I was sitting in Selfridges, having a cup of tea with its then deputy chairman Allan Leighton, when he casually asked me if I’d ever thought of writing a book. I’d known Allan for a while, thanks to my work as a business journalist at various national newspapers.
I had to admit that no, I had never considered writing a book. Indeed, as I was fond of saying, I believed I must be the only journalist in the world without a book in me.
‘Then why don’t you write my book?’ he said.
Allan had been approached by Random House and had been given an advance to write a book about leadership. He’d been told to pick someone he liked and respected to help him write it and that’s why he came to me. Up until then, I was more used to writing 500 word news stories, not 80,000 word books, but hey, I’ve always liked a challenge. Thus my ghost writing career was born. Since then I’ve gone on to write more than a dozen books.
Looking back, I realise I’ve been incredibly lucky to fall into a career I love. However, it doesn’t make it easy to answer the question I am frequently asked which is; how do I become a ghost writer? Fortunately, I have met many ghosts over the years, so I can share these observations:
- Most ghosts have already established themselves in a career as a writer, often as a journalist or a copywriter.
- Another route is to be an authority in a particular area. Say, for example, you are an expert in food and nutrition; you could promote yourself as a specialist ghost writer for diet and health books.
- A great way to show your credentials as a would-be ghost is to get published under your own name. In the past, this was not the easiest task, but now there are lots of opportunities to self publish your own book, or series of books. For a ghost writer, this can be a powerful calling card.
- Experience is really important. In the beginning you may have to take a few very low paid ghosting jobs, to help build up a portfolio of work. Ask around friends, contacts and business associates to see if anyone has a great story to tell. Alternatively, consider bidding for jobs on sites like guru.com. The money will be terrible, but it will help build up some references for your work as a freelance.
Once you do have some experience under your belt, you need to be proactive in promoting yourself. A website is essential and it should include examples of your work, perhaps some samples and testimonials from satisfied clients. You should also give some thought to building up your online presence with a blog and social media such as Twitter and Facebook. Word of mouth is a powerful tool too, so always ask your clients to recommend you to people they know.
Speaking from experience, ghost writing is a great career choice. I, for one, am glad I had a book or two in me after all.