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The Difference Between the Amateur Ghostwriter and the Pro Ghostwriter

How I Find Ghostwriting Clients

by Joey on April 1, 2010

Post image for How I Find Ghostwriting Clients

For the first 2/3 of my ghostwriting career, I never had to look for clients because they always came to me. After a while, I came to expect it. I’d never known anything different, so I just figured that’s how things worked.  A few years ago, around the time of America’s great real estate meltdown, someone asked me if I’d felt the economic wave crashing in on my ghostwriting business yet.

“Not at all,” I said. ” As long as I’m working on a project, new book jobs keep coming to me.  For example, I frequently write creative biographies for entrepreneurs. A 600-800 word piece has always led to a book gig, so I just do those and the books come in.”

“Wow. How does that happen?”

“Here’s an example,” I explained. “I’d just completed an 800-word bio for an abstract painter named Jill [not her real name].  We were sitting in a coffee house and she’d just read my final draft. She turned to me and said —

[Click to find out what she said.]

That happened  to me all the time.

And then two years ago, I found myself wondering why I didn’t have the next client lined up. I didn’t know it yet, but my days of carefree client leap-frog was about to enter a two-year holding pattern; a time where I did what most people around me seem to be doing a lot lately: wondering  when all the familiar pieces of running their business all got moved around the room and how to put it back how it was; or, at the very least, how to make it work now. I know it sounds like I’m painting myself as this forward-thinking guy who was two years of everyone else and now he’s got it all figured out. Honestly, nobody has it all figured out. Everyone gets a piece. Great things happen when we share our piece with each other and “compare notes”. [To follow that thought sideways, if you will, check out the recent post by Jake,  Why We Started Ghostwritepro.com]

Here’s what my piece looks like today. It’s vastly superior to my early days of ghostwriting.

Start at the top and go sideways

Anyone can find leads by talking to people you know, networking, handing out your ghostwriter business card. You’ll find a ton of people looking for ghostwriters on Craigslist, too. But are those the kind of clients you want? People who can’t afford to pay you to work for six months on their book? Everyone wants to write a book. Just tell someone you’re a ghostwriter and the odds are very high they’ll tell you about a book they’ve been wanting to write for years and years. They’ll probably be very excited about having met you. Write this down: The more excited someone is about hiring you, the less money they have.

So you start at the top. Think BIG. What kind of people do you love the most? Go after them. No more working your way up. Start at the top and go sideways. There is no down. There is only the top and sideways.

Why Thinking BIG Isn’t Enough

It’s obvious, really. Thinking something doesn’t make it so.  Action does.

On November 12, 2009, my best friend died suddenly and unexpectedly. I’d never lost a close friend before. Something about his death threw a switch in me. As I fought my way through shock, disbelief, curiosity and sadness, I steadily emerged with a seemingly eternally fueled desire to enlarge my sphere of influence in a way I’d never considered before. I’d do something I absolutely loved – encouraging others – in a craft I loved equally so: writing. By combining it with starting at the top, I proceeded, over a four month period, to pitch and acquire, one at a time, 52 of the very best writers and photographers in Phoenix. The result, 26 Blocks, is unlike anything I’ve ever created before and, it turns out, the first creation of its kind. It’s a month away from a 7 month art tour throughout Metro Phoenix and will culminate in a hardcover book.

One of the best parts of thinking up 26 Blocks has been the multiple ways putting that thinking into action is changing me. And when I change, my clients change. As much as I resisted it in the past, I’ve come to realize something: The kind of clients you’re getting are a reflection of the kind of person you are.

80% of Ghostwriting isn’t Writing

It takes me about 350 hours to ghostwrite a book. Of that,  280 hours has nothing to do with the part where the book gets written. The rest is interviews, transcriptions, business matters, outlines, structure and strategies. Is thinking about what you’re going to write, writing? Not in my book. Are interviews writing? Of course not. They’re interviews, conversations, psychology and digging for truths. Transcriptions? A good 80 hours of ghostwriting is transcribing. It’s a priceless exercise and some very, very valuable writing discoveries arise because of it, but most of it is monotonous drudgery. I dread transcribing. I’ve never met a ghostwriter who liked it.

So the other 20% of ghostwriting is writing? Why would a writer go into ghostwriting then?

For one, that 20% that is actual, sit at the keyboard or take out a pen and a piece of paper kind of writing, that runs through the whole process. It’s the stream of all my homework, all my research, all the listening and questioning, the guiding, the transcribing, the conceiving. When that informs the 20% that is the writing, it’s the best place in the world to be.

Secondly, I ghostwrite because I love people.

The best thing for me about ghostwriting is getting to know a person who thinks, acts, behaves differently than me. When I put the 80% and the 20% of ghostwriting together, I don’t come away with 100%. If I’ve done my best and given my best, I’ll come away from the experience having gotten to know a person that isn’t me. Because that is worth more to me than the 100% that is the book, the book will be that much better than it would otherwise.


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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Melanie Jongsma April 17, 2010 at 6:16 am

Wow, when you said, “The more excited someone is about hiring you, the less money they have,” that really resonated with me! Each time I come out with a book for someone, I meet people who get excited that I could do the same thing for them—until they hear what it costs. Sometimes I do help with their projects, because my work is a ministry as well as a business, but I know I have to learn to say no more often than I do. Thanks for this reminder!

Joey April 20, 2010 at 1:11 am

Hi Melanie,

You’re welcome for the reminder! I’ve heard it said that you should say ‘no’ to 15% of the people who pursue you. I think that’s sound advice. To say ‘no’ that often, most people need more people coming their way. That’s a whole ‘nother post, isn’t it? Not just how to get more potential clients, but how to get more pre-qualified potential clients.

I understand your desire to help people who don’t have as much money available to meet what I charge. Like you, I desire to serve those people as I can. Ultimately, I end up coaching those people to write their own book. I do this for two reasons: 9/10 times, they won’t finish their book because they realize that writing a book is a LOT of work. More work they they ever realized. More so, I offer this solution because I see that what they really need – but can’t yet see: They don’t need to write a book about their lives. They need to live the life they want to write a book about.

Whether it’s a memoir or a non-fiction how-to, most that say they want to write a book, and don’t have the money, time or discipline to make it a reality really just want to be appreciated or have some confirmation that they are unique and special. Many of these people think that writing a book about something makes it true. But if I can teach them that there is ultimately more value in living the life than writing about it, whether they have a book in the end or not, they’ll be that much closer to living the life they think they want to write about.

Again, this goes for those that can’t afford my rates and still insist they have a book they want to write. And, of course, there are always exceptions.

But it’s exceedingly rare.

All the best,


Melanie Jongsma April 20, 2010 at 10:34 am

Wow, that’s good advice, Joey. Very insightful. I’m going to hang on to this—and try to remember to use these strategies next time I’m approached by someone who says, “I’ve got a great story. YOU should write it!”

The best book I have been involved with so far was written by a man who spent 16 years journaling his memories, organizing his photos, discussing his history with his family, and enjoying the process as much as the final product. That man’s book may never be a best-seller, but it is a memoir his family will enjoy for generations, and it’s something he can be proud of because he put so much of himself into it.

Steven Lewis October 30, 2010 at 10:42 pm

Hi Joey,

I found the blog today through a happy chance. I’ve transferred at least a dozen posts to my Kindle to read on holiday over the next fortnight.

Like Melanie, I loved the aphorism about enthusiasm and budget. I see it all the time and can usually pick it from the first email (a reason I’ve already read keenly your posts about putting fees on the website).

Given that some things seem true the world over (I’m in Australia), I wondered if you also find a high proportion of the people contacting you are wanting to write about childhood abuse. I’ve been shocked since I put up the website as to how common this is as motivation to seek out a ghostwriter — 10-25 per cent of the enquiries I get in any one month come back to it.

Thanks for the blog; it’s great to have found a community of like-minds run by people so willing to share. I’ve subscribed to the RSS and look forward to reading more when I get back.

Sylvie Shene June 3, 2011 at 10:22 pm

It’s very ironic I found this article today! You are full of good ones!

Krista Stewart June 6, 2011 at 10:27 am

Very ture about fee part of your blog. I am trying to break into the ghostwriting business, and I’ve come up against many potential clients that have balked at the cost of hiring a ghostwriter.

I loved reading this, Joey! Thanks for the insight!

Dayna April 22, 2012 at 3:16 pm

Thanks for the advice. I was recently “discovered” (so to speak) and have been ghostwriting some blogs. I love it, and it pays well enough I can most definitely quit teaching if I find a few more clients (seriously? 4 hours of writing per day = more than I make teaching; I can’t wait until I do it full-time). Glad I found this post.

Plus, I love to write. I’m glad to know that there are others out there who actually feel the joy in writing, as usually I get stares for chatting about it in such a loving manner. Thanks for the tips!

Lauran Childs February 14, 2013 at 8:47 am

Very interesting and useful posts, thank you. I too have had people coming to me because of childhood abuse issues and am tired of people balking at the cost so will put fees on my site and see how it goes.

Joey Robert Parks February 14, 2013 at 11:09 am

Thanks for the feedback, Lauran. I’m in the process of redesigning my personal website (joeyrobertparks.com) and am 100% convinced that fees must be on the site. I just read on your Dec 2012 post that you were pulling your profile from “those” ghostwriting sites. Good job. Rubbish, is right.

You also said: “Not only is this an unqualified lead [(i.e. “Jim wants to write a book on dogs, no budget.”.– someone you don’t know anything about, you’ve no idea if they can afford to pay for a ghostwriter or not, if they’re committed to actually having a book written…”

That’s why I’m adding a qualifier to my website: 5 yes/no questions to every potential client who wants meet in person, on the phone, via email, anything where they’ve expressed an interest in hiring me as a ghostwriter (be it book, website copy, grantwriting, whatever form that ghostwriting takes). When they’ve answered those five questions, they can set up an appt with me for a free, 1-hour consultation. They can’t skip any question, they must leave an email/phone. Only then can they schedule to meet with me (and they’ll do that via my website). I will have learned five things that are vital for me to know prior to any discussion with a potential ghostwriting client. I’m doing other things with their email and knowing the answers to their questions, but I may save that for another post here on ghostwritepro.com

Here are four of my five yes/no questions: (1) Are you the final decision maker on this project? (2) Do you have a rough idea of your budget? (3) Have you written any of your book? and (4) Have you read my bio?

These are questions that will absolutely quailfy the potential client and allow me to make some decisions of my own in the process.

What do you thnk of my questions, Lauran? Would you change any? Add any?

Lauran Childs February 14, 2013 at 12:04 pm

Hi Joey,

Of course I’m intrigued to know what the fifth question is!

My experience is that I’ve tried to qualify people in the past and they’ve tended to be evasive initially – even one who I got a book contract with and who has also recently employed me to write the website and brochure of a product he’s launching.

One man, who was interested in a book around sexual abuse, got downright offensive when I tried to qualify him. Particularly if someone wants to have something about sexual abuse written, particularly if they’re a man, of course I want to qualify them before having a conversation!

That said, I think your idea of qualifying questions is a very good idea, let us know how it goes?

What do you think of charging a fee for an initial consultation? So far I haven’t done it but an awful lot of professions do and we definitely deserve it!

Looking forward to seeing your new website, when will it be launched?

Lavonne September 24, 2014 at 7:06 pm

Hi there, its pleasant paragraph about media print, we all know media is
a enormous sourxe of information.

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