By Anne Wayman
I’ve been ghostwriting successfully for years now. Freelance writers often ask questions about how I got there and how I manage my ghostwriting business. Here are the 11 most frequent questions I get, and their answers.
1. How did you learn to ghostwrite?
I didn’t, not exactly. A semi-famous minister asked me to finish ghosting her book and I said yes. It turned out well and I tried it again. That worked too. A career was born.
2. Doesn’t the term ghostwriting also include articles?
I suppose there’s always been some ghostwriting of articles. Today, however, article ghostwriting often means getting poorly paid to write articles aimed at search engine optimization (SEO). When I talk about ghostwriting I’m almost always talking about books.
3. Ghostwriting books seems unfair to me. People should either write their own books or if they hire a writer that writer should get credit. Do you agree with me?
No, not particularly. As a ghostwriter I know I’ll be well paid and that the author will get the credit. Usually the authors are people who hate to write or simply don’t have the time. Since I get their thoughts and ideas into a book for them, I have no trouble giving them the credit.
Besides, the client has to be really involved with the book. They have to work to get the info into my head, and spend serious time with the manuscript making changes, corrections, and helping me get their voice just right. It’s truly a joint effort.
4. What skills do I need to be a ghostwriter?
I think, in addition to being a decent writer, the most needed skill might be called the ability to listen deeply. Somehow, when I listen extra carefully, and with my own ideas out of the way, I’m able to do ghostwriting in the author’s voice, not mine. I’m able to listen without anticipating what I want to say or thinking that what they are saying is right or wrong. It’s through the listening that I’m able to get myself out of the way.
5. How can you demonstrate your experience since the book is in the name of the author?
Fortunately some of my clients allow me to disclose, discretely, that I’ve done ghostwriting for them. My resume simply states that I’ve ghostwritten for so-and-so. Several others are happy to give me recommendations if a prospective client calls them. This kind of credit may be negotiated up front and made a part of the contract. Often, however, I wait until we’re almost done and then I just ask if I can tell possible clients about my ghostwriting the book. They rarely say no. If they do I honor that.
6. What do you do if a client doesn’t do the work they need to do?
One of the things that’s surprised me is the number of people who hire a ghostwriter then quit half way through the project. With one exception, they’ve all had reasons that seemed to have nothing to do with me. Several have said they have just gotten to busy with their business. One had a death in the family and decided they didn’t want to write a book after all. Another worked with her therapist and together they decided it wasn’t time for a book. My contracts are written recognizing that wheels come off projects and we’d mostly parted friends.
7. What happened with that one exception?
I agreed to write a book for someone when I was feeling broke – my first mistake. If I’d been feeling strong I probably would have recognized the client had a real potential to be a problem for me. I normally make sure a potential client has some pretty specific idea about the book they want written – I didn’t do that. Nothing I wrote was satisfactory. Finally the client got angry and wrote the book without me and published it through Lulu. It was full of errors, but it was done. I kept the deposit.
8. How do you market yourself?
I’ve had a website with ghostwriting as keywords forever it seems. Most of my clients find me that way. My business card says I’m a ghostwriter and once and awhile a client will develop from a conversation around my card. Referrals, of course, are gold. I ask for referrals and remind past clients from time-to-time that I’m around.
9. How do you handle contracts? Do you use a lawyer?
I can write my own contracts, although I call them letters of agreement. You can find details at Ghostwriting — 9 Elements of My Contracts or Letters of Agreement. My goal is to establish a professional working relationship with a clear enough specification so we don’t have to go to court to figure out what we were trying to do.
10. How do you charge?
I work out a flat fee based on my hourly rate. Then divide that by the number of months I expect the project to take. I’ve done enough ghostwriting to be pretty good at estimating what’s required. Other ghostwriters charge by the page or by the hour or by the chapter.
11. Will you take a percentage instead of pay?
No, I won’t take a percentage instead of pay. The exception would be an author with a big contract and even then I’d want a significant amount up front.
And I no longer reduce my rate for a percentage. What I do now is ask for my normal rate and a percentage in addition to that – usually 5 or 10 percent. Some of my authors are glad to have my involved this way, thinking, perhaps rightly, I’ll work a bit harder if I think I’m also creating residual income for myself.
Ghostwriting books has been good to me. It’s allowed me to earn a good living and get at least some of the writing I want to do for myself done.
Anne Wayman is a ghostwriter, freelance writer and blogger. Her blog about writing is AboutFreelanceWriting.com
Photo via Flickr user creepyhalloweenimages