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.
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?
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.
Every word counts — and none more so than your first few.
You only get one chance to make a first impression.
That seems obvious, right? Yet you’d be surprised by the number of people who disregard or downplay this advice when writing a cover letter.
In our business-writing course at the University of Maryland, we teach the art and science of writing a cover letter. We explain how to create a hook. We present ideas for personal connections. And yet, every semester, some students believe that it’s ok to launch this critical document on the strength of a weak opening line:
“Dear Mr. McGarry, My name is C.J. Cregg, and I’m writing to apply for…”
If ever there were a wasted opportunity, this is it.
Because it lays the groundwork for your résumé.
Many people think cover letters are optional.
The smartest job seekers know that writing a cover letter — even if it’s not asked for — brings with it a bushel of benefits.
Transform your activities into achievements.
If you’re reading this, then I’m willing to wager that you have a résumé. Yet I’m also willing to wager that you’re making a critical mistake on this critical document. In short, I suspect that some of your bullet points cite activities rather than achievements.
That’s understandable. Achievements are tough to articulate, let alone accomplish. Yet if you want your résumé to stand out, then you absolutely need them. Specifically, you need to transform your day-to-day responsibilities into distinctive results.
Most freelancers fail. Here’s how to set yourself up for success.
For a freelancer, time is money, so let me be frank: Freelancing is tough.
It’s tough from a financial perspective: You’re always hustling, and you eat only what you kill.
It’s tough from a psychological perspective: You don’t get a paycheck every two weeks, nor do you get to socialize with colleagues in an office.
And it’s tough from a productivity perspective: You have to be maximally disciplined and organized without a boss holding you accountable.
Don’t get me wrong — working for yourself can be deeply fulfilling. But before you try to realize your long-deferred dream, ask yourself if any of these constraints is a deal-breaker?
Résumés should show off your skills, not shotgun them.
In writing a résumé, many people include a “skills” section. Here, they cram together “hard” skills, such as programming languages or software, and “soft” skills, such as “conflict resolution” or “adaptability.”
Let me be frank: This is a waste of space. Instead of ticking off vague notions like “Excel” or “Photoshop,” tell your audience how you used these programs. Get specific.
A tale of two emails.
Sometimes an email is just an email. Other times, it’s an X ray of someone’s character. Here’s a perfect example of the difference.
Recently, a friend emailed me. He asked if I would forward the résumé of a friend of his to my clients that have intern programs. I did so happily.
Both people I emailed replied within a few hours (after all, they work at PR agencies). Yet while they basically said the same thing — “You’re too late” — the tones they used were strikingly divergent. Here’s what they wrote:
Whether you’re seeking a job or looking to advance your career, using social media to raise your visibility is a must. Yet if you want to stand out—either in a stack of resumes or when your boss needs someone to head up a new project—don’t just do what everyone else is doing. Instead, go beyond the cliché of Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, and write a post for a popular blog.
Is this more time-consuming than sharing a link? Absolutely. Is it more difficult than banging out 140 characters? You bet. Does it seem strange to write for someone else’s blog rather than your own? Certainly.
Yet put the time and effort into crafting a thoughtful piece, and you’ll likely experience a rich range of rewards. At minimum, you’ll demonstrate thought leadership, make a name for yourself, and earn a byline in which you can link to your resume or website. Even better, you could land a promotion, secure a job offer, or generate new business.