Want to become a ghostwriter? Then prepare yourself to answer these three questions.
Ghostwriting has traditionally been a shadowy business. Your clients rarely, if ever, acknowledge you. It’s tricky to promote your services. And no child, come Career Day, has ever declared, “I want to have someone else claim credit for my work!”
How times have changed.
Today, ghostwriting is big business. Prince Harry’s ghostwriter just penned a long essay reflecting on his craft for the New Yorker. Perhaps he was inspired by the tell-all that appeared a few months ago in Texas Monthly by the ghostwriter for Chrishell Stause and Vanessa Lachey. Or the recap, from a year earlier, in Publishers Weekly, “Ghostwriters Come Out of the Shadows.” Indeed, ghostwriters are now publicly acknowledged for everything from Instagram captions to dating apps.
Yet despite the buzz, the profession in which I’ve built a career remains mysterious. Casual acquaintances ask, “You’re a ghost what?” Journalists ask, “How do I break into this field?” Colleagues ask, “How do I find clients?” And clients ask, “Where can I see your work?”
Here’s the good news: Starved of the spotlight, we ghostwriters are often quite chatty (especially if the subject is ourselves). We’re eager to swap war stories and show our scars. In that spirit, let me offer an intro to our industry for aspiring ghosts.
How much free advice should you give away in a proposal?
If you work in professional services (think: public relations, management consulting, lobbying), one of the perennial questions you face is this: “How detailed should I make my proposals?”
On the one hand, you want to show that you grasp the situation and to demonstrate your expertise. On the other hand, you don’t want to work for free. Nor do you want to give away so much info that the client-to-be no longer needs you.
Consider the following example (from P.R.): Should you share the names of the relevant reporters you have relationships with? In my experience, most proposals will drop names but not contact info. I think that’s a smart compromise.
Here’s where things get tricky: Should you go further? For example, should you work up a sample pitch? Should you mention that TechCrunch is always hungry for scoops about a startup’s latest fundraising round? Should you reveal that Ellen Pollock is the business editor at the New York Times, or which outlets, if you pay them, will publish your op-ed?
In other words: Should your proposal include a plan?
To spec or not to spec: That is the perennial question facing both employees and consultants.
Picture this: You’re applying for a senior-level P.R. job. After your first interview, you’re asked to develop a communications plan that you’d implement in your first six months. No honorarium is offered. What should you do?
If you don’t communicate your value, your clients may not appreciate all your efforts behind the scenes.
If you do public relations (P.R.), there’s a good chance you’ve encountered a version of the following story: You pitch a client to a reporter. You don’t hear back. Then, months or even a year later, that same reporter contacts your client directly. The result: A prominent and positive profile that you seemingly played no part in.
A rundown of the pros and cons — along with some viable hybrid approaches.
Marcus Sheridan believes in bucking a trend. As the owner of a pool-installation company, he’d encountered the same question from customers over and over: “How many arms and legs is this gonna cost?”
His competitors wouldn’t divulge a price without first having a conversation with the prospect. As Marcus recounted to the New York Times: “Pool installers are like mattress or car dealers — we hate talking about how much a pool costs until we have you in person, because there are so many options and accessories we want to sell you. As a result, pool companies never mention price on their websites.”
Marcus thought differently. As an entrepreneur, he knew that if he could provide something his competitors would not, that difference would pique people’s interest. So he wrote a blog post titled “How Much Will My Fiberglass Pool Really Cost?” Soon, the post appeared first when people Googled questions about the price of a pool.
To be sure, Marcus didn’t cite an exact figure. But the fact that he identified figures at all, including figures for the most popular options, saved his company from the brunt of the 2008 recession.
And yet, almost 15 years later, Marcus’s method remains the exception rather than the rule: Most businesses — especially freelancers — remain adamantly opposed to making their prices public. Ask around, and the reasons run the gamut.
I might be less gullible than an 80-year-old grandma, but my hubris lowered my defenses — and it nearly cost me thousands of dollars. Here’s my story, along with six smart takeaways.
Imagine that you’re a freelancer. A potential client gets referred to you by a trusted colleague. It’s a colleague you’ve been working with for years, and everyone he’s connected you with has proven to be a serious prospect. You’re so excited that you make a rookie mistake known to anyone who’s gone on a first date in the last decade: You fail to Google the guy.
The project at hand (writing the script for a workshop) has an aggressive deadline (less than one week), along with two provisions you’ve never encountered: The client doesn’t care about the tone or style of the text; he just wants it to be “informative.” And he wants it not as a Microsoft Word or Google document, which are easily editable, but as an Adobe Acrobat P.D.F., which is not.
Why is this odd? Most people who hire a ghostwriter care about their words; that’s why they pay big bucks for a pro. Also, most want to tweak writing that goes out under their name; rare is the client who accepts whatever you’ve written uncontested.
On one hand, these requests constitute red flags. On the other, they also make your job easier. Your mind leans toward the latter.
Let the way a prospect couches his request determine your next steps.
Here’s a scenario all freelancers will bump into at some point: I recently completed a project running LinkedIn ads for a client. My client then referred me to a friend of his, who sent me the following email:
“I’d love to chat with you about LinkedIn when you have a minute.”
Here’s how I responded:
“Sure thing! Do you have a specific project in mind? In case you don’t have the link, here’s more about my services.”
I never heard back. Any ideas why?
Here’s my best guess: This guy didn’t want me to hire me. He wanted free advice.
Please stop using this nonapology apology.
Have you ever told someone, “I’m sorry if you feel that way”?
If so, please know that this is most certainly not an apology. It’s not even close.
In fact, this everyday phrase is one of the most specious, one of the most insidious, and one of the most repugnant in the English language. It’s a head nod toward contrition, but it’s unforgivably devoid of sincerity and ownership.
Let’s unpack the explosive meaning of these seven little words.
Here’s the first tip I provide in my workshop on how to master phone calls: Give people a choice.
What does this mean? It means that not every call needs to be a video call.
How does one become a ghostwriter?
Well, a new profile of yours truly shares the secrets to my success. Here’s an excerpt:
“Rick’s opinion writing appears regularly in places like the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Washington Post, C.N.N., U.S.A. Today, and Fast Company.
“There’s just one catch: His byline rarely appears on the op-eds.