Do you want to learn how to become a ghostwriter for books?
Ghostwriters write books and content for others, but their names aren’t publicly shared or credited as the author.
If you want to learn how to become a ghostwriter for books and find ghostwriting jobs for beginners, this is the article for you.
Finding a ghostwriting job is a dream for many and being able to make money writing from home can be a great career choice.
Today, I have an informative interview about how to become a ghostwriter with Alex Cody Foster. He has ghostwritten eight #1 Amazon Bestsellers, wrote for one of the U.K’s most successful thriller writers, and worked as John McAfee’s ghostwriter for six months, which is profiled in a Netflix documentary.
Alex recently created Ghostwriting University, an online course on how to become a ghostwriter. This course teaches students how to become a ghostwriter for books, and every step in the ghostwriting process is included — how to find ghostwriting clients; initial client calls; interviews; outline; first draft; final draft; and fully published book.
Alex also has a free mini course where you can learn beginner tips on how to become a ghostwriter and what you need to get started.
Are you wondering questions such as:
- What is the typical ghostwriter’s salary?
- Do you need a degree to be a ghostwriter?
- Can anyone be a ghostwriter?
- How do I start a career in ghostwriting?
- Is ghostwriting ethical?
Today’s interview will help you learn how to become a ghostwriter and perhaps even introduce you to a new way to make money from home.
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How to become a ghostwriter for books
1. Please give us a little background on yourself and how you became a ghostwriter.
This is what I gave a client recently when they asked for a one-pager on why I might be the right writer for the job. I think it’s also applicable here:
“You can’t give away everything you got, kid. Then you got nothing left to give.”
A homeless man told me this when I was nineteen, living on the streets of Los Angeles. I had tried to give him my last hundred dollars. In the intervening two years, I traveled the world, experienced remarkable stories firsthand, and became a full-time ghostwriter. I never forgot what he told me, nor the innate humanity of a man with nothing refusing what was more money than he’d had in a long time.
What I must give to the world, I realized, are stories. And I told that particular tale recently—his story, mine, and John McAfee’s in a book called The Man Who Hacked the World. I’ve been writing stories all my life, ever since I was eight years old and wrote my first “book”; a single-spaced 33-page treatise on Jack the Ripper. By the time I was eighteen, I’d written a full-length book. At 22, I’d written seven. Now I’m 30 years old, and I’ve written books across the spectrum of the human experience, always with a unique voice and in a way that engages the reader from beginning to end.
I don’t possess a traditional education, nor do I conduct ghostwriting in a traditional manner. Ironically, it’s this very practice that has carved out a successful career from the bedrock of a hard and unforgiving industry. I’ve written eight #1 Amazon bestsellers, been featured in what was the #1 Netflix film in the world the day after it premiered, and haven’t had to advertise in seven years.
Now, I’m co-author with JD Barker—James Patterson’s own co-author—on a new fiction series, and likely will be hanging up my ghostwriting hat in 2023, dedicating all my time to teaching others how to replicate what I’ve done, and to writing books under my own name.
I’m sure I’m not the best ghostwriter out there, although there is no definable measurement in artistry. What I can say is I work harder and more passionately than any writer I know (except for JD Barker), and it shows in the work.
Telling stories isn’t a job for me. It’s a way of life.
2. What is a ghostwriter?
A ghostwriter is a hidden author; we write books for people, but our names don’t go on the books.
It’s been estimated that 80% of nonfiction books are written by people like me. You can bet your bottom dollar that pretty much every celebrity memoir was penned by a ghost.
Our job is to tell the stories of people who don’t have the time or perhaps the skill to do it themselves.
3. How much can a ghostwriter earn? How much should a beginner ghostwriter charge?
My first book ghostwriting contract, which I received at 22, was $8,000 for four months.
Two grand a month for a broke and previously homeless kid seemed like a mountain of cash in those days. But what I realized as I became more successful over the years is that ghostwriting books requires a ton of work. The time required is equivalent to the hours spent by a contractor to build a home. And when you think about it, that’s sort of what ghostwriting is, but instead of home building, it’s world-building.
I no longer charge eight grand a book. I could make more working a minimum wage job.
My rates are $100,000 to $250,000+ per book, and instead of having to juggle a dozen different projects each year, I get to cherry-pick a small handful of the ones I’m truly passionate about.
A brand-new ghostwriter—provided they’ve written a good book and are a skilled writer—can charge $15,000 per book. Probably even $20,000.
But it’s important that you build a portfolio of good books that you can share with potential clients (make sure this clause is in your NDA and ghostwriting contract!). If the new ghost has not written a book before but has written blogs, short stories, etc., they can’t really charge those numbers right out of the gates because they lack the requisite experience.
Writing long form content is waaaaay different than short form (structure, arcs, pacing, etc.), so it would be important for the ghost to start building up their book writing experience right away. The better you write, the more money you make.
4. Can anyone be a ghostwriter? What skills do ghostwriters need?
Ghostwriting isn’t for everyone. It’s hard work, and while it can be very lucrative, it’s not a get-rich-quick type of job.
Being a professional writer is a dream for a lot of people. It often evokes feelings of a slow pace, sitting with a laptop in a quaint cafe, making the big bucks.
While often that might be the case, there are a lot of times when you’re traveling halfway across the world (like I do) to meet with your client and interview them.
It takes a lot of mental brainpower to convert an interview session into a full-blown book. And if you just throw this conversation into book format, it’ll flop, and it’s very unlikely you’ll find referrals from clients until you get better.
Here is my list of 10 signs you may not be a good fit for ghostwriting.
Look at this list not as discouragement from a challenge, but as part of your roadmap to success.
1. You’re not a great listener. Listening is skill #1 when it comes to ghostwriting. If you’re someone who is always talking and not fully listening to others, this might be a big challenge for you. You need to be able to silence your inner thoughts (and ego) and fully hear what the interviewee is saying.
Oftentimes, clients will gloss over the really important details of the story. You need to be able to pull these out and realize what was actually said.
2. You’re just in it for the money. While ghostwriting can be extremely lucrative, it won’t be at first. So if you’re looking to come into this business and immediately be making six-figures, you might want to look elsewhere for some passive income opportunities you can do from a tropical beach.
3. You’re not willing to sharpen your business skills. Ghostwriting is a business, through and through. If you’re not willing to get better at optimizing your ghostwriting business in every way – on top of writing – you’re going to fall flat as soon as you get started.
4. You don’t interview well. If you have never interviewed anyone before, this business will be challenging at first. But as long as you’re willing to learn and get better at those skills, you can turn out to be an incredible ghostwriter.
5. You can’t set aside your ego and personal associations. Ghostwriting is all about people. And no two people are the same. So if your political or religious associations cloud your judgment and make it difficult for you to set aside your ego, you should find another industry to work in. Being unbiased as a ghostwriter is important in making sure the story you write authentically represents that person’s experience.
6. It takes you years to write a book. If you’re someone who has been writing a novel for the last ten years, this might not be the job for you. Not only will your clients not be thrilled about a really long timeline, but you aren’t going to make enough money to survive. The best ghostwriters make $250k+ per book, so taking more than a year is going to make that money go quick. While you don’t need to be able to write 3+ books per year, time is money when it comes to ghostwriting.
7. Writing doesn’t come easy for you. Ghostwriting books takes a lot of… well, writing. If you’re not a great writer, you need to improve upon that skill before you even consider monetizing it. Practice until you have a good amount of skill, but don’t try and become “perfect” before getting started.
8. The uncertainty of freelance work makes you uneasy. Working as a freelancer is… different. You won’t be getting health insurance. You won’t be guaranteed payment on time, every time (but I have methods for helping deal with this in the course). You sometimes won’t know where your next paycheck is coming from. But the more time you spend optimizing the business, the likelier those uncertainties will fade with time.
9. It’s hard for you to connect and empathize with others. This goes hand in hand with leaving your preconceived notions at the door. You will need to connect with people who share different beliefs and have had very different life experiences (after all, that’s often what makes a memoir or novel so compelling!).
10. You’re not okay with your name not being on the cover. Here we go with that ego bit again. The first rule of being a ghostwriter is that you never publicly get credit for your work. This is one of the reasons you often get paid more than an author who writes their own book.
5. Who hires ghostwriters? Do celebrities hire ghostwriters?
Businesspeople, entrepreneurs, health coaches, public speakers, politicians, memoirists, and you got it — celebrities.
Those are the ‘white whales’ I refer to in the course (I also demonstrate how to catch them).
6. Do you need a degree to be a ghostwriter?
Definitely not. I don’t have a degree; in fact, I barely graduated high school.
What you need is writing efficacy, a willingness to work harder than all your colleagues, and the desire and passion to tell remarkable stories.
It’s funny, I’ve lost potential gigs because I have no traditional education or MFA. A blue blood type almost choked when I said both “shit” and “I don’t have a degree” in the same sentence. I’m just a regular guy. I make mistakes; I’m fallible.
My thing isn’t pretending to be someone I’m not—and it’s that very thing that keeps bringing in the big clients. I think a lot of my clients find it refreshing that I don’t have a traditional education, because I’m therefore able to tell stories in a manner that hasn’t been heavily influenced by the works of others. Really, I’m drawing largely from my own experience as a human being who has always been keenly interested in the stories of people from all walks of life.
You don’t need a degree to be a ghost; you need the knowledge.
7. How do I start a career in ghostwriting?
Following on the heels of the last question, first and foremost, you need the knowledge of how to become one, and you won’t find that knowledge in any university textbook. It’s sort of esoteric, really. There’s no set roadmap.
For me, some random guy found my writing on some random forum on the internet, and he was so impressed, he hired me to write his memoir even though I was barely old enough to be trusted serving his French fries. Then I worked harder than I ever had in my life to build a business doing the one thing I was actually good at.
There are things you can do to get on the path of ghostwriting. A mentor would be helpful; if I had one at 22, I would have saved myself a ton of time, money, and headaches. That’s what I provide in my ghostwriting course—it’s six hours of content covering everything one needs to know to become not just a ghostwriter, but a successful ghostwriter. It’s certainly a cheat code. But let’s talk about what you could be doing right now.
Do you Netflix and Chill? Probably. Have you ever thought that the documentaries you see constantly on the top 10 list are veritable goldmines of ghostwriting content? If you’ve written a book and have proficiency with the craft, and it doesn’t set you back an awful lot of time or money, why not reach out to one of these real-life characters from a trending doc or series asking if you can write a book for shared cover credit and 50% of the proceeds (this is called a ‘collaboration agreement’). If they’re trending on Netflix, they will have a following, and that means book sales and getting your name out there, which means branding.
However, there’s no guarantee you’ll get their attention, or that they’ll even read your email, especially if you’re brand new. Regardless, you can get yourself a professionally designed website, an advertising account, an LLC, and then start hunting. Yes, you must be the proactive one, searching far and wide for ghostwriting gigs, because they don’t always magically appear in your inbox; it takes time for that to happen—and the industry is currently inundated with freelancers (that’s why Upwork stopped taking on new ones). That’s where the esoteric part comes in. There’s no algorithm here, but if you hone your X Factor (the thing that sets you apart from other freelancers), you’re a skilled writer, and you’re willing to work hard, you can become a ghostwriter.
8. Does a ghostwriter own copyright?
Nope, authors own the copyright.
Co-authors own half the copyright, but ghosts are paid as contractors who do not own any portion of the book.
9. Do ghostwriters get paid upfront?
Some ghosts I know charge 50% up front and 50% at the end. I don’t think that’s ethical, because there’s no telling if the ghost will get hit by a bus or abducted by aliens before that 50% is earned out.
It’s better to charge by benchmarks. I charge 20% up front, and the rest that’s left over is paid once a month, coinciding with a deliverable.
10. Is ghostwriting ethical?
It depends what your ethics are.
For me, my ego doesn’t necessitate that I have shared cover credit, but my brand now does—if it’s a project I’d like to have my name on and can help grow my business, that is.
In my opinion, more ghosts should be recognized for their work and be able to get shared cover credit, being that they wrote the entire book themselves. But the kind of folks that hire ghostwriters often don’t want to share that credit.
It’s akin to someone showing off their immaculate estate for a photo spread in Better Homes & Gardens, but it’s the contractors—the landscapers, gardeners, designers—that made that property a thing of beauty. I don’t think they mind that the owner is taking credit for their work, though, because they’ve been paid for that work. It’s much the same with ghostwriting.
But if an author outright lies, saying publicly they wrote the book themselves when they hired a ghost, I think that’s unethical.
11. Do ghostwriters get recognition?
Eventually, but they must build their brand and become a sought-after writer before that can happen. My colleague, JD Barker, was a ghost for many years before he started writing under his own name. Now he’s James Patterson’s co-author. That’s because JD built his brand to the point where JP could endorse him.
I now have clients asking me to put my name on their books for that reason.
When your name helps sell your clients’ books, that’s when you’ve “made it.” Also, sometimes it can be worked into the contract. You state you’ll be paid X amount less and in return have your name on the cover. Or get paid X amount, plus a small share of royalties and cover credit.
12. What are the steps to become a ghostwriter?
- Hone your writing skill
- Hone your interviewing techniques
- Find a mentor, take a course, and learn everything you can about ghostwriting
- Lay the foundation (SEO, website, advertising, optimize LinkedIn)
- Advertise your services, charging less at first, and announce your X factor
- Hunt for stories across media—social media, streaming services, newspapers, magazines
- Publish your own book (traditionally if you can; self-publish if you can’t)
13. What other tips do you have for someone who wants to become a ghostwriter?
Not to be that guy, but if you sign up to my free mini course, you’ll get some great tips and tricks that will be helpful even if you don’t end up getting the course itself. I just don’t want to paste all that here because it’s a lot.
14. What can a person learn from your course? Can you tell us about some of the people who have successfully taken your resource?
In a nutshell, they can learn everything they need to know to start working toward a successful ghostwriting career, from a guy who took the nontraditional path and made it work.
Here are three recent reviews from people who have taken the full course:
“This course is a fully comprehensive and exciting series of insights into ghostwriting. Each lesson is informative and engaging, thoroughly addressing every step and caveat of the ghostwriting process. Alex Cody Foster’s unique perspective as a self-taught ghostwriter enlightens us to many of the unspoken and subtle dynamics of this career. All my questions were answered with cogency and wit, backed by his ten years of experience. For anyone truly serious about making ghostwriting their career, I highly recommend this course. You will finish with the confidence and knowledge to turn your passion into a profession.” – Molly Fitzpatrick, author, ghostwriter, editor
“This is an excellent course. Like many writers, I spent years in formal training: analyzing obscure eighteenth-century works, picking up degrees, reading books on writing. This isn’t like that. I have never taken a class that felt so practical, so actionable, so achievable. Alex is a gifted storyteller who accompanies his practical step-by-step approach with nuggets from inside the industry. He builds a roadmap, a guide for what to do and when, if you are ready to get a ghostwriting career rolling. I found much of his advice widely applicable across the publishing landscape and helpful for any writer who wants to learn how to make money doing what they love. I suck at the business side of writing; it feels like a foreign planet. How do you write a compelling query letter? Who do you even contact? How do you go about getting your initial clients? This stuff was out of my wheelhouse, so I was intimidated to try. This course gave me the overview I needed, the structure I can hang my own sensibilities on. I feel empowered, confident, and psyched to be looking for stories. This course is the perfect first step if you are serious about ghostwriting.” – Trenton Kraczek, writer
“If you’ve ever dreamed of making real money from your writing, Ghostwriting University is all you need. Alex Cody Foster teaches you how to do everything, from setting up your business to finding your ideal client. You won’t find a better, more inclusive online course anywhere. I’ve gone through it twice when most courses I buy gather digital dust. Don’t sleep on this one. Enroll now!” – J. Thorn, founder of The Author Life
Please click here to learn more about Ghostwriting University.
How to become a ghostwriter and find ghostwriting gigs
I hope you enjoyed today’s interview on how to become a ghostwriter for books with Alex Cody Foster.
You may be able to earn a full-time income with ghostwriting projects and work from home. Finding ghostwriting gigs can be a great way to earn money, plus ghostwriting projects can allow you to work from home and have a flexible schedule.
There are many different topics that you can write about as a ghostwriter, and it depends on your expertise, niche or genre, and more.
There are other types of ghostwriting as well, such as writing blog posts on a website, writing a guest post for a business owner, social media posts (such as on a platform like Facebook or Twitter), copywriting, online content, and more.
As a ghostwriter, you may be writing for athletes, actors, other public figures, or even a small business owner. Yes, you can even learn how to become a celebrity ghostwriter!
There are many different types of clients that hire ghostwriters, so your writing style and writing skills (such as being able to learn how to write in the client’s voice) may vary from client to client.
If you want to offer ghostwriting services, there are many ways to get started today. This can be a great career path for anyone who wants to put their creativity to work, earn an income, and work from home.
Are you interested in learning how to become a ghostwriter?
Alex Jackson says
Fascinating stuff. I’ve done steps 1-3 above but the clincher at this point is time. I think I have to retire from my day job first. Thanks for the cool and unique article.
Quality content does have the potential to earn 100k + more for ghostwriters. It’s all in the mindset. 🙂