Getting started as a ghostwriter

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From deep in the comments on a post about “Freelance ghostwriting rates”Dear Dr. Freelance: I am a long-time (30 year) writer/editor working in the non-profit field, and currently between jobs. I have done interviews for feature pieces as well as for fundraising videos; edited all manner of manuscripts and proposals; successfully written over other people’s signatures in their voices; and feel comfortable with all of the above, but have never been officially hired as a ghostwriter. 

As a way to make ends meet, I have been thinking about advertising locally as a ghost writer and editor — I can pretty much edit anything. I am considering advertising my services in the local community list-serve. For editing, I was considering charging $40 for the first page and $20 for each page thereafter. Is that too much?  

Also, how would you recommend getting started as a ghost-writer? Should I offer to do personal memoirs for well-heeled retired folks? Or should I try to get a job with a professional outfit?  Thanks for any advice you can offer! — Jane

Jane, you’ve asked a couple of good questions here, and I’ll handle them in reverse order. First, as far as getting started as a ghostwriter, several of the opportunities I’ve had have been from existing contacts, and asking the simple question at the end of an interview: “Have you ever written a book?” That’s what led to two of my book projects; frankly, I was somewhat surprised when they answered “No”! I’ve also ghosted for CEOs and other higher-up execs, mostly writing magazine articles and speeches for my corporate clients. It has been an organic process, letting people know it’s something I do rather than putting on a full-court press to find ghostwriting work.

As far as personal memoirs, I know there is an audience for that, and I get queried about them often — but so far, not a single one has penciled out. The challenge is that many are terribly tight on budget, because they’re self-publishing. (In some cases, I’ve contracted to put together a book proposal that they could then use to try to find an agent or publisher.) If you are going to actively solicit that audience, be forewarned that pricing will be an issue unless you run into someone who’s hip to the fact that good writing, editing, and guidance doesn’t come cheap.

If you want to go the professional route, you might do a web search and take a look at some of the ghostwriting organizations out there, such as Association of Ghostwriters. I can’t attest to whether they will be your golden ticket, but could be a jumping off point for your research.

Finally, as far as pricing: Without knowing all the specs, I can’t say what price per page is the right mark for you, and I’d definitely avoid putting a number out there without knowing. Even more than your average magazine article or website, freelance pricing as a ghost is going to depend on how much time, research, blood, sweat and tears it’s going to take to get the job done.

In the comments: Does your freelance business include ghostwriting? How did you get your first break, and what would you recommend to someone trying to do the same?

Image courtesy of kasiakay.

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  1. Anonymous says

    I had existing clients that knew they couldn’t write well enough to get something published, but could talk me through an article so it would be in “their voice.” Doesn’t get any easier than that, when it comes to research. Haven’t done any books though.

  2. says

    Yay, you’re back!

    Although I’ve ghosted articles and blogs, I generally go cynical whenever someone proposes I ghostwrite an entire book for them. They always underestimate my fees and wildly overestimate the royalties they can expect – which is how they’re banking on paying me, of course.

  3. Dr. Freelance says

    Thanks for your enthusiastic check-in, Valerie.

    Yes, when you get into the “I’ll pay you through royalties” for a book, you better hope that they’re the next John Grisham, Stephen King, or JK Rowling. Bird in hand vs. who-knows-how-many in the bush.