Like any job, ghostwriting comes with drawbacks. Knowing them in advance will help you manage them so they don’t become stumbling blocks.
Underestimating The Scope Of The Project. There’s a lot that goes into ghostwriting one page. It isn’t just about the writing. You have to do research. Conduct interviews. Review whatever material your client provides. Develop an outline. Look up meanings of words and idioms. Check facts. Look up the correct spelling of names of people, places, departments and agencies. Check timelines. Proofread. Do revisions based on your client’s feedback. Then do more revisions to repair the writing flow that inevitably breaks when you insert new information.
The final written page that your client sees is just the tip of the iceberg. Don’t underestimate all the research, fact-checking, phone calls, emails, reading, structuring, editing and rewriting you’ll have to do to create one perfect page. If you’re writing a book, multiply this process by 200 or so. Only then will you start to grasp the real scope of your project – something you must know for scheduling purposes.
Ending Up With An Income That’s Too Low. In general, ghostwriters don’t charge enough for the projects they complete. Adding up all the hours that the writer spends on tasks beyond straight writing, like research and revisions, it can easily come to multiple hours to finalize a single page.
Let’s look at a simplified example. Say a ghostwriter is aiming for $25 per hour, working 40 hours a week and taking three weeks off per year. This would yield an annual income of $49,000.
She decides to charge $25 per double-spaced page. But if it takes her 30 minutes to study material pertinent to that page, 15 minutes to look up information about the places that will be mentioned on the page, 30 minutes to write the first draft, 15 minutes to edit and proofread it before sending it to her client, and 30 minutes to revise and finalize the page after getting feedback, then she’s earned $25 for two hours of work. Her actual hourly rate is $12.50, yielding an annual income of $24,500.
An actual income that’s significantly less than what you’re expecting is a recipe for financial failure. You might have to charge more per page, per hour or per project to avoid this pitfall.
Not Getting The Client’s “Voice” Right. The best ghostwriters are like chameleons, able to change their writing style and tone to sound like the client. The writing must be top-quality and eloquent, but it can’t sound generic. A reader has to hear and picture the author, not the writer in the background. A good ghostwriter, then, must be able to inject a dose of the client’s personality and flair into the writing.
Undoubtedly, capturing the author’s voice in writing can be tricky. It takes practice. Learn to really listen to your client in order to capture all the quirks and nuances that come through. Revise your writing until it sounds more like your client, less like you.
Trying To Hit A Moving Target. In the beginning, your client may not have a good grasp of the scope or direction of his book. He may ask for a memoir only to change his mind a couple of months later and want a fictionalized account of his life instead. Or he’s constantly tweaking the outline or asking for revisions.
It can get difficult and frustrating when the parameters are constantly changing. One way to protect yourself is to charge per page that you write, and also to charge for revisions (beyond one or two). This way, whenever your client changes his mind and wants something different, it’s on his dime, not yours. If you have to write one page five times simply because your client hasn’t figured out what he wants, then you’re really writing five pages, not one, and you should be paid accordingly.
Avoid Pitfalls With A Solid Contract. The best way to protect yourself from all ghostwriting pitfalls is to draft a thorough contract that clearly addresses these cases. Before starting a project, go over the contract with your client and make sure both of you sign it. A well-drafted contract will protect you and your client in the long run.
Discover where to find ghostwriting jobs.
Read what real ghostwriters say about the field.