Ghostwriting is a niche often overlooked by those who dream of seeing their own name in that all-important byline. However, there are many professional and financial reasons to consider this field. Not only can you greatly increase your income, you can also explore topics outside of your usual bag of tricks — all while being free of promotional concerns after publication. And, ghostwriters are needed across all genres and mediums…they’re not for the famous (and infamous) alone!
Author, ghostwriter, freelance journalist, and professional speaker, Kelly James-Enger, wrote her new book, Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks: The Writer’s Guide to Making Money Ghostwriting and Coauthoring Books, to help other writers interested in this lucrative specialty break in with some direction.
So, leave your ego at the door, and read on to see if you’re ready to wear the multi-faceted hat of a ghostwriter or coauthor.
Kelly, can you give me a summary of your writing career to this point?
Kelly: I’ve been freelancing full time since January 1, 1997. I started out writing for magazines and newspapers, and eventually branched into writing books (both fiction and nonfiction), and into teaching and speaking as well. I started ghostwriting and co authoring about five years ago, and now the majority of my book work is either with or for clients, most of whom are in the health, fitness, and nutrition fields. I’m also an ACE-certified personal trainer and do a fair amount of motivational speaking on topics like healthy habits and stress management.
Given that you write for so many different venues, what is your typical “writing day?” When and where do you work best?
Kelly: Well, there is no “typical” day, actually! But I try to start my day with whatever I do not want to do the most (I call this “eliminating the ugliest”), which is usually writing. I save lower-intensity tasks (phone interviews, research, following up on queries, etc) for later in the day. I also work primarily in the mornings, when my sitter is here; I try to work as efficiently as possible to make a fulltime living in part-time hours.
How has your writing focus shifted over the years? Do you now consider yourself more of an author and professional speaker than a freelance journalist? If so, how did this shift happen?
Kelly: Good question! Yes, I’m more of a ghostwriter/author and speaker than a freelancer these days. I still do freelance for magazines, but I’ve found that I like doing “big” projects like books, and they give me more freedom, too. As I started writing books, the proportion of time I spent writing books went up, and the proportion of time I spent writing articles went down. It was gradual, but I definitely consider myself an author/ghost first, speaker second, freelancer third.
How did you get on the ghostwriting path?
Kelly: My first joint project was a collaboration with a registered dietitian (Small Changes, Big Results: A 12-Week Action Plan to a Better Life), which went very well. I knew I wanted to continue to write books, and enjoyed the collaborative process. I did a couple of books for different clients, and decided to continue to focus on building my ghosting/coauthoring business from there. Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks: The Writer’s Guide to Making Money Ghostwriting and Coauthoring Books grew out of my experience, but I also interviewed 20 other successful ghosts, editors, coauthors, agents, and other publishing pros to include their insights and advice.
How do you reconcile giving up that coveted byline?
Kelly: At this point, I care more about the money and the potential payoff (which could be royalties, or the possibility of doing another book for the client, or the possibility of other work) than actually having my name on the book. I still write my “own” books and articles, so that’s where my ego gets fed, I suppose.
What kind of writer do you think would be the most successful at ghostwriting?
Kelly: A writer who is a good listener, first off, and able to write in someone else’s voice. You also have to have some level of creativity, and be able to collaborate and work efficiently with a client who may or may not be similar in temperament and personality to you. You have to be able to set your ego aside and remember that you’re not writing your own book, but someone else’s. And finally, knowledge of the publishing industry (for example, the difference between traditional publishing, POD, and self-publishing, and the pros and cons of each) is essential.
I think I read that you decided to write, Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks, because you couldn’t find another comprehensive book on this subject. What are some of the secrets you reveal in the book that you wish you had known early on in your own ghostwriting career?
Kelly: That’s true! First off, I would have like to have known how to get started, how to set fees, how to market myself to potential clients, how to separate potential clients from time-wasters (people who don’t have the money to hire you or aren’t serious about their projects), and how to work efficiently as a ghostwriter and/or coauthor. All of those issues are addressed in the book.
What advice do you have for anyone interested in getting started in ghostwriting?
Kelly: It really helps if you’ve already written a book, because you “get it.” I think it’s also important to start with a form or subject matter that you have experience with. If you’ve written a memoir, for example, you’re well-qualified to ghost for clients who want to write their own. And if you write about business topics, you’d probably be well-suited to ghost a book about business for a corporate executive.
Do you have any future ghostwriting projects on the table?
Kelly: I actually have two possibilities at the moment, and am hoping to sign one (or both) soon. But as a ghostwriter, you’ll have a lot of “potential” clients…it’s getting them to actually sign a contract, pay a retainer and hire you that takes time—and can’t be controlled.
Kelly’s book, Goodbye Bylines, Hello Big Bucks: The Writer’s Guide to Making Money Ghostwriting and Coauthoring Books, can be found on Amazon.com.
For more information on Kelly’s other books and services, please visit her website at becomebodywise.com, or her blog, Dollars and Deadlines. And, if you’re ready to get started on ghosting, check out her e-class, Say Goodbye to Your Byline: Getting Started in Ghostwriting.