Some fun, some struggles, all good
I’ve written millions of words for other people to use. It’s fun and can be pretty lucrative. It isn’t the same as creating work for myself, but ghostwriting has been good to me.
I created this list of ghostwriting lessons from my own experience. Perhaps there’s something you can use for yourself from these. Just keep in mind that YMMV. (your mileage may vary)
Ghostwriting has been an exciting journey. I’ve met tons of wonderful people; earnest, hardworking, good human beings who couldn’t write their way out of a wet paper bag. Our paths intersected, and whether that time was long or short that we walked together, it was awesome.
On the other hand, I’ve also met some horrible people who didn’t pay, who used the internet as an excuse to make the lives of other people miserable or who were jerks to work for.
I’ve learned some things along the way, and perhaps some of what I’ve learned will help you too if you want to be a ghostwriter.
1. Check your ego at the door. The person you’re writing for is going to own your work when the project is over. They’re going to use your work to drive traffic to their website, market a book on Amazon, or even make their website into an authority site ranking high in the SERPS.
They’re paying you for your expertise and writing ability. That’s the extent of their commitment to you. You’re going to provide them with your best work and then you’re going home. You’re working for cash in hand, not public recognition. If you want to be a writer under your own name, write something for yourself.
2. You have the right to an opinion. You don’t have the right to express that opinion. As a ghostwriter, your job is to write the project the client wants you to write, in the way they want you to write that project. If you’re a diabetic and your client wants 25 articles detailing the delights of baking with lard and refined sugar, that’s what you write. If you’re from Albany and your client wants you to write a magazine piece about upstate living in Yonkers, that’s what you write.
If your opinion differs from theirs, keep your opinion to yourself.
3. NDA’s are your best friend. A non-disclosure agreement protects you and your client. They don’t want to tell anyone you wrote their book for them. Keep your part of the NDA agreement to protect your rights and the privacy of your life. You don’t want to be sued over talking about a book you wrote for someone else. Sometimes, depending on how the work was received, you don’t want anyone else knowing it was your work in the first place.
4. Deadlines are as sacred in ghostwriting as promises are in real life. Don’t break a promise. Don’t miss a deadline. Deadlines make creative urgency a part of your life. Creative urgency is where you positively, absolutely must have something finished by a certain time. This gives wings to your writing. It’s hard to believe how fast you can work when your deadline is approaching. If you miss a deadline, the client may forgive you, but they are not going to forget.
5. Celebrate when you finish a project. Finishing means you get paid. It’s important to celebrate when you’ve accomplished something. But the time to do that is when the assignment is over. Ghostwriting is a business transaction.
This is work for hire and you’re going to be paid for completing it. Your client now has something they can sell, use on their website, or even use to create a print book. Your work product is no longer yours. The transaction is finished when both parties fulfill their obligations. Your part was to write and submit the writing; their part is to accept it, ask for edits and pay you.
Accomplishment deserves recognition; just don’t celebrate before the job is finished.
6. Communication counts. The amount of times you need to communicate with your client is directly proportional to the scope of the work you’re doing. If you’re writing an article, you really only need a couple of interactions.
If you’re writing a book, set up a schedule for regular communications between you and your client. You don’t need hand-holding and neither does your client. But you both need to feel comfortable with the progress, snags, and changes. Create a schedule you both feel comfortable with.
7. Keep one in the hopper; don’t keep 15 in the hopper. You do need another job for when you’re done with your current project. You don’t need the pressure of having 15 projects waiting for you.
It seems like it should be that the more projects you have waiting, the more solid will be your income. Each of those projects waiting is an obligation. And the more you have waiting for you, the less focused you are on your current project.
Every ghostwriter eventually finds their balance. That balance depends on how complex the projects are. If you’ve taken on a job of writing ten 1,000 word articles on swimming pools, those ten are in your To-Do pile. If you then add an additional project of a whitepaper on marketing technology, your capacity for planning ahead is now almost non-existent.
Don’t rush the writing you’ve got today and don’t rush your search for your next project. Give each their measure of attention.
Ghostwriting has been an adventure I have thoroughly enjoyed. These lessons I’ve learned from experience. I hope they’ll prove useful for you too.