For the first few years that I freelanced, I did so in a ghostwriting capacity. It was an interesting, yet challenging, way to practice my writing skills without attaching my name to my work. Couple that with generous compensation, and ghostwriting is a form of freelancing that too many of us sleep on.
And I think I know why. Ghostwriting is mysterious and to a certain extent, secretive in nature.
To be honest, there were many things about it that I did not understand until I started and got a few years and a few projects, including books, in my metaphoric toolbox.
Just the use of the word ghost in ghostwriting may sound scary to some of you; in fact, I have some freelancer friends who shun the idea of writing without getting a byline or attributed for their creative and intellectual work. This is fair. While I still think you should consider freelance ghostwriting, it is not for everyone, especially those who are building their brands as writers where name visibility is paramount.
Since I have written as myself and done extensive writing as a ghostwriter, I actually appreciate both avenues. For those writers who are looking for additional streams of income and the idea of your name flashing in bright lights is less of a factor, this is for you.
Here are some of the things that I have learned about freelance ghost writing over the years.
Make sure that your personality is suited for ghostwriting
Patience is a soft skill that ghostwriters need, especially if you are working on a longer project like a book. Because the person (or people) who you are writing with or writing for will have very diverse personalities, go into ghostwriting knowing that you may sometimes have to dilute your personality just to work collaboratively with your writing “partner."
If you tend to be strong willed and rigid in your approach to writing, this may not be a good fit for you. Unlike writing for yourself where there are certain levels of autonomy, ghostwriting can be restrictive because the creative process is being driven by someone else’s ideas, insights, and creativity.
Never agree to ghostwrite academic papers
Unfortunately, this is a growing trend that is sometimes marketed with glossy ads that are targeted at freelance writers. I was drawn to a company once, only to later realize that it was an online community of ghostwriters for academic papers. As soon as I realized that I had been bamboozled, I quickly left and NEVER wrote a single paper for them.
As a former academic, the thought of this still makes me cringe. Make sure that you read all of the fine print. Even if your name is not attached to your writing, you need to be comfortable, ethically and morally, with what you are doing.
Get everything in writing
There are numerous contract templates that you can find online that you can use (including from Freelancers Union). If you are serious about ghostwriting and plan to do so on a regular basis, it is worth your while to get a lawyer to look over everything.
Or, if your client has a contract drawn up, make sure that someone with legal expertise reviews it before you sign it. This is particularly important as it relates to compensation. Some freelancers require their fees up front (fee for service) and other freelancers will agree to being paid after the book has been released and has generated sales (backdoor royalties). Whatever you decide, make sure that you are comfortable with the outcome.
Need help finding a lawyer? Download the Freelancers Union app to search from a network a lawyers who understand the freelance life.
Be willing to say no
If you are unfamiliar with a topic or if there is not a good connection between the writing task and your interests, it is best not to forcefully make it fit. I once did a short project for a client and by the time that I conducted research to figure out what in the heck the topic was about, I ended up making close to minimum wage. It was a valuable learning experience. Now, I am most inclined to only take projects that I have an intellectual, spiritual, or experiential connection to.
Be clear that your time is valuable. Individuals who are serious about using ghostwriters know that the fees are significantly higher than other writing services because of the amount of time that the ghostwriter puts into the project. If someone is hesitant or tries to get a deep discount, it is probably a sign of things to come.
When people don’t value your time or your skills then they may end up not paying you or sticking you with outstanding invoices. The last thing you want to do is end up in court fighting over intellectual property rights. Listen carefully during your early interactions to make sure that the person contracting your services is legit. (And a quick Google search does not hurt either).
Remember that when you write anonymously, it is rare that you will achieve fame as a writer. However, you can still gain valuable experience, increase your streams of income, and engage in writing for diverse and broad audiences.