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How to Choose Ghostwriting Projects

choosing ghostwriting projectsI know what most of you were thinking when you clicked on the title of this article: “Choose ghostwriting projects? You mean some people don’t accept any project they are offered?”

Lots of ghostwriters are struggling in this failing economy, and therefore are likely to adopt a “take what I can get” mindset. This is dangerous, however, because you are not qualified to write on any subject under the sun.

Ghostwriters must be discerning about the types of projects they will accept. Ghostwriting projects that fall outside your areas of expertise will take longer, require more research and contain more mistakes than a project that fits well within your niche. In many cases, this translates to unhappy clients who don’t want to pay at all.

Medium of Expression

When you choose ghostwriting projects, the first thing you need to consider is the medium of expression. A client approaches you about a ghostwriting project, but he has a specific medium through which he wants that project delivered: book-length manuscript, article, speech, teleplay, sales letter—the list goes on.

In order for you to effectively choose ghostwriting projects, you must know how you best express yourself. Are you hell on wheels with length prose, or do you prefer short, concise speeches? Do you like the personalized, casual format of blog posts, or are you more comfortable with formal trade journal articles?

The medium, for a ghostwriting project, is as important as the message. I, for example, enjoy incorporating certain aspects of technology into my fiction writing, but I hate writing how-to articles about the latest technological developments. I’m not good at the latter, and it shows in the finished product.

When you choose ghostwriting projects, consider the mediums through which you best express yourself. If a potential client approaches you about a movie script and you’ve never written one or studied screenplay format in the past, it would be in your best interests (and your client’s!) to turn it down.

Money Talks

It took me a long time to learn that I shouldn’t choose ghostwriting projects that fall below my expectation of monetary compensation. During the early days of my career, I wrote for peanuts on a regular basis and discovered that those projects were not nearly as fulfilling as the ones with adequate payment as a reward.

Many ghostwriters feel as though they must accept every ghostwriting project that crosses their desk because it is something rather than nothing, and this is true to a point. Some projects will engage you more than others and bring greater satisfaction, and these projects might be worth it if there is generous compensation.

But accepting ghostwriting projects that constitute an unfair trade of services for money are not worth your time and effort. I’ve discovered that the low-paying clients are those who return time and time again, requesting further discounts with each new solicitation. By accepting such ghostwriting projects, you’ve unintentionally communicated to the client that you are willing to work for less than you are worth.

Bad move.

If you are going to choose low-paying ghostwriting projects, make sure you set limits for yourself and accept those accounts with a good reason as motivation. For example, you might be willing to lower your standards for a non-profit organization whose cause you support. In these instances, however, you need to establish a threshold below which you will not sink.

Pain’s Not Gain

There were several times during my tenure as a ghostwriter where I was contacted about a project and turned it down simply because I did not like the client. I cannot get any more candid than that, and I guarantee you will encounter such a situation if you intend to pursue ghostwriting as a full-time career.

To choose ghostwriting projects is to choose clients, and vice versa. You don’t get one without the other because ghostwriting is a work-for-hire arrangement. When you agree to write a memoir or a sales letter, or a screenplay, you’ve entered into a contract with the individual whose name will eventually appear below the title of said manuscript.

If there is one thing I can teach you about ghostwriting, it’s that you must get along with your clients. You must be interested in their stories, their histories, their careers—otherwise, writing for them will be miserable.

Obviously, you will have more direct contact with some clients than others. Nevertheless, you won’t get through any ghostwriting projects without significant volumes of e-mails, faxes, telephone calls and even face-to-face meetings. If working with this person will place you in a state of abject misery, you’d better pass.

Of Opinions and Armpits

Opinions are like armpits—and a few other choice body parts—and you are entitled to yours. In some cases, you’ll get along fine with a potential client, you’ll build a great rapport, you’ll spend a couple of hours on the telephone talking about your mutual interest in bonsai plants and kung fu movies.

Then the other shoe drops: You love the client, but the manuscript he wants you to write is like nails on a chalkboard for your psyche. You don’t agree with the project, but you really like this guy.

Do professional ghostwriters choose ghostwriting projects based on their personal opinions and experiences? Absolutely.

Think of it from the client’s point of view. Would you rather have a liberal or conservative writer pen an article advocating the abolishment of the death penalty? Would you hire a woman who proudly bottle-fed her infant son to write a book about the joys and benefits of breastfeeding?

It is true that ghostwriters can assume an opposing point of view for the sake of a ghostwriting project, but the success of such an adventure depends on the depth of feelings about the subject matter. If you are staunchly against abortion, you would have a more difficult time writing a pro-choice speech than someone who basically disagrees with abortion but doesn’t want to interfere with reproductive rights.

In other words, don’t condescend to compromising your ethical standards for a lousy payday. You might never forgive yourself.

Let’s Get Real

You probably have a similar response to this article to the one I might have had four or five years ago. You’re thinking, “Yeah, in a perfect world I could be discriminating about how I choose ghostwriting projects. But in the real world, I’ve gotta pay the rent.”

And this is true. Ghostwriters who are just starting their careers, when projects are few and far between, cannot maintain the same standards as a veteran ghostwriter whose projects outnumber the hours in a week.

That said, you can start to choose ghostwriting projects based on a relatively loose set of standards, then tighten them up as you gain a reputation and prove yourself. In a couple of years, you’ll be able to maintain the stringent standards that will allow you to sleep at night, but for now you might have to give in a bit.

My advice, however, is to think very carefully when you choose ghostwriting projects. Don’t say yes right away; instead, tell the client that you will prepare an estimate and conduct preliminary research, then let him know when you will follow up. This gives you a chance to seriously think about the decision at hand and make one you can live with.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 4, 2014 5:53 pm

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  2. August 3, 2017 6:10 am

    Great content and site. Thank you!

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