How To Become A Well-Paid Ghostwriter: Beginner-Friendly Guide

Updated on

Table of Contents

Ghostwriting is a bit of an enigmatic writing profession. While there are many ghostwriters out there, it is often challenging to figure out how to start.

After all, ghostwriters are anonymous, so following them on social media or finding their websites is challenging. Below, we’ll look at how to get started, including a detailed, step-by-step guide. 

Ghostwriting Definition

Ghostwriting is writing on behalf of another person without receiving public credit for the work produced. It’s a collaboration where a ghostwriter channels the thoughts and voice of their client to make it appear as if the client themselves wrote the content.

Ghostwriting is a common practice in book writing, blog writing, email writing, speeches, and web copies. It has been around way before the Internet.

What is a Ghostwriter?

A ghostwriter is hired to produce content that is credited to another person. Typically, they sign a contract with their client that requires them to keep their part confidential and get paid (hopefully) a handsome sum for the same.

Celebrities, top executives, politicians, musicians, and even writers have been using ghostwriters for centuries. Have you ever heard of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart? He was hired to ghostwrite music for wealthy patrons.

How To Get High-Paying Ghostwriting Jobs: Ultimate Guide

Why Should You Become a Ghostwriter?

If you don’t get public credit for your work, why would anyone ever want to become a ghostwriter? 

The most enticing reason is the possibility of a substantial and dependable income. Often, ghostwriters are paid extra because they stay anonymous. Furthermore, some clients may even need ghostwriters to continue writing content for an extended period, which can lead to a steady income. 

You can also get the opportunity to apprentice under a professional writer. Sometimes, ghostwriting clients are writers themselves (with more work than they can handle). If you land a gig with experienced freelance writers, you can perfect your craft while making money.

Do Ghostwriters Get Credit?

No, they don’t.

This means that you cannot share the ghostwritten work anywhere in your writing portfolio unless your client gives you permission to do so. You can’t kiss and tell.

What you can do instead is ask for a testimonial or referral. Here’s Chintan’s personal experience of requesting a testimonial after providing his ghostwriting services to a big-shot client for about six months:

How To Get High-Paying Ghostwriting Jobs: Ultimate Guide

How Much Do Ghostwriters Make?

The main pull of ghostwriting is money. Therefore, it’s important to understand how much you can expect to make. Of course, the income of a ghostwriter will vary based on many factors, including the type of writing and your experience. Those that narrow down very far (such as only writing in the medical field) tend to charge more. 

It’s important to note that nonfiction vs. fiction writing prices don’t tend to vary that much. 

For instance, Byron Laursen (a successful ghostwriter) charges $85,000 to $125,000 for full-length novels. He charges $65,000 to $125,000 for a miscellaneous non-fiction book. The pricing isn’t that different. 

As another example, Gotham Ghostwriters is a ghostwriting agency. They have many writers working for them. According to their website, they charge $30,000 to $60,000 for a “basic” book, which includes a memoir or business book. They charge anywhere from $150,000 to $300,000 for an “elite” book, usually written by a bestselling author. 

Therefore, you can make a lot of money off of one book. However, these prices include all services, including interview times, full editing, and proofing.

So Who Shouldn’t Pursue Ghostwriting?

While ghostwriting can be alluring, it isn’t all butterflies and roses. 

Ghostwriters — as I mentioned — never receive credit for their work, which can be problematic if you become deeply attached to your project. Ghostwriters operate in the background, their contributions are hidden, and the satisfaction comes from creating compelling writing while sacrificing personal recognition.

You’ll also have to adapt your tone and style to your client. Every person has their own voice. But you aren’t writing using your voice when you’re a ghostwriter. Some people are much better at adjusting their writing style than others.

Ghostwriting is also an ethical gray area. While it’s widely accepted in many fields, there are pockets of controversy, particularly in academic circles, where it can be perceived as plagiarism. 

Furthermore, some individuals have personal issues with ghostwriting, even if it is technically accepted in many niches. If you’re one of these people, you probably shouldn’t ghostwrite.

It’s essential to note that ghostwriting is completely legal. Often, well-constructed contracts and agreements are in place (which we’ll discuss more below). 

Okay, with all the basic questions out of the way, here’s a step-by-step guide on building your ghostwriting business.

How to Start Ghostwriting

If you’re still interested in ghostwriting, it’s time to start! In many cases, you just have to take the first step. 

Step 1: Freelance and Specialize in a Writing Niche

Before you dive into ghostwriting, you need to make a name for yourself while doing other sorts of writing. (After all, you won’t be able to use ghostwritten work in your portfolio.) Therefore, you should start by taking other freelance writing jobs where your name will be credited. 

Specialization is very helpful during this step. By focusing on a specific niche, you can position yourself as an expert in that field, making attracting clients seeking writers with subject matter knowledge easier.

Your first step should be to identify your niche. Then, seek out work in the niche you’re interested in. Articles, blog posts, and other content pieces all count. If you want to specialize in something that isn’t a common niche outside of ghostwriting (like memoirs), consider writing a few “dummy” pieces for your portfolio. 

As you do ghostwriting work, continue adding to your portfolio (if allowed by your contract). Some ghostwriters do not name any specific books they’ve worked on, while others, like Jeffery Mangus, do. 

Step 2: Build Relationships

You can do this while building your portfolio in step one. Relationships are everything in the world of ghostwriting. Strong connections with clients and industry professionals will likely land you your first job. 

If you’ve been freelancing in your chosen niche, your existing clients can be a valuable source of referrals. Happy clients are often willing to recommend your services to others or may have colleagues needing a skilled ghostwriter. I’ve personally landed several jobs just from recommendations through old clients. 

You can also join forums, groups, and other communities to meet potential clients. Sharing your expertise in these areas helps establish you as an authority. 

Step 3: Formalize Your Ghostwriting Service Details

To succeed as a ghostwriter, you must set clear expectations and formalize the details of your services. Otherwise, you won’t know what your services include – and your clients won’t either. Of course, you must also figure out how much to charge per project. 

There are many ways to establish your writing. However, in most cases, ghostwriters charge by project or word. It may depend on the exact service you’re providing. Blog writing (which requires less editing and research) often works well as a per-word service, while larger projects like books don’t. 

It’s important to be very transparent upfront. Set specific payment details, such as when and how you’ll get paid. Otherwise, clients may be able to prolong payment or even skip paying altogether. 

The exact payment depends on your experience and what you’re writing. For instance, Brandy Ellen charges around $20 per blog post. 

However, books are often much more expensive, requiring more research and interviews. Dara Silverman charges around $20,000 for a full-length fiction book or memoir.

Step 4: Get a Ghostwriting Contract in Place

If you want to succeed, you must establish a contract. This is a clear and legally binding agreement between you and your clients. A well-crafted ghostwriting contract protects both parties’ interests, defines project parameters, and ensures that expectations are met.

If you’re working with clients on a freelance marketplace, many have built-in contracts you can customize. You should always customize your contract for each client, as they may have different project details and payment terms. Stress the importance of maintaining client confidentiality. Specify that you will not claim authorship, and detail how you will handle sensitive information.

If you’re not confident in your contract-writing abilities (and who is?), I recommend hiring a legal professional. They can review or draft contracts on your behalf to ensure legality and protection for both parties.

Ensure that both you and your client sign the contract before commencing work. Digital signatures are often accepted on freelance platforms, while on outside platforms, a scanned copy or a signed agreement via email can suffice.

Step 5: Advertise Your Ghostwriting Services

Now that you’ve written enough to get a portfolio and have a contract ready, it’s time to start getting your first client. 

Your first step should be to design an informative website. This should include an overview of your services, rates, and a portfolio. Your potential clients should also be able to contact you from your website. 

On your website and in your marketing materials, emphasize your niche expertise. Explain why you’re uniquely qualified to write in that field, showcasing your knowledge and experience. This should be pretty straightforward if you’ve been following along so far. 

Be sure to include your portfolio on your website, including “dummy” samples and any freelance writing content you produced in your niche. 

If you have client testimonials, now is the chance to put them on. If you don’t, just add them when you do. 

You should consider optimizing your website for search engines, though this can take a long time. That said, you can still do some basic keyword research. Many ghostwriters also invest in paid ads, including Bryon Laursen (whom we discussed earlier). 

Step 6: Reply to Ghostwriting Job Ads

To kickstart your ghostwriting career, you should also actively search for job ads for ghostwriters. Often, this is like finding a needle in a haystack. After all, finding a post for your exact niche can be challenging, especially since most job boards have writing jobs of all sorts. 

However, some websites have more ghostwriting jobs than others. For instance, Reedsy is an extremely popular website for ghostwriters. They only accept the best writers, though, so this is a step you’ll need to take after you have a few samples!

You can also try websites like ProBlogger and LinkedIn. However, these are not quite as popular for ghostwriters. 

Anytime you apply for a job, tailor your pitch and response. Include a link to your website, which can make you seem much more professional. Emphasize your experience in their niche and explain how your skills fit what they need. 

Be concise and personable. 

Step 7: Cold Pitch Your Niche Thought Leaders

As another way to get clients, consider cold pitching to the thought leaders in your niche. Start by identifying prolific people in your niche who may benefit from your ghostwriting services. Consider who may want to produce content regularly but doesn’t have the time to do so consistently. 

CEOs and even content directors of businesses are often short on time but can benefit from content to establish themselves as thought leaders. They tend to benefit from having a ghostwriter the most. 

Your pitch should be concise, personalized, and tailored to the potential client’s unique personality. Emphasize your expertise and experience, whatever that may be. Don’t forget to include a link to your website and portfolio.

After sending your initial pitch, follow up if you don’t receive a response within a reasonable timeframe (typically 1-2 weeks). Often, people who meant to respond may forget to do so. By emailing them again, you can potentially rekindle their interest. 

You can also try outreach on LinkedIn, but you do have to have connections in your field. Send personalized connection requests and engage with their content when you have something to add. 

Cold pitching is really a numbers game. You’ll email many people, but you will get very few responses. However, if you keep at it, this method can land you some serious clients. 

Step 8: Keep Doing Other Freelance Writing Jobs

At this point, you should already have a decent freelance career going. There is no reason to throw out all these jobs when you become a ghostwriter. You can do both. Having several income sources increases your income stability, especially since ghostwriting projects tend to come and go. 

Plus, you’ll keep developing skills and building your portfolio. You may also develop some relationships that can help you break into freelance writing. Ultimately, this can be exactly what you need to land higher-paying jobs. 

Ready to Become a Successful Ghostwriter?

Yes, some ghostwriters charge six figures for a single book. However, it takes a while to reach this amount of income. It will feel like you’re just spinning your wheels for the first little bit. As you develop your relationships and work on a portfolio, you won’t be doing any ghostwriting. 

Still, these steps are vital to becoming a successful ghostwriter. Without this solid foundation, success can be much more challenging to achieve.

It’s really just about putting one foot in front of the other and doing the work in those first few ghostwriting gigs.