Ghost Writing for a Living
By: J. Marlando
I have a written for a living for a great many years and have had enough financial ups and down to be nominated the “Yoyo Writer” of the century. I frankly have never known why I write but I penned my first story at age 7 and just kept the pen to the paper so to speak.
Over the years I’ve written for all media—books to radio; television and movies. Sound’s great, I know, but sometimes everything is not as it seems. I’ve been cheated and lied to by so many producers and others in the “business” that I often feel like “chump of the year” and I’ve certainly earned that title from time to time.
I have also done a heap of ghost writing over the years—nearly 100% of people who hire you to ghost for them are sincere and even appreciate your work. As a result I’ve written for doctors, psychologists, lawyers and all kinds of businessmen and women. I’ve also written for plumbers, mechanics and a lot of others with film and/or story ideas or those simply wanting to have their life stories told. I’ve run into a couple of creeps along my way but most people who hire ghosts have truly been sincere, honest people.
What are some of the challenges of ghost writing? Well, first of all, you have to be prepared to take on (just about) any assignment. I was once hired to do a paper on theoretical physicists and that scared the heck out of me. Nevertheless, when my new client asked if I could do it, I immediately said yes. A ghost writer who says “no” doesn’t work very much!
As a ghost writer you have to be willing to research and…learn! This can be tedious but that’s part of the job! In fact, about the only jobs I’ve turned down are those thick with technology and/or math as those are the subjects that baffle me and have all my life! My wife will hardly let me screw in a light bulb so there you have it…I’m no technician!
A ghost writer must know his or her limitations too.
I’m fortunate in that these days I get a lot of word-of-mouth recommendations but if you’re new to the trade, you won’t. You will have to advertise and promote.
I promise you that during your quest for work you will answer a great many ads for writers. Most are insincere and lack funds. I know! I’ve been there and done that! However, you have to do it because now and then you will pick up a legitimate job.
I have NEVER taken a ghosting job from the internet because payments are ridiculously low. If you have plenty of time and are merely trying to pick up some extra cash small internet jobs are fine but if you are a “real” writer, even an article takes research and in the least, a few hours to complete. If you’re being paid $15.00 per article, you’re not earning more than $5.00 an hour, tops…in most cases.
However, I have snagged a few well-paying assignments from the net although they have been few and far between.
As you probably already know, most non-writers do not put much of a dollar value on your work—what the heck is so difficult about putting words on paper? Nevertheless, here’s a list of what I charge for penning people’s stories and a good guide for the new ghost:
A biography-- $15,000 to $50,000 depending on the job. I ask 1/3rd front, 1/3rd middle and 1/3rd at the end. I offer one free tweaking but I charge $50.00 an hour for any serious re-writing. If a person’s story has commercial ambitions I try and negotiate 10% of profits and 5% of any advances. (I don’t always get it).
If you’re serious about ghosting you will eventually do all kinds of writing for people—books, film-scripts, papers and so on. Remember, ghosting takes you away from what you want to write. In fact, you are an employee of your client. I’ve had clients who start you out on one project, change in mid-stream and still want you to “get it done” overnight. Well, you can’t! Every writer has his or her creative period per-day. I can usually write well for 7 hours. Some writers can work longer but most run out of creative juice in 4 to 5 hours. So beware, when you quote a finish line. If you’re only good for five pages a day, be honest and give your client a realistic projection for finishing a project. And be sure not to fool yourself. The last thing you want to do is disappoint a client—word gets out and pretty soon you’ll be out of work.
Remember too, as a professional you can NEVER reveal who your clients are or what projects you have written. This is absolutely unethical and why you are called…a ghost writer in the first place. My wife is the only one in the world who knows some of my clients and what projects I have written for them but she does not even reveal this to our children. That’s how serious confidentiality is in the business of ghosting.
You cannot have a big ego or, for that matter, an ego at all when it comes to putting your name on material. Indeed, if you write something for a client that is nominated for a Pulitzer, you can’t suddenly want credit for the work or even whisper to your friend—hey, I wrote that. If you do, you are harming your client, harming your own reputation and harming every other writer in the ghosting business.
Remember, if you want the glory of the story—don’t sign on to ghost. It’s as simple as that.
You also have to care! Just because you are ghosting doesn’t mean you can slam out words to get the job done. It is essential that you put YOUR heart and YOUR mind and YOUR devotion into the “job.” Indeed, you are serving as an extension of your client and you must do your best, in a term, to get into his or her reality.
The internet has spawned a population of hack writers but do not join their ranks. Always…always do your best. You might miss a bunch of lousy paying jobs but slowly you will begin to gain a professional reputation. And that’s another thing, just because you put out your shingle reading doesn’t mean clients will start knocking at your door. You have to advertise and make contacts. You should have business cards made in the least and pass them out generously—the last person you think would ever hire a writer is sometimes the first to call you.
The chances are especially in the beginning you will get a lot of editing and re-writing work. Take the jobs—both are educational and fatten your purse a bit.
These are the basics from my own experiences. Good luck and good writing.