How to Make Money As a Ghostwriter: Insider Tips to Get Started
Ready to learn how to become a ghostwriter — and how to make money writing in the process?
Whether you're an experienced freelance writer or you're just breaking into the industry, ghostwriting can be a lucrative and rewarding way to build your writing business.
There's just one thing:
Ghostwriting isn't for everyone, and there are important factors to consider before writing for someone else (without receiving credit.)
In this article, we'll answer your top ghostwriting questions like:
- What does a ghostwriter do?
- How can I become a ghostwriter?
- How much do ghostwriters make?
Then, we'll take you behind the scenes in an interview with professional ghostwriter Tim O'Leary, so you get insider advice on what it's really like to make a living as a ghostwriter.
Read on to learn how to become a ghostwriter and discover if it’s the right path for you.
What Does a Ghostwriter Do?
What is ghostwriting — and how is it different from other kinds of freelance writing projects?
A ghostwriter is anyone who writes for someone else without receiving credit for their work. Ghostwriters might pen content for projects like blog articles, emails, speeches, memoirs, or novels.
Wondering why anyone would want to pour their talent and energy into a writing project they know they won’t receive credit for?
The answer is simple. There is a thriving market for ghostwriting services, and it’s one of the most readily available ways to make money writing.
If writing is your passion, why not make it your day job, too?
– Tim O’Leary, professional ghostwriter
People in all niches and industries want to write but lack the time, motivation, or know-how to do so. Whether it’s for a personal passion project or a defined business goal – professional ghostwriters help people tell their stories.
Anyone with an idea for content might hire a ghostwriter to help them turn their vision into a reality. Maybe it’s a celebrity or an athlete ready to publish a memoir. Or perhaps it’s a business owner who wants to share their knowledge and build their authority through blog posts.
Even some of the biggest names in publishing, like James Patterson outsource parts of their writing process.
As a ghostwriter, you get to do what you love (writing), and your client achieves their content goals. Plus, you can generally charge more for your writing services because you’re not receiving credit for your work.
There are other pros to becoming a ghostwriter, too. Generally speaking, your clients will provide you with the information or research you need for the project since they’re the ones with a story, idea, or expertise to share.
Most ghostwriters aren’t responsible for promoting or marketing the finished product, either.
If you want to spend more time putting pen to paper while helping people bring their stories to life, then ghostwriting could be the perfect option for you.
In contrast, here you can learn what is freelance copywriting and how it is different from ghostwriting.
How Much Do Ghostwriters Make?
Many writers ask how to become a ghostwriter so they can charge more for their work. So, just how much do ghostwriters make?
Well, it depends. Experienced freelance writers can demand more for their skillset; books and memoirs pay more than blog posts or short-form copy.
On average, a ghostwriter can make between $10,000 – $50,000+ for a nonfiction book or memoir. For blog posts or articles, ghostwriters can easily earn between $150 – $500+. Rates vary based on word count, the writer’s ability, the client’s goals, and budget.
Let’s say you charge $20,000 for a 60,000-word book. If it takes you four months to complete a project, you could earn $60,000 a year from ghostwriting. Add to the mix other writing projects like blog posts and website copy, and you can easily make six figures as a ghostwriter.
How Hard Is It to Become a Ghostwriter?
If you’re intrigued by the idea of becoming a ghostwriter, I’ve got good news:
Breaking into the business of ghostwriting might be easier than you think!
There are countless people with stories to tell — individuals with a mission and the budget to outsource their writing projects. The secret is to connect with your ideal client, then turn their great idea into a written masterpiece.
Becoming a ghostwriter doesn’t happen overnight. But with the right tips, you can become a highly paid ghostwriter, too.
Follow these steps to start attracting ghostwriting clients and projects:
1. Build Your Freelance Writing Portfolio
One of the most common questions about how to become a ghostwriter is:
How can I build my portfolio if I can’t take credit for my writing?
Since you can’t market your ghostwriting projects as your own, it’s helpful to have a few freelance writing samples under your belt.
So, write a short story or a couple of articles. They don't have to be exceptionally long, but they should represent your best work so you can showcase your writing talent and build your credibility.
If you need help building your writing portfolio, check out these three easy ways to make your first $1,000 as a freelance writer.
2. Get Comfortable Writing in Different Voices and Styles
The best writers often have a clear, recognizable style. But when you’re learning how to be a ghostwriter, adaptability is an essential skill to develop.
As a ghostwriter, your pen is a vehicle for your client’s voice, not your own. Train your brain to use the words, rhythm, and energy that match your client — to be a writing chameleon, so to speak.
If modeling your client’s voice sounds more challenging than writing the next great American novel, this guide to writing in someone else’s voice will help.
3. Nurture Your Relationships and Network
What’s the next step in how to become a ghostwriter? Seek out ghostwriting opportunities!
Be proactive and build your personal network. Don’t be afraid to ask people in your life if they need a ghostwriter — you never know who has a story to tell.
Here are a few easy ways to market yourself as a ghostwriter:
- Update your social media bios
- Guest post about ghostwriting
- Leverage your existing clients
- Apply to work with firms
- Search on writing job forums
As your ghostwriting client base grows, so too will your referrals and opportunities.
How to Be a Ghostwriter: An Interview with Professional Ghostwriter Tim O'Leary
Tim O’Leary is one of many writers working “behind-the-scenes” to help people transform their story ideas into reality.
His only regret? Not diving into ghostwriting sooner.
In a recent interview, I asked Tim how he got his start in ghostwriting, how the work has shaped his life and his advice for “up-and-comers” who want to break into the business.
Learn what Tim had to say about how to become a ghostwriter.
What were you doing before you started ghostwriting?
I was working sales at a high-end gym in the West Village of New York City to support my playwriting career. It was 60 hours a week minimum with hardly any time off, since gyms never close, and the burnout rate was incredibly high. I saw many, many people come in and out in my time there.
But, I stayed because the money was good and I was actually halfway decent at selling. Who knew?
How did you get your start as a ghostwriter?
A good friend of mine who was working for a ghostwriting firm reached out to me because they were in desperate need of writers. Talk about a sentence I never thought I would hear …
Writing is my first passion, and I was ready to leave my sales job, so I took the opportunity to send them a few samples of my work.
Thankfully, they liked my materials enough to give me a chance as a baby writer.
Can you elaborate a bit on your writing experience and what samples you sent?
I was pursuing a career as a playwright, so I had done a lot of writing for myself — plays, short stories, and even a novel that was never published. Professionally, I wrote movie and theater reviews for two websites, as well as advice and dating columns.
I submitted a few columns I wrote, as well as a chapter from my book. Honestly, any writing you have lying around can work as a sample. It just has to show your style.
What does being a “baby writer” entail?
Essentially it's like an entry-level position. They matched me with a client who had a smaller budget and I wrote a full-length novel for him. The experience was incredible, as I learned how to execute someone else's vision. It was my first time doing that.
Thankfully, he made the job easy by being easy to work with and very clear on what he wanted.
How did things change after that first novel?
The client was so pleased with the work that the next book they gave me was a significantly higher payout. And before I was one-third of the way through that book, I got another offer for something even higher.
At first, I was worried about juggling multiple projects at once, but I found it was quite doable with a bit of planning.
For readers wondering how to become a ghostwriter, what does a typical ghostwriting project look like?
Projects vary quite a bit, but the first thing we always do is have a phone conversation to discuss what they're looking for. Sometimes they have an outline, sometimes it's just two sentences of an idea. It's my job to take whatever they have and help shape that into a story.
After that, I create an outline of every chapter, so we have a clear roadmap of how the book goes and writing goals. Once the client approves, I get to work writing the pages.
I'll send anywhere from 5 to 15 pages at a time. If the client has notes, I'll make those revisions, and once they approve what I've written, it's locked. This makes it so we don't endlessly go back and forth.
How long does a book take you to write?
Typically a novel-length book takes anywhere from six months to a year and a half. That's why the pay is high — it's a long-term commitment.
Since you mentioned it, how does ghostwriting pay?
It’s easy to make money as a ghostwriter. If you're self-employed, you can start around $10,000 per project and build all the way up to $50,000 or more. If you decide to work through a firm, you will make less but you'll be given clients. Either way, you get to work from home, which is the best payment and one of the top benefits of being a writer.
What's your day-to-day life like?
A typical day in my writer’s life is waking up around 9 a.m. (I'm a night owl), having breakfast, and then getting to writing. I write well early and late, so I use those times to get pages done. In between, I deal with emails and phone calls.
I am also pursuing television writing here in Los Angeles, so I use my free time to write scripts, produce series, and apply for studio fellowships. Thankfully, ghostwriting allows me to keep my own schedule, so I work whenever I want, wherever I happen to be!
Do you only work on books as a ghostwriter?
Novels, memoirs, and screenplays are my specialties. However, my firm offers services for any type of writing you can think of.
Clients hire us for editing and even consulting on projects they want to write themselves. Basically, if you have a gem of an idea, we can take you from outline to finished novel, to signing with an agent, to potentially a brokered deal with a publishing house. It's amazing!
As a side note, consulting is fun and quite lucrative if you enjoy developing stories but don't want to write a whole book for someone.
What are your favorite genres to write?
I particularly enjoy action, sci-fi, thrillers. I'm also attracted to stories with unconventional lead characters.
Aside from the money and time freedom, what draws you to ghostwriting?
Honestly, it's a thrill for me to help other people see the stories they've been thinking about for so long become a reality. So many people dream of writing books but never make the time to get around to doing it. I give them the gift of checking that item off their bucket list.
It's also great to finally say, “I write for a living.” It's the coolest feeling in the world and I constantly feel inspired by the projects I get to work on.
How can someone learn how to become a ghostwriter if they're just starting out?
The best thing to do first is get a few samples together. Write a short story, or an article or two, showcasing your style and your writing expertise. They don't have to be particularly long.
Once you have a sample, you can start seeking work. You can either apply to work with firms or find work on writing sites. Or, you can get creative and ask people in your life directly if they want to write a book. You'd be amazed how well that works.
I landed a $30,000 project independent of my firm because a veteran friend of mine wanted to write a memoir. Another friend of mine who heads the psychology department for a university was ready to pay $10,000 for a novel.
Ready to Start Ghostwriting?
At the end of the day, it comes down to building relationships and referrals. So many people are ready to have their stories told, and you could be paid handsomely to tell them!
So why not consider ghostwriting as a way to kick off your writer’s life? You’ll be well paid and get to do what you like most: write.
Do you have any questions about how to become a ghostwriter?
Share them below so we can help get the answers.
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Congradulations to Tim on expanding his talents and living his dream. I just finished a ghostwriting edit and am learning how to solf-publish my client's book online. Before, I have only edited and worked with publishers; now I'm gaining knowledge for the 'little guy' on a budget, with a desire to print a book. The copy is polished and she'll print the book in quantities suitable to her budget. The pay wasn't as big, but neither were the hours. It's been a fun project!
C Bailey –
I am very much interested in working as a ghost writer. I am a movie script writer with production credit. I have samples of my work finished and ready. Ghost writing is definitely my kind of job. How do I get started.
Guest (Emmanuel Chukwuma Amobi ) –
Does AWAI have a ghostwriting certification course?
I am very passionate about writing, and always wanted ghost writing to be my Niche.
Ijust don't know how to start looking for clients, I guess someone who can give me that first chance.I am currently finishing up my masters degree in English Lit, and would like to have this on my resume..
Thank you for your feedback and support.
Guest (janet S) –
I appreciate your story; it's inspiring. I wanted to know how do I go about becoming a ghostwriter? I had an associate earlier this summer who was going to hire me to ghostwrite his novel, but he never got back to me. I don't know what I did wrong. Please help me! Thanks so much for your time and consideration. Janeen Morgan
Guest (Janeen M ) –
Where does a person find companies who are hiring ghostwriters? What are the various types of ghostwriting, e.g. is the writing always fictional? Would we rent a list of prospective companies who hire ghostwriters? Thank you for looking into answering these questions for Me.
Guest (Heather Thompson) –
Hello, are there particular firms and websites I should contact and/or target? Would a simple google search provide contact info on these writing firms/websites? What's the best approach in developing dialogue with these firms/websites that would lead to a position within the company? Thank you in advance for your time and assistance with this inquiry.
J A Hernandez –
If a novel takes 6-18 months, how can you live on $10,000? Are there backend royalties?
Guest (Sheck) –
C, that’s awesome! Congrats to you on your new project :). Sounds like you’re doing something extremely valuable for people who need help!
Robert R –
Emmanuel, Janet, Janeen: those are big questions, but generally speaking if you have samples, the next step is to set up shop and start getting your name out there. Research ghostwriting firms to submit to, look for projects on job or freelance sites, and start telling people in your life that you ghostwrite. A lot of opportunities can come through those steps :). And if one opportunity falls through, keep pushing forward! There’s always another around the corner.
Robert R –
Noel: I don't believe there is a ghostwriting course yet... but we may develop one!
Robert R –
Heather, in Tim’s experience, it’s more about the individual than the company, as far as clientele. So, you may end up writing a book for a CEO of a big corporation, or perhaps a retired construction worker who has a story to tell. That’s why it’s vital to tell everyone you know that you’re a ghostwriter :). Alternatively, you can apply to be a writer for a ghostwriting agency/firm, and they will feed you clients.
Robert R –
Heather, part 2: There are all types of ghostwriting projects: academic papers/journals, fiction, nonfiction, memoirs, comic books, romance, scripts, you name it.
JA: A Google search will bring up a bunch of agencies :). And they all generally have contact pages to apply as a writer. They will give you specific instructions, but the best thing is to show your adaptability (that's the most important skill of a good ghostwriter).
Robert R –
I once wrote a 10,000 word non-fiction book for a client. He was very pleased with my work. However he only paid me US$150.
I quickly realized that I had to at least double my fee. I told him that my fee had gone up, so he never bothered hiring me to write another book for him.
Shana Jahsinta Walters –
I have the same question: How do you find companies who hire ghostwriters?
Guest (Judy Bogan) –
Please add my vote for creating an AWAI course to help getting started in ghostwriting.
I'm excited to get started.
Guest (Hernandez) –