On Ghostwriting

The term ghostwriter often reminds me of Roman Polanski’s movie—a remarkable thriller starring Ewan McGregor and Pierce Brosnan.

However, ghostwriting often reminds people of pretending to be someone else. It’s almost like acting. When I act, I pretend to be somebody else, except that the person I’m acting out as becomes a huge part of me. Or at least, that’s what you would think.

The truth is a ghost must become the person for whom they write, not vice versa. A mutual understanding must be in place. It helps to share a similar passion with your client, such as getting the truth out there.

WHAT IS GHOSTWRITING?

A ghostwriter is a professional who is not credited for the work that they deliver. They may write articles, blog posts, lyrics, and books (memoirs, self-help, fiction) for someone. However, a ghost is not entitled to share their work publicly unless the client grants them permission.

Ghostwriters are skilled short- and long-form writers who are happy to remain in the background. 

Numerous business people hire ghostwriters to articulate their vision in the form of a book or eBook.

GHOSTWRITING JOBS

After looking at hundreds of job posts for writers, I figured that today’s purpose of writing does not achieve the emotional impact that I’m after.

Of course, copywriters, SEO writers, and conversion writers are supposed to connect with prospects by addressing pain points and other problems. They deliver solutions to make their customers’ lives easier.

Most of the time, I don’t like how it’s referred to as an emotional connection because it’s not. Profiting from customers doesn’t mean they bonded with you emotionally. It’s still marketing. It’s a necessary evil, and people must bear that in mind. (Click here to read more on marketing for writers and authors.)

• What do clients seek in a professional ghostwriter?

Clients primarily seek experience in writing long-form.

Before giving ghosting a shot, I made sure I had a portfolio with freelance writing and authoring experiences. Having self-published a book of fiction counts as a large project. 

Clients also look at your communication skills, for which they prefer journalistic experiences. I’ve worked as a part-time music copywriter that included interviewing rock bands and attending trade shows. I used to collect lots of sounds on tape. Talking to people using a voice recorder became second nature to me.

Therefore, I imagine preparing ghostwriting interview questions to be interesting. You get to live out the observant people reader that you are.

• How about ghost blogging jobs?

Ghost blogger jobs are common when companies or entrepreneurs want to keep their websites up to date. They either work alone or only have a small team, so the idea of keeping a blog can be overwhelming. However, I don’t see a point in hiring them as a “ghost blogger.” Give that blogger credit by making them part of the team! This approach would work best for large team-oriented entities.

It may sound easy, but some entrepreneurs are strictly a one-person team without the typical plan for expansion. Take a professional cook, for example. Cooks are busy people and don’t have the time to maintain a blog or write a book.

• How do I land a ghostwriting position?

If you’re already an established freelance writer, the best way to increase your chances of landing a ghosting position is to publish an eBook—an eBook relevant to your niche (or genre).

I noticed that people are crazy about business writing, including brand-oriented content that develops distinctive voices and styles that help companies convert their prospects.

Authors who ghostwrite business books are high in demand right now. However, it’s a crowded genre and requires extra originality to stand out from the mass.

Self-help books fall in a similar category. Like business books, self-help primarily follows the footsteps of “How-tos.” I don’t know about you, but I have a love-hate relationship with guidebooks. Unless it’s a manual on “how to fix” technical issues, I don’t enjoy guides that show me how to live or “how to become a six-figure author.”

However, those books’ popularity doesn’t affect a fiction writer’s ambition. People who write fiction do it for a reason—they love writing stories. For that, they shouldn’t need a ghostwriter. In some cases, authors hire a ghost author as a collaborator.

I imagine the most exciting ghostwriting gig to be a memoir. Your client tells you a captivating story about a particular time in their life. When you step into your client’s shoes, the story is yours—for a little while. The ghostwriter gets to be a fictional character of truth—if not an imposter.

FREELANCE CONTENT MILLS

I recently turned down a ghostwriting position for various reasons. I tried to join agency X because I thought it was more professional than the usual content mill. But I didn’t realize that I should’ve backed off when they requested a 5,000-word unpaid writing task. Instead, I overestimated myself and viewed it as a challenge. Sure—most companies hiring for writers need you to do a test task—typically one that doesn’t exceed 1,000 words.

However, most ghostwriting gigs involve big projects. It explains why employers need to verify your writing, research, and text formatting skills. 

But I didn’t like their level of fast pace and the way they treated their writers. It seemed that their writers were writing slaves. Dare to make a mistake in formatting, and your editor will cash 8% of your wage.

I thought to myself: No. Just no.

Writers will always, at some point in their lives, get the short end of the deal. If I’d gone through with agency X, I would’ve ended up regretting it and losing faith in writing deep, meaningful stories.

They told me they were the ideal place for freelance writers to kickstart their career. That’s not true—content mills like Fiverr or Upwork are. Agency X had pre-established standards, which ultimately meant that your wage would remain consistently low (even if you passed the beginner’s stage).

Content mills have a bad reputation when it comes to quality, consistency, and payment. I’m bringing these up to show you the caveats of joining content mills. Some people fall on their faces and learn a lesson, whereas others manage to climb the ladder. 

You have to see it for yourself but proceed with caution. There are good and bad clients out there.

If you are confident and self-determined enough, you will pitch agencies directly. Make an effort to search for people that desperately need your writing. They might not know until you send them a perfect pitch. Those are the clients that will pay you a reasonable price for your work.

The idea is to build a base of anchor clients that stick around and provide you with consecutive projects.

I mentioned in my previous blog that there were tons of bad writing out there and content mills are part of the culprit.

I once had an acquaintance dump me for a freelance writer on Fiverr who charged way less than I did (bear in mind, my friendship rate was $0.01-$0.03 per word!). I didn’t bother asking for the outcome, but they gave up on their business soon after.

Well, all that didn’t stop me from wanting to pursue the post of a ghostwriter if chances arise.

IS GHOSTWRITING FOR YOU?

One advantage of ghostwriting is that you barely require any research because your client will provide you with all the information you need in interviews. The client is at your disposal; they’re all yours.

Interviewing your client will help improve your communication skills and relationship building. Your client will confide in you, share secrets.

Detect their tone on your voice recorder and even tell them how they come across to you. It’s a relationship that requires honesty and openness.

I don’t know about you, but I always feel honoured and special when people share secrets with me, especially when they are strangers.

Another pro is that you don’t need to do any promotion and marketing for your client. As a self-published author, it sounds like a great load off my mind! So, the ghost just writes and gets paid for it!

Writing in your client’s voices will help you improve as a fiction writer and broaden your landscape of fictional characters. Your level of empathy will increase too.

I get more of an emotional grip writing meaningful books than sales articles. I’m an author, after all—writing books feel more natural, no matter if ghostwriting or not. Like freelance writers, you get paid by the hour, per word, or by the project. Experts get paid five to six figures per project.

Does it sound like a dream? It does to me.

It depends on who you write for. Take Trump’s ghostwriter, Schwartz, for example. Schwartz said he’d felt a deep sense of remorse after the publication. Why wouldn’t you, after admitting that you wrote for a sociopath? You couldn’t create empathy here, even if you were an efficient unreliable narrator. Schwartz made the ex-president look better than in real life. Still, that makes him a professional ghostwriter.

Doesn’t it remind you of lawyers supporting guilty clients? These are the negative aspects of being a ghost.

I haven’t told many people yet, but I have an aspiration to ghostwrite for people who need words to bring out the best in them. For that purpose, I have revised my ghostwriting services. I look forward to writing a big project for someone one day.

I seek immigrant entrepreneurs in Canada who require writing assistance. This is my way of making ghostwriting relevant and significant.

WHAT’S IT FEEL LIKE TO BE A GHOST?

I’m quoting one of my favourite rock songs here. 

Ghosting is about being invisible while producing words for someone. And you’re happy about it. When done, you walk away.

Since I’m not an experienced ghostwriter, I can tell you this:

As an author of literary fiction (transgressive, weird, crime, and psychological thriller, YA), I admit that genre-defying hybrids define me and my exclusive writing style. It’s my original contribution to post-postmodernism and post-millennialism. I’m an exophonic writer, and it’s how I want my readers to know me. I’m versatile too. That’s the only time I want to be in the spotlight as an author.

However, in ghosting, I see myself ghostwriting memoirs. A memoir is all about your client. They let me tell their story as if I were their guide. I become one with them in an extraordinary narrative. It would be a book I wouldn’t want to be known for. It’s my client who deserves the spotlight.

I wouldn’t share my preferred fiction categories as a ghost, though. I would if it’s a genre that I no longer pursue myself. And that includes romance and some young adult. Still, I’m entirely familiar with these genres and could write a book about them when given a clear outline and plot.

THE BOTTOM LINE

I learned that professional ghostwriters should work for themselves. Don’t go with a large agency that won’t pay you the percentage that you deserve. The ugly truth is they profit from dealing with the clients. The agency has a team of administrators, accountants, and coordinators who will always make more money than the writers themselves. Oh, and editors will make more money than the writers, too.

Ghostwriters are more than just writers for hire. Renowned British ghostwriter Teena Lyons says that ghosts must think of themselves as entrepreneurs. Freelance writers already hustle like there is no more bread and butter.

Networking and isn’t enough unless you have created a list of loyal clients.

The more your job or project suits your niche and defines you, the easier it will be for you to work with your clients.

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