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  • Writer's pictureAmanda Clemmer

Ghostwriting for Authors

Self-publishing costs more money than it earns, at least when you start out. That’s why so many writers get discouraged when they try to pump out books at a dizzying pace and realize that they aren’t even breaking even with those initial sales.

If you find yourself budget-challenged but are still determined to make your money writing fiction, by hook or by crook, there are options. One of the best of these for getting a quick start is to land a few ghostwriting gigs to build up your initial budget.

Ghostwriting is when someone else pays you to write. Your clients might have an idea planned out, or they might be completely receptive to what you want to do. You’ll arrange a contract, and you can get paid while writing while the other person handles the publishing and promotions of the book.

However, ghostwriting can also be restrictive compared to self-publishing, and you might find yourself burnt out instead of gratified at the end of a long project. Here are a few pros and cons to keep in mind if you’re interested in taking this step for your career.

Pros of Ghostwriting

1. You get paid upfront, usually as soon as you turn in your work. You don’t have to worry about how well the writing does when it gets to market, because your job will be done and you’ll be free to work on something else.

2. You don’t need a big name, a mailing list, or an author site to get started. You can add those on—especially if this is a full career you’re considering—but if you’re reading this article, you’re already good to go for a lot of standard ghostwriting gigs. All you’ll likely need to submit is a sample of your work.

3. You have a built-in team. If you don’t like working alone or have a hard time deciding on a schedule or routine for yourself, you might enjoy having clients who already have deadlines and a sense of direction. Ghostwriting offers much more stability in routine than self-publishing, and being able to talk over your writing with someone else can give you a solid boost and a better sense of direction.

4. You can hone your skills. Since your name won’t be attached in any way to your writing after it is completed, ghostwriting can give you a good platform to practice writing in various genres and explore techniques you might have been hesitant about otherwise. It can be a great learning experience, especially if you’re new, and later on you can use your skills and practice to grow your own self-publishing empire.

Cons of Ghostwriting

1. You don’t have a lot of freedom or flexibility with ghostwriting. Vacations are hard to come by unless you schedule them well in advance, and you’ll find that often, “work comes first.” You’re also limited as to the type of writing that you find yourself doing. If you’re lucky, you can land a client who wants the same kind of story you feel like writing. More often, however, you’ll have to put your own writing ambitions on the side to pick up paying gigs.

2. Everything depends on your rating. That doesn’t sound like a big deal at first—after all, publishing to the Kindle Store comes with a similar caveat—but it does mean that you have to be at your clients’ beck and call at all hours of the day. You will need to revise completed projects, change course halfway into a job, or write material that you find less than flattering. If you don’t, you’ll get a low rating and have trouble landing future gigs. This can lead to a simple, straightforward project suddenly consuming all of your spare time and energy over a longer period than you had assumed.

3. Ghostwriting can come between you and the stories you love. You don’t get to choose your own projects, but you still have to pour your creative energy into whatever you decide to undertake. This can easily mean putting aside your own projects so that you can focus on work. Otherwise, you’ll have to take a break from commissioned jobs while you write and understand that you won’t have a reliable source of income in the meantime.

4. Ghostwriting is impossible to scale. If you’re starting out, you might be impressed at how much you can earn from ghostwriting, but eventually, it falls flat. What you earn is dependent on how much work you put into your gigs, and ten years from now you’ll have to work just as hard to earn the same amount. Self-publishing, however, can offer constant growth. If you have more fans, you can earn more money from the same amount of work, meaning that you can work a consistent schedule and still earn more from year to year.

Finding Ghostwriting Opportunities

Experienced ghostwriters operate through independent sites, relying on word of mouth and returning clients for work. If you’re just getting started and want to build up your ghostwriting portfolio before going solo, there are several ways to go about it.

Freelancer sites such as Upwork are constantly hiring ghostwriters for various tasks. The jobs might pay by the word or by the hour, and you will likely have to apply to several before you land your first. In this case, review your potential clients before you submit a query or application. Some might have a reputation for not following through with projects, demanding disproportionate work, or any other idiosyncrasies.

Fiverr is also a choice for some writers, but generally not preferred. Because of the low payments and highly competitive market, landing a profitable gig might be hard despite the popularity of the platform.

Is ghostwriting a good career for you? Please share your thoughts in the comments below or join my group of self-publishing fiction writers on Facebook for further discussion.


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