3 Surprising Misconceptions About Ghostwriting Books for Clients

Imagine earning six figures every year from only three or four clients. And imagine not having to constantly prospect to find new ones.

How great would it be like to go deep—really deep—into a small subset of topics? And wouldn’t it be a relief to do more than scratch the surface of a topic before having to move on to the next project?

For some freelance writers, this sounds like a dream job.

But for successful ghostwriters, it’s not a dream—it’s real life.

Before you get too excited about ghostwriting, I want to dispel a few misconceptions. Because everything you think you know about ghostwriting might not actually be true.

My friend and colleague, Derek Lewis, is a successful business book ghostwriter.

He’s worked with client-authors on five continents, including a Texas oil tycoon, a Turkish economist, an IT startup millionaire, a Brazilian federal judge, and a Cajun colonel.

His authors work with the International Monetary Fund, General Electric, DaimlerChrysler, SAP, Pixar, Disney, the US Marine Corps, and the Red Cross.

So I trust Derek to tell me what it’s really like to be a ghostwriter. And from our many conversations, I’ve pinpointed three surprising misconceptions about ghostwriting that you need to know about.

Misconception #1: Ghostwriting is a solitary writing gig

As freelance writers, many of us enjoy solitary pursuits. For some of us, spending time alone, digging deep into research, and writing without much input from others is a pure bliss.

You might think that ghostwriting is a great fit for this kind of writing model. You think: “Great! All I have to do is interview the client, review some background material, and then disappear into my office for four months and write.”

Then, you emerge, four months later, with a fully formed book that you hand off to your grateful client, right?

It’s possible that some ghostwriters do actually work this way. We’ve all encountered ghostwritten business books that appear to have been written in a closet. These books contain few insights, not much information, and are little more than an hardcover self-promotional tool. But that’s not real ghostwriting. That’s a hack job.

Real ghostwriting is a deeply collaborative process. The writer (you) and the author (your client) work together closely at every stage. And you’ll spend hours and hours talking with your client and pulling information out of them with the purpose of getting it on the page.

So if you’re hoping to use ghostwriting as a means of reducing your interaction with clients, you’re going to be disappointed.

Misconception #2: If you do good work, referrals will roll in

For most freelance writers, delivering outstanding work is your most effective marketing strategy. You do great work, and then your clients refer their colleagues and associates to you.

Given enough time, and a bit of luck, you can build a lucrative business on those referrals.

But ghostwriting is different.

No matter how satisfied your clients, you’ll never get enough referrals to grow your ghostwriting business. Quite simply, the odds of your client knowing another prospective ghostwriting client—one who has the budget to hire you and is ready to go—is too slim to generate much business.

Misconception #3: You’ll land clients through your usual prospecting methods

If you can’t rely on referrals, then you might think you can simply apply other outbound prospecting methods that you’re familiar with, such as warm emails or direct mail prospecting.

Unfortunately, these prospecting methods are also unlikely to work.

Prospecting is particularly challenging with ghostwriting because your prospects need to meet certain criteria. Specifically, you need to find someone who:

  • Wants to write a book
  • Wants to write a book right now
  • Has the budget to hire a ghostwriter
  • Wants to hire you as their ghostwriter.

Given these criteria, the odds of finding suitable prospects through outbound marketing is pretty small.

Therefore, to succeed as ghostwriter, you need to shift your focus from outbound marketing to attraction marketing.

With attraction marketing, you put your efforts into bringing prospects to you—not going out and finding them. You do this by creating a series of breadcrumb trails, each leading back to your website.

For instance:

  • Publishing valuable content in your blog
  • Publishing valuable content in third-party publications
  • Focused social media efforts
  • Search engine optimization
  • Targeted pay-per-click advertising
  • Self-publishing a book geared toward your target audience
  • Being a guest on targeted podcasts
  • Speaking at select conferences in your niche

You don’t have to do all these things. You can (and should) stick to activities that fit your personality and preferences. But the key is to do a few of these things consistently in order to increase the probability that the right prospects will find you.