“I am a great believer in luck. The harder I work, the more of it I seem to have.” — Coleman Cox
I lucked into ghostwriting, but I wouldn’t have been able to remain a ghostwriter were it not for hard work.
A month before I started my own writing and editing business, a freelancing friend called to offer me a ghostwriting job that had been likewise offered to her by another friend. In other words, I was the friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend. The client was local, and I was looking for precisely that kind of work. After what seemed like both an eternity and a flash, I attended my first client’s book release party less than a year later.
He’s still a client. Even better, he gladly referred me to other professionals in his line of work who were looking to write books but just didn’t have the time to do so. That led to two more book-length projects. And because of the sheer amount of information that these professionals can produce, there remains the high likelihood of future work with these same clients.
I don’t share that to toot my own horn (I’m a ghostwriter—I can’t even admit I own a horn). Rather, I tell my story to say this: some luck may be involved in your transition to ghostwriting, but that luck will only take you a few steps. The long and challenging work that ghostwriting requires is what will take you much further and may even keep you writing for the rest of your professional life.
To break into ghostwriting, consider these five tips:
Define your best client.
I learned this from Paul Jarvis’s CreativeClass.io, an online class for freelancers. Instead of selling yourself as a ghostwriter for any takers, decide who your perfect client is. Narrow your field to a niche that either interests you or in which you have ample knowledge. You’ll be living with your clients’ words in your head for months at a time, so it’s helpful to be engaged in the content you’re creating—especially when you’re starting out. When you’re considering the kinds of people you’d like to write for, take into consideration how much content they could produce (with your help) and their ability to pay for such content. For instance, I often work with pastors whom I don’t charge a market rate. But if you’re able to obtain a ghostwriting gig for a local real estate millionaire, charge the going rate.
Pitch yourself with confidence.
Writers are some of the most insecure yet arrogant people on the planet. We’ll rail against our own writing one day then call it the best thing the world will ever read the next. When presenting yourself to a possible client, be confident in your writing ability.
Provide links to clips you have online. This is an excellent reason why you should contribute to websites that are not your own. Having your writing on popular or well-known websites will legitimize you as a writer to a stranger. If you really want to zero in on a specific target market, research those sites and write guest posts before ever pitching a client. (Remember, this is work, and it takes work to get work.) However, if all you have is your own personal blog as evidence of your writing skills, send them your best three articles—and don’t go by what you feel is your best, go by what’s been read the most.
Also, don’t mention that this would be your first ghostwriting gig. If you’ve proven yourself as a writer and have confidence in your ability to help your client craft an entire book, the client doesn’t need to know this is your first rodeo.
Share with your connections that you’re seeking ghostwriting work.
So much of the work a freelance ghostwriter receives is from word-of-mouth advertising. Let all of your connections—your family, friends, neighbors, and social media followers—know that you’re seeking ghostwriting work. Be very specific about what you’re seeking: “I’m stepping into ghostwriting and would love the opportunity to work with corporate executives who want to tell the origin stories of their companies.” That’s very specific, but at the very least it shares two valuable pieces of information: you’re a ghostwriter who wants to work with corporate executives.
Be remindful but not annoying.
Pitching yourself for (oftentimes expensive) writing work is difficult by itself, but it’s compounded by the bane of every writer: the waiting game. When you cold-call or cold-email a possible ghostwriting client, you may not hear back from them for days, weeks, or ever. If you don’t hear anything back within two weeks, try pitching one more time. If you still hear nothing, mark that lead as not interested.
If you receive a middling reply like, “I’d love to talk about this, but I just don’t have the time,” gently push back with, “That’s exactly why we should talk about your book idea. I imagine you’ve likely never had the time, but you’ve always had the inclination. I’m that time. I can help you write your book.”
Always be willing to meet in person if the client is local or conduct a phone call or video conference if the client isn’t local. Don’t reserve your contact to just email. You’ll be getting inside of this person’s head for the foreseeable future, so each of you needs to get to know each other through more than just email.
Do good work.
Sometimes the obvious needs to be stated. Ghostwriting book-length projects shouldn’t be done as a side job. Ghostwriting books requires an immense investment of time, conversation, thought, and keyboard-pounding. And all the while, you must do good work: in how you interact with your client, in how you push back on their ideas or words when warranted, in how you write on their behalf, and in how you meet your client’s expectations.
Deadlines are important for authors, but they’re extremely important for ghostwriters. If you repeatedly fail to meet your agreed-upon deadlines, that’s not good work, no matter how well you write. You can fudge the deadlines for your own work, but you will likely not receive any referrals or future work if you keep missing your client’s deadlines.
And maybe it should go without saying, but you must know how to write well, how to communicate better, and how to ensure that your client’s voice rings true with every word you type. Because when you do good work, lucky things seem to happen.
Blake Atwood is a ghostwriter, editor, author, and book coach. You can learn more about his services at blakeatwood.com
*This quote is often misattributed to Thomas Jefferson, but according to QuoteInvestigator.com, the “Thomas Jefferson Monticello website states that there is no evidence to support the attribution.” (http://quoteinvestigator.com/2012/07/21/luck-hard-work)
My book Steele Secrets, the first novel in the Steele Secrets series, is available right now for just $0.99. If you enjoy stories with tough but imperfect women as protagonist, can get lost in a historical mystery, or just love ghost stories, this book is for you.
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