Becoming a WAH Freelance Writer – Part Three: What is Ghostwriting?

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I’ve had my heart set on being a writer since Mrs. Montgomery’s 12th grade AP English class. In reading the classics, I developed an incredible respect for authors with an ability to entirely captivate strangers. I held up my favorites – Vonnegut, O’Brien, Orwell – to the highest level of admiration. It was decided: one day, I would be just like them.

Unfortunately, it’s not so easy to become a renowned professional writer. It takes incredible focus and endless failure. But, if you love the art of writing, there are many ways to ride your pen to satisfaction and success.

Do you believe in ghosts?

You’ll quickly find that while clients want your talent, they don’t necessarily want your name. Such clients don’t just need writers. They need ghostwriters.

Ghostwriters write on behalf of someone else, and the arrangement generally works like this:

  1. A creative someone develops an idea.
  2. That creative someone realizes that writing is hard.
  3. A talented writer (that’s you) is hired to do all of that difficult writing.
  4. The talented writer creates a masterpiece.
  5. The creative someone pays the writer and takes all the credit.

Not everyone is cut out to be a ghostwriter. Some professionals (or would-be professionals) value more than just dollars and cents. They require bylines to feel fulfilled.

Do you need recognition to be satisfied as a writer? Some do and some don’t. If, however, you can tuck away your pride, there is plenty of money to be made as a ghostwriter.

The history of ghostwriting

Ghosts have been around as long as the written word. Ancient texts such as “The Iliad,” “The Odyssey, and likely all books of the New Testament, were probably penned by unnamed authors. Back then, it was an incredible skill just to be literate at all. Scribes and writers were rare, as a result.

Nowadays, literacy is much more commonplace. That means that more people are able to write on their own behalf. However, just because someone can write doesn’t mean that they can write well. Politicians, actors, comedians, and athletes commonly employ ghostwriters to complete their books and autobiographies.

While celebrity biographies are probably the golden ticket to ghostwriting success, there are many other opportunities for ghosts to profit. Even new, largely inexperienced writers can make money simply by writing better than their clients.

Popular ghostwriting markets

There are many businesses, organizations, and individuals that could profit from ghostwriters. Consequently, you have plenty of options. Here are some materials you could create for profit:

  • Brochures and flyers
  • Website content such as company bios and “About Us” pages
  • Advertising materials
  • Top 10 lists
  • Recipes
  • Blog posts
  • Book, movie, music, event, and business reviews
  • Travel guides
  • eBooks
  • Craigslist and eBay postings
  • Business materials such as training guides
  • Email campaigns

Really, almost anything that gets written could be ghostwritten.

A ghostwriter’s real job

Think about things as a client, instead of a writer. Why are you hiring a writer? Obviously you have something to be written. But you probably know that you’re not such a great writer yourself. If you wrote it, it would stink, and that just won’t do. So you hire someone to write it for you.

The first rule ghostwriting is to keep your client from looking incompetent.

If your client was comfortable with producing something unimpressive, he would’ve written the material himself. He hires a ghostwriter to create or maintain his reputation as knowledgeable, capable, and worth listening to.

Can you be a ghostwriter?

In order to succeed as a ghostwriter, you must be humble. Understand that when you sell your work as a ghost, you’re generally selling the copyright too. That means that the product of your efforts is no longer yours.

In the words of Rudyard Kipling, you must be prepared to “hear the truth you’ve [written] / Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools.”

If you can accept this arrangement, you may be forced to sacrifice recognition. But you’ll be able to do something that most cannot: earn a living by your pen.

How much can you make?

Some freelance writers earn a pittance, while others can earn six figures annually. For many, the most important factor in deciding your income is how much you charge.

Next week, I’ll discuss the intimidating practice of pricing yourself, and I’ll tell you the secret that has increased my earning potential beyond any other job I’ve ever had!

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Daniel Taylor

Daniel is a freelance writer working out of his home in Secane, Pennsylvania. He likes eating cheesesteaks, listening to the blues, and reading great non-fiction. You can email him with questions or moral dilemmas at daniel@danieltaylorwrites.com

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