As we head deeper into the 21st-century, it seems as though we are witnessing one overarching pattern in the workplace: freelancing is on the rise.
As you might already be aware, the benefits of going freelance are well-documented by now. From a newfound freedom to choose clients and work hours to increased mental well-being, freelancing could be the answer to job woes — particularly if you’re a writer.
This piece gathers the advice of a few professional ghostwriters who successfully made the leap. Though the tips are framed from the perspective of a ghostwriter, they apply to writers from all walks of life who are planning to go freelance in the future.
1. Determine your niche
You don’t hear of many musical prodigies writing beautiful songs before ever picking up an instrument. Or at least, Mike Towle, a freelance ghostwriter with over 25 years in the publishing industry, hasn’t.
“Seriously, how can you write a book for someone else, in their voice, when you’ve never written one yourself? Better yet, write two or three. Shoot for at least 50,000 words each so that you get a feeling for writing something that long: dealing with the nuances of voice, narrative, point of view, flow, etc.”
This can go for all freelancers. Not sure what’s your niche in the freelancing industry? Dip your toes into all the ponds at first and see which you have a knack for.
2. Set your services up like a business
Picture this: you’re at a social gathering and someone asks what you do for a living.
“I’m a ghostwriter,” you tell them.
“Brilliant! I’m the CEO of a huge company and I’m looking for someone to write my memoir,” he or she replies. “Where can I see your work?”
And you have nothing to say — you weren’t prepared for this question. Awkward! One simple way to avoid this nightmare is by following the advice of ghostwriter Stacy Ennis: “Create a website and professional email address. Order business cards. Start professional social media accounts. Update your LinkedIn profile. Begin calling yourself a ghostwriter when you meet people. Basically, treat it like a business and be prepared when it comes time to offer your services.”
3. Start small with building blocks
When it comes to building out your credentials, award-winning ghostwriter Sally Collings reminds you that sometimes you “have to start small.”
Here what Sally recommends when it comes to building out your portfolio:
- “Reach out to people you know — friends, family, or colleagues — and ask if they’d be willing to sit down with you and let you refine your ghostwriting skills by practicing with their stories.”
- “Find individuals or organizations who need help writing the “About” section for their websites. Most people just don’t know how to make their own story shine, and it can be very helpful for them to draw on your storytelling skills. At the same time, writing in their first-person voice will strengthen your ghosting capabilities.”
- “There is nothing scarier than a blank page. Find someone who has written their manuscript but needs help clarifying its structure or honing its voice. This will give you real-world experience collaborating with clients and shaping a manuscript — without tackling the heavy-lifting of concept development.”
4. Try setting a lower fee at first
Making a career out of ghostwriting is all about your previous experience. To lay this foundation of experience, freelance ghostwriter Toni Robino suggests viewing the early phase of your career as a “breaking in” period.
“Even if you’ve been a writer your entire life, there are lots of things you’ll need to learn about how to conceptualize, structure, and ghostwrite a full-length book. For that reason, you’ll have a much better chance of getting hired if the fee you set is lower than the fees set by experienced ghostwriters with established track records.”
Then, as you get more experienced, you’ll have an easier time figuring out exactly what you’re worth.
5. Keep experimenting with different voices and styles
When we say “practice different voices,” we don’t mean honing your best Daffy Duck or Arnold Schwarzenegger impressions.
“The hallmark of a great ghost is the ability to make the final product sound like your client, to capture their energy and their vision,” says freelance ghostwriter Hannah Sandoval. “If you’re doing rewriting work, you have to be able to seamlessly mesh your changes and additions with the client’s original content.
“The only way to get good at this is to force yourself to write outside of your usual voice and your genre comfort zone. Try mimicking the styles of some of your favorite authors in short exercises in your spare time.” Writing contests could be an ever-present source of inspiration for this exercise. Whatever you do, just keep practicing and writing to perfect your writing styles.
6. Develop your customer support skills
Don’t forget that you’re running a business at the end of the day. More than that, a freelance ghostwriter is a one-person show. You need to own all sides of the show, and that includes customer service and support.
“Be prepared to educate your clients,” advises freelance ghostwriter Doug Wagner. “One of the most common, early problems I’ve encountered with clients is unrealistic expectations — especially with regards to voice. Clients need to understand that no writer nails someone else’s voice on the first try, and shouldn’t be expected to. That’s inevitably a product of a back-and-forth.”
So how do you counter this? Make sure that you have an open line of communication at all times with your clients. This can help you establish expectations and keep your customers satisfied.