Ghostwriting wasn’t always a realistic opportunity for freelance writers. Not long ago, freelance book ghostwriting projects were few and far between. Most authors worked with publishing companies, and these companies already had ghostwriters on staff.
This meant that anyone who wanted to build a career as a freelance book ghostwriter would have needed years of experience within a publishing house to scoop up the few freelance opportunities that were available.
All that changed about 20 years ago with the decline of traditional publishing houses and the growth in self-publishing. By 2013, for example, over one million non-traditional books were published that year, compared to only 304,000 traditional books.
With the self-publishing market growing rapidly, there eventually came recognition that self-published books could (and should!) meet the same high quality standards as books coming out of publishing houses. And this meant bringing in professional writers, editors, designers and proofreaders.
As a result, the demand for professional freelance book writers and editors began to outstrip supply.
If this sounds like a golden opportunity to launch a career as a professional ghostwriter, you’re right! But the question remains: How do you tap into it?
My friend and colleague, Derek Lewis, is a highly successful freelance book ghostwriter. He learned by trial and error how to transition from writer/copywriter to professional ghostwriter.
Drawing on his hard-earned lessons, here are Derek’s seven recommended steps to make your transition easier:
#1: Don’t quit your “day job”
Ghostwriting opportunities are real and lucrative. But that doesn’t mean getting there is easy. This transition isn’t going to happen overnight.
Therefore, you must make sure you have a sustainable source of income during this process. If your current freelance business isn’t bringing in enough income to support you financially, don’t risk dividing your attention.
Instead, stabilize your existing writing business first—then expand to ghosting only when the timing makes sense. Otherwise, your chances of success will be slim.
#2: Become a book editor first
Making the leap from copywriter to ghostwriter can be difficult—both in terms of your confidence level and the perceptions of potential clients.
To make the leap more do-able, stair step from copywriter to editor first. Get a couple of book editing projects under your belt. Once you’ve made that transition, you can lean more heavily into ghostwriting.
However, this intermediary step shouldn’t prevent you from marketing yourself as a “ghostwriter and editor.” Retool your website and online presence with an eye to the future.
#3: Target a niche
As you can imagine, the world of ghostwriting is expansive. You can write in almost any subject area, from alternative medicine to military memoirs to science to religion, to name a few.
To start, target a niche that leverages your strengths and experience. Having a niche gives you many advantages over a “general” ghostwriter, primarily by making you more competitive.
Once you’re established, you can grow your niche into new areas.
#4: Bulk up your portfolio
Next, you need to create a portfolio that supports your chosen niche.
If you’ve already written a book you can showcase, then great! But if not, you still have other items you can use.
One of the most common misconceptions writers and copywriters have about breaking into book ghostwriting is that they need a book sample in order to position themselves credibly as book ghostwriters.
The reality is that most authors aren’t used to working with writers. To them, someone who writes articles, reports, white papers and other content is a writer. And that’s good enough, especially if your niche matches what they’re looking for (see #3 above).
Pull together writing examples (the more relevant, the better), client testimonials, associations/affiliations, certifications, degrees, and courses. You can even reference clients of your clients. (For example, if you’ve worked with an author who consults with the American Red Cross, state that.)
#5: Practice attraction marketing
Unlike most writers and copywriters, ghostwriters don’t succeed by using both inbound and outbound activities. In freelance ghostwriting, your clients have to find you—not the other way around.
That’s because they’re “invisible” prospects. Meaning they don’t self-identify like marketing directors, business owners or other types of traditional clients.
People who want to write a book typically keep that to themselves. They find a ghostwriter by searching Google. Therefore, your job is to leave “bread crumb trails” that will lead potential clients to you.
You can do this by a variety of activities, such as optimizing your website for search, blogging, publishing valuable content to your website and guest blogging for a publication in your niche. (More on this idea next week!)
#6: Practice editing
Next, you want to gain more experience working with full-length books and collaborating with authors—and you can do this through editing.
Editing books will give you a better sense of how much work is involved in ghostwriting, which will help you price your quotes more realistically.
#7: Become a ghost writer
Once you become comfortable editing book-length manuscripts, you can start to lean more heavily into ghostwriting. After all, it’s a fine line between heavy editing and light ghostwriting.
In your portfolio, you can say “I’ve ghostwritten or edited these works. I’ve done a substantial amount of work on them all.”