Lessons Learned After Completing My First Ghostwriting Job

After aspiring to be paid for my creative writing for many years, I recently completed my first ghostwriting job. The project was a whirlwind of emotions for me. Sometimes I was happy at the thought of being paid to do something I love, and other times I was suffocated by the pressure. Now that the project is complete and my client is happy with the work I have presented, I have a new found confidence in my writing.

Currently, I have gone back to writing on my own manuscript while I wait for the next ghostwriting opportunity to arise. But if you’re someone who is also looking to get into ghostwriting, I would love to share the lessons I have learned.

1. When Ghostwriting, be prepared for someone to potentially profit from your work for years to come

The absolute first thing you should know about ghostwriting is that it’s like giving birth to your own child, only to give it away for someone else to raise. While you look on from the sidelines, unable to ever claim your child back. Of course, a book isn’t equivalent to human life, but it’s important to know that most clients will force you into an agreement where you can never publicly state that you wrote the book. Once you hand over the project and accept the money, you no longer have rights to what you’ve written. You must be okay with this before deciding to ghostwrite; point, blank, period.

Fees with scrabble

2. Make sure you negotiate the right fee

Since this was my first project, I was okay with accepting 0.01 Cents per-word written. If you’re a seasoned writer with some level of publicised success then you can ask for a higher rate. As far as I can tell, most ghostwritten work will be charged on a per-word fee. But every deal is different. In some cases you may be offered a flat fee. Whatever the structure, make sure you’re comfortable with the fee. I’ll say more on this in point 6.

3. Make sure you agree to a deadline that you’re comfortable with

The deadline is an important factor in any ghostwriting contract. It’s important to make sure you’ll have enough time to deliver the required work. Creative writing can be draining, and when you factor in editing and proof-reading, it’s something that can take time to get right. On my contract, I had just over two weeks to deliver the full novella. If I could go back, I would have asked for more time.

Because I had other work obligations throughout the project, there were days where I found it tough to get my mind in a creative state. Nobody wants to write thousands of words after coming home from a long day at work that involves 90 minutes of commuting each way. So its important to factor in all of your life’s commitments and think about how much writing time you’ll have realistically. If you want to get technical, you can even try to calculate the amount of words you’re capable of writing per-minute (or hour) and plan out your writing sessions accordingly.

4. Split the writing into chunks

When I was first offered the project, and the client told me how many words they needed, I panicked. However, I was in the middle of NaNoWriMo, where I had already managed to write 20,000 words in a couple weeks. This gave me the confidence that I could do the job if I focused enough. What really helped me achieve the goal however, was my client’s willingness to split the task into three separate milestones.

For example, let’s say you’re asked to write a 25,000 word novella. You could have your client split this into 3 separate milestones so that you get paid a portion of the fee upon completing each part. So the first milestone could be 3000 words, and once you’ve written those 3000 words and your client is happy with what you’ve produced, they could pay you a third of the fee. The next milestone could be 11000 words, followed by another 11000 words after that.

Splitting up the project this way made it much easier for me. And being paid after each milestone made my efforts feel more rewarding. The only downside is the waiting once you hand in each milestone. I found myself worrying that my client would hate what I came up with each time. Luckily, they seemed to love it and only had small criticisms that were easy to change.

Client feedback

5. Take on board client feedback and be prepared to re-write

I was lucky in the sense that I was never asked to alter entire plots or scenes. But be prepared for your client to ask for changes. You’re creating their vision for them, so sometimes they may not particularly like the direction your story is heading in. You must be willing to take on their feedback and understand that it’s their story and not yours. Besides, if they ask you to throw away any ideas that you feel are good, you have the right to use the concept for an unrelated project of your own.

6. Once you are confident in your skills, up your price.

After completing your ghostwriting project, there’s a chance your client may want to continue working with you. Don’t be afraid to negotiate a better fee for the next project. If you find that your work has been appreciated, it probably means you’re more than capable of writing a novel of your own. In my case, I’d already had a 50,000 word unfinished manuscript that I was already working on. That means that any writing project I take on is only preventing me from completing my own work. Therefore, my time is more valuable and I now want to be paid more for my time.

It’s important to think long-term when it comes to writing. The time you spend writing for someone else is time that could be spent writing for yourself. The more you write for yourself, the more chances you have of publishing your own successful works. I recommend only taking projects if you have a strong desire to do so; or if you just need the cash. Ghostwriting can also be looked at as a method of practice; but its important to know that clients will want to see a couple pages of your work before working with you. So don’t apply for a project if you have no experience with creative writing at all.


Are you a ghostwriter? Have you thought about becoming one? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!