Maybe you dream of being a fiction writer, but that golden idea for a plot hasn’t materialized yet. Or perhaps you’re looking for a way to transition from short, one-off writing gigs to longer, more lucrative projects. In either case, ghostwriting can be a smart path, both to earn a consistent income and to hone your writing skills as you work toward your next writing milestone.
In this article, we’ll explain the steps to become a ghostwriter and how to build a ghostwriting portfolio that will help you land jobs.
What is a Ghostwriter?
A ghostwriter is someone who writes a piece of work that will ultimately credit someone else as the author. Huh? If you’re scratching your head, you’re not the only one who finds ghostwriting to be a bit of a puzzle.
Under different circumstances, this would sound a lot like plagiarism, but with ghostwriting, both parties go into it with a full understanding of who will be doing the writing and whose name will be listed as the author.
And ghostwriting isn’t simply paying for a piece of writing to put your name on. In a ghostwriting arrangement, the person who will receive authorship credit is responsible for the majority of the intellectual material that goes into the finished product.
This might mean it’s someone with a really great story idea who needs a ghostwriter’s help to put their plot into a standard novel format because they’re a better writer. Or, it might be a scientist who has cutting-edge research to share but isn’t so skilled as a writer. Even more commonly, it’s a public figure who needs a wordsmith to help their ideas resonate with a mass audience.
For the “author,” ghostwriting is a great way to put their ideas into a communicable format without necessarily having skills as a writer. For the writer, it’s an excellent way to build writing samples and gain experience with diverse subject matter. Ghostwriting jobs often pay well, too.
Skills Required for Ghostwriting
To be an effective ghostwriter, you must have an adaptable voice. A scholar looking for help with a dissertation is going to require a different voice than a world leader writing a memoir. A good ghostwriter can adopt the voice of their author and may even help coach the author with what type of voice will work best for the material.
Which brings us to the next ghostwriting skill: versatility. Rarely will ghostwriters write on only one topic; you must be flexible enough to write with ease on a range of topics, both technical and creative. But remember, this doesn’t mean you need to be an expert in these areas–that’s the author’s job. Your value as a ghostwriter is being able to distill their expertise into a coherent, engaging piece of writing.
Finally, a ghostwriter needs to be analytical. In some ways, you’ll need to approach your writing assignment like an interviewer approaching an interview subject. The author might not always start out with a congruent line of thinking or a clear objective for the project; it’s your job to coax it out of them and help piece it all together in a way that makes sense.
What to Ghost Write First
There are some amazing ghostwriting gigs out there–helping Hollywood actors write their autobiographies, writing speeches for major political figures and more. To work your way up to these high-profile jobs, it’s best to start small with projects that have a lower profile.
One group that’s often looking for ghostwriting help is busy executives. They want to put out writing that establishes their expertise and helps them make a name in their industry, but most are too engrossed in the day-to-day tasks of running their companies to dedicate much time to writing. You can get started ghostwriting by working on thought leader pieces, e-books and white papers for these types of professionals.
Science and tech are also great fields to break into ghostwriting. Companies in these industries do groundbreaking work, but their high level of specialization means writers in the field are few and far between. If you can make inroads helping professionals in the STEM fields put their ideas and findings into words, you’ll be well on your way to building a strong ghostwriting portfolio.
How to Build a Portfolio When You’re a Ghostwriter
As a ghostwriter, here are some things to consider when building a writing portfolio.
Topic. Specializing in a certain niche isn’t a bad thing, but in this case it may limit how many gigs you’re able to land (after all, your work will be based on how many people are looking for help writing on that topic at any given time, which is a factor beyond your control). For the best chance of success building your ghostwriting portfolio, be open to working on a variety of topics for a range of authors.
Medium. Don’t limit yourself to just books. People need ghostwriting help for every type of writing out there. Here are just a few of the mediums you can pursue: e-books, blog posts, white papers, op-eds, scripts, and speeches.
Confidentiality. Ghostwriting presents a unique challenge for writers looking to build a portfolio in that many clients prefer for the arrangement to remain private. Though most ghostwriters won’t receive credit directly on the final piece of material, ask upfront if it’s acceptable to use the piece as a resume item. Otherwise, you’ll need to make the sample available by request only.
For example, you might list: ‘Ghostwriter – 20,000-word e-book on tips for beginner investors from a financial advisor’ in your portfolio. You can give an idea about the subject matter and the medium without directly naming the piece of work.
One essential tool for building a ghostwriting portfolio is Clippings.me.
Clippings.me is an online platform where writers, journalists, and content creators can build drag-and-drop portfolios. It only takes minutes to create an account, add your best work and start sharing your portfolio. You don’t have to touch a single line of code, and best of all, it’s free.
To get started, begin by registering for an account. You’ll be prompted for some basic information, like your name, a short bio and a summary of what you do. Finally, you’ll choose a design scheme for your portfolio. To get an idea of what you like, you can browse various writer profiles here.
After confirming your account via email, begin adding your samples. You can choose to add a URL, a PDF file or a multimedia file. For each item you add, you’ll have the option to add a short caption. Here is where it’s a good idea to share that you were a ghostwriter on the piece, or, if the title must remain confidential, use the technique outlined above to describe the nature of the work.
Finally, add dividers to categorize your work. If you’ve done ghostwriting in addition to other writing work, it might make sense to categorize your samples by writing type (i.e. ghostwriting, copywriting, news, etc.).
Now you’re ready to share your portfolio and begin landing ghostwriting jobs. Ready to get started? Register for a free Clippings.me account and start building your ghostwriting portfolio today.
Musings and updates from the content management team at Clippings.me.