Alright, let’s talk a little nitty gritty on the actual business of writing. What we all want to know is, how do I make a little money writing?
The fact is, writing a best seller is simply not that easy to do, and even if you do, odds are it won’t make you rich. So how do you earn a little money doing this thing you love so passionately?
You take on a little grunt work.
My very first job out of college was a ghostwriting gig for a man named Joe White. If you don’t know of Joe White, you should. Words cannot express the level of gratitude I hold for that man. As the director and owner of Kanakuk Kamps in Missouri, he has a depth of wisdom and knowledge that I admire to my core. He’s a gifted speaker and motivator, and if you want to glean knowledge on rearing children and pointing them toward wisdom, then pick up one of his many books.
Lee and I were engaged in the spring of 2000 when we heard Joe speak at Baylor’s campus. Lee knew Joe from several summers working as a counselor at Kanakuk, and he knew that my dream was to become a writer, so after the event he took me to meet Joe. We weren’t two minutes into the conversation when Lee threw out my desire to be a writer and asked if Joe had any pointers for someone just entering the business.
“Well,” Joe said. “I am actually in the process of beginning a new book, but I’m slammed and could use some help. Would you be interested in working as a ghostwriter?”
I answered with a resounding yes, then we exchanged phone numbers and I ran back to my apartment to look up what it meant to be a ghostwriter. I had no clue!
A ghostwriter (in case you’re unfamiliar with the term) is someone who writes books, articles, stories, etc…which are then credited to someone else. Basically, a ghostwriter receives the idea, outline and notes of another person and organizes them into book form. Our names don’t go on the cover of the book, and sometimes we don’t even get a mention on the inside, but we get a check in the mail and that’s a good thing.
I went into that first writing assignment with wide eyes and trembling fingers. The book was being published by Focus on the Family and Howard Publishing (which was later merged with Simon and Schuster), and I had no clue what I was doing, but I sure acted like I knew.
Once I figured out what a ghostwriter was, I set up several phone calls with Joe and we talked through his ideas for the book, and his vision. He sent me some of the things he’d written and a few ideas, and then he gave me full reign to figure it out on my own.
I made a lot of mistakes during that process. I did not write well. I misquoted articles, and learned the hard way how to properly cite works inside a book. I annoyed the publisher to no end, and I cried several times as I felt like a big failure. Yet despite these terrible blunders, Joe continued to use me. He didn’t have to. I’m sure it would have been easier on him to just gently send me on my way, but he didn’t. He let me learn and make mistakes, and he was always there with an encouraging word.
In the fall of 2001, Joe called me to say that he decided to go a different direction with the book. He was just so busy that trying to keep up with it using a ghostwriter was too much.
“So, would you be interested in joining me as a co-author and writing half the book on your own?” he asked.
In one short, fifteen minute phone call, I went from ghostwriting a book for Joe White to co-authoring a book with Joe White.
I cannot stress enough how grateful I am to Joe for that opportunity. I learned a lot through that process, mostly through mistakes. I was as green as they come when it comes to publishing and I quickly learned that it is a cut throat business, even if you’re working with a Christian book publisher. They have zero tolerance for ignorance, so I pulled myself up by my boot straps and figured it out as quickly as I could.
That was the start of several years of ghostwriting for me. I served as the silent writer on countless projects over the next several years, honing my skills as a writer, learning how to write different genres, figuring out how to write query letters and book proposals, and I eked out a meager living doing it.
If you’re looking for a way to increase your income, and sharpen your writing skills, I highly recommend ghostwriting. People often ask me how they can break into that field, and like anything it’s all in who you know. You must connect with other writers and make yourself known as a ghostwriter. Share your business cards, and tell people what you’re doing. When you get, and complete, your first job, ask your client to pass your name to others who may be looking for ghostwriting.
There is a unique sense of freedom that comes from ghostwriting in a world that often demands that we be out front, that we be seen and known by everyone. It frees you up to learn, and write, without the pressure of being known. Ghostwriting will hone your writing skills and give you added confidence when you finally sit down to work on your own material.
Come back to the series tomorrow as we discuss how editing will further sharpen you as a writer. And in a few days, we will discuss how you set your fees. There’s some good stuff coming up in this series – don’t miss it!
This is part of a 31 Day series on becoming an author. To read all the posts in this series, click here. To stay up to date on my daily posts through email subscription, enter your email address in the top left corner.