When I was twenty six year old, I was a ghostwriter for many CEOs and had run a 7-figure ghostwriting business where we had close to thirty clients go through it. That's a lot of ghostwriting projects to learn from. That's why I'm here to share my learning experiences with you.
Some of our ghostwriting service clients included not only the CEOs but consulting with ghostwriters of those CEOs, including the writers for Gary Vaynerchuk from VaynerMedia and Vishen from Mindvalley.
When I was working as a freelance writer, I looked deeper into ghostwriting jobs. I asked, "What should I be ghostwriting about to make it worth my time?" To understand the answer, I dissected the ghostwriting industry in parallel with what made me unique. In this piece, you'll learn how to do the same.
Table of Contents
What is a Ghostwriter?
A ghostwriter is someone who using their writing skills to write for others without taking credit. A ghostwriter can be a freelancer writer or a full-time employee.
The client takes the credit for the authorship of the original work produced by the ghostwriter whether that's a social media status, blog post, or a book. Ghostwriting can be a lucrative job for the right individual. Many of the most famous books have been ghostwritten. Often these books are about the lives of executives, CEOs, or public figures such as politicians.
For example, GE CEO, Jack Welch had his book Jack: Straight from the Gut ghostwritten by John Byrne. Another prominent example includes The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Even though that book is credited to Stephen Covey, he wasn't the primary writer - that job was left to his ghostwriter, Ken Shelton.
Types of Ghostwriting Jobs
- The Social Media Ghostwriting Job
Often ghostwriters will write Tweets, Facebook statuses, and even LinkedIn statuses for their clients. For example, I didn't write this Facebook post pictured below. A ghostwriter did it for me, then sent it my way for approval. Depending on the outcome of social media status ghostwriting, the cost can range from $500/month to $7500/month for a ghostwriter.
- The Book Ghostwriting Job
This is one of the hardest, but the highest-paid ghostwriting job next to sales copy ghostwriting. Top-notch book ghostwriters can make anywhere between $50,000 - $100,000 per a book they write. They need a deep understanding of the publishing process, often know their client for a year beforehand, and have deep industry knowledge in their client's profession if it's a non-fiction book.
With that said, fiction book ghostwriting is much less expensive. These books range from $14,000 to $30,000 to have ghostwritten for you. The reason is you no longer need that industry-specific knowledge. Moreover, you don't have to sit through many interviews with your client.
- The Blog Ghostwriting Job
The blog-post ghostwriter can make anywhere from $25 - $1,000 a blog post. It heavily depends on the subject matter. For example, I didn't write this blog post below. Because it's an evergreen topic that requires an interest in writing, I can find many writers for this type of content and writing style.
- The PR Ghostwriting Job
One of the most common examples of this are members who get accepted to the Forbes Council. To get accepted, you need to pay a fee of $1200/year and have, at least, a million dollars in ARR or financing. Once you're accepted you receive a Forbes writer slot where you can publish content on Forbes. Since most founders are busy, they hire a ghostwriter to churn out these 800-word generic pieces.
Other times, the ghostwriter will be a part of a PR agency. Where the PR agency does outreach on behalf of an individual or company to get them placements on publications and blogs. Sometimes the PR agency will reach out directly from their client's email account, pretending they're the client - this is a combination of both ghostwriting and sales.
Other times, the ghostwriter only jumps to action once the publication or blog owner confirms they'll accept a written piece from the person you're doing outreach on behalf of.
- The Sales Copy Ghostwriting Job
There are brilliant copywriters that specialize in writing copy that compels readers to input their emails or buy products. Many of these ghostwriters work on long-form sales pages and email marketing campaigns to cross-sell and upsell readers. If you're in the top .1 percent of this field, then you can make hundreds of thousands of dollars every year.
How to Become a Ghostwriter
The first step to becoming a ghostwriter is having visible work. This may be an online blog you write regularly on or even a social site like Quora. For me, my Quora presence was my first big step in making myself known as a writer. I wrote over 600 answers garnering close to 40,000 followers.
Also, this blog has been a great asset for attracting a particular type of client who's interested in technical writing around marketing. Rather than rely solely on my blog and Quora for exposure, I've written five books on technical marketing and posted them on Product Hunt.
When it comes to attracting ghostwriting clients, you don't just need good writing, but you need social validation from it. The reason is that's what the clients want; in other words, they don't pay you for words, they pay for the result of those words - likes, shares, and an audience that pays attention to them. What I've learned, though, is the highest-paying clients work with you because they think they'll get more customers from your work.
The best proof that you can move these metrics for your client is if you can do it for yourself. When I ran a 7-figure ghostwriting service at our agency, our highest-paid ghostwriter had over 100,000 followers on social media. The second-highest paid writer had close to the same number of followers.
If you can build your social following in a way that says, "I attract great clients with this content," that's when you go from a small-time ghostwriter to the big leagues. That means making over $100K, and possibly, over $200K a year.
If you're new to ghostwriting, then the chances are you still need to establish your online presence. The best way to do this is to read grammar books over and again, and most importantly, write more. Ideally, you should aim to write over 1,000 words a day for your own purposes outside of client work. I recommend keeping the grammar book The Elements of Style: by William Strunk Jr close with you at all times.
As I'd written about earlier, your ghostwriting rate highly depends on the outcome you can provide your clients. But more so, it depends on your ability to negotiate and understand industry demand. For example, if you write about writing, then there's a high surplus of writers whom you're competing with. This isn't the best route if you're looking to "cash-in" on ghostwriting.
To make good money ghostwriting, look into high-demand niches. For example, healthcare technology has few ghostwriters but a significant demand for that talent. In a niche like this, don't be surprised if you can charge ten times more without clients blinking an eye.
When it comes to negotiation, it's important to get paid a quarter or, at least, half your fee upfront. For the best ghostwriters, they can demand payment in full before they even begin. The reason for this is that often the upfront work for non-fiction material requires a lot of industry research and even interviews. As a result, there's an investment of time that's hard to judge and put into scope.
How to Improve Your Ghostwriting Skills
The reason I get hired over other ghostwriters to be the secret weapon of 8-figure CEOs is I've been and am a CEO. I've built a 7-figure company before in services, I've worked at a VC firm, and am currently building another software company, Squibler. Moreover, I've written extensively on my life as a founder.
What does this mean?
It means to be an exceptional ghostwriter, it's important to have had what the author and philosopher Nassim Taleb calls "Skin in the Game." The result is what we call "empathy," the ability to understand and feel others' emotions.
Not every writer has the motivation or desire to become a CEO or step into the exact shoes of whom they're writing for. Still, it's important they live their life to the fullest so they can have a big enough arsenal of experiences to be empathetic toward their client's own experiences. This is often why the most talented ghostwriters are older invididuals - they have a bigger arsenal.
One of the most important pieces of developing your craft as a writer is finding a mentor or a community of experienced writers who can provide constructive criticism. Luckily for me, when I ran my agency, I had the ability to recruit a couple of the top storytellers on Quora and LinkedIn. In turn, we grew much faster as writers by bouncing feedback among each other.
For this reason, as a ghostwriter, sometimes it's not better to work alone. Instead, it can be a valuable learning experience to join an agency and work with other writers so you have an understanding of your output value. Then when you're ready - make the jump to go solo.
I like to say the easiest way to find out how good you're at doing something is to compete or join a team with similar aspirations. If you don't have any standards to measure yourself against, it's hard to push yourself forward.
How to Stay Motivated as a Ghostwriter
Write for Good Clients
If you're ghostwriting for a client you don't like, then you're on the fastest path to burnout. The reason is ghostwriting, by nature, involves you getting deep into an individual's life. It's not like being a digital marketing freelancer where you can take on six to seven clients, then meet with them bi-monthly. A strong ghostwriter may have a maximum of several clients depending on the scope of work, which bring me to my next point.
Understand the Potential Scope of Work
If you're writing the biography of a big-time CEO, then that may be all you focus on. Imagine what Walter Isaacson had to go through when writing Steve Jobs' biography. To ghostwrite effectively, know that sometimes the work doesn't just entail you interviewing one individual. Instead, it requires you to interview many of their acquaintances, family, and friends to get a better perspective of the overall story surrounding your client. This goes for social media statuses and blog posts as well, not just books.
Sacrifice Your Ego
It's important to sacrifice your ego in the process. That's why it's called ghostwriting - people don't need to know you exist. If you wanted your name on it, then you should also want to give back the paycheck the client gave you. With that said, it's easy to sacrifice your ego if your client is worth writing for. For example, if you feel your writing will help drive forward a valuable mission then you'll feel inspired to do your best work
Why I Love Ghostwriting
The science of storytelling doesn't change. Moreover, people will be writing books for others in ten years, thirty years, and maybe even in fifty years. Sure, the format may change as it did from physical books to Kindle or from Myspace to Twitter statuses But written storytelling will be vital for success on each new platform.
For the latter reason, ghostwriting is an industry that once you have your foot deep enough in, you can continue making a living from for a long time. Many ghostwriters have been in their careers for over thirty years. The hard part is building a reputation. Once you have that, it's just a matter of finding the perfect clients. My perfect client? The 8-figure busy CEO. For you, it may be a politician. You only know once you start writing.
8 Lessons I Learned About Famous CEOs from Ghostwriting
I got to understand what it's like to be in the shoes of famous CEOs. It turns out, there are many common factors among them.
They genuinely care about a group of people they're helping
This is often their customer, but some CEOs have an even higher level of care. For example, they're helping their customer to ensure a successful company so they can help their family.
They seek constructive feedback
What I've found is they embrace even the worst feedback, then they'll even thank you for it.
They always have some level of stress
There's always a fire they're putting out whether it's big or small. Sometimes they'll tell you about it.
They're obsessive with optimizing their time
When your call ends - it ends. Use the time you schedule with them wisely. If you think they'll go overtime, you're wrong.
They all have war stories
Whether it's lawsuits, bankruptcy, bad co-founders, or investors that meddled in their business too much, you'll find something.
Many have started multiple companies
Many of these companies failed and they closed up shop to pursue something else. This was the most surprising fact to me. Every CEO I've interviewed has failed with a previous company. A couple of these CEOs have failed with over ten. What keeps them going is persistence.
They realized big gains come from small wins
What I've seen is often it'd be one or two things CEOs or their teams would do that would take their company to the next level. In some cases, the jump would be as big as 1 million to 20 million ARR. It's often as simple streamlining a sales process with a particular outreach message to a particular industry that pulls that vertical growth lever.
They have dark humor
You don't develop an ordinary sense of humor building a startup. These CEOs have been through the trenches. Many times they've lost millions and gained millions in revenue in a short span. They've seen the downward spirals, maybe have let go of entire teams, and have still found ways to keep their company motivated to push forward. Their humor has adjusted accordingly.
Is Ghostwriting for You?
Ghostwriting is the truest art of empowering someone else's mission and career. For example, one of my clients is a CEO who immigrated and can't write especially well in English but has a beautiful story worth telling and a mission involving saving lives.
What I've realized is your best clients won't be looking for fame. Instead, they'll be mission-driven. If you can find those people to work with, you'll quickly learn how enjoyable the industry is.
Plus, it's a cheat sheet to where you want to go.
When I started ghostwriting for CEOs, I learned more about founding a successful company in a short time than I'd ever imagined. You get to ask all the questions you ever wanted and you're forced to listen. It doesn't get any better than that.
Ghostwriting is not simply a profession, but the ultimate hack to understanding the people whom you admire and the path to one day fit in similar shoes.