Should You Become a Ghostwriter? The Pros and Cons

ghostwriting Apr 15, 2022
Black board with the words 'pros' and 'cons' written in chalk with a comparative illustration.

by Cris Yeager


 

 

 

Depending on who you ask, being a ghostwriter can be either awesome or terrifying. On one hand, it’s an interesting way to make money, providing a steady stream of income by writing fiction or nonfiction books, blog posts and articles, and even social media statuses. On the other hand, it’s a cutthroat business where your services are always in demand and seldom appreciated. But if you’re up to the challenge of becoming a ghostwriter, here are some pros and cons to consider as you decide whether this is the path for you.

 

Who hires ghostwriters?
Ghostwriting is profitable and many people don’t realize who actually hires ghostwriters. Although many people assume that ghostwriters are hired by celebrities to write their memoirs or fiction books for them, that isn’t always true. In fact, you may be surprised to learn that many clients are regular business owners looking to improve their image by having professional content written.  

For example, many businesses hire ghostwriters to produce press releases about new products or services they offer. Other companies hire ghostwriters to produce internal communications such as newsletters and employee handbooks. There are even some companies that hire ghostwriters to provide creative writing workshops for employees on topics like public speaking skills and time management techniques. It’s important to know your target market when trying to break into any industry but especially one like ghostwriting where you have so much competition in every niche imaginable.

How do I get started as a ghostwriter?
To become a ghostwriter, first, figure out what you want to specialize in. This could mean narrowing down your niche to work with certain types of clients or writing specific types of content (business documents versus web content, for example). Once you’ve got an idea of where you want to start, you can find editors/publishers by reaching out directly or by networking within your industry. The publishing industry tends to be tight-knit so it shouldn’t be too hard to find people who know how publishing works from both sides — editors looking for new talent, as well as freelance writers looking for their next gig. Just keep in mind that finding clients takes time — don’t expect to make money right away.

Learn to capture someone else's voice by knowing everything you can about them. Get to know your client inside and out: their goals, their personality, their interests, etc. Figure out what makes them tick so that when you’re writing for them, it sounds like they’re talking directly to their audience. This will help ensure that your work is as authentic as possible — something every publisher wants from a ghostwriter! Also keep in mind that while some clients will have already written down what they want from you (for example, an outline or detailed notes), others may not be quite so prepared. Make sure you ask questions and they ask questions before starting any project with a new client to ensure both of you are on the same page with expectations and deadlines.

Reasons to ghostwrite
While becoming a ghostwriter can be lucrative, it’s not all about money. Many ghostwriters become experts in a specific field. If you have extensive knowledge of your chosen subject matter, writing for other people can be fun! For example, if you love horror movies but don’t have time to write them yourself, there might be others looking for someone with your skill set to help them finish their script. In fact, some writers see ghostwriting as an opportunity to further hone their craft while helping other aspiring writers get published.

The bottom line is if you're looking to make money, writing for yourself doesn't always bring fast results and it's quicker to get paid for writing for someone else. 

Pros of ghostwriting
There are many benefits to ghostwriting:

  • You have unlimited opportunities to make money. If you’re willing to take on short-term projects for low pay, then you can do that. If you’re interested in making more of a long-term investment in your career, then there are also opportunities to specialize over time. That means that over time you may be able to increase your rates while maintaining consistent work. Some have even said they’ve achieved name recognition after several years of hard work; meaning it will be easier (and therefore more profitable) for them to publish books under their own name instead of another person's name. 
  • There is no typical day when you're ghostwriting. There is always something new happening, whether it's traveling to an interview or doing research or writing a draft or rewriting an entire chapter. Unless you specialize in a certain subject matter, the topic is always different as well.
  • If you’re pursuing it as a hobby or side gig, then ghostwriting can also be low-stress compared to many other jobs. You don’t have to come in early, stay late or attend unscheduled meetings. When you do work, you choose when and how long. It's a form of freedom. While there are deadlines that need to be met, they are typically far less stringent than what is required of employees at most companies.


Cons of ghostwriting
Drawbacks of ghostwriting? Let's explore those: 

  • Ghostwriters are often paid on an hourly basis, which can be both positive and negative. On one hand, it’s nice to get paid for your time. On the other hand, you have to put in a lot of hours to make decent money. Instead of setting your rates to hourly pay, consider instead setting rates per project. Also, some clients will try to take advantage of you by asking you to work for less than what they agreed upon or ask that you do work outside of what was initially agreed upon. In this case, always be prepared to draw up a contract! It’s important to find good clients who will pay well and respect your time as much as they respect their own.
  • Being a ghostwriter can be hard on your ego. Many ghostwriters get asked to take on tasks that aren’t exactly difficult but are outside of their expertise or comfort zone. This can be great for learning new skills, but it can also be challenging to learn how to say no when you’re starting out. Learning how to establish boundaries is an important skill in any business, but especially so in ghostwriting. Make sure you have clear boundaries with clients from day one and be sure that they are respected.
  • Ghostwriters often get pretty much no credit for their work. This can be a draw or drawback depending on your personality. No matter how good you are at writing, clients are the author. Period. Be prepared to accept that.


Make the move and get started
It can be very challenging to break into ghostwriting. Because there is a limited amount of work available in any niche, competition is stiff. However, there are ways to get your foot in the door and start learning how it all works. As you progress in your career, you'll learn better how to write proposals, pitch yourself as an expert in certain topics, manage projects from beginning to end and deal with difficult clients who may not pay or provide necessary information or feedback.

If you're serious about breaking into ghostwriting, being organized and staying on top of things is essential. Keep a task list with all ongoing projects, deadlines and deliverables. This will allow you to stay focused on what really matters while keeping an eye on any looming deadlines that may cause issues later down the line.

Make sure to become familiar with all of these topics, especially pitching. You must have as much relevant experience in your field before you start looking for work. Many ghostwriters have years of relevant experience or even degrees in their subject area. Proposals are also essential because they'll be a huge part of your initial pitch to potential clients. You must do research on how to structure proposals and what goes into writing them so it doesn't look like everyone else's. As you build your portfolio, another key factor in getting hired is testimonials from previous clients. If someone has given you high praise for past work, make sure to put it in your proposal and use it when contacting future potential clients!

BONUS TIP: Start a blog so potential clients can review your writing. Start out by posting at least one high-quality, unique post per week, ideally on days when you don't have any client work due. This will allow you to build an audience of interested readers who might turn into future clients or give you testimonials later down the line. You'll also be able to build up a small portfolio of content that shows off your skills as a writer! Remember, it's all about building relationships with potential clients and showing them why they should hire you over anyone else.

If you know ghostwriting is for you, then get started!