How to Become a Professional Ghostwriter

Written By Becky Blanton

In 2006 I was homeless, and living in the back of a 1975 Chevy van in a Wal-Mart parking lot in Denver, Colorado. I worked full-time at Camping World, but I made minimum wage, not enough to afford an apartment. By 2009 I was living in Virginia, off the streets, but just barely. With the rent looming, the loss of a job, and no income on the horizon, I turned to what I knew best — writing. As a journalist for 23 years, I knew how to write. The problem was finding somewhere other than the $2 per 500-word article writing mills on the Internet to make a living. I joined Elance and it saved my life. I didn’t get rich, but I did pay all my bills. It took me another five years to figure out that ghostwriting books, not just blogs, would be my fast track to making a living wage while writing. Once I focused on a ghostwriting niche, things started happening. If you’re interested in ghostwriting, I hope these tips help you get started faster!

If you think getting started as a ghostwriter is mostly about becoming a better writer, think again. I struggled financially as long as I did because I didn’t know that (1) good ghostwriting is 75% about being the best businessperson, networker, and personality you can be, and (2) running a good (profitable) business means focusing on a niche, not on trying to be all things to all people. As romantic, exciting and lucrative as ghostwriting often sounds, it’s a business. Like any business, you need to treat it as a business. You can’t really become a great ghostwriter without taking a few days or weeks to lay down a solid business foundation first.

What is ghostwriting?

A “ghostwriter” is a writer who writes books, articles, white papers and speeches that other people take credit for. That means their name, not yours, is on the cover and all the marketing materials. Wherever and whenever the book is promoted their name, not yours, is what’s on the book. They get to show up and make the speeches, do the television interviews and collect the accolades, and you get to do all the work and remain anonymous, except in the circles where clients refer work to you. So why would anyone become a ghostwriter? Lots of reasons.

Why become a ghostwriter?

For one thing, you get to meet, interview and become, to varying degrees, part of your client’s life. You get to rub shoulders with celebrities, have access to athletes (I interviewed more than a dozen members of Tom Landry’s Super Bowl winning Dallas Cowboys), meet world-renowned adventurers (I’m working on the memoir of a famous Nazi treasure hunter now), and you get to work with celebrities (I’ve worked with two members of the 90’s band EnVogue). You can work from anywhere you have a Wi-Fi connection, so you can travel and manage your own work schedule; yes, just like in all those Internet ads about being a writer. I work from the decks of sailboats, at the beach, or in hotel rooms in tourist destinations as well as at campgrounds and from my home office. Oh, and you make really good money once you start building a client list.

How much can I make ghostwriting?

According to media reports, the top ghostwriter in the country William Novak, who wrote the autobiographies of Nancy and Ronald Reagan, Tim Russert, Lee Iacocca, Oliver North and others, gets an average of $5 million per book. The average, beginning ghostwriter, however, makes between $500 and $50,000 a book. What you make will depend on your client’s budget, your writing skills, and the deals you are able to make with clients. Some ghostwriters charge a flat rate; others get a flat or hourly rate and royalties. Finding someone who can negotiate for you on your behalf (for a 10-15% commission) is very important. I work with several publishers who negotiate my fees, and refer clients to me, and I have an agent who handles larger projects.

What skills will I need?

At the top of the list of ghostwriting skills is networking. If you can’t meet and greet and talk to people, no matter how great your writing skills, you won’t do nearly as well as someone who enjoys people and spends time getting to know them. People who hire ghostwriters hire people they like and feel comfortable with, and whom they trust. Being a people person who can get out and talk about what you do without being pushy or boring about it, is a critical skill. The majority of my clients come from word-of-mouth referrals from publishers, and through social media.

You’ll also need to be extremely organized, dependable and able to meet deadlines. Most high paying ghostwriting clients are busy executives who expect you to show up prepared and on time for meetings and conferences. It’s a small world, so bad news about your undependable habits travels fast. Ghostwriting, contrary to popular belief, is more about your social, organizational, marketing and administrative skills and your personality more than it is about your writing ability. You still have to be a good-to-great writer, but to get clients and make money you must first be trustworthy, personable and a good businessperson. There are millions of good paying ghostwriting jobs out there, but you have to be able to deliver the project on time, on or under budget, and to play well and get along with those involved.

How do you get started?

Getting started is time consuming, but relatively easy and inexpensive.

  • Read everything you can about ghostwriting, and then business. Oddly enough, the best way to get started ghostwriting is to read everything you can about ghostwriters and their process. Why? Because everyone has a different style, process and philosophy about ghosting. Take what you like and leave the rest. Create something that works for you. I like Bob Bly’s eBook on ghostwriting. Very helpful and practical tips. It’s the book I refer my colleagues to when they want to get started.
  • Create, or pay an attorney to create a good contract for you to use with clients. It doesn’t have to be a 20-page document. Mine is one page, front and back.

Learn to set boundaries, and to enforce them. When you’re working on a project there is a tendency for the client to “scope creep,” meaning want or expect more work, revisions and writing than you originally agreed to, but without being willing to pay the extra cost of that work. Learn to clearly spell out what they’re getting for their investment, and what will cost extra.

Don’t try to be all things to all people. Focus on ghostwriting. Don’t try to be a graphic artist, and brochure writer, and copywriter, and press release writer. Be a ghostwriter and learn the craft.

  • If you’re already a writer, I also strongly recommend reading Mike Michaolowicz’s book, The Pumpkin Plan. It’s not about writing, but it is about business. My income literally doubled in 30-days after applying his principles to my ghostwriting. Mike and I connected over my volunteering to be on his buzz team after I read the book. The Pumpkin Plan was literally the best investment of my business life.
  • Create a website for your services and make sure it includes your blog. People who hear about you will want to know about you. Post clips or writing samples on your website. List, in detail, your collaboration and writing process. Google “ghostwriting processes” for examples of how different writers proceed. If you have to find a friend and barter services to ghostwrite their eBook, do it. You must have samples of your writing, a simple website with your policies and a bit about your experience. No one takes you seriously without a website.
  • Create and hand out business cards. Make them simple, discreet and professional. I strongly suggest using for the highest quality business card. The more luxurious and professional your card is, the more money you’ll be able to command. Do not scrimp on website design or business cards and collateral (brochures etc.) for your business. If you look cheap people won’t want to pay high dollar for your services.
  • Become an LLC. It costs $100, and you can do it yourself, online. It will protect your assets should a client sue you, and it sends the message you’re serious about what you do.
  • Create and maintain a blog, preferably in the area you want to ghostwrite for. I blog about business and have started an online magazine and blog about entrepreneurs ( The whole point of a blog is so potential clients can read your writing and see if they like your style. Make sure you have your contact information prominently displayed, preferably at the end of every single blog post.


How will I find clients?

Your best clients will come from word of mouth. To get word-of-mouth referrals you have to have completed at least one project you can share. If your client asks for a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) that means you cannot share their book or tell anyone you ghosted it, at least not without their written permission.

To get that first ghostwriting project join UpWork or another large online site that lets you bid on and get paid for your writing. I became one of the top 1,000 providers out of one million providers on Elance before they sold to Odesk. I did it simply by showing up and delivering good work, on time, and asking clients for referrals and testimonials. I took what I learned on Elance when I started my own business.

The bidding and resulting process of landing a client on these sites is great practice for doing the same in your own practice later. They also provide a great safety net for getting paid. A lot of my clients come from LinkedIn and my blog.


2 Critical Caveats from my 30 years of writing, freelancing and ghostwriting experience:

  • Trust your intuition. Never work with anyone you feel hesitant about working with, or whom you don’t trust, or just don’t “click” with. You’ll be spending a lot of time with this person and if your 20-30 minutes initial consultation is stressful, hours of interviews and editing reviews will be a nightmare.
  • Charge by the project, not the hour. Charging by the hour will make your life a living hell, as clients will worry constantly what you’re doing with your day and their money. Figure out how long you think their project will take, add 10-20% for delays, scope creep and changes you weren’t expecting and bill a flat rate.

The best way to learn is to do. Get out there and start doing! Don’t worry about failure. Failure is how we learn.

Becky Blanton is a full-time ghostwriter, and 2009 TED Global speaker. She writes for Fortune 500 companies, celebrities, sports figures, and business speakers. Her ghosted work has appeared in The New York Times, OPEN, The Wall Street Journal and The Jerusalem Press. She has been written about in numerous books as well, including Surge, by Mike Michalowicz, and How to Deliver a TED Talk, by Jeremey Donovan, and others. Her website is:


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