Why Being a Ghostwriter isn’t as Soul-Sucking as You Think

Why Being a Ghostwriter isn't as Soul-Sucking as You Think

Over the past few weeks, I’ve started down the path of “ghostwriting“.

To be honest, I did not like the idea. I despised the whole concept of allowing someone to put their name next to my work. I loathed plagiarizers in school. I was baffled at how they could use someone’s work like that and still sleep well at night.

How could I give my writing to someone else so they could slap their name on it?

In the past, whenever I was offered a writing job, I inquired whether my work would be credited with my name. If I ever heard “no”, I would promptly decline the job and explain my unwavering belief system.

Until recently, anyway.

I can’t pinpoint exactly why I changed my mind, but I’ve begun to ghostwrite for a small website and it doesn’t feel nearly as awful as I thought.

What made me change my views when they were so inflexible before?

My ‘real’ job.

I’m a 9-to-5-er. Although I have never written anything controversial (I doubt my latest article about the right tools you need to work from home would rock my company’s world), I’ve wondered whether what I’ve written may impact my career in any way.

With ghostwriting, I don’t have to worry about that.

If you want to write about your field without concern of a pink slip on Monday, you may want to consider ghostwriting. It allows you to write what you want and have your work out there, without any foreseeable consequences.

I’ve gained confidence.

I never thought of myself as an “article writer”. When researching on how to become a freelance writer, part time or otherwise, I’ve thought, “I can’t write this. I write fiction. I would never know what ideas to come up with.” And etc.

Once I began ghostwriting, I knew I had an untapped resource on my hands. I did have ideas, and they were good ones.

Ghostwriting is a wonderful way to get your feet wet. The pressure isn’t quite as bad, and although you may have the stress of deadlines, the anonymity can give you the confidence you need to put yourself out there.

Remember – you have a skill to contribute.

Think of the last person that told you, “God, I could never be a writer”. It didn’t take long for you to think of someone, did it? We writers have a skill, and there are people out there who need it. (And yes, who even want to claim it.)

While it may bother you too much to even consider, by contributing your writing skills as a ghostwriter, you allow others to benefit from your skill.

It’s sort of like playing the drums in a Taylor Swift song. You may be lucky enough to get attributed in the little booklet that comes with the CD, but for the most part, you’re an unnamed person who had a skill to contribute.

It isn’t glamorous, but you can still call yourself a drummer, right?

It – ahem – pays well.

While it may be not good manners to mention money, when I compare the amount of money I made blogging for a semi-major celebrity blog (with my own special little biography tucked away somewhere) to the amount of money I have made as a ghost writer … well, I make triple for each article I write as a ghostwriter than what I made before.

Yes, triple.

This is important to me, because as a new writer, I know I won’t get paid the big bucks. But right now, I’m making the most money I can with the experience I have. If you fall into this category, ghostwriting may be a path to consider.

Of course, take every opportunity with a grain of salt. With every opportunity that comes your way, be wary of writing sample posts before you’re accepted for the job. (And if you do, write them on the condition that you’re paid for your work).

Not to mention, do some research on the website or company you write for to make sure it isn’t a scam.

All in all, the path of ghostwriting has been a greater surprise than I thought. At the end of the day, my inner ten year old who dreamed of becoming a famous novelist and talking on the Tonight Show about her brilliant novel (like you haven’t) rests well in knowing that this is just a start.

Because isn’t that what we’re all looking for?

Post by Nicole Pyles

Nicole Pyles is a writer, blogger, and social networker (and she’s good at it, too). In between working and ghostwriting, she enjoys writing fantasy as a way of playing pretend as a grownup and working on her blog over at World of My Imagination. She also enjoys playing The Sims games because it makes her feel powerful.

Join the Discussion. Click Here to Leave a Comment.

  1. Hi Nicole,

    I also have the opportunity coming up here of doing some ghostwriting. This post really sheds light on how best to go about it. It does seem soul-sucking, but, like you said, it’s cool getting into the character of who you’re writing for and being bold about it. Thanks so much for the insight!

    Jonas

  2. Ghost writing is a great way to get your feet wet and make some supplemental money. It’s even possible to make a living as a ghostwriter. But if you want more out of your career–like attention, reputation and authority, personal–then you can’t base your career as a ghostwriter. In essence you are making someone else seem the authority when in truth you are the authority–but you can’t claim it. And think about this: how much of the content is the client contributing? Is he giving you an outline, a transcription of his thoughts? Or are you coming up with the ideas, getting them approved and doing all the writing? Those are two very different situations with different ethical consequences.

    • Very true! Like I said, it’s a nice start for the new writer!

    • Good points, Damian. I began ghost blogging for my first ever gig as well, but if I put my client’s name on it, it was usually based on a transcript, video, email, audio recording, or something that I got from him so that it actually was his ideas, and some of his original language. I elaborated and filled in gaps where necessary.

      Eventually, though, I grew tired of having to put all that energy week after week into making someone else’s name known.

      Some people are fine working behind the scenes their entire careers. Lots of staff writers for companies, TV shows, etc do it for decades. If that’s your thing, then do it well!

      • Ditto, Sarah. I still do occasional PR articles for local businesses or friends, and I’m never the “authority” on the topic– they are. They just don’t have the ability or time to write the article.

        And the other hand, no one cares what I think about “seven secrets to make you the best dental assistant in the office”: they might be very interested to know the “seven secrets” come from the most coveted dental assistant in a large urban dental office. All the dentists love the way this guy works; they will lay off their cleaning staff and mop the floors themselves before they let this assistant go. (okay, that was artistic license) Aspiring dental assistants want to read what HE has to say; it’s more powerful than getting it third-hand from some freelancer named Nic who can’t tell one stainless doohickey from another.

        So I interview the expert, write the article from their perspective, put their name on it, and we’re all happy: me, the expert, and the readers who otherwise would never learn what she or he had to say.

  3. I have been a ghost “blogger” for several years for those in the interior design field and I actually enjoy it. IT allows me the opportunity to work in a field I love (design) and to wear different hats. But it does not compare to the joy one experiences the first time they see their name in print. Your advice is good advice, especially the part about not submitting sample articles.

  4. I wouldn’t call ghostwriting “soul-destroying,” but it’s certainly not career enhancing. Someone who sees that excellent writing you’ve done isn’t going to credit or contact you. They’re going to think, “Oh, I didn’t think Big Name Person could actually write.” They’re right. He can’t. That’s why you’re being paid so well.

    Even a little mention helps. I contributed almost half the articles in Congressional Quarterly’s pricey, Clinton-era reference work, Presidential Scandals. Although my name is not on the cover or the title/copyright pages, I do get mentioned in the Acknowledgements as one of two the people “without which the book could not have been written.” I’ve used that to prove I was a major contributor.

    Be careful. Having “with” on the cover of a book or at the end of an article gives you leverage. People learn to associate you with good writing. Not being visible means that, in a budget crunch, someone can be substituted who will work for half what you’re being paid. There’s no security in that.

    There’s also the integrity issue. I’m not sure I’d like being the voice of someone who isn’t willing to make my contribution known. We’ve had (and have) people in high political office whose reputations were built on books that were almost certainly ghosted by others. That gives a politician credit for knowledge and a clarity of thought and expression that he doesn’t actually possess.

    –Michael W. Perry, author of Hospital Gowns and Other Embarrassments

    • For sure! It’s a difficult line to walk a a writer. You want the experience and money, but can’t have the money without experience! While it is a slippery slope, I have limited by ghostwriting endeavors to only article writing. Thanks for your feedback!

  5. Hi Nicole,

    I recall being asked if I ever thought about ghostwriting. I was like, um, no. Articles for content is a different beast though. I think writing articles which do not require your artistic side at all can be a satisfying way to make money as a ghostwriter, because it doesn’t feel like your identity is being consumed. Everything sounds mechanical, consistently the same.

    The problem I would have is allowing someone to take credit for things like brand, voice, and all that artsy stuff we can create with fiction writing. If I breathed life into a character and that character became famous, I’d feel terrible that I couldn’t scream it out to the world that it was indeed MY creation. It would be like J.K. Rowling giving up Harry Potter. :O

  6. Hey Nicole,

    I love your swagger! (“and she’s good at it, too.”)

    Great points – especially “Ahem.” I guess I’m a different kind of dude. I was never hung up on receiving “credit.” I love writing words that convince others I’m right, and I love getting paid to do it. What could be better?

  7. It comes down to this, simply:

    Do you want money? Or do you want fame?

    If you want fame and take your career very personally, ghostwriting is definitely not for you. Not having your name on your words will rankle you, irritate you and even anger you (as we’ve seen already from a few comments above) – and that’s just fine. Ghostwriting is a choice you make.

    If you want money, then getting credit doesn’t matter as much. It’s nice, for sure! But name-credit doesn’t pay the bills, and some people really like having a sustainable income. They don’t need their name attached to their work, any more than a plumber or an electrician does.

    So in my experience, that’s it, that’s all – either you want the accolades or you want the money, and you choose between them. There are no wrong answers; it’s only what’s right for you.

    But I’ll say this: Personally, I LOVE striking the hot-iron balance right between the two. Money AND fame? I’ll take that. ;)

    • While I struggle to balance both the accolades and the money (often times in two different ways), I am hoping one day I can find that hot-iron balance! :)

    • Having ghost written around a dozen books for entrepreneurs, executives and even one gold medal winning Olympic athlete, I can tell you there’s another valuable pay off from ghosting: wisdom and inspiration.

      I was basically paid to sit at the right hand of some very successful people and be taught the secrets to their success. It was a priceless education.

      And hearing about their struggles and how they overcame set-backs was incredibly inspiring. Some of my authors never finished high school (hence their need for a ghost writer) but went on to start amazing businesses.

      On a practical level, ghosting books doesn’t pay as well per hour as copywriting, but the total fee is substantial. I view these projects as cash cows that I can do simultaneously with other short writing projects.

      Hope that gives some perspective to any would-be ghost writers.

  8. What I’m wondering is, how does one market their ghost writing business? If you sign over all the rights to your words, how do you get the word out about who you’ve written for and what? Not every client wants to own up to using a ghost writer.

    • Right now I have used my articles as “sample” articles when finding work and I’ve been open about this being a ghost writing opportunity. It hasn’t hindered me, yet, but I would be glad to receive insight from others on this particular point.

  9. Thanks for this honest perspective, Nicole. The small amount of ghost writing I’ve done has been very satisfying, because I’ve helped someone else get their message out in a compelling way who might not have been able to otherwise.

    I haven’t promoted that part of my business much, but I’d be interested in your elaborating on how you found ghost writing clients.

    • Most of my ghost writing experience has been with SEO focused companies that are in search of hiring Freelance Ghost Writers. On occasion (very, very, slight occasion), I find success through my blog and the product reviews I do (although I do very few). Sometimes these are new businesses in search of assistance getting their name out there and I reach out to them about these other skills I can provide to them. Good luck to you!

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  1. [...] Does the thought of ghostwriting make you feel as if you'd sold your soul? Do you turn down jobs if you can't get author credit? You may want to rethink ghostwriting… it isn't as evil as you think.  [...]

  2. […] Nicole Pyles says that the practice takes tremendous skill, as this type of writer must be able to capture the […]

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