4 Things You Need to Know Before You Start Ghostwriting

In today’s world, content is king. Websites need content to engage with customers and to be found on the search engines. Thought leaders need to get their words “out there” and many business owners want the increased visibility that can come when they publish an op-ed or a guest article someplace.

This need for content in the world of online marketing means that there is also a need for ghostwriters. After all, not everyone who wants their words heard is adept at putting those words into a form that others want to read.

Ghostwriting can be a great way to make money as a writer, and it’s a profession that has been around for decades and reaches even into “classics” in the literary world. Before you decide to start ghostwriting, it’s important to be aware of the following:

1. You’re Not Yourself; You’re Conveying Others’ Ideas

First, realize that you aren’t representing yourself when you start ghostwriting. You merely convey someone else’s ideas. Trying to use your voice or style as a ghostwriter doesn’t really work in many instances. While it works in some cases, such as mass content creation, it won’t work if you are helping someone else pen a memoir.

Remember: the person hiring you has a message he or she wants to share. S/he may not write well, and it’s your job to act as a medium for the message, and ensure that it’s authentic.

If you end up in a position where you might need to share ideas you don’t agree with, you will have to decide whether or not you can get beyond that fact; many ghostwriters end up producing material they don’t necessarily agree with because they understand it’s not their work anyway. Well, it is your work — but it’s not really, because you’ve agreed that it isn’t. (Confused yet?)

2. You May Never Get Credit for Your Work

When you start ghostwriting, you need to get over the idea that you might get credit for the work you do in someone else’s name. There is nothing more heart-wrenching than to read your words in a lauded guest article on the Wall Street Journal’s website, but unable to enjoy the glory that comes with recognition. You can’t go around telling someone that you wrote that book or that post or that wonderfully influential thought piece. Don’t ghostwrite if you’re going to spend your time stewing about your lack of recognition.

3. You’ll Need to Develop Your Own Voice Elsewhere

If you do want that recognition at some point, you’ll need to develop your voice elsewhere. It’s great that you’re well-versed in policy and that you’ve written a number of papers and speeches that were well-received. Unfortunately, no one knows your name because you’ve been doing that work in someone else’s name. You won’t be able to use those items as clips for gigs in your own name, and they won’t be bolstering your credentials.

This means that, if you want to build your own expertise and make a name for yourself, you will need to start writing under your own byline. But remember that you don’t own anything written under someone else’s name. It’s theirs. You’ll need your own voice and your own body of work if you want to trade on your own reputation.

4. Know the Terms of the Agreement

One of the most difficult situations is when you write some items with your byline and others as a ghostwriter. You need to be clear about which items will be ghostwritten, and which items should bear your name. If you charge a premium for ghostwritten work (some writers looking to build a reputation charge extra when they don’t get a byline), keep track of which articles should be which for invoicing purposes.

Also, pay attention to the articles when they are published. If the agreement was for your name to be on a certain article, and it turns out your client claimed it as his or her own, you need to figure out how to approach that. Mixing byline writing with ghostwriting means that you need to stay on your toes.

Ghostwriting can be a great way to make ends meet. However, it also comes with pitfalls and disappointments. Know your stuff before you get started.