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What Is A Ghostwriter?A ghostwriter is a person that lets another person take credit for authorship of their work in exchange for money. 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.
In the digital economy, ghostwriting has found a home in the form of ghost blogging. I’ve written extensive long-form blog posts on marketing, entrepreneurship, and even on relationships for a few of the top names in the digital marketing industry. Let me answer the other two common questions to help you contemplate if ghostwriting is for you.
Do Ghostwriters Get Credit (In Any Form)?As a ghostwriter, you enter into a contractual confidentiality agreement with the person commissioning the work to remain anonymous. Hence, you get zero credits. Occasionally though, the person might indirectly mention you as an assistant. And in some cases, they might give you a testimonial. Here’s my personal experience of requesting a testimonial after providing my ghostwriting services to a big shot client for about six months. As you can see, you’ll often have to settle for client referrals rather than a testimonial. Further, remember you also relinquish the copyright of your creative work to the person that has commissioned it. That means they can update, modify, and re-publish your work in whatever way they like. Many of my ghostwritten articles are ranking for competitive phrases on page one, but I can’t use them in my portfolio. So remember that once your ghostwriting fee is sanctioned, you’re out. You can’t kiss and tell.
How Much Do Ghostwriters Make?If you’re looking for specific numbers, then expect to get paid 10-15 cents/word for ghost blogging in the mid-term (at an intermediate level of expertise). And if you plan to continue offering ghostwriting services, then you can expect to get paid more handsomely for your expertise. For instance, Codeless is an agency consisting of expert long-form writers that (majorly) ghostwrite in an array of industries including B2B, SaaS, and Ecommerce. Here are the pricing packages they offer to clients. Not too shabby, eh? Owing to being a well-paid job, I organically gravitated towards providing ghostwriting services at the beginning of my freelance writing career. I only needed a single client to make a healthy monthly income. Want another example of a rather pro freelancer? Scroll down to the bottom of the website of His Highness Aaron Orendorff. He has had a fantastic career with bylines at most reputable publications you can think of, yet he offers ghostwriting services.
Can we conclude that this shit pays well? Still, when starting out, you might want a more direct answer to the question: “How much should I charge for ghostwriting?” As a general guideline, you can consider raising your ghostwriting rates by 10% to 25% from your usual freelance rates. But, but, but… I don’t think we’re done looking at other objections that are deal-breakers for writers and leads to them going against ghostwriting. Let’s address them.
3 Apprehensions About Ghostwriting That Cause Dilemma To WritersIt’s not all rainbows and puppies just because ghostwriting happens to pay well. Writers are often stuck with a few recurring issues with ghostwriting around the pay, ethics, and no direct long-term benefit. Let’s address all three of them.
1. “Ghostwriting Rates Are Super Low…”Many digital marketing companies offer SEO and link building services in packages like the one below. Essentially, these companies sell links from such guest posts. For them, the quality of the writing is secondary. They only use a ‘content level’ that’s dependent on the word count alone. Here is a review of one such guest posting service provider. As such businesses play the game of “scaling content”, they don’t require high-quality content. Hence, they turn to offering low-pay to ghostwriters. Here’s the pay that was offered by the above guest posting provider to me about five months ago. When I complained that the pay was painfully low, I was told that they are “testing” if they can have writers at their low-pay. To make matters worse, they seem to have succeeded in their endeavor. Five months later, I find out that they have halved the rates they offered me and made a public job posting.
My, my! My recommendation is to run away from such jobs altogether that care about “links” over content quality. It’s an unsustainable business practice that won’t survive in the long run.
2. How Is Ghostwriting Legal?Now, I know you might feel like ghostwriting is wrong and feels like betraying the audience. Your readers will think that your client wrote the article first-hand and essentially fooling them. (Ah! I know the feeling first-hand). First off, the word you want to go for is unethical; not illegal. Now, there’s a huge spectrum of ghostwriting: Depending on whether the idea is put up by the author (and the ghostwriter only helps in articulating them to the ideas) and writing is wholly outsourced to a ghostwriter. As a reader, I would love to see the top executives, celebrities, and important personalities find out time to put their words on paper. However, I’m now aware that most kinds of writing might have required the support of others. I care about the originality and depth of ideas more than anything else. But the line where ghostwriting turns unethical is completely personal and something you’ll need to ponder over. Do remember that earning trust is priceless in the online economy and you’re better off not violating it.
3. What Is The Long-Term Viability Of Ghostwriting?Offering ghostwriting work might feel like abandoning your portfolio and not building your brand either. Most copywriters and consultants I know hardly get time to work on their platforms. As a ghostwriter, you’ll be on a similar boat. I have personally found the lack of recent samples in my portfolio (due to a lot of ghostwriting) hampering me in getting new clients. Hence, it makes sense to keep building your profile and growing your skill set alongside pursuing ghostwriting work. Think of someone like Aaron Orendorff. He’s an expert copywriter and content guy that ghostwrites. Yet, he has built a great personal brand by simultaneously getting published at MANY reputable websites.
Later in the article, I’ll share more specific steps with examples of carrying ghostwriting alongside your regular freelancing work.
How Do You Become A Professional Ghostwriter: 5 Simple StepsNow that you’ve learned the basics and moved past the objections associated with ghostwriting, here is the first step to becoming a professional ghostwriter.
Step #1: Start With Learning How To Write High-Quality ContentHave you never written high-quality content before? Then, you might need to learn copywriting techniques, the psychology behind sticky writing that gets read, storytelling, and getting your SEO game right. If you’re unaware of your current level of writing skills, then answer these three questions:
- Do you know how to write compelling headlines that piques the curiosity of the users?
- Can you come up with interesting article ideas that people are eagerly waiting to read? (Brownie points for coming with unique angles!)
- Can you write compelling content that emotionally engages the reader and persuades the reader because of your strong examples?
In the beginning, though, you won’t have such metrics handy in your dashboard. I recommend you to read the article on SEO Copywriting by Ahrefs that covers a lot of ground on writing content that will rank on Google. However, to hit the ground running, there’s no better way than practicing writing a few articles and putting it in front of people. Which brings me to the next point.
Step #2: Lay A Strong Foundation For Your BrandIn my interview with Harsh Agrawal below, I mention that you can begin your writing journey by merely putting up a portfolio page at Contently (here is mine). Later on, though, you’ll need to build a full-fledged website. You can set up a blog on WordPress (one of the best content management systems in the world). And write your first few articles on the blog to practice writing. These first few articles should be on subjects that are pressing hot-button issues for your target audience. Jenna Scaglione, the managing editor at Foundr, goes to the extent of saying that she doesn’t like to see writing samples at Forbes and Inc in a pitch. The reason is that they have been extensively edited. Instead, Jenna wants to hear “your unique voice and story”, which could mean the unfiltered pieces on your own blog. Besides building your own website with a few articles, also ensure to have a decent looking social media that talks about what you do. Here’s my Twitter. The cover photo and my profile title establishes that I help businesses with content and copy.
Step #3: Build A Portfolio Of High-Quality Writing Samples (And Write This Kind Of Posts…)Before I landed my first ghostwriting gig through the Problogger job board, I had a decent amount of articles published under my name. I was on my way to specialize in long-form content creation in the digital marketing niche. And my first major ghostwriting client wanted the same kind of content. It’s not essential to directly begin with choosing a niche (like finance, marketing, entrepreneurship, and the like). Both the aspects (specializing in a niche and working as a generalist across industries) can get you great results. However, it’s crucial to build a strong portfolio. So even if you’re starting out, don’t jump into ghostwriting services directly. Once you have your site and a few articles up, you can start with sending emails to editors at reputed publications. Get a few guest posts up on websites that your prospective clients frequent. Your first ghostwriting client might end up coming to you through one such guest post. Another post type that you can leverage is conducting a roundup article of a few of the favorite influencers in your industry. Ask mid-tier influencers (that will respond and can likely hire you) for advice and compile all of it into a high-quality piece. When I first wrote a roundup article for my first writing client, I didn’t think of it as a lead generation medium. However, I got four enquiries on my writing services only when I mentioned these influencers and later mailed them that I featured them. Priyanka Desai (founder of content marketing agency iScribbler) does the same. She writes for a decent number of reputable publications and solicits advice from SaaS company executives (whom she would love to work with). Ryan Robinson did something similar, cold emailing a startup founder to get a quote in one of his blog posts. The relationship grew from there and ended up making Ryan over $50,000 from freelance projects.
Note that if you feature a prospective client in such a manner, then they may not hire you for ghostwriting. Instead, they might get you onboard for a full-fledged content marketing/copywriting gig. Essentially you’re adding value to an influencer, and you don’t know how the relationship will pan out!
Step #4: Pitch Your Ghostwriting ServicesOnce you have a few articles up under your name on your blog and guest posts at reputable websites, then you can actively start looking for clients. There are a couple of ways to do the same.
- Cold Pitching Your Services – Sending emails to prospective businesses enquiring if they need ghostwriting services. You can even mention the other services you offer alongside it (strategy, direct copy, content marketing, or anything else).
- Reply To Postings At Industry Job Boards – In such cases, the business is explicitly mentioning the requirement of a ghostwriter. I found most of my leads at the Problogger Job Board. Especially, at the beginning, it can serve as a decent way to get your business running with gigs at about 10 cents/word.
Step #5: Ask For Referrals From Existing Clients And Keep NetworkingWhen a high-profile ghostwriting client gave me referrals for my services, I didn’t pursue them relentlessly because I wanted to take a break from freelancing. Later on, when I back came to writing, I had to market myself (by guest posting) and create fresh writing samples. Don’t make the same mistake. If you do a LOT of ghostwriting, then you won’t have time to work on your platform and improve your profile. Hence, if your client changes their strategy/fires you (both have happened with me), then you’ll keep haggling with new clients. In the process, you’ll undercharge just to make a decent monthly income. Would you like to know a better strategy? It’s to allocate a certain amount of time towards marketing yourself while simultaneously pitching guest posts. Preferably, have a consistent stream of work being published under your name – could be a client site or your own blog. See, once you’ve got skin in the game, it’s all about remaining at “the top of the heads” of your prospects. If you build genuine relationships and keep adding value (without any expectations), then in all likeliness these prospective clients will turn to you when they want to hire someone. For instance, I had mentioned a content marketing influencer (that I genuinely admire) in one of my guest posts at a high-profile publication. I didn’t even send them an email, but they shared the article on their social media nonetheless. And now, they remember my name since I have mentioned them in my articles an ample number of times. Later on, I cold pitched my writing services to them, but the budget they had at hand didn’t make sense for their current project. I genuinely liked their work and kept mentioning the influencer in my other articles as well. Here’s the crisp email I sent him.
After a few months of email exchanges, a video call, and social media love, the influencer reached out to me. He was on a month’s deadline and wanted me to do a long-form piece at a juicy $1000 (wouldn’t you like to get such well-paid gigs?) I took up the ghostwriting project, and the influencer liked my work. Pro Tip: Start an email newsletter to build relationships with your readers (that might turn into your clients one day). It’s a great way to remain in the vicinity of your prospects and keep adding value with your content. Copywriter, Elise Dopson, sends a fortnightly newsletter with content marketing resources. She also shares her own latest articles in it. You can start with your newsletter for free (until 2000 subscribers) at MailChimp.
High-Paying Ghostwriting Jobs Are Waiting For You, But Are You Willing To Take Them?Ghostwriting might seem unethical because your readers are unaware of the real writer. And it also needs a compromise on building your personal brand as your clients reap the long-term business results of your work. However, in essence, it’s a great way to make money as a writer. I have offered ghostwriting services and found that it works well. Currently, I prefer to have work published under my name exclusively. Remember though, that there’s always a middle way in which you can build your brand and continue publishing under your name. Simultaneously, you can offer ghostwriting services and charge premium rates. Ultimately, it’s up to you. Have you ever ghostwritten for clients? Else, do you plan to offer ghostwriting services in the future? Let me know in the comments below.
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