How to Find Ghostwriting Jobs as a Freelance Writer
So you want to be a ghostwriter? Tapping away at the keyboard in anonymity, collecting checks and paying the mortgage. Nice. But as with all freelance work, there's one big question: how do you find and land ghostwriting jobs?
To answer this, we asked veteran ghostwriter David Congreave for his advice. For his extensive list of secret clients, David has written countless blog posts, ebooks, business books — and even a celebrity memoir. If there's anyone who knows the trick to getting ghost gigs, it's probably David:
"It’s probably the kind of thing I should keep to myself, but I’m a big believer in the modern adage that information wants to be free (unless I’m writing it, in which case you’d better write me a flippin’ cheque).
"Okay, are you ready? This is how you do it…
"First of all, you need to have an older sister who is a natural socialite. Then your sister needs to make friends with a celebrity (they don’t have to be A-list, any celebrity will do) who reveals the fact that he wants to write a memoir and is looking for a writer. Your older sister then refers the celebrity to you, and you are left to hammer out a deal.
"I know, I know. It sounds too simple to work. But in my experience, this strategy is effective 100% of the time.
"But what if your sister works in HR at a pencil company and doesn’t have any celebrity friends? Well, then, I’m afraid you’re going to have to roll up your sleeves and start hustling."
Before we get to David's (serious) tips, let's answer some basic questions.
What is a ghostwriting job?
Broadly speaking, ghostwriting is any writing that's done on behalf of the accredited author. Projects range from writing blog posts and speeches to crafting entire books. In most cases, ghosts are totally uncredited but it has become more common for them to receive a tip of the hat either on the cover (with a co-writer credit) or in the acknowledgements.
How is ghostwriting legal?
This is a common question authors ask but, in our experience, readers don't really mind if a book has been ghostwritten. In certain genres (celebrity memoirs), it's often assumed that someone was brought into draft the book. The key point is that in the vast majority of cases, the credited author is responsible for the ideas in the book — and the ghost is someone whose helps the author express those ideas in their voice.
It is not, in any legal sense, fraudulent to write someone else's book.
How much money does a ghostwriter make?
We could be getting into "how long is a piece of string" territory. What a writer charges for a full book will depend on:
- The length of the book
- The amount of research required
- The writer's track record
- The nature of the client (a memoirist would not be charged the same as a CEO)
In interviews with freelancers on the Reedsy marketplace, we were able to establish that it is not unusual for experienced ghosts to start charging around $32,000 for a full-length book. Though depending on all those factors above, that number could rise to as high as $100,000 in rare cases for bestselling ghosts.
As freelancers, most ghostwriters don't rely exclusively on writing full-length books and will often supplement their income by editing, drafting book proposals, or coaching new authors.
With that out of the way, we asked David for his personal approach to landing ghostwriting jobs as a freelance writer. So who better to learn from?
4 tips for landing ghostwriting jobs
It sometimes feels like most of my work has come from some kind of fluke. But when I dig deeper, I usually find that it’s a result of some simple marketing efforts that I used in the past.
It often only appears coincidental because there tends to be a long gap between my marketing efforts and eventually landing a gig.
A career in this field is something that, in my experience at least, develops gradually.
I don’t consider myself to be a prolific freelance writer, but it’s been eight years since I had a spell without any paying work, so I figure I must be doing some things right.
These are the tips…
1. Don’t rely on freelance sites
Before I break the Reedsy team’s hearts, I should preface this section by saying that Reedsy is the one exception to this rule. I’ll explain why in a moment. But here, in a nutshell, is why it’s very unlikely that you’re going to land a great ghostwriting client from online portals like Upwork or Fiverr: the best jobs are not posted or advertised.
This is something I learned while doing work for an executive recruiter. And it isn’t just true for ghosts — it’s true of most high-profile jobs.
When an employer has a really important role to fill, they don’t advertise it to every person under the sun; they hire a headhunter to poach someone who is already successfully doing the work. They might throw up a few adverts, but they’re not seriously expecting it to yield any results. Because the best candidates aren’t hanging around a jobs board – they’re too busy already doing great work for somebody else. High quality ghostwriting gigs are the same.
Imagine for a moment that you’re an experienced entrepreneur with a string of successful businesses in your wake. You decide you want to hire a ghostwriter to write a book about your experiences. Do you head for the freelance sites?
If a high-profile client posted an opportunity on Upwork and offers $20k to ghost a book, they’re going to get 100+ bids easily. Upwork would have you believe that this is a good thing, but most people don’t have time to trawl through every single reply and try to figure out who has the skills necessary.
Yes, they can put limits on who can bid, or send invites manually — but then comes the problem of hiring the right person based on a random portfolio and a series of testimonials that are all just versions of “Great work! Would hire again! A++++”.
A busy, well-connected entrepreneur doesn’t have time to mess about. This is what they would actually do: email a few of their closest colleagues and ask them for a recommendation.
That’s it. And one of their colleagues would reply with, “I know a great person for this opening. Here are his/her details.” This recommendation comes from someone they trust, so their search is over. It’s a classic shortcut. An affluent person — the kind of individual who is willing and able to pay a decent rate — will find their ghostwriter through their personal network of like-minded connections.
I’m not saying freelance sites are useless. I’m simply saying that very few of the best assignments for ghosts get sorted out publicly. It happens out of sight between people that know people.
Reedsy, of course, is the exception to the rule because they personally vet every single freelancer.
Instead of the chaotic free-for-all that takes place on regular freelance sites, Reedsy is able to provide discerning clients with a small pool of experienced, proven writers. In effect, Reedsy provides the same service as emailing a trusted friend and asking for a recommendation.
It’s a small difference, but it’s crucial.
(At this point, I feel compelled to point out that Reedsy is NOT hiring me to write this. I’m writing this of my own volition and I can categorically state that they have not kidnapped my cat to coerce me to write nice things about them.)
Where were we?
Oh, yes. Freelance sites are fine for the occasional visit, but don’t expect them to provide you with exciting ghostwriting opportunities. Instead, you should…
2. Network in a small pond
Every banal list of marketing tips for freelancers features “networking.” At which point, the average freelance writer dies a little bit inside. Surely one of the perks of being a writer is that you don’t have to spend time with irritating people, like… well… everybody.
Although “real life” networking events do have value (and you should make an effort to attend one at least once a year) you can do most of your networking online these days. But that’s a generic insight that isn’t going to get you closer to landing a gig.
Instead, make a concerted effort to network in a small niche. It could be an area in which you already have expertise, but it doesn’t have to be. Just pick something that looks interesting, and immerse yourself in it. Make sure it’s a field in which lots of people are selling training products. These are all prospective clients.
Go Google-crazy and start reading and following blogs, social media gurus, newsletters, books, and news sites. Learn everything about your niche until no stone is left unturned.
After a few weeks, when you feel like you have enough knowledge to add some original ideas to the mix, start publishing content under your own name. Start with a blog or a Medium.com account, push articles out on LinkedIn, and create 1-2 ebooks that you can either give away through social media or publish on Amazon.
Don’t worry about getting tons of eyeballs on your stuff. The aim is simply to establish yourself as a writer in this niche and create a portfolio of well-written content.
Finally, write to the suppliers in this niche and ask if they could use an experienced writer. These are the people or companies who provide the software, training, or consulting services within this niche.
If you don’t like the idea of begging for work, you don’t have to ask people if they can give you projects: ask if they know anyone who is looking for a ghostwriter. Most people are flattered by this because the implication is that they’re well-connected, and that flattery often makes them more willing to help.
Yes, most of the time, the answer in the short-term is “no”— but then sometimes you get an email a month later with a lead.
This isn’t a quick route to becoming a ghostwriter. Reedsy opportunities and helpful older sisters aside, I’m not sure that one exists. But becoming the “go-to” writer in a small niche is your first step on the ladder.
Because once you’re a known writer in a particular niche, it doesn’t stop there. Some of the contacts you make along the way will be involved in other niches, and before you know it you’ll be side-stepping into new markets.
I started off in the “make money online” niche, but soon moved into Internet Marketing. From there I landed projects in business development, investing, and… erm… dentistry.
That’s right, I’ve ghosted for dentists. I’m living the dream. Although a month of YouTube research on dentistry actually gave me nightmares.
3. Join a mastermind group
If you’re not familiar with them, a “mastermind” is a private club for like-minded people. They hang out in unlisted Facebook groups and swap stories, tips, and opportunities. They’re the kind of place that clients go when they need help finding a ghostwriter, and if you can find your way in, masterminds are a great way to pick up new business.
Private masterminds usually require an invitation, a fee, or both. I joined my first one when a client gave me access as a favour and it provided a very welcome boost to my networking as well as some long-term work.
Look for a group in your chosen niche, which has a strict prohibition about advertising to other members, and has no more than a few hundred members (too many and the group gets too noisy to be useful). You might find a good group by doing some Facebook searches, but the best ones aren’t advertised so you might have to ask around.
Another alternative is to start your own. I’m experimenting with this, but it’s too early to share my results. If you want to know more, I recommend following me on Medium.
4. Introduce potential clients to ghostwriting
Sometimes the best prospective clients don’t even know about the benefits of using a ghostwriter. Which means you need to get them hooked.
I’ve had two projects in the past that required me to contact experts in a particular field and invite them to contribute an article in exchange for a byline and a backlink. (I was fortunate enough to be paid for this work, but you could just replicate the role by starting a blog or a newsletter in your chosen niche.)
In any case, I’ve found that most experts jump at the chance to get some free publicity and are usually happy to agree. However, when it comes to actually getting them to send an article, it’s often a slow process that involves a lot of nagging, pleading, and emotional blackmail.
So I tried another approach. Once an expert agreed to contribute, I offered to write the article for them so they wouldn’t have to spend a lot of time on the project. All they had to do was send me some bullets, or a 5-10 minute audio recording explaining what they wanted the article to say. I’d then write a kick-ass article that they loved and for which were happy to take credit.
I got to feature an expert who got a great ghosted article for free, and I introduced a potential future client to the joys of ghostwriting. Over the years, some of these experts have come back to me with more job offers for ghostwriting ebooks, print books, blogs and newsletters.
Think of this strategy as highly-targeted networking. Your publication gives you an “in” — a reason to contact them. The offer to ghost the article shows that you respect their time and makes it easy for them to agree. The positive experience shows them the benefits of ghostwriting and puts you front of mind when they one day decide they want to write a book or start a blog.
A while back, I interviewed my father about his career in freelance writing. He was paid to produce articles and training material that were published under his own name (which is how you know it was pre-Internet), and he picked up most of his work by writing to training businesses in his field of expertise and asking them if they had work available. Eventually, clients started coming to him with opportunities.
This feeds my conviction that ghostwriting opportunities, like any writing opportunities, don’t often fall into your lap. At least not to begin with. To make the transition from freelance writing to ghostwriting, you need to build your profile in a specific niche, proactively look for work beyond the ones posted online, and work hard at building a network of contacts.
Freelance services such as Reedsy are a fantastic tool, but in the long run you must be prepared to put yourself out there and use marketing strategies that may take months or even years to pay off.
Or just get yourself one of those great, sociable older sisters.
That works too.
David Congreave writes words in exchange for help with his mortgage payments. You can read more of his words on Medium.