As a writer, you’ve got your system and voice down.
So it might be a challenge to take on another person’s voice and words, lending your craft to someone who can’t write (or maybe it just doesn’t come naturally).
If you’ve taken on this type of writing, you know ghostwriting is unique. And, if you haven’t tried your hand at ghostwriting, but you’d like to hear more — read on.
I’m listening. Break it down for me.
A ghostwriter is one who’s “hired to author literary or journalistic works, speeches or other texts that are officially credited to another person,” according to Wikipedia.
Like any type of freelance writing, ghostwriting comes with its challenges. Example: When you’re on deadline, there’s no time for writer’s block.
But much like freelancing, prep and ironing out logistics are the same.
Here’s what I’ve learned over the years, when someone’s needed to borrow my words.
1. The job might find you – we like it when that happens.
You’re a professional writer, and the opportunity to ghostwrite may fall into your lap. It’s doable; it just requires a minor tweak in voice. When I’m tapped to write something for someone else, it helps to interview them and take notes on how they speak. Say they’re wordy. Shave out some of the extras and edit them into something tighter.
2. Get to know the person you’re writing for.
The whole point of this game is to use their voice (and fool everyone else). This requires you to sit down — at least a couple of times — and get to know your client. Become familiar with how they speak and study their quirks. This becomes especially important if your client has high visibility, namely they’re on TV or speaking on radio. You’ll need to make sure their speaking voice seamlessly translates to paper.
3. Prepare to use words you never would actually use yourself.
This is part of the reality of ghostwriting. Once you take on a client’s project, your style might be your own, but your words likely will change. An example of this: A client I blogged for once used the term “candy coat” to describe something. In this context, I knew he meant “sugarcoat.” But he definitely didn’t use that term. Sadly, candy coat won.
4. Research the topic.
Like any writing project, do your research about what’s been written, how it was conveyed, and when it last was brought up. It doesn’t serve your client well if the piece they would like produced isn’t timely or doesn’t break new ground, in terms of voice or contribution to a discussion.
5. Set realistic expectations from start to finish.
It’s important to stay mindful of the client’s expectations and what you can deliver. If a project doesn’t meet your standard of writing or isn’t doable on a realistic time table, it’s OK to walk. I had to do this once, and it was a tough decision. But after doing some research about my client’s subject matter, I knew there was no way I could take on ghostwriting her book. It was too big for my words.
6. Know your worth.
Your time and words are valuable. Speak frankly with your client about compensation. Maybe you work out a total project fee or an hourly wage. Go with what makes you comfortable. Then, keep an accurate log of work performed, whether it’s research, interviewing, or writing.
7. You’ll never give up the ghost, and you need to be OK with that.
As a ghostwriter, you won’t get credit. It’s the nature of the business. You’re invisible.
Challenge accepted. Now what?
You’ve built your portfolio and got clips to support your writing ability. Now, put yourself out there.
Promote yourself, and network. Join writing communities that might open up exposure to ghostwriting. Talk with others who do it, and learn how they manage this type of writing.
No one knows you’re a ghostwriter until you tell them.
And much like freelancing, once that first gig presents itself, others will follow, especially if you’ve got a knack for this.
Subscribe to Beyond Bylines to get media trends, journalist interviews, blogger profiles, and more sent right to your inbox.
Christine Cube is a senior audience relations manager with PR Newswire and freelance writer. Follow her at @cpcube.