It's considered shameful, and many people ask me how I could do such a thing, but I'm here to admit something out in the open. I'm a ghostwriter. And no, this isn't about the 90s era show about the ghost writing messages to kids so they can solve crimes (for the longest time, that's the only thing I could picture when hearing the term), it's an honest-to-goodness way to pay the bills.
I've been ghostwriting for about a year now, which isn't that long really, but in that amount of time, I have been able to make a solid living doing it. Some people are interested in how they can do it, other's can't even imagine doing what I'm doing, and of course there are the people who don't even know what ghostwriting is.
For me, it's the best way I've found to pay the bills while doing something I love. I make more money ghostwriting fiction than I ever did writing articles or providing content for other sites. If you're interested in writing for a living, don't rule ghostwriting out simply because there's a stigma. I'd choose what I do over going back to work in a boring office any day, and I get paid well for my fiction. It really is a win-win for me.
I write primarily fiction, though I've dabbled in a bit of nonfiction ghostwriting too. I've written romance, science fiction, dystopian, legal thrillers, and a memoir just in the last few months alone. Currently, I'm writing three books and just got contacted by a repeat client to start a fourth in the next few weeks. At any given time, I'm working on three-four books at a time.
Because I spend the bulk of my time ghostwriting these days, I find that people have a lot of questions about what I do. I'm not ashamed of it, so I talk about it frequently, but I thought there's likely others out there with the same types of questions and no one to ask. So on my Facebook page, I asked my followers for questions about ghostwriting, and here are the ones I hear the most often.
1. How does the ghostwriting process work?
It works like any other writing does. I write a book. I send it off and voila! I get paid. Only one thing differentiates this process from working with a publisher, however. Sure, the book will be published, but under someone else's name. I sign a contract giving all my right to the work to the client upon payment. They do whatever they want with it, and I have no claim to the work. I sign non-disclosure agreements so I can never tell another soul that I wrote that book.
Some ask me, “Isn't that plagarism?” Nope. Not if I sign over my rights. I give them permission to use my work.
Some of my clients are anonymous. They know me, but I don't know their author names so I can't easily locate the book out on the marketplace. Others I know who they are as well as their pen names. I am never to disclose their information to anyone, and I sign confidentiality clauses to never tell anyone I wrote their book or that they use a ghostwriter. I stick to that, and would never risk their anonymity in order to brag about something I did. It's the only way to do business in this field.
2. How could someone do that?
If you're asking me how someone could publish someone else's work under their own name, you're asking the wrong person. Ask James Patterson. Or any number of big names who hire a ghostwriter (or as they call them, “co-writers”) to write their books. In some cases, it's writers who are in demand and need to churn out more books than they can handle to stay in the business, so they get some help. For others, perhaps they just want to be known as an author, but can't actually write a book. Sometimes it's people with a story to tell, but who can't find the time or the words to write it themselves. Sometimes these stories are ones that need to be told, and not everyone is a writer. I wouldn't know their reasons because I am a writer, and no, I don't ask.
But if you're asking how I can do something like this, that I can answer. It's pretty easy. I need to make a living. I want to make a living writing and doing something I love. I found a way to do it. Do I feel bad for it? Not at all. Why should I? They're the ones paying me to write, not the other way around. And I'd only feel bad paying someone else to write my books because well, I”m a writer myself. I can write my own damn books. But it just so happens I can also write books for others too. I enjoy what I do, and I get paid for it. That's how I do it.
3. How do you find ghostwriting jobs?
Initially, I fell into it by accident. I was on Elance, needing to get by when my unemployment ran out and applied for a job hoping to survive the month. That turned into ongoing work for me, and I've written 10 books for this client alone in the last few months. I haven't advertised my services, mainly because I haven't had to. I find most of my work on Elance, and I haven't had to work that hard. I submit samples, and I've built up a solid reputation already. Most of my clients are now repeat clients, people I work with regularly who enjoy my work, so I don't actively seek out new clients. Of course, this is different for everyone, and if the need arises, I will advertise my services elsewhere to grow in the field.
4. How do you decide how much to charge?
Since I fell into it, I had no idea how much to charge when I started. I just made up a number based on what the client listed in their ad. Now I have a going rate. It's based on how fast I can write and it comes out to $20 an hour. It's not uncommon to charge $1 per 100 words, which if you don't write fast, may not be worth it. I can easily write 10,000+ words in a few hours, so for me, it all works out. From here, I do expect to make more once I've built up a reputation with a client, but $1 per 100 words is a starting point for many ghosts.
5. What's the most difficult thing about ghostwriting?
Working with a client's expectations. It's always scary when someone gives me an entire outline, character sketches, etc because I know they have expectations. They hear those characters in their own head, and somehow, I have to get that voice down on paper. So far, I haven't had a problem with this, but it's always hard working with existing worlds and characters. I find it's much easier for me to create my own, and oftentimes I get to, but not always.
6. How does ghostwriting differ from writing your own stuff?
I mostly write in a genre I wouldn't write in otherwise. I'm not a romance writer. I write dark fiction and happily-ever-afters aren't the norm in my own work. That's probably the biggest difference of all. I do this on purpose - I personally prefer to keep my own style to myself. I wouldn't ever publish in the romance genre on my own, so it makes it easier for me to hand over the rights. It's still fun for me to write, and I get to explore worlds I wouldn't have explored otherwise, but the style, tone and voice are completely different than anything I write for myself. Another question I get is do I have to purposefully change the voice so no one realizes it's me.... I'm not big enough for that, so no, it hasn't been a problem. And like I said, I write in a genre I don't publish in. Two totally different worlds.
7. How many revisions, on average, do you make when ghostwriting? Does the editor come back multiple times for you to make revisions are is it generally in good shape after a time or two?
I haven't had to work on too many revisions honestly. I believe the clients themselves edit and revise, but for the most part I send it off and I'm free to move on to the next project. However, I do have two new projects that I've been asked to revise. One was not my fault, a similar book came out a week before I finished mine so we changed it to avoid copyright issues. And another was me working with someone else's world, and it's minor changes to get the voices right. So far, that's it.
8. How do you assess a job before accepting? Have you had any a-hole customers?
I've gotten very good about reading their proposal and determining if they're someone I could work with. Many times, if they offer a very low starting price with a promise to raise it in the future, I don't apply. I've discovered that too many of them never hire you back, they're just looking for cheap work and I can afford to be picky. Anyone that comes off as an a-hole, I look the other way. That being said, I have worked with at least one person who isn't someone I'd work with again. I got a bad vibe early on, felt they were too needy and demanding, but I wanted to be professional so I accepted anyway. It went okay, but the pay itself wasn't worth the stress. I try to stick with my ongoing clients as much as possible. They've been good to me so far.
9. How do you get motivated to write something that isn't your own work?
I'm a different type of writer than some. I don't get writer's block. I don't need to be inspired to write. I just write. I treat it like a job. I sit down at a certain time to write, and I write until a certain time. What motivates me is the deadline, the pay and the fact that I'm doing something I love. To me, this isn't a hobby so I don't treat it as such. I treat it as my career, putting in full-time hours (usually more than that) and I always get the job done. No exceptions. Sure, some work is harder than others, but I've learned what I do and don't like, and I've learned to write through the slump. If something isn't working at first, I just keep writing and it always becomes easier. Always.
I think of it like a job. This is still my work, and by doing a good job on it, I will get more work which allows me to continue doing this. I take as much pride in it as I would anything I'd publish under my own name. I don't have to have my name plastered on the cover for it to still be my work.
10. And finally, the biggest question I'm asked... Why don't you just publish the work under your own name and make money that way?
This is the top question I get asked. You see, I do publish work under my own name. I have several publishing credits to my name, some with prestigious anthologies. I've also self-published and plan to self-publish more books in the future. I've built up a decent following too. I'm no Anne Rice yet, but success in this field takes time. I have reasonable expectations and know I won't sell 10,000 books under my name just yet simply because no one knows who I am.
My clients already have a solid reputation so they can afford to pay me more than I make on my own. This allows me the freedom to stay at home, which for an introvert like me is very important. I'm still working on my own writing career, but in the meantime, I need to pay the bills. I balance the two so I'm still working on my own writing career, but also making enough money to stay home. It's not me choosing one or the other, but instead finding a way to work on my writing while still making ends meet.
Ultimately, as with any artistic career, if you want to make this a career, you have to stop thinking of it as a hobby. If you are a hobbyist, there's nothing wrong with that, keep doing what makes you happy. But if you're someone who dreams about being a writer or painter or whatever, you have to find what works for you, and you must start thinking of it as a job. Ghostwriting isn't for everyone. I'm lucky I have the time (no kids, no life, and the ability to spend 12-16 hour days working) and I can type super fast. There are other ways to make money writing, but this one just happens to work for me. And who knows, maybe it can work for some of you as well.
Kristen Duvall is a writer of tales both real and make-believe. A Midwestern girl at heart, she now resides in Southern California with her boyfriend, Great Dane, and a rescued calico kitty she lovingly calls the Kiki Monster. She's a full- time writer with one book out now titled Femmes du Chaos.