There are tons of different freelance writing jobs out there. One of them is ghostwriting.
While it might sound like some sort of spooky (and downright dodgy) freelance job, it’s actually one of the most profitable ways to make a living as a professional writer.
A freelance ghostwriter is just like any other writing job. The only difference? Your name isn’t being attached to the work. Nobody will know you wrote it. Instead, it’ll be your words with someone’s name replacing yours as the author.
Granted, you can’t use that work in your portfolio. But if you’re good at it (and don’t mind sacrificing credit), ghostwriting can prove to be a lucrative way to make money as a freelancer.
This guide shares everything you need to know about becoming a freelance ghostwriter, including:
Table of Contents
- What is a freelance ghostwriter?
- A 5-step guide to becoming a freelance ghostwriter
- How to find freelance ghostwriting jobs
- How much do freelance ghostwriters make?
What is a freelance ghostwriter?
A freelance ghostwriter is a person who writes content for someone else. They give that person credit for writing the piece, which means the original writer’s byline is replaced with their client’s.
Once the ghostwriting work is complete, the client owns the copyright for it. They’re well within their rights to put their name on it (or someone else’s from their company.)
One of the biggest benefits of ghostwriting is clients pay for that ability to add their name to something–even if they didn’t write it themselves. Thought leadership content, especially, builds their credibility. And they’re willing to pay big bucks for ghostwriters who can write it for them.
(When I’m pricing freelance ghostwriting projects, I tack on an extra 25% on top of my normal writing rate. More on that later.)
Using ghostwriters is like the writing industry’s best-kept secret. A poll found 36% of people know someone who uses a ghostwriter–meaning there’s more potential clients than you may think looking for this service:
However, the downside to becoming a freelance ghostwriter is obvious: you can’t shout about the work you’ve done. In most cases, you’re not allowed to share who or what you worked on. That can be tough if you’re first starting out with a small portfolio.
Do I need any special qualifications to be a ghostwriter?
While some clients ask for Bachelor’s degrees (or equivalent) in a writing-related field, you don’t need any special qualifications to become a ghostwriter. So long as you have a portfolio and writing samples to back up the fact you can write, you can get hired to ghostwrite.
Is ghostwriting legal?
Ghostwriting is totally legal. The debate over who owns the content, though, depends on whether you have a freelancing contract in place.
In most cases, a ghostwriting contract agreement sets out exactly who reserves the copyright for the work. Lay out that the client doesn’t get it until they’ve paid for your services in full.
Without a contract or an agreement, the writer (that’s you) owns the content.
How to become a full-time freelance ghostwriter
Want to start your freelance ghostwriting journey? Here are five steps to take:
- Get to grips with freelance writing
- Define your niche
- Nail down your process for big projects
- Practice mirroring other people’s language
- Build your interviewing skills
1. Get to grips with freelance writing
There’s no better way to understand the ins and outs of ghostwriting than to start freelance writing first. Working with clients to publish bylined content means you’ll have a list of high-quality links to say, “Look, I can write!”
A portfolio is key to winning ghostwriting clients further down the road. It proves to potential clients that you can write. They also get to see your writing style.
So, read this guide to becoming a freelance writer. Find your first client, create a website to showcase your bylined content, and attract ghostwriting clients. You can even create writing samples to showcase your work before getting that first client.
(If you’re unsure about the freelance writer route, another alternative is to become a freelance editor or start blogging. Both of those freelancers work on ghostwriting projects, too.)
This is the route I took into ghostwriting. Now, about 20% of my freelance work is ghostwriting. The remaining 80% of content has my name on it.
2. Define your ghostwriting niche
The next stage in becoming a ghostwriter is to find your niche. This defines the types of clients you’ll work with and the services you’ll offer.
Choosing a freelance writing niche is important because you’ll position yourself as the go-to writer for X who needs Y. If you’re a ghostwriter for children’s books, for example, your target client is likely searching for “children’s book ghostwriter.” You want to appear here:
So, start by choosing the type of industry you want to specialize in. Answer these questions to find your ghostwriting niche:
- What could you write about day-in, day-out?
- What passions do you have?
- What topic do you know a lot about that others don’t?
This can be anything from social media and marketing, right the way through to copywriting for healthcare companies.
Once you’ve chosen the industry you like writing about, choose the type of content you’ll be ghostwriting.
Ghostwriting clients are usually people who don’t have the time (or interest) to write a long piece of content. That means popular niches are big writing projects like:
- Fiction / nonfiction books
- Blog posts
- B2B eBooks and whitepapers
- Landing pages
- Short stories
After this exercise, you’ll have a niche that looks something like this: “I ghostwrite marketing eBooks for software companies.”
3. Nail down your process for big writing projects
The first being they don’t have the time to write the content themselves. They pay a premium for someone else to take that off their plate.
The second is the client doesn’t know how to write well, and isn’t interested in putting in the time to develop the skill themselves. They look for a ghostwriter with that skill already, and attach their name to their work.
Because of this, many ghostwriting gigs are big projects. Practice writing those big projects so sitting down to write a 10,000+ word guide doesn’t feel unnatural.
If you’re a ghostwriter that specializes in writing books, for example, why not write your own book? If you’re a blogger, try creating your own affiliate site to experiment with different SEO tactics.
Both DIY projects act as a great writing sample for your portfolio. You’ll also get to know the ins and outs of writing the type of content you’ll be ghostwriting–a task that the person hiring you is too overwhelmed to do themselves.
4. Practice mirroring other people’s language
A ghostwriter is like a chameleon. Instead of having their own distinctive tone of voice, they use their client’s. The goal is to not make it obvious that the person credited with the byline didn’t actually write the content.
Learn how to do this by practicing mirroring other people’s conversation style.
Make a list of clients you’d love to ghostwrite for–even if those seem out of reach. Watch their YouTube videos. Listen to their podcast. Read their blog posts. Sign up to their newsletter.
Write down the distinctions that person has in their tone of voice that stand out.
For example, do they:
- Use synonyms to explain their points?
- Regularly talk to a business audience and use jargon?
- Have a harsh, aggressive, to-the-point way of communicating?
Over time, you’ll start to naturally pick-up on differences in tone from person to person. Knowing that–and understanding what that looks like–helps you mould your own tone of voice to whoever you’re ghostwriting for.
5. Build your interviewing skills
There are tons of skills you need when starting out as a freelancer. Not all of them are the obvious writing skills like proofreading, SEO, or content marketing.
Part of your job as a ghostwriter will be to interview the people you’re writing for. It’s the quickest, easiest way for a client to brief you. Think of it like a real-time version of an outline. The client will tell you what to include, the points they want to make, and where the content will be published.
Start building your interviewing skills by:
- Arranging coffee chats with other people in your niche
- Asking people to contribute quotes to other bylined content
- Offering to interview your client’s product/sales team when writing content
How to find freelance ghostwriting jobs
Now we know the process of becoming a freelance ghostwriter, here are three of the best ways to find freelance writing jobs.
There are two types of pitches you can do to land freelance work:
- Cold pitches: you don’t know the person you’re pitching. The first time you’re communicating with them is with your pitch.
- Warm pitches: you do know the person you’re pitching. You’ve spoken to them through social media and email, maybe a blog post comment. Your name and face is familiar to them.
If I were to ask you which of these you think would be most effective, what would you say?
If you said warm, correct.
Instead of hopping into someone’s inbox uninvited, warm pitching does what it says on the tin: warms up the lead you’re about to pitch. Their face and name is familiar to them so that when you do land in their inbox, they’re more likely to open your email.
Find clients you want to ghostwrite for on social media. If your niche is top business executives, for example, use LinkedIn to search for people with that in their job title.
Then, warm your client up by:
- Sending a connection request
- Sharing and commenting on their posts
- Sending a direct message
Once you’re on their radar, ask for an email address to send your pitch to.
Ghostwriting job boards
Another great way to find freelance work is to use job boards. These are round-ups of job listings from companies who are actively looking for (and hiring!) freelance ghostwriters, making them an easier sell than outright pitching.
Here are some content writer job boards to get you started:
Notice how we didn’t mention sites like Upwork or Fiverr? Those platforms are a race to the bottom. It’s the place where newbies go to find freelance jobs, and clients who take advantage of them. You’ll struggle to get high-paying ghostwriting jobs through those marketplaces.
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Use your existing clients
If you’ve followed the guide above, you’ll likely have some freelancing clients who hire you to write content with your own byline.
Those existing clients are prime for either upselling ghostwriting services, or asking for referrals.
Let’s start with the first one: upselling. Clients who are already hiring you for bylined content already know that you can write, instantly making them an easier sell than someone new. You can send a quick email like this, letting them know you’re open to ghostwriting if they (or their CEO) needs it:
“Hi! We’ve been working on a [recent bylined content] project together, but I’ve now added ghostwriting to my services. It’s an extra [X%] per piece, and means you’re totally free to use the content for yourself, your CEO, or anyone else on your team. Let me know if this is something you’re interested in and we can chat more.”
The second reason you should lean on existing clients is for their network. Even if they’re not looking for a ghostwriter, there’s a chance they know somebody who is.
How to set your freelance ghostwriting rate
Before you rush to find new freelance ghostwriting jobs, you’ll need to decide how much to charge for this new service.
Being a freelancer first helps give a good benchmark. You can compare your ghostwriting content to your bylined content, and add an extra percentage on top of your usual rate to account for the fact you’re missing out on the byline.
(For reference: I tack 25% onto my normal freelance writing rates when quoting ghostwriting projects.)
If you’re starting from scratch and have no experience setting your ghostwriting rate, Reedsy recommends the following guidelines:
- $0.15 to $4 per word
- $35 to $140 per hour
Those recommendations vary massively, right? That’s because your freelance ghostwriting rate depends on a number of factors, such as:
- Who the client is (nonprofits won’t pay as much as business executives)
- Type of content (books demand a higher rate than article writing, for example)
- Word count
- Topic and industry
- Your demand and availability
To get started, calculate the hourly rate you want to earn, plus the amount of time you estimate it’ll take to complete the project. Remember to take expenses–like tax and insurance–into account.
Ready to start your freelance ghostwriting career?
Becoming a freelance ghostwriter is an incredible career path.
This type of work tends to pay a great deal more than traditional freelance writing gigs. As a freelance ghostwriter, you can make upwards of 20% on your usual writing rate for the added luxury a client gets by tacking their name onto your work.
Take the next step by enrolling in Freelance Writing Essentials. It’s our signature course for freelancer ghostwriters who want to get into the game, write quality content, and find their first few clients.