How to Rock the Ghostwriting Process

Last week — while in the midst of ghostwriting an ebook, and having just landed another, regular blog ghostwriting gig — I posted about my writerly motivations, and about how I slowly warmed up to ghostwriting as a viable career option.

Now, as a major deadline approaches (the first draft of this ebook is due on Friday), I thought I’d take a break (I’m such a procrastinator) and share how you can rock the ghostwriting process.

1. Familiarize yourself with the client. Your client may be a particular person or an entire company. Either way, it’s your responsibility to do your homework and research what your client’s biz is all about, and how they’ve communicated to their target audience in the past. Pay close attention to their mission, their goals, and their voice. You’re going to need to deliver copy in that very same voice, nailing every nuance and turn of phrase.

2. Ask lots of questions. Before signing on to the project, ask the client about those things you weren’t able to glean from your initial research… and ask them to confirm the things you already discovered. Some good questions to ask:

  • What are you hoping to accomplish with this particular project?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • Should the voice match the voice in your other marketing materials?
  • Do you have examples of content you’d like me to emulate?
  • Tell me about your motivations… for the company, for the project, and for your service or product.

3. Make sure you’re on the same page. After agreeing on a flat fee for my most recent ebook project, I drew up a proposed TOC and worked with the client to get it to a place we were both happy with. Doing this not only earned me the first small chunk of my fee, but it ensured that I would have a previously-agreed-upon road map for a project that might otherwise have been overwhelming. Agreeing upon an outline with your clients is always a good idea.

4. Break up the project into eensy-weensy, bite-sized pieces. When my client first told me when he wanted a first draft of the ebook, I threw up in my mouth a little. Luckily, I was able to use our agreed-upon TOC as a guide for drawing up a weekly writing schedule. And this schedule wasn’t just for me. At the end of each week, I’ve sent my client the most recently completed sections of the ebook. This has made it easier for him, because he can make editing notes as we go along, rather than devouring the entire book all at once. And this has made it easier for me, as I can be reassured that he’s happy with my work, and I can easily change direction if necessary.

I also made sure that our contract included time spent on various rounds of edits. Because there’s nothing I hate more than scope creep (aside from a late paycheck).

5. Do a small sample before moving forward. It could also be a smart move to do a small sample before actually going forward with the project in the first place, stipulating that you will be paid for the work you do. That way, if the client suddenly decides you might not be the right fit for them, they’re only out a little bit of money, and you’re only out a little bit of time.

6. Remain in constant contact. When you’re working on a large-scale project, it can be disquieting to not have any feedback at all on what you’re doing. That’s why I like to be in constant email contact regarding edits, sidebar suggestions, interview plans, and more. Quasi-regular phone calls to talk about the project are also helpful… and extra-motivating.

7. Use tracked changes. It makes the editing process less headache-inducing, and more efficient. I will even go so far as to say that I heart tracked changes.

8. Gleefully send out your invoice. Hopefully, you’ll have agreed upon a payment schedule that allows you to invoice at various benchmarks throughout the project. That way, you won’t have to go for an extended period of time without a paycheck, subsisting on ramen noodles and that half-empty bag of frozen shrimp that’s been in your freezer for the past three months.

9. Roll around in your hard-earned money. Okay. So rolling around on top of a single check may be less fulfilling than rolling around in a pile of cash, but it amounts to the same thing.

10. Buy a pretty dress. Or buy some groceries. Or pay some bills. Or invest the money back into your business. Go on. You’ve earned it.

Of course, all of these tips could apply to most any freelance project you work on… not just ghostwriting projects. But I’ve found that the first few tips become even more important when you’ve signed on to become the voice of someone else. As a ghostwriter, you are representing your client in a very big way. You are becoming your client. Because of that, their satisfaction is your number one goal.

Pretty dresses can be number two.

Related: Do You Write for the Bucks or the Byline? How I Started Ghostwriting

Do You Write for the Bucks or the Byline? How I Started Ghostwriting

There was a time when seeing my name in the newspaper, or in a glossy magazine, was enough to make me squee.

I hated assignments that didn’t offer author credit, and generally avoided them. What’s in it for me? I thought, not even considering the possibility that a paycheck could be enough.

In fact, when I first began writing about sex and my editor brought up pen names, I shrugged off his suggestion. I wanted the credit, no matter how kinky the content.

(Which is why my Playgirl debut was particularly thrilling. They ran a cartoonified head shot of me next to my article… and directly below a drawing of what appeared to be an orgy. My mom made copies and handed them out to friends.)

So how did I end up ghostwriting ebooks and blog posts?

I’ve been working on a big ghostwriting project for the past month and, since I started, some people have asked me for advice on how to get into ghostwriting. The truth of the matter is that I didn’t seek out ghostwriting opportunities, and never even considered it an option for me. I mean, I was absolutely traumatized when I found out that Carolyn Keene was actually a collective of ghostwriters (Nancy Drew, you broke my heart). And I thought that getting the credit for something you didn’t write was totally cheating, and that the ghostwriter was only an accessory to the crime.

But since I started ghostwriting, I’ve come to two realizations:

1. I may have the writing talent but, sometimes, someone else has the fabulous idea and the background knowledge and experience. Putting the two of us together? Writing gold.

2. This ghostwriting stuff pays way better than the other stuff I’ve been doing.

I don’t know if I’ll seek out more work like this. This client came to me because he liked my style and wanted to work together. But if you’d like to take a more proactive approach to ghostwriting, there are some fabulous posts out there that can help you, like:

Stay tuned for a post on how to rock the ghostwriting process. But in the meantime… do you make money as a ghostwriter? If not, would it break your heart to give up your byline?

Related: Having Trouble Defining Your Specialty? How To Determine What Makes You an Original, How To Avoid Homelessness and Starvation When the Checks Aren’t Regular, Pinpointing Dream Job #328