Today, I want to talk about one of my all-time favorite ways to make money as a freelance writer – ghostwriting. If you have a talent for relaying ideas, becoming a ghostwriter may work for you, too. But first…
What Is Ghostwriting?
I don’t want you to think ghostwriters only write books. I’ve written hundreds of articles on behalf of individuals and companies. More than a few times I’ve come across articles that read in my quirky style of writing, and I had to wonder/remember if I wrote the darned thing.
Being a ghostwriter just means you don’t get a byline. You don’t get credit for the work, but you do get paid for it. So, being a ghostwriter can include articles as well as books.
How Do Ghostwriting Gigs Work?
If you use a gig platform like Upwork.com, you’ll be competing for jobs against writers from all over the globe. Writing is a really competitive skill. The foundation of the internet is content, and there’s no shortage of moms like you who create content.
As a writer, you’re not just competing with the women from your college creative writing class. You’re competing with a Kenyan dude, a British mum, AND the women from your college Creative Writing class. So, you need a way to stand out! That’s how you build your client roster. That’s how you turn one-off jobs into repeat clients. and raving fans who can’t shut up about you.
In general, there are some pretty standard categories for the writing jobs you’ll bid. Each of the categories below requires a slightly different skill set. But I want to give you an idea of the types of content clients hire ghostwriters to produce:
|Academic writers |
|Blog writers |
Do You Need a Contract to Be Someone’s Ghostwriter?
No, and most clients who want you to write articles for them won’t even mention one. They’ll simply say in the job posting that they want a ghostwriter. Usually, they assume that if you’re responding to the post, you know what that means.
If a ghostwriting client wants you to sign something, it’s usually either a Non-Disclosure Agreement and/or Work-for-Hire Agreement.
A Non-Disclosure Agreement (also referred to as an NDA or Confidentiality Agreement) is a simple contract that states the ghostwriter will not reveal that she wrote the work, won’t talk about what’s in the work before it’s published, and won’t use any proprietary info gleaned from the work to write something similar (or in some cases, do something similar). Many NDAs prohibit you from even including ghostwritten works in your professional portfolio.
A Work-for-Hire Agreement transfers the rights to the ghostwritten piece from you to the client once you’ve been paid in full. Basically, you give up any right you may have to the intellectual property you created, but that’s also pretty typical with ghostwriting jobs.
If you’re interested in finding out more about NDAs, I like this article on NDAs/Confidentiality Agreements on Forbes that explains what they are and what you’ll typically find in them.
Most of the time, book clients will be the ones who want that NDA in place before anything starts. When I freelanced with Express Writers, I was required to sign an NDA. The contract keeps me from talking in detail about any of their clients or the content I created for them. I couldn’t really talk about what I wrote for them. But all of the other NDAs I have filed away in cabinets are with book clients.
But you get some pretty interesting clients that will help you build strong networks as a ghostwriter. One of my earliest article ghostwriting jobs was for Mike Michalowicz, whose books I love. I’ve done work for Olivia Fox Cabane and Toyin Dawodu. And I was this close [piches fingers together] to landing a gig writing articles for Darren Hardy, and I didn’t get the gig.
My point is: tons of thought leaders are too busy to sit down and pen a post for LinkedIn Pulse. Stepping in as their ghostwriter can be a really great opportunity for you.
When you’re just starting out as a ghostwriter, you’ll have to prove yourself. Make a good first impression by putting together an engaging sample of your writing in the niche in which you’re looking to get work.
For me, I prefer to write about business and strategy. That’s not to say I don’t take writing jobs about other topics, but I like the clean, straightforwardness of trade books over, say, a memoir.
The Skills You’ll Need as a Ghostwriter
A dynamic wordsmith with a voice; perfect, or near-perfect, grammar. You also need to be able to hop into the voice of whomever you’re writing for so that there’s no distinction between the content that they pen and the content that you pen for them.
Physical /Virtual Inventory
If you already have a computer and have an in-home internet connection (or a phone with a great hotspot) you’re in business.
You’re in luck. This is legitimately one of those no-cost home business ideas. If you have a computer and an internet connection. You can sign up on most gig platforms for free, build your profile, create a portfolio, and start bidding jobs.
You can get a great jumpstart on your writing business by making good use of gig platforms like Upwork and People Per Hour. Just remember that you’re selling yourself and sales is a numbers game.
You have to put in the work. If you’re serious about writing as a side gig or even a main career, you’re going to spend hours and hours of your day reading Requests of Proposals on different platforms and responding to each one individually.
It will literally take hours every day. And that’s okay. The main thing is to make sure each time you submit your bid that you’re reading the job description carefully and answering responsively.
As you start to get jobs, focus on getting good feedback and building your portfolio. Also, if you’re in it to win it, go ahead and claim your home-based business on Google Places. OR you can pay a small monthly fee to have your business listed at a coworking space where you can receive your mail.
There are two very important things you should consider as a ghostwriter – actively building your writing portfolio and eventually building your wealth portfolio.
You acquire knowledge as a ghostwriter. Each time a client pays you to learn a subject and write about it, you gain a body of knowledge that is yours to do with what you want. Unless you are contractually prohibited from doing so (and as a ghostwriter, I would never sign a contract that prohibits me from writing about a topic again) there is nothing stopping you from taking the knowledge you’ve gained and creating your own content.
You don’t have to give up any of your client’s trade secrets to write on the same or a similar topic. In fact, it would be best if you didn’t regurgitate what’s already out there. Find a way to make your content unique and original.
It’s Okay to Use What You Learn as a Ghostwriter
A client hires you to ghostwrite a book called “A Proven System for Designing and Marketing Mobile Apps.” You conduct the research on mobile markets, new media, smartphones and notice that most app marketers outsource the development of their apps. You write a great book for your client. But you could also use the info you’ve gathered in your research to write articles about hiring the right app developer. Or a guide to getting an app to market in record time.
At some point in your ghostwriting career, you may consider negotiating a flat rate + author credits + a percentage of royalties. You’ll have to make the decision on when that option would be beneficial for both you and your client. The advantage of owning intellectual property is that it remains part of your legacy. Intellectual property continues to generate income, however small that income may be, once the work’s been completed.
Finally, do think about making the shift from earning wages to generating profits. When you do, IP may become a key piece of your wealth portfolio.