10 Tips on Ghost-writing

In addition to my novels I do lots of ghost-writing and believe it or not, most of my leads come from Craigslist. If you’re published or have won awards for writing you might want to try it. These tips will help you get started:

  1. Take on each new assignment cheerfully. You’re getting paid to help someone else’s dream come true.
  2. It is your client’s story—not yours. You can advise him on what editors are looking for. But, no matter how much it rankles your creative soul, it’s his book, his money and his choice—even if he’s dead wrong.
  3. Remember to get your clients to talk about feelings. This is what readers will relate to. Most clients report events in their lives but few will tell you how they feel about them. You have to dig it out of them like you’re doing a root canal.
  4. Probe for details. It’s important to paint a rich, colorful picture with your words. If it doesn’t appear on the page, the reader won’t see what the client sees.
  5. For fiction, get the client to be absolutely clear with you what you are at liberty to invent.
  6. Some clients want you to help market their books. I give them a sample query letter and a few URLs where they can visit publisher or agent websites. If a client has an amazing premise and allows me to make it commercially viable, I work out a co-author situation so I can share in the profits—and then I’m happy to do the work involved in shopping it around.
  7. Honor your deadlines. I used to try to accommodate clients who wanted their books done in six months, but I’ve learned that ghostwriting is a journey for both of us. Sometimes it takes longer to turn a good idea into a great book.
  8. Have the client sign a contract and get a down payment. As a working writer I always have assignments waiting. A down payment secures a place in my calendar. Payments are then divided into increments: completion of first draft, second draft and final. Get most of the money by the time the first draft is finished. It’s rare but some clients think with a first draft in hand they can take over—and then they don’t want to pay.
  9. Always record interviews with the client—and test the equipment to make sure it’s picking up your voices. Never rely on memory and notes.
  10. Rejoice every day, after signing a client, that you have an income. Paying gigs are few and far between for most freelancers.

Guest post by Charlene Keel. Charlene Keel has written over a dozen novels and how-to books, and her TV credits include Days of Our Lives and Fantasy Island. Her book Rituals was the basis for the first made-for-syndication soap opera. Keel also ghost-writes books for celebrities and corporate moguls and Ghost Crown, the 2nd book in her new YA Supernatural trilogy has just been released. 


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