The trades of writing: how to be a ghost writer

With the name of ghostwriting, or “ghostwriter” is known those people who write a book hired by a person or company and who will not appear as authors of it.

This is very important because there is also the figure of a writer to order (for example, a publisher can hire you to write a biography of Rosalía de Castro), but the ghostwriter is someone who does not receive public recognition for its authorship or charge copyright.

As a ghost writer you will charge a fixed price agreed upon between you and your client, who, from the end of the book, will be considered the sole author of it. You disappear: hence the mysterious name of “ghost”.

Although some may sound strange, this job is the most common, especially in the case of biographies and essay books: 80% of the works are usually non-fiction. People who hire a ghostwriter are either publishers who need a punctual job, or people who want to tell their life, an episode they know, or even a fictional story.

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It may surprise you, but – contrary to what it seems from urban legends and Hollywood scare movies –  most of a ghost writer’s clientele are people who have never written a book … nor will they ever write it. And that generally, they are only going to sell the book to their friends and to a small group of readers.

And the normal thing is that someone who wants to devote himself seriously to writing wants to succeed on its own merits.

There are also cases of writers who have already published but who, for different reasons, hire a ghostwriter for a specific book, although it is much rarer. If you have moral qualms in exercising this trade -although I tell you, it is quite common and, in fact, some writers now knew began this way- think that it is more likely that you get orders to tell the life of someone’s family or his history of overcoming in the fight against alcoholism. It is what most abounds and it is normal, therefore, that they want to sign with their names: they are very personal.

I myself, in the past, have worked as a ghostwriter on several occasions (when I had more time and no project of my own was a good way to continue writing and besides, they pay you) for some biographies, an autobiography and two novels. There is also the writer for blogs and web pages, which is sometimes another form of ghostwriting and may be another option to increase your income by writing.

How does it work?

There are several issues that you have to take into account. I briefly comment:

Legal and confidentiality agreement: Generally – and thus you must demand it – the future author and you will sign an agreement in writing, in which you will detail in detail the commitment of both. This will indicate the delivery times of the book or the chapters, the extension of each chapter or the book (if applicable), the price that the client will pay you for word or page, the form of payment and the time of collection, and , of course, will include a confidentiality clause (in which you agree never to reveal your role in the writing of this book) and the transfer of your copyright in your name.

If both parties agree, the ghostwriter may appear in the book as a “style corrector”, or, as Marian Ruiz explains in the comments based on his personal experience, as “content reviewer”. It is a way to give visibility to this “ghost” work.

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How much is charged? It depends. I have charged between 5 to 15 dollars per page, but the final price depends on many issues:

  • The extension of the final work: it is not the same to charge for an article of 10 pages than for a book of 200 pages; the normal thing is that in that case lower the price per page
  • Your experience: the usual is to charge lower prices if you are not yet a very experienced ghostwriter, it is your first or second job.
  • The complication of work and style (is not the same if you can write “your way” that if you have to imitate the style of other books by the same author or if you have to investigate and document that if not.

Normally, the person usually indicates to you what it is that wants to appear in each section or chapter (roughly content); sometimes you can even record your voice telling you an anecdote, or something you want to appear; other times they will tell you in writing.

There are authors that leave you a lot of space for you to add ideas or details of your harvest (especially if it is fiction) and others -especially when it is a biography- they will give you much more information and will leave you less broadband. It is important to talk with the future author about what your method will be to be clear about how much work you will need and to establish a fair price.

The usual method of work is for the author to pass material or argument to a chapter or several. You will write them and he/she will read them and suggest ideas, ask for changes, eliminations … Keep in mind that second rewriting work when giving your budget.

Ideally, all this talk before and include it in the contract, to avoid misunderstandings.

How to become a ghostwriter?

  1. Improve your technique

Nobody is going to hire you as a ghost writer without asking you, at least, a sample of your work. There you will have to show that you have a good level of writing, both in terms of spelling and grammar, and writing, and that you master essential techniques such as descriptions, dialogues, scene changes, flashbacks, structure, turns, dramatic tension, and a long etcetera.

This can be done through writing courses (faster option and then you can add to your resume) or on your own, reading a lot, studying books and writing blogs like this and, of course, writing.

2. Get a good resume

These first two points are common if you want to dedicate yourself to any job related to writing: getting a good resume is essential, as it attests to your work and your formality. I mean accumulate everything you can from:

– Literary awards: give confidence in the quality of your work, whether of any gender. Currently, there are hundreds of literary awards in this country in which you can participate, almost every day.

– Finished books (or blogs to show your articles): they say a lot about your perseverance and that you dedicate yourself to this in a serious and professional way, not as a passing hobby.

-Studies related to writing: They never come badly, both to improve your writing techniques, and to attest that you have taken the job seriously, facing future clients.

-Publications: Although, as an author, you may be more convinced of self-publishing (an equally valid option for your books to reach readers), having some work published by a publisher is, for the general public, a guarantee that your texts have passed some filter that others have not done. They always come well.

That is why all the writing teachers always demand that they have books published in editorial and previous experience, the following point.

-Experience prior (as a ghostwriter or in any writing job) and customer opinions. Again, they serve so that future clients trust you, regardless of whether your texts are good.

Put yourself in the place of your future client. Imagine that you want to reform your house: Would you hire a licensed architect, with several years of experience and finished buildings or someone whose CV says only something like ” I’ve always liked homes, and now I’m designing them “?

That announcement (and I have found many variations of this in people who are dedicated to writing jobs) speaks of the enthusiasm of that person but makes it clear that he has no studies, experience, or anything provable to prove the quality of his work or his worth as a professional.

People easily follow someone on a blog or on social networks – it’s free and does not involve any obligation, not even to open the future email – but when they have to pay, they will look very well to whom they give their money so that this gives them the best possible result. Building a good resume takes time, but it is one of the best investments you are going to make and that nobody can take away from you.

3. Specialize

Although it is not mandatory, it will always be easier for someone to hire you if you are specialized in some genre or some subject. For example, if you like science fiction, racing cars, or the nineteenth century, all this can go on your resume and be displayed in your writings, awards, and publications. In this way, if someone searches specifically for a writer for an article, book or even novel of those topics, you will find it right away.

4. Make yourself known (blog, RSS, books, interviews, LinkedIn)

All right, Diana, but, how do people find me? Unfortunately, it is part of the “ghost” of this trade. There is not a directory in which to register and people do not usually put “ghost writer” in their curriculum, although you can do it. And you can also indicate clearly on your website, blog or social networks that you are a freelance writer or editor or even a writer or editor on request.

And then move as much as possible so that as many people as possible get to know you. For this, you can use social networks – where you have to make sure that people know you write – your own books, interviews … your Linkedin page, of course! This is where many will go looking for freelance writers, especially for magazines or blogs. And, of course, your own website or blog.

Go creating a curriculum and an audience at the same time and, believe me, there will come a time when you will not have to make an effort. People will start writing to you to request your services: it happened to me and to other bloggers, like Javi Pastor, who tells it in this post. It is not something from one day to the next, but here you have the roadmap to go opening the way to work in that, and others, writing trades.


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