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Can you Disappear? The Six Essential Attributes of Successful Ghostwriting
by Kelly James-Enger

As a fulltime freelancer, I’ve written articles for magazines, newspapers, and websites. I’ve written newsletters, advertisements, brochures, and website copy for businesses, corporations, and nonprofits. And I’ve written books. In fact, the majority of income today comes from books—but they’re not necessarily my own.

Why? Because in addition to writing my own books, I ghostwrite and coauthor others. If you’re a book author who wants to make more money, or if you want to add a lucrative specialty to your freelance career, why not consider ghostwriting? Ghostwriters make $10,000 and up (typically between $15,000 and $35,000) to ghostwrite books for a variety of clients, from book publishers to subject matter experts to everyday people who simply want to get “their” books into print. 

But not everyone can ghostwrite successfully. Strong writing skills are essential. In addition, you must possess the following: 

  • Ability to work without recognition. It’s gratifying to see your byline, and even more gratifying to hold a book with your name on it in your hands. When you ghostwrite, however, you work behind the scenes, and may receive no recognition for months of work. You also have to write the book the client hires you to write—which is not your book, after all. Not every author can do this.
  • Negotiating skills—and a thick skin. You’re ghostwriting a book for a client, and he wants to use an approach you don’t think makes sense. As a ghost, you have to be able to state your position, listen to your client’s opinion, and reach a compromise that will work for both of you. And if your client insists, guess who has the final say? A clue: it’s not you.

  • Organizational skills. Writing a book, or even a long article, requires you to organize your own research. If you’re working as a ghost, you typically have much more information to manage. That means you must be able to keep tabs on everything from interview transcripts with your client and other sources, written notes and other material from your client, research you conduct on your own, and other material—not to mention determining whether and where information belongs.

  • Creativity. In some cases, your ghostwriting client may have a solid idea of how to approach his book project from the first to final chapter. Usually, though, he’ll need you to help devise a structure and approach for the book. This is where your creative skills come into play. If you’re ghostwriting a memoir, for example, you’ll need to determine a narrative arc for the book, determine which anecdotes drive the narrative forward (and which should be cut), and work with your client to have a theme or message that will resonate with readers.

  • Listening skills. To ghostwrite, you must be able to capture your client’s unique voice. That means listening to the way the person talks and writing in that fashion. Does your client use short, choppy sentences, or long, complicated ones? Does he pepper his speech with certain phrases, sayings, or “favorite” words? When you write, you want to be writing not in your own voice, but in your client’s.

  • Experience as an author. Yes, you can ghostwrite someone else’s book without having written your own. But you’re more likely to get work if you have already successfully authored at least one book—and have some knowledge of the publishing industry. At the minimum, you should know the difference between traditional publishing, print-on-demand (“POD”) publishing, and self-publishing, and the pros and cons of each. The more you know about the publishing industry, the more valuable you are to future clients.

Not every writer can ghostwrite—and not every writer wants to. But if you enjoy collaborating and working closely with another person—plus the unique satisfaction of helping someone else achieve his dream of becoming a published author—why not consider adding it to your writing repertoire?

© Copyright 2010, Kelly James-Enger

Kelly James-Enger has authored more than a dozen books, including Writer for Hire: 101 Secrets to Freelance Success (Writers Digest, 2012) and Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks: The Writers Guide to Making Money Ghostwriting and Coauthoring Books (CreateSpace, 2010). Check out her blog, Dollars and Deadlines, for practical advice about how you can make more money in less time as a nonfiction freelance writer.

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