Ghostwriting – Making Money by Being Invisible

My bookcase take up one whole wall in the family room, from floor to ceiling. It shows my eclectic reading tastes… fiction, non-fiction, Harry Potter next to murder mysteries and metaphysical literature. Also there are books I’ve written for the business sector – on negotiation, writing letters, communication skills, real estate sales and a lot more. The business books, however, have other people’s names on them. I’m merely the ghostwriter.

These days, I’ve moved from writing fiction and being a ghostwriter to a new career as an information marketer on the Internet. (What is an “information marketer”? Just what it sounds like. I do extensive research to find out what information people are searching for, and then I find a way to create it, package it and sell it to them. It’s a bit like ghostwriting, really, except that I’m doing it for myself instead of someone else.)

My experience as a ghostwriter was invaluable for doing what I’m doing now. So was my experience in writing fiction. Fiction writers make excellent ghostwriters, because they use their skills to bring scenes and people to life in non-fiction. You see, people love to read about people.

Not things.

Not places.

Not strategies.

Rather, they like to read about the people behind all these things: this is what brings non-fiction to life. If you are a skilled fiction writer, then you can easily adapt your talent to ghostwriting. And the happy news is this: you will probably earn a lot more as a ghostwriter than you ever will writing fiction.

“Ghostwriter” will be only one of the terms for what you do. Sometimes you will find yourself acknowledged as a “consultant”; sometimes as a “copywriter”. Most often, you will not get any recognition at all… because that’s why people hire ghostwriters: they want to produce a book (or e-book or article or a report) without having to slog away at the actual writing. So… they hire a professional.

Really, the label is not important, and nor is whether you get acknowledged for what you do. What is important is that you get paid regularly for doing something you enjoy. Plenty of people would kill for a job like that!

Any competent writer can earn a steady income from ghostwriting. You can establish a ghostwriting career online or offline – but I would recommend that you start ONline, if you haven’t done this before. Thanks to the Internet, it’s possible to establish a portfolio of work and get up and running within weeks. Yes, that’s right: not months… weeks. If you already have a few samples of articles or work done for others, then you’re off to a running start!

Here are some tips to get you started:

1. Start Building Writing Credits.

My first work in ghostwriting came about because I had a portfolio of published articles. What I did not have was a background in journalism. I learned how to write articles by reading how-to books and articles in writers’ magazines, and by analyzing the structure of articles in a range of magazines and newspapers. Then I started sending my work out. Luckily, you don’t have to take as long as I did to build up credits. You can write a number of articles on different topics, post them to article sites on the Internet, and earn yourself an ‘expert’ rating within DAYS.

2. Talk About What You Do / Network.

ONLINE: (1) join in forums and mention that you’re a ghostwriter; (2) email your friends and acquaintances and asking them to put the word out; (3) create an email signature that advertises your ghostwriting services; (4) set up a website to promote your services, and (5) take the fast route and sign up at Internet sites where potential clients post work.

OFFLINE: (1) Always mention what you do (you never know who knows somebody who knows somebody etc etc…); (2) Do a mailout to businesses in your local area; (3) Put an ad in the paper; (4) Join professional organizations where business people go (the local Chamber of Commerce; Rotary etc)

3. Create a Professional Image From Day One.

Make sure that your work is as close to perfect as you can make it: DEFINITELY no typos or grammatical errors. Sample articles, book outlines, reports etc should be attractively presented and easy to read. As soon as you start getting work, make sure you MEET YOUR DEADLINES. This is crucial!

Invest in quality equipment. With a computer, a high-quality word processor and a laser printer, you can produce not only books and articles, but also proposals, fliers, and an attractive letterhead for your business. For fast, efficient online research: a broadband connection is well worth the additional expense. These days, an entry-level broadband connection is almost as cheap as dialup anyway.

4. Organize Your Material.

As your client base increases, you will find yourself speedily becoming an “expert” on a dazzling variety of subjects. Keep your subject matter organized by client, by subject or both. Eventually you will be able to save time by looking up previous articles – but always give it a new slant.

5. How to Decide What to Charge for Your Services.

Initially, I suggest you charge modest fees and concentrate on building up your client list and your reputation. As a rule of thumb, decide on what you would like to earn in an eight-hour day, then derive from that an hourly rate to use as a basis for costing work. If you start working for online outsourcing agencies, you will be able to get an idea of what to charge very quickly – you’ll be able to browse the jobs posted and the bids being made.

6. Time Management – a Dual Writing Career?

You can tackle ghostwriting full time, or create a dual career (use ghostwriting to give you a part-time income while you write your novel). You will find that mastering the art of writing pacy, entertaining business articles and books pays off in all your writing. Your editing skills will improve as you get used to cutting articles and copy; your fiction-writing skills will help you in writing anecdotes for articles. The essence of managing a writing career in different fields is forward planning. Keep a desk or computer diary, a pocket diary and a wall planner. Write in deadlines, assignments and consultation times (and make sure you transfer the information from one to the other). Always have a mental map of what is due in the next week or two. Write out a ‘to-do’ list each morning, and rank jobs in order of importance.

7. Different Clients, Different Styles.

Different clients like to work in different ways. I had one client who cheerfully admitted he “couldn’t even spell, let alone write”. For him, I worked from audio interviews or a few brief points on a page, and did a lot of research. Other clients sent me each chapter as it was finished, then I set to work fixing elements of style and tone; re-writing or adding anecdotes, and making suggestions about structure. When it comes to Internet clients, you’re likely to find that they want a swift turn-around (2-4 weeks for an e-book of between 50-80 pages with straightforward research). Information marketers will often provide you with a list of questions to be answered or points to cover, and require you to do the research.

8. Confidentiality.

If you want to be a successful ghostwriter, it is VITAL that you maintain confidentiality. Unless your client gives you permission to use his or her name as a reference, don’t do so. Some people are happy to acknowledge you as a ‘consultant’, but not as a ghostwriter. That’s their decision. As a ghost, you’re supposed to be invisible.

You’ll find plenty of work out there a good ghostwriter if you set about looking for it. You don’t need to work from 9-5 outside the home in order to pay the mortgage or put food on the table. If you need to earn an income, why not choose a job in which you can use your skill with words? You could find that ghostwriting is the perfect solution for you.

(c) copyright Marg McAlister

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Marg McAlister has created a “Mini Guide To Ghostwriting” for all those frustrated writers who are eager to make their skill with words pay. Sign up for a free 7-day e-course on Ghostwriting at

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