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Ghostwriting As An Extra Income Stream For Indie Authors

Ghostwriting as an Extra Income Stream for Indie Authors

ghostwriterGhostwriting might be regarded as freelance journalism's fraternal twin, offering indie authors another outlet for their natural facility with words and an extra income stream in return for writing to someone else's prescription rather than following their own creative muse.

In this post, ALLi author members consider one side of the equation: of indie authors providing a ghostwriting service. We'll be revisiting the topic as part of the next Indie Author Fringe conference to discuss the other side: how indie authors can employ ghostwriters to increase their own productivity, thus boosting their income stream in a different way.

As will become clear, ghostwriting can be a win-win scenario whichever side of the deal you are on…

What Ghostwriting Involves

British author and writing coach Roz Morris sums up the role of the ghostwriter as follows:

“Lots of people use ghostwriters – it is far, far, far more widely spread than you'd think. Think of it as akin to hiring an architect. You want a house built to your specifications, but you don't have time to learn how to build it for yourself, or to the required standard. I always say to ghostwriting clients that it's my job to write the book they would write… if they knew how.”

Australian author and journalist Rebecca Lang concurs: “My greatest accolade to date was a high-flying senior executive telling me: ‘if I didn't know better, I would have thought I'd written this myself!'”

The ghostwriter's role is to write the book manuscript to the client's brief. It may also involve defining the brief and undertaking any necessary research.

“Don't imagine that everyone you are ghosting for is someone who can't write,” says British author and journalist John Lynch, who has ghostwritten over 50 books. “They may also be very good writers in their own right, who just can't turn out as many new books in a year as they are able to sell.”

Or they may be aspiring writers hoping to improve their skills through this process.

“Good ghosts may also act as writing coaches”, says British author Chris West, “helping people overcome writer's block, acting as sounding boards for ideas and doing general “project rescue” work.”

How to Get a Ghostwriting Gig

From the US, Richard G Lowe Jr recommends “The Association of Ghostwriters is a good place to start.”

Canadian ghostwriter Boni Wagner-Stafford offers this advice; “There are a number of ways you can find a ghostwriter. Referrals from your personal network, online searches, freelance work sites like Upwork. LinkedIN is a great place to find a ghostwriter. I’ve been discovered and hired from my Twitter account: one of my clients liked my content and “just had a feeling”.

“Personal chemistry is important,” says Roz Morris.

British writer Chris West finds it helpful to be part of “a kind of cooperative” of 13 ghostwriters called United Ghostwriters, who share a website to promote their work.

Sometimes the work will find you. “I was generally approached via freelancer sites such as PeoplePer Hour and Elance” says British author Katharine E Smith, “or else I bid for jobs on these sites. It was something I did when I was starting out as a freelancer, along with editing, proofreading, copywriting, etc.”

John Lynch recommends assembling a portfolio of what you can do as you ghostwriting career builds up.

“You'll need agents,” he says, “and you should be on the books of publishers who publish the kind of book you can write. There are niches for publishers just as there are for authors. With publishers, it's particularly important to aim at the ones who specialise in your kind of work.”

Don't expect to hit the jackpot straight away, though.

“Take what gigs you can and work up,” says John. “Do it well, sell yourself hard, and – with luck, because everyone needs luck – it won't be too long before you're earning a great deal more.”

Bear in mind that just because you are the invisible force behind the work doesn't mean you won't get any marketing value out of it. While your contract may stipulate that your name won't be listed as author, there are other valuable alternatives. Boni Wagner-Stafford suggests being listed as a consultant, advisor or editor, or asking for a testimonial.

Contractual Considerations

As with any writing task of which you are not the outright owner, there are lots of contractual issues to consider,

Roz Morris sums it up: “Briefly, you need to agree who owns what, how the payments will be made, delivery deadlines including deadlines for milestones in the project.”

It is highly likely that your name won't appear even as a co-author on the finished book. It seems fair that, in return for anonymity, you should be better compensated financially.

Financial matters such as whether you will receive a one-off sum for writing the book or a percentage of all future royalties and right sales should be agreed in advance.

“For each ghostwriting job I've done, I've agreed a one-off payment,” says Katharine E Smith. ” The work then belongs to the person who has employed me.”

“Any commercial arrangement involving money should also involve a contract,” advises Rebecca Lang.  “This sets out clear expectations for both parties and usually involves a confidentiality clause i.e. you can't claim/talk about creating the work. Contracts are binding and can be expensive if you break them!”

OVER TO YOU If you have been a ghostwriter and have top tips to share about how to get started, we'd love to hear them – cautionary tales, too!

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This Post Has 3 Comments
  1. first to thanks Debbie for sharing this information with us and make us part of it. yes all the information mentioned in this post is too informative and unique for me and i learned lots from it.

    overall its great opportunity to earn extra………..and thanks again.

  2. Great post, Roz. My situation is a bit different from what’s described, so let me share that and then an observation

    I work with men and women who want to write business books. Sometimes I’m their coach and sometimes my fingers are the ones on the keys, and sometimes both. With one exception, all of my clients have been fine writers, but had never written a book. They hire me because they really don’t have time with their busy schedules to do the writing and they’re already successful enough to pay my fees. They discover that writing a book is different from any writing they may have done before. That said, here are some observations.

    I loved Roz’ architect analogy. In my experience, most of the writing problems my clients have are structural. They can write 1000 words just fine, but the intricacies of defining a through-line, identifying key themes, and deciding what goes in the book and what doesn’t are new to them.

    They are almost always surprised by the number of revisions we go through. This is true even though I warn them before we start the project. They assume they will be different and will crank out a first draft of deathless prose.

    One of the key skills I discovered I needed to develop was getting the information out of my clients’ heads. They usually have tons of tacit knowledge. I studied some knowledge engineering to help with that, but the most powerful learning came from forensic artists.

    You see them all the time in TV shows, sketching a bad actor’s face from eyewitness descriptions. It’s easy to assume that drawing is their key skill, but it’s not. The skill that separates the great ones from the pack is interviewing, helping people bring up important information that hadn’t thought of before, without biasing their testimony.

    What makes this ghostwriting thing fun for me is that I get to work with some incredible people who have deep knowledge of something I’m a complete novice in, and helping them share their knowledge with others.

  3. There’s a link in this post to Roz Morris’s excellent blog post about ghost writing and what she says about testosterone and writing as a man really rings a bell — because I’ve so far ghost written 5 romance novels for two women whose names, should you be a romance reader, you would recognise as among the stars of the romance world. I almost want to laugh out loud when I see reviews saying things like (an actual review for one of “mine”), “I’ve been a fan of X ever since I read XXXXXX and here she is again, reliable as ever, delighting her many fans.” That’s at the heart of it — being able to put your own ego aside and your own voice with it, and enter into the persona of the “author” (which isn’t entirely genuine in any case).

    Why would I want to write romance, you ask? For the money, of course — what else?

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