Ghostwriting 101: What You Need to Know

Jackie Pearce

At some point in your freelance writing career, you’ll come across ghostwriting gigs. You might be wondering what they entail, how they work, and if they’re worth pursuing while you’re building your writing career.

While ghostwriting gigs can be fun and pay well, it requires a different set of skills and has different pros and cons you need to know before you say “yes” to a project.

This article will cover the basics of ghostwriting, the specific skills you’ll need to succeed, and general tips to make sure your projects are successful.

What is Ghostwriting?

Simply put, ghostwriting is when you’re writing as someone else. You write the words and someone else gets credit as the author.

Often, you’ll see ghostwriting for books (almost all celebrity memoirs involve some kind of ghostwriting), but you will also see ghostwriting in articles, social media posts, ebooks, and other written formats.

As most writers know, being able to write a book is a hard skill to develop on its own. That’s why people hire ghostwriters — so they can have their stories and experiences published without having to perfect their writing skills.

Sometimes people also need ghostwriters due to not having the time to write. As you know, putting words on a page seems simple, but it can be a time-consuming task. When they hire you, it can save all kinds of time on their end while they also have the benefit of being able to share what you write for them.

Types of ghostwriting projects

As mentioned above, there are a lot of possibilities when it comes to ghostwriting. Just to give you an idea, here are a few things you might be asked to write:

  • Books
  • Social media content
  • Blogs and articles
  • Speeches
  • Video scripts
  • Proposals
  • Bios
  • Case studies
  • White papers
  • And more

The Freelance Writer Pipeline

For the most part, there are a few basic steps writers go through when they decide to make a living as a writer and end up as ghostwriters.

In the beginning of their freelance careers, writers often apply everywhere and to every job posting available. It can be hard to figure out where to go to find good clients or sites to write for, so there’s a lot of trial and error in this stage. If this is you, the Freelance Writers Den can help. We also have this page with market lists to help you get started.

From there, writers eventually (hopefully) find a handful of quality clients they like to work for and either have some kind of ongoing or retainer agreement to create consistent, ongoing work.

During this time it’s common for writers to start niching down and find topics or industries they prefer to write about. This also helps with finding clients as you know exactly what type of clients you like to work with. If this is you or you’re on the path to this, the Den2x Coaching program can help.

Once you have a certain niche under your belt, writers often find a lot of ghostwritten gigs since they are actively networking with people and writing for a certain type of industry. Potential clients and companies might also stumble upon your writing and reach out to see if you can write for them.

From there, you’ll often see writers end up as a ghostwriter full-time or go on to become staff writers.

Skills You Need as a Ghostwriter

While writers have general skills that can be applied in a ton of different projects, there are some skills that are specific to ghostwriting you’ll need to learn.

Writing as someone else

While it might sound easy to write as someone else and imitate their voice, it’s a hard skill to develop if you haven’t spent time working on it. For most writers, they develop a certain kind of tone and style as they practice their craft, so when it’s time to write as someone else you usually have to completely start over with your tone and try to imitate someone else’s voice.

If you write books, you might be used to this as you write your characters, but other writers might need to sit and practice this before they take on a ghostwriting project.

Leaving your ego at the door

While this might not sound like a skill, the simple fact is, you need to accept that you won’t get credit for your writing as a ghostwriter. Sure, you can possibly add it to your portfolio and your client list, but the finished piece will not have your name in the byline.

For some writers, that’s not easy to accept. There isn’t any right or wrong answer to this, you should just keep it in mind. For example, if a book becomes wildly successful, the author will almost always become more well-known than you will. You need to be okay with someone else getting the credit for your writing in order to succeed as a ghostwriter.

Steps for A Successful Ghostwriting Project

While we have an in-depth post on how to start as a ghostwriter and get your foot in the door, this post will be covering what to do for each specific project.

First, you’ll want to have a thorough interviewing process for learning your clients’ voice.

In the best-case scenario, the person you are writing for has a ton of content online for you to consume or videos to watch so you can pull in their tone. You’ll want to make a note of certain words they use and how people in their industry phrase certain things.

Ideally, you want to also know the goal of the project you’re working on. Is it to establish them as a thought-leader? Do they want to use your work to get clients? Are they going to use their book to get speaking gigs?

When you know what the goal is, it’s easier to help formulate and shape your project.

Once you have their voice down, you’ll want to then focus on making the project outline clear. You don’t want to end up writing a mini novel when the client simply wanted a whitepaper to use for their business. The client might not know what they want, so you’ll have to guide them to keep both of you on the same page.

Before you begin, you’ll want to study some other work in your clients’ space to see what is currently being published. That doesn’t always apply, depending on the type of writing you’re doing, but you’ll want to have a firm grasp on what others are creating.

Tips for Successful Ghostwriting

Create a voice guide for each project

It might be helpful to create a voice guide for each client. This is similar to a brand guide in the fact that you have a go-to list to pull from when you’re trying to guide your voice and your sentence structure.

A voice and formatting guide will also prevent any sentences from having a weird flow or structure.

Read your writing out loud

One tip that helps a lot of ghostwriters is to read their writing out loud. When you hear it read out loud sometimes you can hear when there is too much of your voice versus the clients’ voice.

It might help to have an audio program read your writing back to you so you can hear how it sounds.

Get feedback often

Once you’re writing for a client often, you’ll be able to quickly imitate their voice or nail the tone they want. Until then, you’ll want to get feedback as often as they will give it to you.

That way, you won’t end up writing thousands and thousands of words that the client isn’t happy with. Getting as much guidance as possible early on will save you both time and energy in the editing process later on.

What to do Next

Looking for help getting started as a ghostwriter? In the Freelance Writers Den, we have an entire bootcamp / mini-course on the topic. It’s yours as long as you’re a member of the Den.

Your Shortcut to Success. Freelancewritersden.com

Have you been a ghostwriter for books and are looking for more opportunities? Email us at help@freelancewritersden.com

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