6 Common Misconceptions About Making Money as a Ghostwriter
As someone fortunate enough to earn decent money ghostwriting for high-powered professionals in the tech industry, I often hear from people who seem to harbour one or more key misconceptions about what it takes to do this kind of work successfully.
I have no doubt that these folks have nothing but the sincerest of intentions as regards their willingness to improve their skills and to learn how to better market their services.
Unfortunately, I suspect that they continue to struggle with landing (and keeping) new clients because one or more of their core beliefs about content writing and/or about the steps needed to convince people to hire them are getting in the way of their potential success.
As I discussed in a
, wannabe ghostwriters (and similar forms of content writers) must cultivate a
before trying to apply different tactics for acquiring paid work by writing for others.
From how you think about the purpose and value of your writing and about the needs of your prospective clients to the ways in which you present yourself through your marketing efforts and through your negotiations over workload and price, your success as a ghostwriter ultimately depends upon your mentality. “Here’s what I do far better than others, and here’s why it could be of tremendous benefit to you” — this is the core framework through which you must structure your thoughts and actions as you try and sell your content writing services.
Before you start marketing yourself as a content writer or engaging in negotiations with prospective clients, you should first familiarize yourself with the following six key misconceptions about online ghostwriting.
It’s very easy to “fall back” into accepting the legitimacy of one or more of these claims, so be sure to remain ever-vigilant with respect to how you think about and market yourself and the specific value you offer through your services.
As a preview, here are the six mistaken beliefs I’ll be deconstructing:
Ghostwriting is easy;
All you need to make money as a ghostwriter is writing talent;
Novice ghostwriters can’t earn big money;
Upwork/Fiverr are the only options worth considering;
Ghostwriters work very closely with every one of their clients; and
Ghostwritten content must always be 100% original.
Misconception #1: Ghostwriting is easy (“I’m a writer, after all…”)
“I write my own blog posts and people seem to really like them. How hard could it be to write content for others?”
To be blunt, ghostwriting is
an easy undertaking, neither as a one-off project nor a months- or even years-long job/career.
True, it’s far less (physically) demanding than bricklaying or farming and less (intellectually) taxing than working as a physicist or surgeon but ghostwriting is still by no means easy.
Becoming a successful ghostwriter — i.e., making a living (or a worthwhile side income) writing content for others — requires that you:
Become something of a subject matter expert in any and all areas in which your clients do business
Take the time to learn about your clients’ business objectives, company missions and “voices”, audience personas and customer needs, and their competitors’ operations
Accept the inevitability of having to re-work (i.e., to provide several drafts of) content in order to ensure that the tone and substance both “fit with” your clients’ expectations
Manage your time extremely well, work effectively with little-to-no guidance or supervision, and successfully meet deadlines on a consistent basis
It takes serious effort and dedication to become a professional, dependable, and in-demand ghostwriter.
By no means is ghostwriting simply a process of writing about whatever you fancy and then selling your content to people who are eagerly waiting to “slap” their names on it and take credit for it.
Nor is it even accurate to describe ghostwriting as “just” another form of writing: as I’ll discuss shortly, ghostwriting in the tech/startup domain, which is the industry with which I’m most concerned, has just as much to do with
marketing your services
as it does with
researching and writing content
for your clients.
Misconception #2: All you need to make money as a ghostwriter is writing talent
“At the end of the day, ghostwriting is merely writing somebody else’s words for them. Because I’m an experienced and talented writer, ghostwriting will come naturally to me. Sure, I’ll have to learn lots about my clients and their specific needs and experiences but writing is writing, and I’ve got that bit covered.”
To speak philosophically for a second, writing talent is a
but not a
, condition for developing into a successful ghostwriter.
In other words, whilst proficiency in writing is indeed essential to earning a living (or to creating a worthwhile “side hustle”) as a writer, writing talent alone will not
carry you all the way, as it were.
In addition to possessing substantial writing talent,
you must also be very effective at marketing yourself to potential clients
if you want to make big money as a ghostwriter.
Writing talent + effective marketing = successful ghostwriter
Fundamentally, ghostwriters are both content creators
Indeed, the only way to keep working as a successful content creator is to effectively market yourself to those who are willing to pay you for your creations.
(This dynamic, of course, applies well beyond the realm of ghostwriting.)
Simply stated, your writing
won’t bring you massive success, especially if you don’t already have a large online following or a strong client base.
Unless you’re a famous content writer with a long list of people begging to hire you,
you must allocate just as much effort to marketing your services and to impressing ideal clients in your industry/niche as you do to honing your abilities as a researcher and writer.
Effective marketing is absolutely indispensable to becoming a highly sought-after ghostwriter (see
In today’s ultra competitive landscape, in which an ever-increasing number of writers are trying to earn money by creating online content, you have no choice but to
show potential clients exactly what you could do for them were they to hire you. You must get the “right” people to notice you but this can’t be done merely by proclaiming that you’re a gifted writer.
Remember, human beings respond to actions, not promises: you need to actively demonstrate your skills, dedication, and professionalism to those for whom you want to work. You’ll never earn big money simply by bragging about how talented you are.
If your only concern is to earn a few dollars by ghostwriting content on a very seldom (i.e., rare) basis then, by all means, go ahead and create a profile on Upwork or Fiverr, write up a detailed description of your past accomplishments, make a bunch of promises/guarantees about the quality of your work, and wait for the odd inquiry to slowly trickle into your inbox.
If you’re lucky, you might get a couple of messages per week (at most): with potential buyers offering to pay you one to three cents per word to write hundreds or thousands of words for them, you’ll end up making $5 to $15 for a 500 word blog post.
If, however, your objective is to earn a living (or to generate a solid secondary or tertiary income) as a ghostwriter then you must take an entirely different approach to finding, contacting, and converting leads into top-dollar clients.
For those of you familiar with the particular system that I teach, you know that I’m referring here to the Delivery of Free Work (tDFW) strategy (see
), which I’ll discuss in more detail shortly.
Let’s first consider the third and fourth common misconceptions (to which tDFW method actually represents the solution).
Misconceptions #3 and #4: It’s impossible for novice ghostwriters to earn big money; marketplaces like Upwork/Fiverr are the only options worth considering
“As a new ghostwriter, I have very little (if any) chance of effectively landing high-paying clients. I can’t possibly compete with content writers who have been working in this space for years. My only option is to ‘build up my name’ by accepting low-paying jobs for the foreseeable future.
Because nobody knows who I am or recognizes the talent that I have, the only real opportunity available to me is to try and find work on sites like Upwork and Fiverr. If I do lots of great work on these platforms then I’ll eventually be able to start charging big bucks for my writing.”
Whilst there’s a bit of truth to some of these ideas, it’s vital to recognize that, on the whole, these beliefs are deeply mistaken.
On the one hand, you would indeed encounter strong resistance if, as a “newcomer” with little-to-no existing industry connections (social capital) or an existing body of work (material capital), you were to try and immediately demand that prospective clients pay you big money for your writing.
Virtually no company or individual is going to agree to pay you $500 per blog post, for example, if they’re under the impression that you’ve just “popped up out nowhere” and are now inexplicably insisting upon charging hefty prices (which you clearly haven’t yet earned the “right” to do).
So, yes, you do indeed have to “earn your dues” and “work in the trenches” as a wannabe ghostwriter (just like you’d have to do if you were starting “fresh” in any other area of business).
This requires taking on work at less-than-ideal prices
at the very beginning
of your journey
in order to “prove yourself” and to convince others that you’re a person to whom they should pay attention.
On the other hand, however,
of the following assertions is true:
You must directly compete with other, far more experienced ghostwriters in order to secure lucrative projects;
Marketplaces like Upwork and Fiverr represent the only, or at least the most attractive, platforms through which to earn money as a novice content writer;
It’s impossible to enter a new market space and start earning impressive money in a relatively short period of time.
All three of these ideas are false; if accepted as legitimate, they could significantly interfere with your ability to succeed as a writer in the tech/startup space.
First of all,
there’s no need whatsoever for you to try and outcompete more established writers in your target niche
in order for you to secure decent-paying gigs.
If you follow
the system I teach
then, in fact, the
person with whom you’re in competition is yourself (a recognition that produces quite a liberating feeling once you accept it).
Whilst marketing my services to potential clients and trying to convince them to hire me to write for them, I virtually
think about what other ghostwriters are (or aren’t) doing — it’s simply irrelevant to me.
Only if you rely on mass job marketplaces like Upwork and Fiverr in order to find clients must you explicitly try and outcompete others by lowering your prices, taking on more projects for less money, and/or agreeing to work with less-than-ideal clients.
As I recently
, aspiring ghostwriters should
using Upwork, Fiverr, and related platforms to find new clients because such websites:
(there are tons of “sellers” but only a few “buyers”);
Favour those who have been using them the longest
(reputation/feedback systems promote “big fish” at the expense of “little fish”);
Take your money
(10–25% of every job you complete is recuperated as a “fee” for participating in the exchange); and
Operate as a “race to the bottom”
(lowest price wins, unless you’re already a famous and in-demand “seller”).
I suspect that many new freelancers (p.s. don’t
call yourself this!) consider these sites to be their only option because they believe it impossible (or far too difficult) to find clients using any other method.
This is likely coupled with the belief that “paying one’s dues” and “making a name for oneself” mean having to “start at the bottom” by “getting in line” with everybody else who’s trying to build up their portfolios (and credibility).
However, I know from firsthand experience that content writers can absolutely start earning decent income within a
short period of time of entering a new market space without having to join race-to-the-bottom platforms like those just described.
pointed out before
It’s entirely possible for a total “outsider” with little-to-no experience or connections to enter a new market space, work really hard to understand the “rules of the game”, make a solid impression on potential clients, and start earning significant income in exchange for providing a truly valuable product or service.
The very first payment I ever received as a ghostwriter was for $420 in exchange for writing eight 1500–2500 word blog posts.
The next month I humbly accepted the same arrangement and completed another set of eight articles.
Then, in month three, after I had written 16 first-rate blog posts for this particular client, I negotiated a (near) doubling of my rate.
A few months after that, once I had written a bunch of new content for other clients and slowly increased my rates with each additional company and individual I took on, I began charging $750 per article.
One of my clients decided at that point that I had become too expensive for his/her tastes, and so that client dropped me.
However, shortly thereafter I reached out to another professional whom, as it turns out, was already interested in potentially hiring me as his/her ghostwriter; we agreed to work together and settled on what is now my current rate of $1000 per article.
(Note: I typically require anywhere from 20 to 50+ hours to create a single piece of comprehensive content for a client, which takes the form of a highly detailed, thoroughly researched, and fully evidence-based article ranging from 3000 to 8000+ words in length.)
Looking at the “bigger picture”, we can see that:
I began ghostwriting by taking on lots of demanding work in exchange for very small sums of money
But because I
every single time, i.e., I created articles that read as if I had been paid lots of cash to create them (ensuring that they were thoroughly referenced, supported by evidence, intelligently organized, engaging to read, and free of errors)
My clients were willing to accept (what I considered to be appropriate) increases in my rates since
I had continuously provided them with stellar content on weekly or monthly bases without exception and
They weren’t prepared to sacrifice this quality of work merely to save a couple of hundred dollars per project.
How did I find new clients back when I was a “nobody” with no reputation or existing work of which to speak?
I created, and then employed, the
Delivery of Free Work (tDFW) strategy
, and I kept using it until I began achieving the results I was seeking.
I’ve talked at length (see
) about how tDFW method functions and about why it’s a fantastic system for helping aspiring content writers land new clients.
Here’s a brief summary of the steps involved:
Target and research an ideal client in your market niche
, i.e., a high-powered professional (such as a CEO, startup founder, or public speaker) who’s situated in a market space about which you feeling comfortable writing
who regularly publishes content to a large online audience;
Select one of your prospective client’s recent blog posts, one that you believe you could vastly improve were you to rewrite it, and do just that, i.e., rewrite the content in its entirety.
Keep what you consider to be the best parts of the original article but then expand the piece by referring to more recent and more authoritative sources, providing additional and more relevant examples, refining the spelling, grammar, and syntax, organizing the information in a more intelligent way, and making the tone/voice more inviting to the reader.
Create a brand new piece of content from scratch, one that you reasonably believe your potential client might be interesting in publishing
. After developing a solid understanding of the kinds of articles this person tends to publish and of the major issues about which he/she typically writes, create a similarly styled (but expertly researched and written) article on a relevant subject about which he/she has not yet explicitly written.
Email the completed piece of work to your prospective client for free.
In a brief and relaxed (i.e.,
) tone, inform the recipient of your email that you’re sending over a free piece of content that he/she can use however he/she sees fit. Mention that you found his/her original article to be extremely interesting and useful but you thought that the information could be expanded upon and portrayed more effectively. State that you’re not looking for anything in return for having done the work. End the email by briefly noting that you’d be willing to write additional content for him/her in the future if he/she is interested.
This is the exact method I followed time and again last year as I went about trying to successfully land new paying clients.
The DFW strategy can be highly effective because:
It lets you explicitly demonstrate your researching and writing skills to your ideal client
It shows initiative, determination, and hard work on your part
It (unconsciously) primes your potential client to hire you due to the influence of the
(i.e., because you’ve done your potential client a “favour” by delivering a fantastic piece of work for free, he/she will likely feel compelled to do something kind for you as well, i.e., to hire you to write additional content); and
It opens up a potential channel of communication
through which you and your prospective client can discuss the possibility of working together
it does so in a way that’s far less annoying, disruptive, or intrusive than if you were to simply cold email somebody and “vomit out” all the reasons why you should be hired without first offering something of value.
The DFW strategy is a “number’s game”
, i.e., it’s a system that will
work for you if you stick with it over time.
To be clear, it’s impossible to predict in advance how many times you’ll have to apply this approach before it successfully results in one or more new paying clients.
On the whole, the existence and effectiveness of tDFW method both demonstrate that it’s certainly
the case, as these third and fourth misconceptions would have us believe, that novice ghostwriters must always accept low-paying jobs or that marketplaces like Upwork and Fiverr represent the only viable options for finding new work.
Misconception #5: Ghostwriters work very closely with every one of their clients
“If I’m creating content on which somebody else plans to put his/her name then surely I can expect the two of us to work together very closely for the duration of our relationship. If I can’t easily contact my client and regularly discuss with him/her the details of what I’m writing, how I can possibly create articles, eBooks, etc. that meet his/her expectations?”
To “cut to the chase”, the main points I want to make here are the following:
As a ghostwriter, you’ll very likely work with clients who actively participate in the content creation/refinement process and who make themselves readily available to you whenever you have questions or concerns that need to be addressed;
However, and this is crucial,
to maintain close relationships with all (or even most) of your clients
— such relationships are merely a
, not a
In many instances, your clients are simply far too busy to take time out of their day to discuss with you the minute aspects of content creation on a post-by-post basis; and
In some cases, the people who provide you with the basic topics/questions/themes on which you’re expected to create content are
the same people whose names are eventually published on that content.
In my “journey” as a ghostwriter thus far, I have formed a variety of relationships with my clients, some of which have been far more interactive, personal, and collaborative than others.
In some situations, there’s lots of constant back-and-forth communication in the form of regular phone calls, detailed emails, etc.
I speak often to these clients and on a one-on-one (direct) basis, working hard to ensure that our mutual visions and expectations align as deeply as possible.
In other circumstances, I literally never engage in any direct communication with the people whose names appear on the content I generate.
Usually, this is because there are “middlemen” who “sit between” myself and the professionals for whom I’m writing.
Consequently, I direct all my questions to these go-betweens, and they act as my sole contact points for these particular companies and entrepreneurs.
Additionally, my experience suggests that it’s entirely normal for you to engage in
communication with your clients as the months go by and you continue to create more and more content for them.
Unsurprisingly, this is because you tend to get into a “groove” whilst writing content for people with whom you’ve worked for a significant period of time, making it unnecessary for your clients to constantly check in with you.
At the same time, however, I think it crucial to point out that:
Even if you maintain very personal and interactive relationships with (some of) your clients, you should still expect to be “left on your own” to complete the actual researching, writing, and editing of content.
Remember, your function as a ghostwriter is to make other people’s lives easier by taking on the responsibility of writing first-rate content on a regular basis.
As a result, and as I
not too long ago, it would simply be self-defeating and counterproductive for your clients to “walk with you every step of the way” as you go about creating their content:
Ghostwriters are expected to consistently deliver outstanding results without receiving extensive direction or instruction from their clients. Often, the onus is fully on you to envision and execute all aspects of the content creation process, including coming up with content ideas, determining which research to undertake, deciding whom to contact for comment, formulating the structure (outline, organization, length, etc.) of the content, and completing all writing and editing activities. Ghostwriters working in the tech/startup space can’t expect to have their “hands held” every step of the way.
Independent “self-starters” who work well (and who stay highly motivated) without external supervision or outside pressure are, it seems to me, those best situated to succeed in the world of content writing.
If you’d like to learn more about the reasons why ghostwriters must be comfortable with uncertainty and with not being micromanaged then feel free to take a look at
this post here
Misconception #6: Ghostwritten content must always be 100% original
One of my readers recently sent me the following message via email:
“I was going to use your DFW method to pitch a relatively new SaaS startup to write for their blog. I decided to write a 2000+ word article on a topic related to content marketing. But I’m stuck. I don’t want to Google the topic and spin other writers’ content into my own words. It feels like cheating, yet as a beginner, that’s the only way I know how to write my own article. How can I become a great researcher and use the information I find to write unique content from my own point of view?”
Whereas launching into a detailed discussion of how to conduct effective research is well beyond the scope of today’s post, I’d like to say a few words about the various misunderstandings that seem to underlie this concern.
To be perfectly clear, you should never engage in outright plagiarism or attempt to “spin” what others have already published.
If you’re an aspiring ghostwriter (or a similar kind of content writer) then creating content based entirely on other people’s words and ideas is hugely problematic for a plethora of reasons (with the inevitable damage to your reputation, and your inability to land new clients thereafter, representing only one such reason).
Merely “regurgitating” existing content is lazy and ineffective, and it’s certainly not the kind of work for which your clients are paying you good money to complete.
However, there’s an important difference between, on the one hand,
straightforwardly copying other folks’ claims
and, on the other,
creating content that appropriately draws on, and makes use of, what’s already been published on- or offline.
The latter is perfectly acceptable and very often necessary to the content creation process whereas the former is simply disingenuous and careless.
In order to “flesh out” this claim, I need to briefly discuss two key ideas.
First, and to state the obvious, carefully researching the major topics (and the related subtopics) of your content is indispensable to being able to effectively create intelligible, up-to-date, and persuasive blog posts, eBooks, white papers, etc.
It’s precisely through the (earnestly undertaken) research process that you develop an intimate familiarity with the essential facts, histories, potential innovations/changes, and major points of perspectival disagreement that exist regarding you focal topic.
In this sense, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with spending several hours or days Googling (and conducting additional forms of research on) a subject in order to a get a sense of “what’s out there”, i.e., in order to familiarize yourself with the landscape of what has already been published.
Indeed, doing so is essential to intellectually processing, i.e., “thinking through”, precisely how to organize, structure, and develop your own content.
So, by all means, fire up the Internet, crack open some books, and start learning about what other folks are talking about, so to speak.
The second key idea, which gets more to the “heart” of the matter here, is that, as a content writer, you absolutely must be able to effectively distinguish between
Because authoritative sources are what you should be spending the vast majority, if not all, of your time:
Investigating, learning, and thinking about whilst researching and writing; and
Referring to, exploring, and expanding upon within your content.
authoritative sources typically include
Peer-Reviewed academic papers
University-Sponsored research studies
Major market research publications
(such as those by Nielsen and Ipsos);
Research by reputable companies
(e.g., Amazon, Apple, Google, IBM, Microsoft);
Publications by internationally recognized bodies
(e.g., the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations (UN), the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), etc.); and
Reports, books, essays, etc. by industry experts
(e.g., in tech: Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Larry Page, Paul Graham, Sheryl Sandberg, Susan Wojcicki, Peter Thiel, Tim Cook, Virginia Rometty, etc.).
To be clear, by no means are you entitled to “shut down” your critical faculties and start accepting things at face value merely because you come across an example of one of the above-listed authoritative sources.
On the contrary, you must
exercise analytical judgment when reading or writing, regardless of how “reputable” a person, group, or organization is.
At the same time, however, the kinds of publications that I just outlined are indeed those that are
the most trustworthy, informative, unbiased, and instructive.
For this reason, they should virtually always figure prominently in the content you provide to your clients.
Moreover, because these sources are so highly esteemed (i.e., held in such high regard), they’re also the sorts of references that many other people will also use in their content to help them structure and validate their own ideas and claims.
In other words, you’ll often find as a content writer that you investigate, refer to, and discuss the implications of the very same sources in your articles that many others address in theirs
This is perfectly normal, and so it’s nothing about which you need to worry.
Indeed, if a reputable organization in your client’s industry were to release a hotly anticipated report — for example, if your client works in the content marketing domain then, let’s say, an annual publication by the
Content Marketing Institute
— it’d be a huge mistake
to discuss the report in your content merely because you’re worried that others might also address it in their own writing.
If your client were to publish numerous blog posts that overtly ignore an influential report with which the rest of his/her industry is enthusiastically engaging then, well, the consequences of that for his/her business and reputation and for your credibility as a ghostwriter would, of course, be anything but positive.
In addition, and in case it’s not already obvious, what you must protect against is straightforwardly stealing/copying content from non-authoritative sources.
By “non-authoritative source” I mean, basically, anything other than an authoritative source.
More specifically, I’m referring to random blog posts, eBooks, and white papers written by unknown individuals or shady companies who haven’t yet earned enough credibility to be recognized as experts.
Be careful not to blindly mimic their claims, arguments, or “findings” in the content that you create for your clients.
The last thing you want to do as a writer is use Google to find the 10 most popular articles on a specific subject and then straightforwardly copy whichever concepts and assertions you see mentioned (i.e., repeated) most often.
There are evidently plenty of content creators who do little more than constantly recycle “flavour-of-the-month” ideas.
Indeed, the more content you create for your clients, the more you come to realize just how many writers merely reproduce what has already been made available online.
Don’t be one of those people. Think and write for yourself.