One of the most common phrases any ghostwriter hears is: ‘everyone tells me I should write a book.’ It invariably comes up early on in any discussion about a collaboration and is also frequently voiced when a ghostwriter reveals their career in a social setting.
‘You’re a ghost! How interesting. Everyone tells me I should write a book.’
Most times these people do have pretty interesting stories to tell too. But then again, we all do, in one way or another.
The logical conclusion might therefore be that ghostwriters are awash with work, able to pick and choose ghostwriting projects at will. Well, yes and no. In truth, if a ghost wants to make a decent living, they need to be careful about what they decide to take on. Number one, a ghostwriting gig needs to pay the bills and number two, it has to be a book that the ghostwriter knows they will enjoy writing and will add value to too.
Ghosts are not simply writers for hire. They are entrepreneurs running a ghostwriting firm (even if there is only one employee in that firm) and to find clients requires an investment in time building up a presence and networking with a steady supply of viable prospects. Getting good quality leads that may lead to a successful deal is one of the most challenging aspects of being a ghost, just as it is in any business selling a service. Arguably, it is even harder for ghosts, since they are restricted in how much they can shout about their previous successes. (There are ways to do this. Please see my earlier blog: If a ghostwriter can't say what they’ve written, how do they provide writing samples?).
The first, and most obvious, route to attracting the attention of potential clients is to turn the question that opened this blog on its head. If a ghost knows and admires a contact, thinks they’ve got a great book in them and would like to do it, they should take the initiative and ask:
‘Have you ever thought about writing a book?’
It will spark an interesting conversation, even if the potential author is not in a position to do anything right now. It may also pave the way to opening a dialogue with other people in their network.
Alternatively, if you want high quality, publishable leads, go straight to the top: approach publishers themselves. Publishers all keep lists of ghosts they recommend and often present a number of options to authors needing help, or collaboration, on a book they’ve signed a publishing deal to write. Ghosts going down this route do need an established record as a published author/co author and should be prepared that it can be a bit of a lottery because they won’t get picked every time. A similar idea is to approach author’s agents. A few agents keep a number of ghosts on their books, which they pair with authors who may have a fantastic idea, but need help with writing.
Ghostwriters can also alert authors about their services via an advert. Hat tip to ghostwriter Andrew Crofts, who was one of the first to do this when, at the beginning of his career, he began taking out a regular small ad in the industry bible The Bookseller. These days a number of ghosts advertise online via services such as Google AdWords. Please note: once again, there is little value in a would-be ghost advertising themself as a writer for hire if they have had no experience and nothing to show potential clients. Experience is really important in ghosting because authors need to feel comfortable that their co writer is bringing considerable expertise to the party.
If you have a niche, say as an expert in social media, or business, or tech, exploit it to the full. Network with likely clients in this sphere and show off your knowledge about their sector and your excellent writing skills.
A website is essential and it should include some examples of work and perhaps some samples and testimonials from satisfied clients. Ghosts might also give some thought to building up an online presence on social media such as Twitter and LinkedIn, as well as via blog posts. Word of mouth is a powerful tool too, so happy clients should always be asked to make a recommendation to any people they know.
Finally, don’t discount other ghostwriters. We’re a friendly and approachable bunch (as long as we are not on deadline). Ghosts can only ever work with one client at a time, possibly two if they are editing/pitching concurrently. If you get to know fellow writers, they may be happy to pass on leads that they are not able handle at that time. I have certainly won work this way, and successfully passed on good contacts too.
Above all, do great work, be persistent and make yourself as visible as it is possible for a ghost to be.