I’m often asked, “Who pays for ghostwriting?” An all-encompassing response escapes me. My clients are people with the desire and resources to chase dreams, but they lack essential components to get them to the finish line. For celebrities, entrepreneurs, and the elderly, that component is time. For publishers, companies, and professionals at the peak of their careers, that component is writing talent. Clients come to me with vast and powerful life experiences, like musicians whose song deserves to be heard on a guitar with a missing string.
As a ghostwriter, I am the missing string.
Respect is the heart of a successful ghostwriting relationship. My clients respect the dedication it took to hone my writing skills. I respect that a missing string, while essential to the song, cannot take credit for beautiful music.
I’ve amassed a network of remarkable individuals who come to me to be their words. They refer others so I can become their words too. Their identities remain protected, a component of that respect, but knowing more about the types of clients I help elevates the discussion around the often-misunderstood practice of ghostwriting and may encourage writers to share their talents in ways that have the potential to elevate us all.
Always a fun topic. It’s no surprise that an estimated 70 to 80 percent of celebrity memoirs are ghostwritten. Peak earnings for ghostwriters fall into this category. Legacy publishers keep proven bestselling ghostwriters as favorites in their contact list, so once you’re in, you’re in.
The main currency of clients at this level is trust. Unless you already know a celebrity, it can take years to build enough of a high-power network to ghostwrite at this level. For me, year nine aligned in a crazy, magical way. Through referrals, I was simultaneously ghostwriting for an international supermodel, a Sundance Film Festival nominee, a songwriter in collaboration with a Grammy-winning producer, and one of the most connected health gurus in Hollywood. One client told a publisher that he would not sign a contract unless I was his ghost. And like that, I was in.
If you over-deliver for mid-level ghostwriting clients, you will eventually run across someone with a powerful connection. The trust you’ve nurtured with mid-level clients transfers to your celebrity referral if that celebrity likes and trusts your mutual acquaintance.
My first ghostwriting client was a software engineer who wanted a choose-your-own-adventure story for the Apple format. My most recent client in this category just launched his own nutritional company. I’ve ghostwritten for business professionals who do improv comedy at night, multi-million-dollar energy companies, and the guy handling my personal investments. What do all these business-minded people have in common? They all have a desire to control their own narrative.
Beyond the buzzwords of authority marketing and social proof, clients in this category want content that works for them, in whatever form best reaches their audience. Sometimes it’s an article in a trade magazine. Sometimes it’s a press release or a regular feature in a periodical. Not everyone has a dream to write a book, but almost every person can better connect to professional goals with quality written content.
You likely already know ghostwriting clients who fall into this category or are (at most) one degree of separation. Announce to your network that you’re interested in taking on writing projects in all forms. Then help professionals brainstorm how written content can turn into multiple revenue streams and elevate their professional visibility.
Self-published and hybrid authors who create a publishing company and master the production cycle from idea to release understand that turning a profit is directly tied to the number of releases. One way to increase output is to use a ghostwriter in the creative process.
One client, a traditionally published USA Today bestselling romance author, uses me for first draft assistance. She gives me a series bible and a detailed book outline. I weave plot threads, arc emotions, drive intimacy beats, and drop cliffhangers. Ultimately, however, readers want her, so she transforms my first draft into her voice. She loves revision, so this method works for her. Her publisher is pleased by her prolific output. She doesn’t get mired in her most challenging phase, and I spend my writing days in her fantastic story worlds.
Another market-savvy indie author client who pays close attention to subgenre trends hires ghostwriters. This allows her to chase reader demand while her personal writing stays in her favorite genre lane. In her case, she ties each ghostwriter to a different pen name under her control. It’s just as easy to tie a group of ghostwriters to the same pen name. Readers don’t notice voice differences the way authors do, or they don’t care. As long as the books deliver on the promise, this model works.
Ask almost anyone, “What’s one story from your life that no one would believe?” Answers to this question often deliver the best of humanity—stories that pull at the heartstrings and set us all firmly inside our feelings.
These clients come from your network or from referrals. They may only have one story, one memoir inside them. That’s okay. One story may not make them the most lucrative client, but they are often the most loyal referrers. My litmus test for taking on such projects is simple: will this project make the world a better place? If hearing their story puts me inside my feelings, I embrace the project. This question helps me steer clear of the people chasing ego or using their memoir as therapy.
Others who fall into this category initially enter my stable as coaching clients but realize that compelling writing is a marathon, not a sprint. After a goal milestone, I ask, “Do you love writing or do you love having written?” For those who adore the community or the romanticized notion of being a writer but not the process, this epiphany sometimes leads to hiring me as a ghostwriter because we’ve shared their creative space for so long. Poets and screenwriters often have trouble translating their gifts into the narrative form, so we’ll tackle novels together.
Smaller book packagers who post for contractors on marketplace sites like Upwork enjoy an established framework of contracts, communication avenues, and legal resources backing up the exchange of words for money. Book packagers and traditional publishing houses understand that talented writers travel in talented circles and encourage writers to spread the word among writer friends or ask their established writers to dabble in ghostwriting. Both business models treat ghostwriting with the efficiency of a well-established cog in the publishing machine.
If you want to ghostwrite for packagers or publishers and already have an agent and editor, communicate your willingness and your reasons for ghostwriting with your team. So long as your output doesn’t impact your personal career, you’ll be seen as a team player who prioritizes publisher success. If you aren’t yet connected to a publishing house, a quick internet search leads you to the opportunities offered by book packagers.
Ghostwriting has been one of the greatest blessings in my writing journey because of the scope of incredible clients who enrich my life and creativity. Everyone has a story to tell. Start from a place of respect, nurture your network, and you’ll be amazed at the projects that come your way.
Let’s kickstart that first client connection! In the comments below, identify one person in your network (no names, please) who might benefit from your writing talent, and I’ll help you with that all-important first conversation.
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L.A. Mitchell is a freelance editor, writing coach, and ghostwriter with 33+ books in the market and 7 Amazon #1 category bestsellers to her (top secret) credit.
The most recent release she can claim (a co-authored project) is The Nature of Shadows, a memoir set against the brutal backdrop of Liberia’s first civil war in which a discarded boy learns love and belonging from a series of individuals who shape his life.
For the past 13 years, she’s ghostwritten everything from business non-fiction to epic YA fantasy to sexy romance and believes the best perk of her job—hands down—is her collection of fuzzy, going-to-work slippers. On occasion, you can find her helping talented authors launch a freelance ghostwriting business at Lawson Writers Academy. Visit her at la-mitchell.com.
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