#063: Ghostwriting Business Books — A Realistic Six-Figure Opportunity for Strong Writers

It’s not every day that I come across an idea in the freelancing world that gets me super excited.

But when I recently sat down with freelance ghostwriter Derek Lewis, I found myself taking a ton of notes … and thinking of ways I could shift my writing business to do what HE does!

Derek is a very successful business-book ghostwriter. He’s also the author of the new book The Business Book Bible: Everything You Need to Know to Write a Good Business Book.

And in this interview, he gives us a detailed and very exciting look into the world of book ghostwriting.

  • What it is
  • What it involves
  • The best target markets for this work
  • What you can charge
  • How to find clients
  • And who’s best suited for this type of writing

This is a realistic six-figure opportunity for strong writers who enjoy longer-format projects and working closely with a client for an extended period of time. And as you’ll see, the rewards go way beyond the financial.

The notes that follow are a very basic, unedited summary of the show. There’s a lot more detail in the audio version. You can listen to the show using the audio player below. Or you can subscribe in iTunes or on Stitcher to get this show delivered straight to the Podcasts app on your smart phone, tablet or iPod.

Tell us about yourself

Derek is a business ghostwriter. He helps thought leaders write their business books.

His clients are usually business owners and consultants. They need a book to help people understand what they offer and what they do. It’s a way to market their services and connect on a personal level.

How did you get started as a ghostwriter?

Derek’s background is business management and consulting. About five or six years ago, he was working as a marketer and copywriter when he responded to an ad for help writing a business book. That was his first ghostwriting project.

How did your business grow from there?

Through that first project, Derek discovered he was better at long form than short form writing. He redirected his business from copywriting to ghostwriting.

Derek’s business took off when he found a mentor in Claudia Suzanne. He took her ghostwriting course, which gave him the skills and confidence he needed to build his business. Before, he had been severely undervaluing his skills. He began charging market rates and his business took off.

Describe the relationship between the author of a book and the ghostwriter

Ghostwriting should be a true collaboration between author and writer. Authors are the source of the content. They have the ideas. But they don’t have the skills to put their ideas into a well-crafted book. That’s what the writer does.

What kind of clients do you look for?

Most of Derek’s clients have owned their own business for 10-15 years. They’re often consultants.

There are lots of bad business books out there. People write them expressly as a marketing tool. The books don’t have any added value.

A good business book will have some marketing elements. But Derek’s ideal clients have true insights and experience they want to share.

Have you had any success ghostwriting for high-level corporate executives?

Derek’s currently ghostwriting a book for a couple of executives. The corporate world does have ghostwriting opportunities.

While he tends to attract business owners, some ghostwriters work only with people in the corporate world.

What fees do these projects command?

Generally, junior professional ghostwriters start at $25,000 for a full-length manuscript. Most professional ghostwriters start in the $35,000-55,000 range.

Ghostwriters hired by publishers tend to fall in the $50,000-$80,000 range. Really experienced ghostwriters fall in $75,000 to six-figure range.

Some ghostwriters charge more. Ghostwriters who write for celebrities often charge in the range of $120,000-$150,000. Legends in the ghostwriting field sometimes charge half a million for a manuscript.

If you have some experience, and combine that with decent sales and marketing, you can make $100,000-$120,000 per year by working on three books and charging $35,000 per book.

Business book ghostwriting is definitely a 6-figure opportunity for strong writers.

How do you get most of your clients?

Almost all of his clients have found him though his website. Although he’s tried outbound marketing techniques (e.g. cold calls, direct mail, targeted email) he’s had more success with organic SEO.

Finding people who want to author a book is easy. But it’s hard to find people who are ready to author a book now and have the money to do it.

When prospects contact him, they’ve already done their homework because it’s a big investment.

How much of your business comes from referrals?

Derek has landed only one client from a referral. Referrals are challenging for ghostwriters because many authors are reluctant to talk about their ghostwriter. For some people, ghostwriting has a stigma. This stigma lessens as you reach higher-level clients.

What do ghostwriting and pest control services have in common? People don’t want to admit they use them.

What’s the most important thing in a successful ghostwriting gig?

The personal connection between author and writer is important. If they don’t fit, then the book will reflect that disconnect.

Do most ghostwriters specialize? What are the pros and cons of picking a niche market?

The division is about 50-50. Generally, the more experienced the ghostwriter, the more he/she will specialize.

With his background in business, it made sense for Derek to specialize. It lessened the learning curve. The more he specializes, the easier it is to sell, raise his fees and get better clients.

He’s discovered that his authors aren’t bad writers. Often, they’re great writers—but they can’t be objective about what they know.

clicktotweet As a business ghostwriter, your job is to get ideas out of your client’s head and onto paper.

When you’re starting out, specializing too much can make it harder to land clients. Often you need to get your feet wet before you can narrow your target market.

How can someone get started in this type of work?derek

1. Take Claudia Suzanne’s course on ghostwriting. It’s offered through California State University Long Beach, College of Continuing and Professional

Education. It’s a two-semester course online course.

2. Get the support you need to optimize your company’s sales and marketing.

Tell us about your new book

Derek’s new book is The Business Book Bible: Everything You Need to Know to Write a Good Business Book.

It’s a great resource for writers looking to get into these kinds of projects.

To get free bonus material with your purchase, order the book through Derek’s website: http://dereklewis.com/the-business-book-bible/

Want to learn more about how to get into ghostwriting non-fiction books?  Check out my new workshop: www.smarterfreelancing.com/ghostwriting





  • M. Sharon Baker

    Great podcast Ed and Derek. I’ve been approached by several business people wishing to write books but they haven’t had the budget. Your podcast inspired a blog post for me.
    Thanks for interviewing such great guests, Ed!

    • edgandia

      Thank you, Sharon! Appreciate the feedback, and good to hear this got you thinking and triggered some ideas. And I agree — my guests are awesome! They really make me look good! 😉

      Hey … I think you’d be a great guest, btw. Hit me up sometime. Would love to brainstorm some topic ideas, if you’re interested in coming on.

    • Thank you, Sharon. Would you mind posting the link? I’d love to read it.

      You might consider a coaching arrangement. That’s generally more manageable, both financially and time-wise.

      You might also direct them to the LinkedIn forum I run, “Writing Business Books.” We have a great community on there, including a number of experienced business ghosts. We’d welcome their questions (and yours, too!).

      Thank you for taking the time to listen and comment.

  • Bill Schieb

    Interesting podcast, I hadn’t given much thought to ghostwriting before, now I will.
    I’m curious to know, on a large, long, expensive project like a book, how Derek structures his billing. I’m assuming there have to be completion goals for different parts of the project when Derek can submit partial invoices.
    Thanks for the great podcasts Ed!

    • edgandia

      Thanks for listening, Bill! Great question. I’ll bring Derek into the discussion, as I’m not really sure.

    • Great question, Bill.

      I divide my fee into equal monthly payments over the estimated length of the project. Some ghosts do half to begin and half upon completion. Others tie their payments to milestones like you mentioned here.

      However, when working for royalties (vs. a fee) things completely change. The ghost generally gets the whole author’s advance, plus a negotiated amount of the royalties.

      Thank you for listening!

  • Sandra

    This was great, thanks for sharing your story, Derek. I didn’t know much about this industry but you’ve opened my eyes to what seem like viable and attainable goals. More food for thought as we head into a new year. Congrats on your book, I’ll definitely be checking it out!

    • edgandia

      Thanks for checking it out, Sandra!

      • Guest

        Thank you, Sandra. It’s a wonderful career. I’m so glad you’re excited about the opportunities. Feel free to join the LinkedIn group “Ghostwriters Worldwide” or my LinkedIn group “Writing Business Books.” Would love to see you on both!

        • Disqus was acting wonky for a moment. This “Guest” is actually yours truly. 🙂

  • Joe Reynolds

    What a great podcast! Many thanks for opening my eyes to a niche that was nowhere on my radar. I really appreciate the information on how to get started; it gives me one more line of work to consider. I have one question Derek, do you meet your clients face to face or do you use the internet for interviews and collaboration efforts?

    • edgandia

      Thanks for the feedback, Joe! Glad you enjoyed it and that it got you thinking about a new area to explore. I’m pretty sure Derek meets mostly via calls and internet, but I’ll let him answer that.

    • Ideally, face-to-face. But the beauty of today’s technology is that I can work from anywhere with anyone anywhere else. I’ve ghostwritten books with authors from five continents who wouldn’t recognize me if we passed each other on the street.

      Glad to have shed some light on this little niche of the world. And thank you for listening.

  • Geez, Ed, if your podcasts get any better, I think my head is going to explode. Thanks to you and Derek for this one. (I’ve signed up to be notified of your book release, Derek. Can’t wait to read it.) This totally clued me in to a service that I should have been offering for years. I was managing editor for a book publisher and then a freelance book editor for years, so no clue why I never leveraged that experience in my current business. Sometimes you have to hit upside the head with the obvious. This plus a previous podcast of yours on lead-generating books has made me rethink my business model. Thanks to you both for you time and generosity in sharing such great information.

    • Wow, Ronda. That makes my day. Thanks for sharing. And thank you for signing up to be notified! As you well know, writing the book is only half the process. Turning a manuscript into a quality product is quite a bit of work all by itself.

      Thanks again.

  • Derek, thanks for some great ideas. I’m nowhere near the point of writing books for people, but it’s an idea I won’t have forgotten in 5 years.

    Ed, even if you hadn’t prefaced the podcast by saying you’re very interested in this, I would have said that you should be doing it. What Derek was saying throughout sounded like he was describing you too!

    • edgandia

      Thanks, Jeff! That’s a heck of a compliment. Also, I wouldn’t say you’re “nowhere near…” You’re closer than you think — especially if you take the baby steps approach. 🙂

    • Glad it helped, Jeff. If you’re listening to people like Ed, you’re probably light years ahead of many of the people out there who hire themselves out. Ghostwriting is still very much frontier territory in some ways–and we need more good pioneers. Come join us.

      I agree–I think Ed would get a kick out of ghostwriting. Plus, it’s a neat change of pace. You get to establish a relationship with an author that’s almost unlike anything else you could ever experience.

  • Susan Anderson

    I don’t even know where to begin to sing the praises of this episode – it’ll have to join in the chorus of my song entitled “Ed Gandia May Just Be the Most Amazing Mentor on the Planet” (not that catchy, but the crowd loves it). Derek, your model takes mine to a whole ‘nuther level and I’m so grateful for the tweaks this episode is helping me make, especially regarding pricing. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing your expertise with us all.

    • edgandia

      Thanks, Susan! Yes, Derek is da man! It’s guests like him that make me look good. 😉

      I always appreciate your checking out the show and your feedback. Great to hear this one really made a difference in your thinking.

    • That’s awesome, Susan. (And Ed is indeed amazing.)

      One of the big “quantum leaps” I experienced in my practice was finally charging what I was worth. I had severely underpriced myself (mostly because I undervalued myself). Hope you’re earning at least a fair market price for your services.

      Thanks again for listening and taking the time to leave some feedback.

  • Michael Hicks

    Ed, you’ve outdone yourself! This is unquestionably one of the best podcasts you have ever produced!

    Eternal thanks to Derek for shining a spotlight on an industry that almost everyone knows about but almost no one talks about. What attracts me most to ghost writing is its “high and deep” approach – highly professional and deeply personal. Authors with a meaningful message don’t necessarily have something to sell. But they do have something to say. And instead of creating a sales-y message and spreading their book around like marketing peanut butter, they look to fulfill themselves by making a contribution that impacts peoples’ lives for the better. But as Derek so rightly points out, because such authors lack personal objectivity, they recognize their limitations and are smart enough to enroll the help of ghost writers. I think it’s a match made in literary heaven for all parties involved. A monstrous win-win!

    As a result of doing the right things the right way, both the author and the ghost writer benefit immensely. Most writers I know would rather immerse themselves in their craft and let the fruits of their labor do all of the talking for them instead of being swamped in notoriety and publicity and jeopardizing their highly valued privacy. Plus, helping to write, on average, 3 books a year @ $35,000 a pop behind the scenes ain’t exactly chump change…:-)

    Thanks again to both of you, Derek and Ed. It’s about time someone spoke up and put some flesh on the secretive bones of ghost writing. I thoroughly enjoyed the podcast, and I’ll definitely be looking into Suzanne’s course and Derek’s book. Well done! Very well done indeed!

    • Wow, Michael, thank you so much for your great feedback. I appreciate your thoughts.

      Yes, ghostwriting at its best is really a collaboration between author and writer, in the vein of Covey’s idea of 1 + 1 = 3.

      There are some disreputable writers out there–as there are in any industry–but there are some great professionals who give ghostwriting a good name.

      Claudia Suzanne’s course is absolutely top-shelf. If you grab a copy of my book, I hope you’ll drop me a line to let me know how it helped.

      Thank you again!

  • Excellent piece, guys. I’ve never ghostwritten anything longer than 25k words, but I’d venture the same principles apply to everyday content authoring from 500wd blogs up. Relationship with the frontman and aligned goals foremost.

    • edgandia

      Thanks for checking out the show, Chris. Glad you liked this episode.