Could You Be a Ghostwriter?

| Posted in Writing.

keyboard - blurEvery writer’s goal is to be published. It’s hard to beat the rush of emotion that comes with seeing your name on the cover of a book, or in the byline of an article. It makes all the months of hard work worth it. But what if someone else’s name was on the cover? Would the rush of emotion be the same? Would all the effort be worth it?

The answer, inevitably, is that it depends.

Why do people become ghostwriters?

First of all, let’s define ghostwriting. It’s writing a book (fiction or non-fiction), paper, article, play, screenplay, or blog on behalf of someone else, using their name. In the strictest sense, your name doesn’t appear anywhere on the work at all; occasionally you’ll find an author willing to provide some credit, but this isn’t the norm.

In fact, some ghostwriters prefer not to be credited. There are several reasons why they prefer not to be credited. For example:

  • They could be intensely private and shun publicity of any kind.
  • They could be embarrassed by or completely disagree with the subject matter.

Now, let’s look at motivation.

There are two primary motivating factors when it comes to ghostwriting: love and money.


Ghostwriting usually provides a steadier income than writing for yourself. You could get regular clients that need work on a fairly regular basis, especially if you land a gig writing for someone’s blog. If you specialise in a particular subject (renewable energy for instance), then you could end up with a stable of clients in that field, all of whom may have semi-regular ghostwriting needs.

The ROI is also worth it. According to Kelly James-Enger, ghostwriters can earn anything between $12,000 and $30,000 per book (depending on length and the writer’s talent, experience, and success). That’s not bad for a couple of months’ work. If you can take three big projects and a dozen or so small projects per year, you’re looking at a decent income. And, you don’t have to put in all of that hard work coming up with ideas, researching from scratch, and marketing.

Many ghostwriters are born out of necessity. It’s not easy to earn a living as a writer. In an interview for The Art of Manliness, Dean Zatkowsky says that the average book sells less than 2000 copies in its lifetime. He makes a point of adding that the average includes bestselling authors whose books sell millions of copies, so the odds of your book hitting 2k are not good. If you’re lucky, your book will cover printing costs, publishing fees, and marketing. But that doesn’t leave much left over for things like rent and food. Ghostwriting keeps the wolf from the door, while allowing writers to develop their skills as they have to tackle different topics, write in different styles, and learn to imitate different voices.


Some people just love writing. It’s that simple. They’d write out people’s grocery lists given half a chance. They love constructing sentences, manipulating words, twanging emotions, and imparting knowledge. They love researching new topics. They love the challenge of writing with someone else’s voice, and of chopping and changing styles. They get a kick out of finishing projects.

And, they love the convenience. You see, contrary to popular belief, not all writers have a book in them. Or, if they do have a book, it’s buried so deeply that no amount of digging is going to get it out. Ghostwriting allows them to live their passion and follow their path without the constant pressure to come up with new and original story ideas.

It’s still not easy

We can’t lie, becoming a ghostwriter isn’t easy. Great jobs don’t just fall into your lap.

You need to be good at marketing yourself, you need to be good at networking, and you need to be versatile. You need to be tenacious and you need to be pedantic about details, especially when it comes to contracts.

There is also a great deal of risk involved. The book could bomb, the client could pull the plug halfway through, you might not be as versatile as you thought, and jobs might not be as regular as you hoped.

But, it can also be interesting, challenging, and rewarding. And, if you really love writing, it could be best way to realise your dreams. After all, no matter whose name is on the cover, you will always know the truth.


Written by Sandy Cosser

Image credit: hobvias sudoneighm (striatic), CC BY 2.0, via Flickr


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