If you’re a talented writer (and you can keep a secret), ghostwriting could be a profitable and rewarding career path. Keep reading to learn more about this fascinating profession.
What is a ghostwriter?
A ghostwriter is a professional author who writes anonymously on behalf of someone else, allowing them to take the credit as the author. Some people may have a great story to tell, but lack the time, confidence or skill to write it themselves. This is where ghostwriting enters the equation. Although ghostwriters most commonly work on memoirs and autobiographies, a client may commission any form of content, such as speeches, blog posts, newsletters and web copy.
Famous ghostwritten works
Ghostwriting has been a well-established practice in the world of literature for centuries. In fact, ghostwriters have been responsible for writing some of the most well-loved books in history.
Take The Autobiography of Malcolm X, for example. This powerful memoir is widely regarded as a literary classic, but many readers may not know that the actual writer was Alex Haley, who spent two years interviewing and collaborating with Malcolm X to bring his compelling story to life.
Ghostwriting is by no means limited to autobiographies; fiction also has its fair share of ghostwritten classics. For instance, fans of the popular children’s mystery series Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys may be surprised to learn that their favourite authors are both pseudonyms.
First published in the 1930s, the beloved Nancy Drew series was actually written by a team of ghostwriters under the pen name Carolyn Keene. The series has been massively successful, selling over 80 million copies across numerous translations.
Similarly, The Hardy Boys, a mainstay in children’s literature since its first publication in 1927, was really the work of ghostwriter Leslie McFarlane, writing under the pseudonym Franklin W. Dixon.
Titles from both series have since been adapted into numerous TV shows, video games and movies, proving that ghostwriters can be just as impactful as credited authors.
Why choose ghostwriting?
If you crave the satisfaction of seeing your name in print, ghostwriting probably isn’t for you. However, if you don’t mind the anonymity, it can offer certain advantages. Firstly, the lack of public credit means you may be able to charge more than credited writers. Additionally, although fact-checking is still advisable, ghostwriting often requires less research. Since clients typically provide all the necessary information, you can focus more on the actual writing.
Tips for getting started.
To get your first job as a ghostwriter, you’ll need to show prospective clients what you can do. For non-fiction, starting as a freelance writer is a good way to gain experience and build a diverse portfolio to showcase your skills. For fiction, you will need to become a published author first.
Your portfolio should include writing samples in different styles and genres. Samples of your short-form writing are sufficient if that’s your intended focus, but if you’re planning to write memoirs or autobiographies, you’ll most likely need to have published a book to prove you can handle long-form writing.
When you’re ready to start looking for clients, it’s essential that you develop a clear proposal for your services, including your terms for payment, revisions and information sessions.
Tips for the writing process
Once you’ve landed your first ghostwriting job, you’ll need to plan your information sessions and keep thorough and organised records throughout. Recording audio of all your interviews can be helpful; you’ll have a lot of information to remember, and it’s not sensible to rely solely on written notes.
Although clients will provide you with the content, you’ll need to familiarise yourself with your subject matter as closely as possible. For example, if you’re writing a memoir, follow your client on social media and use your interview sessions to get to know their personality.
Following these guidelines can help you to write a well-structured and captivating story that does justice to your client’s vision.
Ultimately, ghostwriting can be a lucrative career, but it’s not a great way to get famous. For some writers, the financial reward and the opportunity to help someone tell their story offer more satisfaction than public acclaim. So, if you’re a gifted and diligent writer, all you have to decide is whether you’re happy to remain behind the scenes.
Do you have a knack for capturing the unique perspectives and experiences of others? If so, being a ghostwriter may be for you.
Our Freelance Journalism Course is designed to equip you with the skills and knowledge necessary to become a successful writer.
Sign up for our Freelance Journalism Course today and take the first step towards a career as a freelance writer and ghostwriter.