Ghostwriting Tips For Better

You'd be hard-pressed to find a successful entrepreneur who has the time to be a prolific writer. Most of the time, they employ people to build a brand, presence, and readership for projects and initiatives they believe in using ghostwritten content. After 6 years of ghostwriting for some of the most interesting, driven, and talented people in their industries, I've learned how to talk and write like an entrepreneur without being one.

Do Your Research
Entrepreneurs don't have time for you. If you get them on the phone or in-person (which is preferred), make sure you've done your research on them. Not doing so is disrespectful at worst and amateurish at the least. That first on-boarding meeting may be your only chance to gain their trust. I've seen relationships between an entrepreneur and his or her ghostwriter break down because trust was never established.

Yes or No Questions Are a No-No
Ask open-ended questions. Let them talk about themselves, usually they'll be happy to. Some examples of open-ended questions I've asked in bio interviews with clients:

  • Tell me about your current business role
  • Tell me about the path you took to get here
  • Tell me what you're passionate about
  • What's important to you?
  • How do you want your customers to see you?

Pull Answers, Not Teeth
The hardest people to interview are ones who aren't forthcoming about themselves. In these cases, you'll need to prep very targeted questions off the bat. Three of the questions I ask are:

  • Tell me 3 adjectives people at work would use to describe you
  • Tell me 3 adjectives people in your personal life would use to describe you
  • Describe yourself using only 3 adjectives.

If that doesn't work, ask for a CV and try to finagle the name of his or her assistant so you can pick their brains instead. No one knows executives better than their support staff.

Stay On Topic
Interviewing entrepreneurs who passionately talk about themselves and their companies is a lot easier than interviewing the ones who don't talk at all. The challenge with the former is to stay on topic. I once interviewed an entrepreneur who talked about cheese for 30 minutes. Unless the blog is about cheese, you'll need to subtly but firmly get back on target.

Try these tactics:

  • Establish a hard out (a specific end time) before you begin the meeting and remind them of it if they've gone off topic for too long
  • 'That's a great anecdote! Is that something you'd like your audience to know about you or is that how you see yourself being branded?'
  • Acknowledge their story, then repeat back something they said before: 'So let's get back to what you were saying about ___'
  • Think of an entrepreneurial story related to whatever they're saying, then lead them back to task

Most of the time, one of these will help you circle back to the subject at hand. If that doesn't work, listening to a long tale will still help you get a feel for who the person is. It may be worth it.

What's Off Limits?

A ghostwriter I once knew wrote a scathing anti-Android OS article for a client who ended up being very pro-Android. Though it was not a deal-breaker, it was embarrassing and preventable.

So, one of the first things I ask in the initial bio interview is: 'what can't I talk about?' Topics like family, acquisitions, competitors, etc. are things some entrepreneurs want to avoid. Even ones who aren't big talkers are more than willing to tell you what not to write, so be sure to ask up front.

Be Psychic
Being a ghostwriter takes a certain amount of clairvoyance. You have to be able to read patterns in language, tone, gestures, emails, and so many other factors to successfully mimic the voice of an entrepreneur. If you ask the right questions and get a feel for them, you'll be in good shape. Sometimes, the leaps work and sometimes they don't. In my experience, the entrepreneurs who don't want you coloring outside the lines will readily provide you with loads of information to work with - no leaps needed.

If you're not psychic, get better at researching and reading everything everyday related to your client's industry and I mean everything.

In ghostwriting for entrepreneurs, I've honed my research skills and have developed a working knowledge of finance, commercial real estate, and healthcare -- which makes me a well-rounded conversationalist come dinner party time. What I don't get in bylines, I get in learning trade secrets from the top thought leaders in their industries, which carries an invaluable educational value.

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There are two tracks you can take with ghost writing. You can pursue the traditional track where you primarily write speeches and books. Or you can take the new track–the internet. Starting with the internet is a good way to move toward the traditional track. It allows you build a reputation. And it allows you to make a living at the same time. Here are some of the things I’ve tried and learned since I started ghost writing.

The Best Advice for a Starting Ghost Writer

1) Start small

Don’t expect to start earning the big money right from the start. You have to prove your ability to write. The internet is the perfect place to do this.

Start with SEO articles. The demand is constant. Expect to earn minimum wage starting out, roughly $8.00 for 500 words. It will only take a few jobs well done, before you can start charging higher rates.

In order to make this work, you need to pick up a few jobs where you aren’t looking for a long-term relationship. Look for a job on oDesk or Elance that is a one-off deal. Do a really good job and secure positive feedback.

After 2 10-article jobs, you can experiment with increasing your fees by 25 to 50%. Continue to take smaller jobs that aren’t looking for long-term relationships, unless you are able to produce quality 500 word articles in 1/2 an hour. Then you may be content with a rate of $10 to $12 per article in your specific genre.

2) Pick a genre

If you focus your writing on a specific genre, you may find producing content takes less time. This hasn’t worked for me, because even though I write frequently on ghost writing, I’m constantly researching to ensure I’m presenting the latest information.

Where picking a genre can benefit you the most is in helping you to build client confidence in your ability to handle their subject well. The genre can be something you already know something about, or it can be an area that you want to become an expert in. Once again, articles create an opportunity to show your ability to write within a genre. This can then open doors to other writing jobs.

3) Develop a portfolio.

As you complete jobs, add them to a portfolio. This can be on your website or on a site such as oDesk, VWorker or Elance. Give potential clients reason to have confidence in your work.

4) Never work without money up front

Whether you are writing articles or a book, never start work without some evidence that the person who has hired you is serious about the project. On oDesk, some jobs are fixed price and some are paid by the hour. The hourly jobs are essentially guaranteed, so you can start work once you’ve been hired. But fixed price jobs can be risky, so always ask for an advance, and never deliver the final deliverable until you’ve been paid.

When you are starting out, make the advance payment comparable to the amount of expertise you have already demonstrated through your portfolio. If you can’t prove your skills, then request a small trial job. This lets your client develop some confidence in your ability to deliver what you promise. Your eventual goal is 50% to 100% up front.

I’m still working toward my goal to enter the traditional track, though my motivation to do so isn’t as strong as it was when I started. I’m finding that the internet is a good steady source of ghost writing income. Just the four tips above have helped me become successful. They could help you as well.


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