Vidya Sury


We hear the words freelance writer, copywriter, ghostwriter thrown around a lot. But who’s a ghostwriter? A ghostwriter writes copy—can be anything from books, blog posts, articles, speeches, newsletters, web copy, etc. but is not credited for the work. When you work as a ghostwriter, someone else puts their name on your work. The client who outsources the work to you owns the copyright for the work you did for them and has the right to edit it. 

Now, the question is, why would one hire a professional ghostwriter? Here are some of the most common reasons for hiring a ghostwriter:

  • The client’s business is expanding so fast that there is no time to write their own content.
  • The client has a wealth of ideas and stories, but does not write well.

Ghostwriting is not a new concept—it has been around for time immemorial.

I have worked as a ghostwriter for years on various client projects and my assignments involved the following:

  • Editing a rough manuscript, adding content where required and “fleshing” it up, finetuning it to create the final product.
  • Transcribing from rough notes to a final document or presentation. I once transcribed three notebooks from French to English and then had to create a report out of it.
  • Writing a series of blog posts for a single client for their business.
  • Maintaining a business blog by writing posts in the client’s voice and style.
  • Working on a nonfiction/fiction ebook based on an outline and table of contents provided by the client.
  • Researching and writing white papers based on a brief provided.

And much more. Ghostwriting can be anything from polishing a document, editing, to writing from scratch. Since there’s no byline for the author, freelance ghostwriting can be quite a lucrative business idea if you want to work from home. I can certainly endorse that the work is very interesting.

Many publishing houses hire ghostwriters for some of their book series as well as for their authors. These come with their own set of rules and specifications.

What skills do you need to get started as a ghostwriter?

Depending on the kind of writing you intend to do, you need to develop the specific skills needed. If you want ghostwrite fiction, you need the skills based on the brief and outline provided to you. If you would rather blog for a client, then you need to have the expertise to research and write in such a way that the client meets their goal. Take a look at the types of writing out there—and decide what you would like to focus on. Then practice.

What basic equipment do you need?

Here’s what you need to start working from home:

  • A computer or a laptop with a stable internet connection
  • Editing software like MS Office
  • Typing skills
  • Space to work peacefully and without distractions – can be your home or even a coffee shop
  • A smartphone
  • Discipline

I’ve just listed what I started with. You’ll figure out the extras you need depending on the kind of work you do. Fortunately, most software programs you need or their alternatives are available for download online.

Build your profiles on social media. I recommend LinkedIn where you can post a strong resume listing your skills.

What you need to be wary of

Starting your freelance work as a ghostwriter can be so exciting that it can be easy to lose track of time. There are days when you end up working way past your working hours. Once in a while this is okay when there is an emergency deadline. But if you make it a habit you face the risk of burnout. All that screen time, brain strain and sitting can become stressful. Make sure you have a comfortable desk and take breaks. Eat on time, get exercise. Make time to do what you enjoy.

Which niches to consider?

The most popular writing niches today are blogging for businesses and bloggers. Yes, many bloggers make a full-time income through their blogs and as they focus on growing their blogs, they need ghostwriters. Look around at the topics that interest you the most and look for work in that area. Browse blogs and business websites to pitch your writing. Now is a good time to do the research and create a portfolio and services package with details of what you can offer along with pricing. 

How Do You Get Paid?

Gone are the days when the check is in the mail! The easiest ways to get paid is online, the most popular being via PayPal. Some clients use Stripe and wire transfer. If you don’t have a PayPal account, create one right away. Ensure that the payment terms are clear before you accept work.

I know we’ve just touched the tip of the ghostwriting iceberg, but I can tell you that ghostwriting can be a steady freelance business since businesses are always looking at quality content writers. Also, self-publishing is something many authors are opting for today. When you connect with prospective clients, even if they only have ideas or outlines, you can use your skills to make their dream—and yours—a reality. Don’t forget to let your friends and contacts know you are in business! If you haven’t launched your business yet, be sure to grab our how-to guide and workbook to plan your business. Learn more by clicking here.

Working as a freelance writer is a great option if you want to work from home. Flexible schedule, taking on what you can handle, being in control of your income, balancing work and life—all this is possible.

Choosing to work as a freelance writer can be lucrative if you have what it takes. I started putting out my intention to do freelance writing work in 2003, and started working with a content marketing agency soon after, once I cleared a writing test. I worked with them for more than a decade before I built my own client base.

Of course, as with any type of work, there are several pros and cons. If you plan to launch into a freelance writing career, here’s what you should know to be successful:

·       What it takes

·       How to get started

·       Pitfalls to avoid

What does it take to be a freelance writer?

When I began my freelance writing career, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I didn’t need a writing degree. What I did need was an excellent command over the language, the ability to understand the client’s brief and write in a conversational tone to appeal to the audience that would be reading my work.

The question foremost on your mind is probably this: How much money can you make? This depends on your clients and the type of writing you decide to do. I enjoyed writing articles, long form content, and ebooks specifically but was open to any kind of content and topic. This enabled me to take on a variety of work and kept me busy enough.

How do you decide how much to charge for your writing? There are many resources available online. Depending on the client’s project, your pricing can be per hour or per word. Or you could charge a package cost for the entire project assigned to you. Most projects require research, so you will need to factor that in, along with the time you expect to invest in the work. That said, you could end up making anything from $20 to $1000 a page based on your client’s niche and the deliverables expected by them.

It goes without saying that you must set yourself a schedule based on how much time you can set aside for the writing and for pitching to clients. I prefer to work alone, but I know freelance writers who outsource the writing by hiring writers and editors when they start receiving more work than they can handle alone. It is completely up to you. 

How to Get Started

Once you decide you want to get started as a freelance writer, the first thing you want to do is take stock of your skills. If you want to begin as a basic content writer and know how to research, and write a 500 to1500-word article about the topic required, that can be your starting point.

But for more specialized copy that goes into sales pages, landing pages, press releases, and advertisements, you would need to learn those skills and develop experience. The good news is that specialized copywriting means higher pricing, even though finding clients can be more challenging, at least initially. But as you build your reputation, your referrals will grow and so will your income. 

I remember my first assignment which required me to write ten articles. One of the instructions, besides the usual grammar, punctuation, and language was this: the article must be easy for a seventh-grader to read and understand. Oh, easy, I thought. It took me practice before I could get into that flow!

I’ve found that it is more common for website owners to look for content writers to deliver 30 articles every month consistently. Specialized content such as landing pages or sales pages is rarer. 

My suggestion would be to begin with one type of writing for a client. As you gain experience, add more services to your portfolio. This will help find your footing in the market and prevent overwhelm. Once you figure out what you enjoy writing best, do set up a web page or a website to advertise your skills and your services. Show them samples of your work. Build your presence on social media platforms. One that really worked for me was LinkedIn.

Pitfalls to avoid

As I mentioned earlier, every profession has its dos and don’ts. Here are some things to be wary about:

·   Avoid clients who are not the right fit for you. It can be easy to accept work that you really don’t enjoy doing but take up anyway because of the pay.

·   Avoid clients who try to cut down your rates and underpay you. They will promise consistent work just to negotiate. Be firm.

·   Avoid clients who don’t respect you and your time. The worst kind.

·   Make sure your terms of service are clear to the client, especially when it comes to paying you.

That said, working as a freelance writer can be fulfilling work. It is wonderful to work from home, setting your own hours and enjoying what you do. And remember, it will take time, consistent effort and patience to establish yourself and achieve the goals you’ve set for yourself.

Are you ready?