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What is a Ghostwriter? How to Become a Ghostwriter

by Sean Ogle | Last Updated: March 6, 2020

Spend any time blogging and it won’t be too long before a prospective client might get in touch and ask if you offer ghostwriting services.

This is the most common reaction for new writers to that question: “???”

The next thought is usually “what is a ghostwriter?”

Ghostwriting is yet another type of freelance writing. It’s actually a lot more common than you think. Not to mention it can pay pretty well too.

Sound interesting?

Good.

Because we’re going to dig into ghostwriting here and cover the basics. Plus, we’ll help show you how to become a ghostwriter.

But first, check out this video:

Ok, now let’s get into it.

What is a ghostwriter?

In the most basic sense, ghostwriters create content for a person (or a brand) and that person (or brand) puts their name on it — not yours.

Ghostwriting is super common and happens all the time across every industry out there.

You have people who ghostwrite everything from blog posts and nonfiction books (including self-published Kindle books) to whitepapers, thought pieces, speeches, emails, and social media, among plenty of other options.

You name a type of writing, and you’ll find a good ghostwriter who specializes in it and makes a good living — without their name being found pretty much anywhere.

So you’re probably wondering why someone would hire a ghostwriter.

There are a bunch of reasons, but two really stand out compared to the rest.

Reason #1: Time

Ghostwriters are really common in the business world. There are a lot of executives who want to get content out there, but being busy business people, they don’t always have the time to actually devote to sit down and bang out a bunch of blog posts a month.

You don’t need a big site to be busy. It can be really hard to find the time to write new stuff every week while still making videos, doing outreach, and taking care of all the other stuff behind the scenes.

So imagine what that’s like for a bigger brand. Or a person who is making a name as an industry thinker and is spending a lot of time speaking and on podcasts.

Reason #2: Skill

Another reason someone would hire a ghost writer boils down to skill. The person who needs this type of service might just not be a great writer.

Not everyone is great at writing, or even enjoys writing, maybe they shine at doing podcasts or on YouTube videos but when it comes to sitting down to write, it’s just too much of a process.

This is super common in the world of books. You’ll find a ton of celeb autobiographies, as one example. In this case, the ghostwriter writes the book with the guidance and input of the celebrity.

The same is true for other types of writing too. Thought pieces or speeches are perfect examples where a freelance writer can shine as a ghostwriter. And tons of articles and posts on big name company blogs are written by a ghostwriter too.

At the end of the day, ghostwriting is a lot more common than you probably realize, but it’s still an unexplored area of writing for a lot of people — especially those new to freelance writing.

The pros and cons of ghostwriting

As with any type of writing, there are pros and cons to ghostwriting.

But because it’s a special type of writing compared to your standard freelance blog content, for example, it’s important to cover both sides so you can decide if it’s right for you.

The biggest thing to understand if you want to become a ghostwriter is it’s really a matter of personal choice. Some people feel a bit meh about ghostwriting, which is totally fine, while others make a good living and a full career out of it.

The point of this post is to give you all the info so you can decide for yourself before you get asked about it.

Ghostwriting cons:

Let’s start with the biggest issue that people bring up, you don’t get your name on your work.

For a lot of people, this is a deal-breaker.

If you don’t want someone else getting the praise or attention for the work that you did, that’s totally reasonable and ghostwriting might not be for you.

Some people don’t like the idea of writing as someone else, that’s ok too. It’s something where you have to decide if you’re happy working this way.

For some, the idea of becoming a ghostwriter is no problem at all, it’s just another job. While for others, becoming a ghostwriter is only ok if they get a lot of input, guidance, and time with the person they are ghostwriting for so they can really capture their voice.

Another negative is it can be harder to get your name out there if you don’t get to claim your writing as your own.

Once again, this is a personal choice.

Some writers want to build a big personal brand and platform which is more difficult to do if you aren’t writing under your name. While other people are ok with collecting their check and staying in the background, they have no interest in being a name or a brand beyond the small circle of their clients.

When it comes to actually writing, the process can take a little longer too.

Sometimes it can be hard to get the right tone/voice on the first try. Experienced ghostwriters can nail it. But sometimes the drafting process can be stretched out a bit more versus a standard assignment. So you should expect to devote some extra time to these projects, especially at first.

Now let’s get to the good stuff.

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Ghostwriting pros:

Let’s start with one of the biggest pros; the money.

Ghostwriting tends to pay better when compared to standard blog writing. There is value in you giving up your byline (so if you do get approached to be a ghostwriter, be sure to bump up your rates for it).

If you are someone who prefers to stay under the radar you have to do little to no promotion of your work. When you’re usually ghostwriting for a brand or a bigger name, the pressure is on them to do all the promotion and marketing.

That means all you have to focus on is the writing process.

But that isn’t to say you can never ever speak about a ghostwriting project (unless you sign a full non-disclosure agreement).

In most cases, you can still highlight your work. When you work with a lot of brands as a ghostwriter there are often clauses in the contracts (and you can add this to yours too) that allows you to use your ghostwritten work for your portfolio.

Now that doesn’t mean you can blast it out all over social media. But it does mean that you can share your work with other potential clients per the language in the contract. If you have a client who doesn’t want you to mention the work at all, ask them for a testimonial instead.

Another cool benefit of becoming a ghostwriter, especially in a particular niche, is you can learn a ton about that topic.

When you ghostwrite in a particular niche, you’ll spend a lot of time speaking with the people you’re ghostwriting for — both to get a sense of their voice and tone but also their thoughts on a topic. Being able to spend this time chatting with a subject matter expert is really valuable.

You can take the skills and information you’ve learned and apply them to other projects in your niche. This brings us to one last big benefit of ghostwriting; variety.

With ghostwriting, there are lots of projects you can work on. It’s really common for books, but you can also do blog posts on the company’s website as well as ghostwrite guest posts on other sites, email newsletters, and more. So there are plenty of opportunities to try out different types of writing.

And the more you know about a niche, the more valuable your work will be. That matters for brands who often spend a lot of time finding ghostwriters.

How to become a ghostwriter

Does any of this sound interesting to you?

If you’re already freelance writing then it’s a pretty easy jump to become a ghostwriter.

Here are a few ways to approach getting into ghostwriting:

Revisit your past work

Chances are you might have already ghostwritten some stuff and hadn’t realized you were doing it at the time.

If you have and you liked it, congrats, you’re a ghostwriter now. It’s just another skill you can add to your resume moving forward. Be sure to highlight that you do offer ghostwriting services on your freelance portfolio site. Don’t forget your LinkedIn and Contently portfolio too.

Let clients know

It doesn’t take some extraordinary skillset to become a ghostwriter. So if it’s something you’re open to doing, let your clients know.

If you’re sending out emails to some of your current or past clients asking for more work, drop a note that you’re open to ghostwriting too. This is a great way to add a little extra to the follow-up emails you’re sending to clients.

Search job boards

Lots of freelance writing job boards will note if gigs are for ghostwriters. Do a quick keyword search for that term on your favorite job boards to see what pops up.

Also, look keep an eye out for all the other places you’d look for online writing jobs including LinkedIn and social media too.

Include it in your LOIs

When you are writing out your letters of introduction to send out to your target client list, including the fact that you’re willing and able to be a ghostwriter.

Some companies or brands might only want to work this way. So state it right up front in your email and move to the head of the pack.

Contact agencies

For beginner freelance writers, going the agency route is often a pretty smart choice. Many will have at least a handful of clients who are in need of good writers.

Let them know ahead of time that you’re interested in ghostwriting. You could find some good matches through the agencies that can help boost your portfolio.

Ready to start ghostwriting?

Awesome. Now you have the tools you need to get started and dig into it.

Got any other questions?

Let us know and leave them in the comments.

Note: This post was updated in March 2020 for accuracy.

Sean Ogle is the Founder of Location Rebel where he has spent the last 12+ years teaching people how to build online businesses that give them the freedom to do more of the things they like to do in life. When he's not in the coffee shops of Portland, or the beaches of Bali, he's probably sneaking into some other high-class establishment where he most certainly doesn't belong.
Build a Lifestyle Business Giving You Freedom You've Always Wanted

Our 6-part course gives you a strategy to start right now. Put control of your life back in your hands. Sign up below and let’s do this together.

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