How to Become a Ghostwriter: 7 Steps to Building Your Career

So, you want to learn how to become a ghostwriter. Fantastic! Ghostwriting is a timeless way to earn a living as a writer and the demand for ghostwriters is only likely to grow over time.

More and more individuals and businesses are waking up to the benefits that quality written content can bring to their lives and livelihoods.

Professionals who understand the authority and prestige that comes from writing a quality blog or book about their subject matter may also understand that writing is not their forte. They may be more than qualified to share their ideas and knowledge but lack the skillset to effectively do so. A ghostwriter might be their perfect partner.

Similarly, lovers of fiction often crave the identity of being a published author but lack the desire or ability to sit down and craft a quality book. However, in the hands of the right ghostwriter, their idea becomes the basis for a story readers will love.

Think of any type of writing and there is almost certainly a need for ghostwriters to provide it. But before you take the leap and become a ghostwriter, you need to know exactly what it entails. You also need a proven plan to get you where you want to go.

If you’re interested in becoming a ghostwriter, this is the guide for you! Read on to discover everything you need to know and the steps that lead to success.

7 Steps for How to Become a Ghostwriter

how to become a ghostwriter - man with sheet over his head

Thankfully, you don’t have to wear a sheet over your head in order to be a ghostwriter.

Step 1 – Understand what ghostwriting is all about

Before you set out on your journey to becoming a ghostwriter, it’s worth considering whether it’s the right path for you to take. Ghostwriting is just one option among many to make a living writing. So let’s stop and consider exactly what it entails and if it’s the right choice for you.

What is a ghostwriter?

A ghostwriter is someone whose writing is published under someone else’s name.

This differs from writing under a pen name as that typically involves your own choice of project and your unique writing style. When ghostwriting, you will be writing according to someone else’s specifications, their style, and their project direction.

What are the pros and cons of becoming a ghostwriter?

Like any other type of writing, ghostwriting isn’t all good and all bad. It has pros and cons that depend upon what you enjoy as a writer and the type of work you want to do.

Of course, it’s a matter of perspective, but typically the pros of ghostwriting are:

  • No need to come up with ideas for a writing project.
  • High rates of pay for top-tier ghostwriting opportunities.
  • The prestige of getting paid to write by a credible authority in their field.
  • The ability to help a book find its way into the world that wouldn’t have existed without your skillset.
  • The chance to write a book that you never would have been able to based on your own experience and interests.

Many people consider the cons of becoming a ghostwriter to include:

  • The need to stifle your voice and adopt the voice of the person you are writing for.
  • The lack of freedom to write about the subject matter that you most care about.
  • The difficulties of working with clients and not seeing eye to eye.
  • The lack of recognition you will get for the work if it succeeds.
  • The perception among some people that ghostwriters are mercenaries.

Of course, the pros and cons of ghostwriting could easily be inverted, depending upon your take!

But before you go any further, make sure ghostwriting is something you’re comfortable with.

How much do ghostwriters make?

Like all forms of ghostwriting, the amount ghostwriters make depends entirely upon their skill set, experience, and ability to find and connect with clients.

On top of that, ghostwriters may choose to charge by the time they spend, the number of words they write, or a flat fee for a given project. As a ghostwriter, you might receive an upfront payment and a payment on completion, or even a percentage of future revenue or profit depending upon the deal you negotiate.

As a ballpark guide, consider the following rough figures for earnings as a ghostwriter:

  • Ghostwriting by the word. Ghostwriters may charge a per-word rate of between $0.10 and $5 depending on their experience, skill, and level of expertise in their subject matter. Usually, clients and ghostwriters will agree on a minimum and maximum word count for project and budget control.
  • Ghostwriting by the hour. Some clients are more comfortable with an hourly rate, with a cap on the number of hours. Ghostwriters tend to charge between $20 and $300 an hour, depending on the scope of the project and the financial status of the client. Ghostwriting an article for a small blog would typically justify the lower side of the hourly scale while writing for a top business executive or celebrity would justify the top end.
  • Ghostwriting by the project. Charging a flat fee for the project is often the simplest way for the ghostwriter and client alike. However, it requires very clear expectations on communication, deadlines, and exactly what work is required including revisions and edits, or one or both sides can be left disappointed. Typical flat rates for ghostwriting projects could be $100 to $300 for an article or $5,000 to $100,000+ for an entire book.

There’s no hard and fast rule for what you will make as a ghostwriter. Instead, get a feel for the market rate for your area of writing and level of experience. Then do everything in your power to get a good reputation and testimonials that lead to charging higher prices.

How hard is it to become a ghostwriter?

Becoming a ghostwriter is harder than other forms of writing. Why? You still need to do everything that would be required to write under your name, such as working on your craft, completing projects, and marketing yourself.

However, you are also reliant on finding, working with, and satisfying the expectations of a client. That adds a level of difficulty that doesn’t exist for non-ghostwriters.

Do you need a degree to be a ghostwriter?

No, you do not need a degree to be a ghostwriter. The exception would be highly-specialized fields like medicine or law. In those cases, a degree may well be required to give you the level of knowledge needed to write credibly. However, for most subject matters, a high level of interest and experience will probably be sufficient even if you don’t have a degree.

Is ghostwriting legal?

This is not legal advice and the author of this article is not a lawyer! However, from a layman’s perspective, ghostwriting is typically legal. Don’t misrepresent yourself or write fraudulently. Don’t write as someone else if you don’t have permission. Keep your subject matter and the way you conduct your business as a ghostwriter above board and you shouldn’t run into any issues.

You now have a solid idea of what ghostwriting consists of. If you like the sound of it, move on to the second step.

Step 2 – Sharpen your writing skillset

Your success as a ghostwriter is largely dependent on your skills as a writer. Of course, your marketability and ability to connect with clients are also crucial. But without solid writing skills, nothing else matters.

So how can you become a better writer, in general, to succeed as a ghostwriter specifically?

Ways to become a better fiction writer

If you want to become a better fiction writer, you should focus on:

  • Reading widely in the genres you wish to write in.
  • Consistently sitting down to write intentionally according to a schedule.
  • Taking courses as well as gaining practical experience through writing exercises.
  • Surrounding yourself with other eager writers who will spur you on to success.
  • Cutting out activities that do not further your writing career.

Becoming a skilled fiction writer is a marathon, not a sprint, so the sooner you start consciously bettering yourself, the sooner you can charge others for your ghostwriting services.

Ways to become a better nonfiction writer

If you want to improve as a nonfiction writer, you should focus on:

  • Sharpening your ability to write informatively and concisely.
  • Specializing in certain areas of nonfiction – such as memoirs or motivational books.
  • Staying abreast of the type of nonfiction that is in demand and the style it is written in.

It’s very easy to get rusty as a writer without consistent practice. No matter what type of writer you are, never rest on your laurels. Keep growing as a writer and your ghostwriting clout will grow accordingly.

Step 3 – Make a plan to progress as a ghostwriter

Ghostwriting is a career. It’s not something that can be approached haphazardly. If you want to succeed, you need to treat it like a business or a personal career and plan your progress ahead of time.

So how exactly do you do that?

How do I start ghostwriting?

Often, getting started as a ghostwriter is the hardest part. It’s like a snowball effect. Once you gain momentum, that momentum will naturally lead to growth and progress. To start ghostwriting, it’s all about landing the first project you will excel at. Getting a solid testimonial or initial body of work is essential to landing further clients.

So where should you look?

Where can I find ghostwriting work?

There are many places to find your initial ghostwriting work and future clients alike. These include:

  1. Marketplaces such as Upwork featuring ghostwriting projects
  2. Specialist ghostwriting companies that recruit writers
  3. Through your network
  4. By reaching out to companies or individuals directly
  5. Social media posts where people specifically request ghostwriters

Ultimately, it’s all about keeping an ear to the ground and seeking out opportunities you would be a great fit for. Once you have initial ghostwriting success under your belt, bigger and better projects are likely to follow.

Step 4 – Overdeliver on your earliest projects

Landing that all-important first project is only the start. Succeeding at it is vital if you want to make a living as a ghostwriter.

This is especially true if you’re working on a platform such as Upwork. An initial bad review can be very difficult to come back from.

So how do you aim to ensure your earliest ghostwriting projects are a resounding success?

Clear communication

Clear communication is crucial, especially when it comes to ghostwriting. After all, you’re being trusted with someone else’s idea and to write in their voice. They need to feel in the loop.

Don’t assume the way you communicate with one client will work for another. Agree on frequency and methods of communication at the start and review as you go. Some clients will want regular updates while others would rather be left alone. Don’t assume which will be the case. Get a crystal clear, written agreement.

Set and meet deadlines

Don’t make the mistake of setting unrealistic deadlines to please a client. Any client worth having will understand that quality work takes time. By the same token, work as efficiently and fast as you can without sacrificing quality. If you need a small extension, most clients will be amenable as long as you communicate clearly. It’s worth getting a feel for how flexible a given client it before agreeing to work with them.

Get feedback and testimonials

When you begin ghostwriting, it’s almost worth charging less to get a glowing review or testimonial. This is a trade-off. In the long run, those testimonials will be worth their weight in gold to help you land better and more lucrative clients. Don’t rip yourself off but don’t underestimate the importance of getting a good review.

Step 5 – Leverage your momentum and market your ghostwriting services

After you’ve got some good initial projects under your belt, it’s time to take the next step. You want to leverage your earlier success and market yourself to bigger and better clients.

Here are three ways you can promote yourself as a ghostwriter.

Personal website

Having a personal website lends an air of credibility that isn’t otherwise possible. Invest in a domain name and an attractive website. It doesn’t need to be elaborate. If you’re unsure of what a good personal ghostwriting website looks like, take a look at other ghostwriters and make notes on what you do and don’t like about their websites.

Social media presence

Social media is by no means a prerequisite to succeeding as a ghostwriter. But for many ghostwriters, it’s a cheap and effective way to promote their services and connect with potential clients. One benefit of using social media is it doesn’t just show what you do. It also offers a taste of who you are.

Ghostwriting marketplaces

These were covered in an earlier section, but in case you skipped it, consider setting up a profile on platforms such as Upwork or specialist ghostwriting companies.

Now that you’ve got a solid portfolio under your belt and some ways of showcasing it, what comes next?

Step 6 – Aim for audacious ghostwriting projects and payments

Often, the success you experience as a ghostwriter is limited only by the extent of your ambition.

While you’re statistically unlikely to land the highest-paying projects, you only need to be successful once to enter that tier of ghostwriters. If you don’t seek them out, they will never fall into your lap. You need to proactively aim big while also working on the projects that pay the bills.

Here are some tips to help you chase your dream ghostwriting projects.

Work on your mindset and limiting beliefs

As writers, we’re often our own worst enemy. You need to believe you’re truly worthy of the best projects to stand a shot at landing them.

You should project confidence in your ability to succeed. Clients are not going to pay you top-tier rates if you seem unsure of yourself. Believe in yourself first so that others can believe in you.

Seek examples of success

The people we surround ourselves with have a direct impact on our ambition and what we believe to be possible. Try and network with successful ghostwriters. Follow them on social media and read interviews by them. This will give you both belief and proven paths to follow.

Realize there’s no failure, only feedback

Guess what? Unless you’re really lucky, you’re not going to land the first big ghostwriting projects you aim for. That’s a good thing. The very process of trying to land a big ghostwriting client is valuable. You’ll receive feedback on how you can present yourself and your services more effectively. You’ll also learn that failure isn’t the end of the world.

Step 7 – Consider your long-term vision

Ghostwriting is full of ups and downs. There’s nothing like the joy of getting paid to write about something you love without any of the pressure of having your name attached to the work. There are also few things as frustrating as working with an unclear client who is a nightmare to work with.

Basically, you’ll have good and bad times alike. So rather than being reactive to how you’re feeling at the time, it’s important to have a plan to follow. This will keep you on track when things get tough.

Set 1, 3, and 5 year targets

It’s important to have a vision for your short and long-term success. How much more do you want to be earning? How many projects will you need to complete to get you there? How will you market yourself and differentiate your services from your competitors? Don’t leave these things to chance.

Do you want to go it alone?

You might reach a point where you would like to team up with other ghostwriters or service providers. This might be as informal as having a ghostwriting partner you share tips and motivation with, or as formal as setting up a company to offer a full range of services like cover design and book marketing.

Consider whether you want to go solo in the long run or whether teaming up with others would be a better fit.

What does your dream writing life look like

Ultimately, ghostwriting might form the entirety of your writing work, or it might be just a piece of the wider puzzle.

As you progress as a ghostwriter, you’ll get a feel for if this is something you want to dedicate all your working time to, or whether you want to leave enough space to work on your personal projects. A lot of writers choose to ghostwrite for money while working on their passion projects on the side. There’s no one path. You need to find the right balance for your situation as a writer.

You now know how to become a ghostwriter and how to seek long-term success. We wish you the very best no matter where your ghostwriting journey ends up taking you!