What Is a Ghostwriter and Should I Be Doing It?

Categories Freelance Writing

What Is a Ghostwriter?

Ghostwriting is a tricky subject in the writing industry. Many people question the ethics of it, and yet more are asking “what is a ghostwriter?” On the question of ethics, there’s no definite answer, you’ll have to make your own mind up on that one. When it comes to what is a ghostwriter though it’s actually quite simple.


A ghostwriter is someone who writes for a client but receives no credit on the published work. As such, they are a ghost, because they’ve written the work but there’s no evidence of them having done so. Although it sounds like a strange practice, ghostwriting is actually very common in the writing industry and there are some writers who earn a living solely through writing pieces that they receive no credit for.


As you might imagine, there are some distinct advantages and disadvantages to ghostwriting, and there are many writers who avoid this practice altogether. For Larry and myself, we’ve both dabbled in ghostwriting, however, there’s definitely a tradeoff between ghostwriting and the regular freelance writing we do and there is a balance to be struck.


So now that we’ve got the what is a ghostwriter question out of the way we thought we would run you through some of the pros and cons of taking these mysterious jobs, whether ghostwriting is right for you, and how to go about winning them!

Why Do People Employ Ghostwriters?

There are many reasons as to why people employ ghostwriters. In our experience, our clients have often had great knowledge of a niche, and a good platform, they’re just lacking the writing skills or time to turn that knowledge into useful information for their audience.


We sometimes assume that just because someone is an expert in their field and a very intelligent person then they automatically must be a good writer, but that’s not the case. Sometimes clients need a little help in turning their experiences into easily digestible content.


Other times the problem is time. If someone has a busy career in a certain field then they might not have time to squeeze in the writing they want to do. To overcome this problem they enlist the help of a ghostwriter, giving them time to focus on the jobs they’re good at and allow you to get paid for the things you’re good at.


Ghostwriting has been around for a very long time in all forms of writing. With the growth of the internet, the opportunities for ghostwriters have risen greatly though.

Advantages of Ghostwriting

Of course, there are some great benefits to ghostwriting. While it might also have some serious disadvantages, there are strong reasons why some writers swear by these jobs.


Here are some of the main advantages to ghostwriting that might convince you it’s the right gig for you.

1. Money

To offset the negative aspects, you’re likely to get more money from ghostwriting jobs than regular freelance writing jobs. Clearly, not getting any credit for your work is less than ideal, so to make up for it, you get more money!


Whatever problems there are in the world, most of them can be solved by money, and in many cases, that’s precisely the case with ghostwriting. One of the nice things about being a freelance writer is the ability to set your own prices, so we won’t tell you what to charge for your ghostwriting services, but we generally look to add 10 – 20% on to the price for ghostwriting work.


Adding 20% to your income is certainly not something to turn your nose up at, but you’ve got to remember that on the flipside you have the pesky no credit problem. At the end of the day, you have the option to be very flexible with your rates and that allows you to decide whether ghostwriting is worthwhile for you or not.

2. Build Connections

Although you won’t have your name at the end of your articles when you ghostwrite, it does give you the opportunity to build some very important connections within your industry. Ghostwriting often involves working very closely with the person you’re ghostwriting for, and this is a chance to really build bridges with someone high up in your industry.


If they’re in a position to pay for your ghostwriting services, then the chances are, they’ve got quite a good idea of how to make things work in your niche. Working closely with these people allows you to learn new things and pick up knowledge that can help you greatly in your career.

Forming connections

Not only will your client have some useful knowledge about your niche, but they’re also likely to know plenty of people in your niche. You might not get credit for your work in the form of your name being at the bottom of your article, but you can get credit another way.


Ghostwriting is an excellent way to get word of mouth recommendations from serious players within your niche. If you do great work for your client, they’re sure to spread the word that if you’re looking for someone to ghostwrite in their niche then you’re the guy. As we said in our article, “How To Become a Writer Without a Degree,” networking is a brilliant way to get new writing jobs. How better to do it than by doing work for some of the movers and shakers in your subject?

3. Recurring Work

Another great benefit of ghostwriting is the fact that they often tend to be long lasting gigs. Because clients who use your ghostwriting services are claiming your work as theirs, it’s much more authentic when they use you to write all of their content. This way, “their” voice stays constant throughout, rather than sounding like it has been written by a number of different authors.


I’m pretty sure that whatever industry you’re in, recurring work and specifically recurring pay are pretty much the Holy Grail! As a freelance writer, where you can never guarantee where the next job is coming from, recurring work is even more important.


If you have some solid recurring work in your arsenal then if you do go through a little lean spell where you’re not picking up too much work then you always have your recurring gig to fall back on. This is one reason why some people love ghostwriting so much, it can bring a little bit more certainty to an uncertain industry.

Disadvantages of Ghostwriting

1. It’s More Difficult to Build Your Brand

Building your brand it an important part of freelance writing. Your portfolio is going to make up a big part of your brand, and unfortunately, articles that you ghostwrite won’t contribute to this. This means that you could potentially write the best article you’ve ever written as a ghostwriter, but you’re not going to get the exposure for it.


If you already have a strong brand as a freelance writer then this isn’t such a problem, but if you’re just starting out in freelance writing it can be an issue. Building your portfolio is a key part of getting freelance writing jobs, and if you’re devoting all your time to ghostwriting then it can be much more difficult to do this.


The word ghost features in ghostwriting for a reason! The problem is, much of your success in this business will be based upon your ability to be highly visible so being a ghost is generally the last thing you want.


Of course, there are plenty of people who make ghostwriting work and earn a great living for it, but there’s definitely a balance to be struck. If you’ve got the time to build in some ghostwriting as well as working on your freelance writing brand then you’ve got the best of both worlds. For many people, this can be a difficult balance to achieve though.

2. It’s Hard to See Other People Take the Credit For Your Work

Remember those kids at school who would practically build a fort around their desk when they were taking an exam just so other kids couldn’t copy their work? Well, the chances are these people really aren’t going to like the idea of ghostwriting!


So, we weren’t all quite that secretive about our precious work, but naturally, everyone wants to receive credit for the work they do. Ghostwriting can be a little bit like doing someone else’s homework and seeing them get an A for your work, and lots of people aren’t comfortable with that.


Of course, when it comes to ghostwriting you get handsomely rewarded, but it can still be a bitter pill to swallow, particularly if your work becomes highly acclaimed.


This is one of those issues where we can’t really advise you on how you might feel. When we’ve done ghostwriting in the past, we’ve always seen it as a simple transaction, we sell the client our writing and they do with it what they want. However, if some of that work had turned into some kind of global phenomenon, then I’m sure we would have been pretty upset that our names weren’t on it.

3. The Question of Morals

Some people question whether it is right to pass someone else’s work off as your own. The reader thinks they’re reading a piece of work by one person when in fact it wasn’t written by them at all.


While the practice of ghostwriting can certainly be seen as misleading, we find there are certain scenarios where it is more acceptable than others.

what is a ghostwriter?
When is ghostwriting morally acceptable?

Say you’re ghostwriting for someone whose niche is rainforest trekking. They’ve been on hundreds of treks around the world, they’ve carried out rainforest conservation research, and they’re a respected name in the niche. They give you strict parameters for the content, and provide you with the research you need to make a great article. All they want is your writing skills. Perhaps they’re not a great writer, or they just don’t have the time, either way, all they really want is your deft touch with the English language.


In this case, we would say that ghostwriting is fairly defensible. Your client has had the idea for the content and put in a lot of the hard work. You are something like an editor of their ideas rather than the sole creator of their content.


On the other hand, if your client simply says I want you to create some content on rainforest trekking then it is a bit more of a grey area. You’re the one coming up with all the ideas, doing the research, writing the content, and editing the work, but the audience is being led to believe it’s the work of the client.


Generally, when it comes to ghostwriting, we would much rather be working with the first scenario than the second. However, personally, I wouldn’t write the second scenario off completely.


Either way, this is a decision that you have to make for yourself!

How To Get Those Ghostwriting Jobs

We’ve covered the what is a ghostwriter part and what some of the advantages and disadvantages of ghostwriting are, but how do you go about getting these jobs?


The answer is – in much the same way as you go about getting regular freelance writing jobs.


In our article “How To Start Freelance Writing With No Experience,” we detailed 7 ways to jump ahead of the competition, and they’re as applicable to ghostwriting as they are other forms of writing.


For the full story on how to get your freelance writing career off to the best possible start check out the article, but for now, we’ll provide you with a quick run through of the points.

1. Work Harder

We’re firm believers that in order to get ahead of the competition you’ve got to work harder than the competition. Talent is a great thing to have but there’s a reason we have the saying “hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.”


The competition is fierce in this industry, so you’ve got to be willing to put in the hard yards. Continuing with the motivational quotes, “nothing worth having was ever achieved without effort” (Theodore Roosevelt).


You may have a limited amount of time to dedicate to freelance writing, but there’s nothing stopping you making the most of every second. Learn to maximize your productivity and get the absolute most out of your time (we’ve got some tips for this!)

This one’s all in your own hands!

2. Choose Your Writing Niche

You’ll notice we’ve mentioned niches a lot in this article already. That’s because the people who are successful in this industry generally have a niche in which they’ve become an expert.


Choosing a niche is going to make your freelance writing journey so much easier, we can’t begin to tell you. Follow the advice in our article, “7 Ways To Choose Your Niches and Start Ahead of the Competition” and start your career off on the right foot.

3. Build a Website

Unfortunately, being a freelance writer isn’t all about the writing. You’re going to have to do a lot of marketing too. We always find that the best way to do this is by building your own website. Not only does this make you look more professional but it also allows you to control how you advertise your work.


Once you’ve got a website up and running you can start to build a great portfolio that’s going to show off your best work. Building a website to showcase your portfolio might take a little bit of time to start off with, but it’s going to be a great money maker for you for years to come.

4. Guest Blogging

At the beginning of your ghostwriting career, you might find it difficult to get well-paid work because you don’t have a portfolio of work to show clients. A great way to get the ball rolling when it comes to building a writing portfolio is by writing guest blogs.


You may not get paid for these pieces of work, but they can get you lots of exposure and look really good in your portfolio. Check out our article, “How to Build a Writing Portfolio in 7 Easy Steps” for some advice on how to find guest posting gigs in your niche.


Of course, we all want to get paid for our work, but when that’s not a possibility, guest posting is a great option. These gigs might not earn you money today, but they will certainly contribute to your success in the future.

5. Keep An Eye On The Jobs Boards

There are always ghostwriting jobs out there, you just have to be alert. While we find jobs boards like Blogging Pro and Freelance Writing aren’t the perfect way to get jobs, they’re certainly worth keeping your eye on.


There are tons of jobs on these boards and they’re completely free, so set up reminders and remember to check back on these sites every once in a while. There are tons of different ways to pick up jobs as a ghostwriter, so make sure you’re using every one to your advantage.

6. Always Keep Pitching

Pitching is how you get jobs, it’s that simple. Like many things in life, pitching is a numbers game. Not every pitch you send is going to land you the job, but if you keep going, eventually you will get the work.


Make sure you’re sending out high-quality pitches, but always remember that volume is important too. Many times when people are struggling to get enough work we ask if they’re sending out enough high-quality pitches, and generally the answer is no.

7. Don’t Give Up

Being a freelance writer is not an easy thing and there are bound to be plenty of ups and downs in your journey. It can be tempting to give it up sometimes but the worst thing you can do is give up just when you’re on the verge of something great.


Make sure you’re evaluating your career in a sensible way, but don’t give up on your dreams too early!

Conclusion

Undoubtedly, ghostwriting is an excellent opportunity for freelance writers to boost their revenues. However, for all the positive aspects of ghostwriting, there are also some serious drawbacks.


When you consider taking on a ghostwriting job you have to take a few factors into consideration. If you find ghostwriting morally acceptable and can handle not getting credit for your work then the equation becomes quite simple. Is the extra pay worth giving up the exposure for?


The major negative to ghostwriting is that you’re not going to get credit for your writing and this means you don’t get the exposure. Building a brand is a big part of freelance writing and if you spend a lot of your time doing ghostwriting work this is going to be much more difficult.


That being said, if you’ve got plenty of recurring ghostwriting work then you don’t have to worry about getting more work! Whichever way you look at it, there are tradeoffs to doing ghostwriting work, and at the end of the day, it’s a decision only you can make for yourself.  

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