and there is a time to move on.
Ghostwriting occupies a substantial portion of the publishing industry. Although still largely cloaked in secrecy, best estimates place ghostwritten books around 70-80% of non-fiction and around 10-20% of fiction. Add web content, articles, newsletters, blog posts, scripted mobile games, business training, and dozens of other formats, and it’s easy to see how lucrative your skills can become.
The most rewarding part of ghostwriting is connecting people to their dreams. Most of my clients are superstars in their professions, making the world a better place in their unique way. I use my skills to elevate their profile, their mission, their lives. In turn, my clients refer me to others with amazing stories to tell, and they inspire me to writing dreams I didn’t know I had: screenwriting, celebrity bios, press releases for the music industry—you name it, I’ve written it. With the right clients, the ghostwriting-client relationship is truly symbiotic.
A small but vocal minority of writers wielding pitchforks say ghostwriting is wrong. Aside from their ignorance about ghostwriting’s prevalence in the industry, these individuals believe authors owe readers much more than an amazing story. As with social media influencers, feeding the beast of engagement with readers can backfire into the fandom believing they have a say over when, what, and how the author machine should feed them. One has only to look at the reader backlash aimed at George R. R. Martin and his Winds of Winter delay to see how that level of content-hungry entitlement can cripple a writer’s output. It’s no wonder legacy publishers often turn to ghostwriters to plug gaps in the schedule when an author’s personal life impedes the machine.
The vast majority of negativity surrounding ghostwriting is set forth by former ghostwriters who never learned to properly navigate the niche. Building a stable of well-paying clients takes time. The surest path to ghostwriter burnout is to step onto the wheel of bottom-feeding sites like Fiver and Upwork.
The years between the first writing spark and earning a living by writing can be immense. The apprenticeship term for a novice writer to become a NY Times bestseller-worthy writer is said to be one million words or nine years. That’s nearly a decade of hours stolen from family and expenses to gain craft and industry knowledge. Why not accelerate those years by strengthening your writing muscle, building a network of powerful allies who can help you make the right industry connections, and funding your dreams along the way?
For those who already earn an income with established writing careers, ghostwriting can supplement long project gaps in the publishing cycle and fund marketing the publisher should be doing to elevate your career. Ghostwriting isn’t for every writer, but if you can glimpse yourself inside this window of possibility, it’s worth a second look.
L.A. Mitchell is a freelance editor, writing coach, Margie immersion grad, and ghostwriter with 30+ books in the market and an Amazon #1 bestseller status to her credit. Her clients include USA Today bestselling authors, celebrities, professional sports athletes, and large corporations. For the past 12 years, she’s ghostwritten everything from business non-fiction to epic YA fantasy to super sexy romance and believes the best part of her job—hands down—is the collection of fuzzy, going-to-work slippers she has amassed.
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