So You Want To Be A Ghostwriter?

Writer For Hire Ghostwriter GhostwritingA ghostwriter’s role is often curious. Maybe it’s embedded in the name. I have performed the job for more than ten years and yet I still find myself surprised by what crosses my desk.

Ghostwriting is a stranger prospect to writers than non-writers though. When I try and explain what I do to a non-writer they understand it intuitively. Try and describe to other professional writers and they glaze over with confusion.

Ghostwriters wear a wide variety of professional hats. In order to perform the job well and sell the work effectively, they need to exhibit a number of unique traits.

What are they? I made a list of what I see as the five traits of successful ghostwriters.

EMPATHY

Creative writing requires empathy. Writers must be able to dig deep and feel what their subject feels in order to portray it accurately on the page or screen.

A ghostwriter must also exhibit empathy for their clients. More than likely, their story comes from a personal space. You need to deeply understand what they want on the page.

DIVERSITY

The politics of pain. Gulliver’s Travels. Lady gangsters. Public transportation. JFK.

…and those are just a few of the subjects I’ve written about professionally. End career ghostwriters are afforded the opportunity to focus down on a subject but when you’re still wet behind the ears, you simply have to be able to dig deep into subject matter.

DISCIPLINE

If you’re going to survive as a creative then discipline is crucial. More so for a ghostwriter, a field where work can tend to stagger inconsistently.

I literally think top down. You have got to keep the lights on to do the work. You might make your annual salary over three non-consecutive months. Last year I was paid out significant chunks in April and July and finally in December. Be sure to measure your financial needs twice before cutting off more than you can manage.

FLEXIBILITY

In large part, the beginning ghostwriter works with “outsiders”. These are people who have made their fortunes somewhere other than the creative world.

This isn’t to discredit that. An outsider’s money spends and their stories are often fantastic. Everyone was an outsider at one point.

The point is that an outsider’s expectations aren’t what you’d expect from an established producer or publisher. Be ready to shift your well intended expectations. Don’t get hung up on what is supposed to come first and last. You may be doing these things out of order.

NETWORK

I cannot stress this enough. Network with optimism. I have been offered lucrative and exciting ghostwriting work from a myriad of outlets.

People don’t love to write — you do, that’s why you have a job. Get out and tell people what it is you do. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how a broad, friendly approach will carry you.

Want To Get In Touch With Me About A Ghostwriting Project?

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Erick Mertz is a Portland, Oregon based freelance writer. He works as an assignment ghostwriter for clients in fiction, non-fiction and screenwriting. He lives in Woodstock with his wife, Lisa, his dog Boris and two cats.

Erick MertzSo You Want To Be A Ghostwriter?

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  • Five Things To Consider (When Pricing A Ghostwriting Job) - 07/02/2015 reply

    […] Last week my blog took a candid look at a few critical traits that make successful writers. Check out that blog here. […]

  • How To Lose A Ghostwriting Job (Before You Can Even Get It) - 07/14/2015 reply

    […] Almost more interesting than the books I have written, are the books I’ve almost written. Ghostwriting is a numbers game on all sides of the equation. As a writer for hire, you must cast a net and I mean cast it widely. Some prospects cross your path to get a bid too. They’re playing the numbers game too in the form of a little price shopping before they decide whether to go elsewhere. As I’ve previously written, it all adds up to a curious way to make a living. […]

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