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If you want to increase the number of ghostwriting projects you take on, there are five essential guidelines that I believe you must follow. If you don’t, you will probably see your business fail. Does that sound harsh? Good, it should. Because you owe it to yourself and your clients to do this thing right so that you can keep invisibly typing far into the future.
First, Let’s Define Ghostwriter
Before I give you the five essential tips, it’s important for me to define what I mean by ghostwriter because these tips are not applicable to every kind of uncredited writing you may do.
For the purpose of this post (and likely all the others in the series) I’m not talking about writing an uncredited blog post. Instead, I’m talking about work that you create explicitly for another person to take credit for.
When you write a blog post for a website and don’t get a byline, it could be assumed that the owner of the site wrote the post. Like, if Jenn credited this post to Administrator instead of me, you would likely assume that she wrote it even if that's not her intention. That kind of uncredited writing doesn’t always carry the same responsibilities and burdens as writing a book, post, paper or article that someone else is definitely and clearly going to take credit for.
- Understand, from the very start, that the work is not yours. I don’t care what anyone says, writing is a form of art. Even a simple blog post can have a beautiful turn of phrase or startling insight that comes from hours (even years) of stewing in a writer’s head. In fiction, these are called our “darlings.” When you’re writing for someone else and you deliver amazing work that includes beautiful phrasing, impressive insight, or expert-level knowledge, you must be able to give these things away like tiny little gifts. You must kill them if the client doesn't like them and be able to feel pride when the client is complimented for them.
- Ghostwriting is sorta like Fight Club. Before I changed my focus to ghostwriting, one of the ways I got new clients on Twitter was by talking about specific projects I was working on. For example, if I was writing articles about alternative investments—I’d say so. Now, I say nothing about specific projects unless they are personal or have a byline. There’s no hinting about what you’re doing, no nudge-nudge, wink-wink bragging, just silence.
- Ghostwriters gotta get paid. You would not believe the number of books I’ve started writing for clients and never finished. Not because I wasn’t ready, willing and able—but because the client’s business changed or they didn’t understand how much time it would take and had to put the project “on hold.” Maybe all (or some) of these clients will get back to me. Maybe they won’t. While I hate leaving anything unfinished, I’m not out anything because of the way I structure my payments. Large projects, such as books, require a deposit to secure (and pay for) my time. The deposit represents a certain percentage of project completion (such as the outline and first two chapters). When that part is completed, the work is turned in and another payment is due before I will continue.
- Have a deep, detailed contract. The relationship between a client and a ghostwriter is often a long one. Most clients aren't done with the ghostwriter once the first book is finished and they usually want to use the same writer for all future projects. Having a contract that spells out your confidentiality agreement, the payment and due date terms, the specs for each project, and so on is vital to building the foundation of trust that this intimate, long-term relationship needs.
- Stay away from your clients on social media. When you write for a byline or even as an uncredited blogger, connecting with a client on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter makes sense—especially since you can get a recommendation from them on LinkedIn. But when you’re ghostwriting it’s best to act as if your clients don’t exist. If they decide to friend you, that’s fine—but don’t approach them. I would also suggest that you not share links to a client’s books or projects unless the client has asked you to. It’s doubtful that anyone would know you were the secret writer of the work, and even less likely that they would care, but why take chances?
Obviously, this is a blog post not a comprehensive guide to everything you need to know about ghostwriting. But of all the tips I can give you, these five are what I see as the most important to creating and maintaining a thriving ghostwriting career.