5 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Started Ghostwriting

When you look back on your ghostwriting career, what information would have helped you progress faster?

Like many in the field, I’ve been ghostwriting for a few years now. And as I look back, there are a few things I wish I had known as I was getting started:

1. Ghostwriters create more than just books. While ghostwriting a book for a tech guru was my first project, I limited my opportunities by only looking for book ghostwriting projects for the next few years. I thought books offered the greatest potential for work.

It turns out, plenty of consultants, executives, entrepreneurs, doctors, attorneys, and online experts need assistance in crafting articles, blog posts, white papers, case studies, landing pages, bios, and others shorter written documents. Books are great, but there are many other types of ghostwriting projects that are out there.

2. Some clients are more organized than others. My first ghostwriting client had a contract for his book, along with an approved outline and numbered file folders filled with background research he planned to draw on to write his book. All of this material, supplemented with phone interviews with my client, made pulling his book together easy. I assumed this project was typical of all book ghostwriting projects.

I was wrong.

More often than not, clients have an idea of what they want in the way of a deliverable, but since they aren’t familiar with the process of writing an article or a book, they don’t know what information a ghostwriter would find useful. Meaning, they may have a vague idea but little else to start with.

That’s important to know up front, before you quote a fee for your services. More work = a higher fee.

3. Other ghostwriters are among the best sources of referrals. When I was starting out, I assumed that other ghostwriters did exactly what I did – write business books. In my mind, that meant that they were my competition. Fortunately, I quickly discovered that perspective was wrong.

Few other ghostwriters do exactly what I do. Yes, I write business books and articles and blog posts, but I frequently work with entrepreneurs and small business owners. That’s my niche. So when someone approaches me about ghostwriting a corporate finance book, I’m happy to refer them to members of the Association of Ghostwriters who would do a better job than I would. Or when a CEO wants to write a memoir, again, I refer him or her to a ghostwriter who would be a better fit.

I want to write books that interest and excite me and since I know there are plenty of opportunities out there, I don’t want to say yes to projects that aren’t perfect for me and my background. I’d rather colleagues get the work. And in many cases, they’re only too happy to refer projects my way when they’re overloaded or not a good choice.

4. The market is constantly changing. My first several ghostwriting projects came through my agent and through editors I had worked with at major publishing houses. I thought that’s where all ghostwriting work originated, and I stayed too focused on this market for too long, quite frankly.

As self-publishing became a respectable and affordable option for authors, projects started coming directly to ghostwriters. Having a website designed was and is the best way for potential clients to find ghostwriters today. Social media – especially LinkedIn – is a great way to become more visible. Joining writers groups is another way to stay up-to-date on the market.

Staying on top of where potential clients are turning to find ghostwriters is the best way to stay ahead of the curve and easy for authors to find you.

5. Contracts are meant to protect your client and you. I’ve signed dozens of contracts through the years, but initially I thought they were used exclusively to ensure that the client got what they had paid for. It didn’t occur to me, until project five or six, that a ghostwriting contract could protect me too.

Just as clients want to be sure you do good work, on time, and on budget, you want to be sure that you are paid for the work that you do according to the schedule you both agreed to. You want to have some leverage to get that final payment, once you’ve handed over the rough draft, or completed article, or blog post.

For some ghostwriters, that has meant including a provision that the copyright remains theirs until all fees have been paid; only then does the client have the right to claim it as their own. Others have added in deadlines for completion, to ensure that a book project doesn’t take years to wrap up because the client has lost interest or can’t make up his or her mind.

Contracts are used to increase the odds that both client and ghostwriter receive all that they are entitled to.

The longer you ghostwrite, the more you’ll learn about how to improve your business practices.

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Marcia Layton Turner

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