Any freelance writers out there who haven’t heard of Kelly James-Enger?
Nah, I didn’t think so.
Kelly is a rock star among freelancers, working part-time hours while earning full-time pay and taking care of her two small kids. A former lawyer, she successfully switched to the writing life 14 years ago, specializing in health, fitness and nutrition topics as well as working as a licensed personal trainer and public speaker.
I was first inspired by Kelly’s writing a few years back when I devoured her book, “Six-Figure Freelancing,” a great guide to not only surviving, but thriving, as a writer-for-hire. Her newest book, “Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks: The Writer‘s Guide to Making Money Ghostwriting and Co-Authoring Books,” offers solid advice on enhancing your freelance career with ghostwriting in friendly, let’s-chat language that walks newbies step-by-step through the process of setting up their first ghosting gigs.
Because I hope to add ghostwriting to my resume in the near future — and because I feel Kelly’s experience is so valuable — I asked her to do a Q&A for Write Around It All, and she graciously agreed. Thanks, Kelly!
Q: Even to many experienced writers, the concept of ghostwriting sounds mysterious and somewhat glamorous. What’s the reality?
Well, I wouldn’t call it glamorous. But I’ve found it’s an excellent way to write books and make good money in less time. Most celeb- and politician-authored books are ghostwritten, but those books are only a fraction of the ghostwriting work available. Experts of all stripes (doctors, lawyers, accountants, financial experts, you name it) hire ghostwriters to get their books in print, whether they’re working with traditional publishers or using POD, or print-on-demand, publishers. Publishers, book packagers, corporations, and non-profits hire ghostwriters. And ordinary people (I call them “Everyday Joes”) use ghostwriters to author their memoirs, family histories, self-help books, etc. I’ve never ghostwritten for a big-name client, but I’m plenty busy ghosting for experts and everyday people who want to become book authors but lack the time, writing ability, or both, to do so.
Q: It’s always easier to snag a gig when you’ve done a project like it before. But there needs to be that first time — especially with a book. How do you make it happen when you don’t have a track record in book writing?
Yes, it helps to have authored a book, even if it was your own book. But if you aren’t an author yet, you can ghost other things — articles, blog posts, speeches, etc. — to gain experience in writing in someone else’s voice.
Q: What are the best qualities to have if you’re considering becoming a ghostwriter?
Great question. First off, you have to be able to write like someone else — and that’s a challenge! You also have to have project management skills, especially if you’re writing a book or other lengthy project. Part of ghosting is keeping your client on deadline as well (say, returning chapters to you in a timely fashion), and that means you have to have some “client management” talents as well. A collaborative spirit is essential — you have to enjoy working as a team! And you have to not take things personally. I’ll state my opinion about how to approach a chapter, for example, but my client has the final say — and I’m fine with that.
Q: Do you need to accept ridiculously low pay for your first ghostwritten book just to get your foot in the door? What is reasonable?
I hope not! I’ve had offers as low as $2,500 for an 80,000-word book — I turned it down. I think it depends on how much work you’re doing (i.e., is the client providing you with background material, for example?), the complexity of the subject matter, the length, and the deadline, but even starting out, I don’t think a writer should take less than $5,000 for a short, relatively-easy-to-write book. At this point in my career, I typically charge $5,000 to $10,000 for a book proposal and $15,000 to $35,000 for a book, depending on those factors. (And I try to get a share of the royalties when the book is traditionally published.)
Q: If a client stipulates that you can’t take credit for the book in any way, or even tell others you’ve helped write it, how do you use the experience to your professional advantage?
That’s a tricky one. I’ve always asked clients if I can use their book on my resume/CV, and so far everyone has been fine with that. If that wasn’t the case, you could still say you’d ghosted a best-selling nutrition book (or whatever it is).
Q: Is there ever a point when you burn out from the ghosting process — dealing with clients, editors, and possibly-changing demands?
So far, no — at least not as far as ghosting goes. Each client is different and I will say that some are higher-maintenance than others. What I do to try to avoid burnout is to make sure I haven’t overloaded myself with work. I’ve found I can work on two ghosting projects at a time, but three would make me insane. (In addition to ghosting, I write my own books and promote them, write articles, do speaking gigs, and teach classes. Plus I have two little kids at home, so I only work a part-time schedule — but strive to make a full-time income during that time. When I ghost, I don’t have to promote the book as well, just write it. And that makes me far more productive than if I was only writing my “own” books.)
To purchase Kelly’s book on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Goodbye-Byline-Hello-Big-Bucks/dp/145372480X/ref=sr_1