The Simple Question That Will Help You Land Freelance Ghostwriter Gigs


How to Be a Successful Ghostwriter. Makealivingwriting.comEver wondered how to become a freelance ghostwriter?

More importantly, how do you get paid what you deserve while doing what you love?

I thought about that a lot back when my freelance work mainly included writing for blogs and a local newspaper.

Then something happened that completely changed my writing business. I landed my first contract to ghostwrite a book.

That first project gave me the street-cred I needed to become a full-time freelancer and freelance ghostwriter.

Want to learn how to land your first contract to ghostwrite a book and grow your freelance business? Here’s how:

Get Into the Minds of the Experts

I’m a freelance ghostwriter. I help other people tell their stories and share their ideas. When I write a book with someone, my name doesn’t show up on the cover. I get paid, yes, but I’m also completely anonymous.

And I love it.

Ghostwriting is some of the most rewarding work I’ve ever done. There’s something powerful about serving other people’s stories. I get to hang out with people who are at the top of their professions, people with 30 years of experience doing what they love. And these people trust me with their stories, with their lives, even with their legacies.

As a ghostwriter, you really have to get into the mind of the person you’re writing about to capture their voice, personality, and conversational style before you can tell their story. But instead of bidding on ghostwriting projects for people I didn’t know anything about, I tapped into my network to find my first client.

Take closer look at your own network of contacts, and there’s a good chance you’ll find a ghostwriting opportunity there if you ask the right questions.

The Simple Question That Will Help You Find Your First Ghostwriting Gig

Wondering how to become a freelance ghostwriter?

Ghostwriting is all about relationships, and it makes sense. If you were going to grant someone access to tell your life story, you would want to make sure it was someone you knew and trusted.

My first clients came through personal relationships: the mentor who ran a large nonprofit, the financial advisor who visited the same coffee shop where I wrote every day, the family friend I’d known since I was nine years old.

When I decided to get into ghostwriting, I reached out to people in my network and asked them one simple question:

“Have you ever thought about writing a book?”

If you want to get into ghostwriting, just ask everyone you know this question. Chances are, a large percentage of people will say, “Yes. I’ve always wanted to write a book about…” It’s sparked some interesting conversations and landed me some ghostwriting book gigs.

For example, this simple question connected me with a veteran artist with a book idea to teach up-and-coming painters how to make a full-time living as an artist without a side-gig at Starbucks. A surgeon friend of mine said he wanted to write a book to share his  unique surgery process to put his patients at ease and grow his practice. And it even got my dad to spill the beans that he was planning to write a new adventure novel.

What I find when I ask this question is that I end up having some amazing conversations, and a few of the people I talk to have three things in common:

  1. They have a great book idea or story
  2. They need help finishing their book
  3. They either have the funds to hire a ghostwriter or they have a large platform that could entice a publisher.

If you can find someone with all three of these things, you’ve found a new potential client. From there, you can begin a conversation about working as their ghostwriter.

How Much Do Freelance Ghostwriters Charge?

There’s a lot of variation in the marketplace for ghostwriting, but here’s a breakdown of my experience for the rates of a standard trade nonfiction book:

  • $10,000 to $20,000 – just getting started with ghostwriting
  • $20,000 to $30,000 – mid-level ghostwriter
  • $30,000 to $50,000 – veteran ghostwriter
  • $50,000 – celebrity ghostwriter or really busy

Not bad for a book right?

But pay really varies depending on the project. My non-fiction client projects are usually 20,000 to 50,000 words. I try to finish projects within four months and 300 hours of work. But I’ve had projects take as long as a year and 550 hours of work.

How you get paid can vary, too. One payment arrangement I use that works well for most clients is dividing the cost of the project into four payments:

  1. Up-front fee
  2. Approved outline/proposal
  3. First draft
  4. Final approval

5 Tips to Be a Successful Freelance Ghostwriter

If you can write, like telling stories for other people, and don’t mind the anonymity of ghostwriting, it’s worth pursuing to grow your freelancing business. Follow these five tips to be a successful ghostwriter:

1. Set clear expectations. One of the biggest reasons ghostwriting gigs fizzle out halfway through is because of unmet or unclear expectations. For example, if you’re ghostwriting a book for someone, explain the process and timeline, how many revisions they’ll get, and when you’ll need specific feedback from them. Put it in writing. Sometimes crazy stuff happens that stops a ghostwriting gig in it’s tracks. But more often than not it’s usually the small miscommunications and confusing expectations that cause a gig to fail.

2. Work with contracts. To protect yourself and your client’s rights, you need contracts. Requiring a client to sign a contract will weed out the people who aren’t committed, while protecting you in the case that a client does flake out.

3. Record every conversation. The most valuable tool for a ghostwriter is an audio recorder. To capture your client’s voice quickly, transcribe those recordings and pull exact phrases and sentences from the interview.  (As always, be sure to get permission to record.). Using two devices or methods to record an interview is a good idea, too.Voice recording devices/software I recommend for interviewing include:

  • Mobile Apps: Recorder;
  • Digital recorder: Sony ICD PX333 Digital Voice Recorder
  • Computer: Audacity; Skype Call Recorder

4. Imagine you’re talking to your client while you write. When I get stuck during the writing process, I imagine asking my client questions and then simply writing those answers down. Of course, you have to already have spent dozens of hours with your client at this point. Practice this exercise, and you’ll be surprised at how quickly you begin to think like your client.

5. Create a style guide for each client. We all have phrases or words we use regularly in our writing. Your clients have those, too. Listen carefully to the conversations you have with your clients or examine their writing for the vernacular that makes them unique. Then make a note of these words and phrases, add them to a client style guide, and use them in your writing. You usually figure this out as you go. For example, one client I worked with really hated the word “quitting.” Any time it came up to explain something in his book, he got uncomfortable.

Ghostwriting Can Change Your Life (Not To Mention Your Writing Career)

Ghostwriting is one of the most rewarding jobs you can do in the writing sphere, both personally and monetarily. When I started freelancing, I wrote blog posts and newspaper articles for as little as $10. Ghostwriting helped me realize I could make a living as a freelancer. Now I charge $25,000 to $35,000 to ghostwrite a book. More than anything, ghostwriting can allow you to do what you love while serving amazing people and getting paid what you deserve.

Just remember to ask that simple, but all important question, “Have you ever thought about writing a book?” And you’ll be one step closer to finding your first ghostwriting client and becoming a freelance writer.

Want to learn more about becoming a freelance ghostwriter? Join our writer community for training and networking!

Joe Bunting is a ghostwriter and founder of the award-winning website for writers, The Write Practice. He can be reached at

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  1. Milan

    Hi There

    I just landed my first kindle ghostwriting gig, but I have one question as I am new to ghostwriting. Can I ask the client which imprint or name I am writing for?

    • Carol Tice

      You can ask — no guarantees on whether they’ll tell you. Especially if you got this gig through some kind of intermediary platform like UpWork.

      There are a ton of very low-paid ebook ghosting gigs floating around Craigslist these days — and I hope writers are smart enough to understand they’re being exploited. Longform writing takes a lot of time, and writers deserve pro rates. In my world, if it’s less than $10,000 on offer, I consider it exploitation, basically.

  2. dl

    This is a very interesting idea to me. I have been hoping that there was a way to get into professional writing somewhat anonymously.

    I have no formal writing experience (except for a few company newsletter articles) but I would like to write for a living. My current job is mostly great, so I don’t want to risk losing it until I have some confidence that I can make a living as a writer.

    I don’t want to ask anybody that I know about ghostwriting, because I don’t want to alert anybody to the fact that I’m interested in a career change. Are there any places you can recommend to look for ghostwriting jobs?


    • Carol Tice

      Wanting to keep it a secret that you want ghostwriting work will really make it tough, David. You’ll probably need to be a little bold. Also, grow your network with people who only know you as a writer. They’re not going to ring up your boss and tell them you’re looking for writing work.

    • dl

      Thank you for the reply. I’m primarily trying to avoid putting anything on my Linkedin account. Its unlikely that people would see it, but its a little risky at this point.

      I do know one person who is writing her own book. I think I’ll contact her and see how that goes.



    • Carol Tice

      David, what I think is ‘risky’ is staying trapped in a day job where a single employer has complete power to end your entire income anytime, for any reason or no reason at all.

      Full-time employers do not OWN you, and can’t control what you do in your off hours. You want to write a little on the side? Unless your full-time job is in writing, it’s a non-issue.

      Stop trying to avoid putting anything on your LinkedIn profile, and make it reflect who you want to be. They can’t stop you from being a freelance writer — plenty of people do that on the side of a full-time job!

      I personally even freelance wrote on top of a staff writing job. I just let them know who I wanted to freelance for, so they could see I wasn’t writing for any of their direct competitors, and they were fine with it. Fortune truly favors the bold in freelance writing, let me tell you.

    • dl

      Thank you for the good advice.

      My primary job is computer programming, so there would be no conflict. I worry too much about things like this, so I’m probably exaggerating any potential problems.


  3. Richard

    I’ve been ghostwriting for about 6 months and I have never earned slightly close to this amount of money (I’ve written about 6 books so far, each at about 24000 words). In fact, $1000 for all of the books combined is probably closer to what I have earned! If this is true, I’m clearly looking for jobs in the wrong places. Where should I be looking?

    • Carol Tice

      NOT on Craigslist, or any mass online job boards. I mean, that’s like $150 an ebook! Insane. What’s your hourly rate break down to for that?

      My experience is most of the $20K-$50K book ghosting deals come through the big agencies that tend to represent a lot of these deals, and through your own network of connections — so start building them!

      Get all the testimonials you can, if you can get any from these, and move on. If you can use these as samples, great — if not, it’s time to take a break from ghosting and get a few samples with your byline on them where you can claim credit, so you have work to show prospects.

      I hope you never write at these rates again! Writers who do so depress the marketplace, and impoverish themselves.

  4. James Taylor

    As you said in this article, ghostwriting really needs to get such a pay for the efforts of the author. Today, it has become a trend that people are searching such ghostwriters to get their autobiography written by them. I think I could have practiced it earlier.

  5. Jeffrey Hill

    Its good to see how lucrative it can be, even for the beginners. As someone that likes to dive deeply into projects, I could see this being a significant part of my future writing given the opportunity.

    I love the idea of that question to throw into your network. You never know what may come your way with such a simple query.

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