Sunday, March 28, 2010

Ten Good Reasons to Be a Ghost

I’m a ghostwriter, and have been for more than ten years. For many years before that, writing was something I did “on the side.” It didn’t pay the mortgage or put my kids through college; that’s what my day job was for. I didn’t actually start making a living writing until I began to write for others. Now I no longer live on the sidelines of my own life. Ghostwriting is the vehicle I used to get in the game.

Other writers ask me about ghostwriting, often with an undertone of sympathy, as if ghostwriting was a last resort. When I tell them I love ghostwriting, I don’t think they really believe me. But although there are downsides to ghostwriting, there are plenty of upsides. Here are ten of them.

1. You can make money doing what you love – writing. Now I must admit I’m not raking in the dough and getting filthy rich. But I am making a comfortable living, and I am hundreds of times happier than I used to be while making twice as much working for corporate America. There were a few lean years in the beginning, but I’m still here, over ten years and nearly 40 ghostwritten books later. There are many people who long to write a book, but lack the skill or the time to do so – but that doesn’t mean they lack the money to pay you to do it for them. It takes time, skill, and effort to write a book, and you can charge accordingly.

2. You will learn many new things. I now know what it was like to fight in the Korean War; how to cure a nasty digestive condition; how to telepathically communicate with a horse; theories of modern parenting; how to make a good compost pile; why not to use male enhancement products; and a history of sauerkraut making. Just to name a few.

3. Your mind and your heart will be stretched, and your tolerance and compassion will grow. You will learn how others think – even others radically different than you. Like actors, ghostwriters play many roles, just on the page instead of the stage. Unlike an actor, I’m not constrained by my gender, age, race or culture. I am a middle-aged white American woman from the West Coast. But as a ghostwriter, I’ve been an African-American man from New York, a Japanese-American woman, an Iranian immigrant, a self-described redneck from Oklahoma, and oh yes, some middle-aged white American women. I’ve been any age from 20 to 90. I’ve been a doctor, an accountant, an entrepreneur, a cop, a scientist, a shaman, a gardener. Etcetera.

4. You will hear and tell great stories. It’s a cliché that everyone has a story, but it’s true. Everyone’s life matters. Everyone knows some interesting things. You can even help people find the stories they didn’t know they had.

5. You can give a written voice to those who can’t write, or who think they can’t. Just because they can’t write well doesn’t mean they don’t have good stories. (See #4.)

6. You don’t have to come up with all the ideas all by yourself. You just have to ask questions and listen for the answers. Your listening skills will improve mightily.

7. You can help ideas and wisdom get “out there” that otherwise wouldn’t. Perhaps the book you write for someone will change the world in some fantastic way. Books have a long and distinguished history of doing just that.

8. You can help eliminate the stigma of self-publishing if your clients are going that route. Many self-published books are written by amateurs and you can tell. Your skill can make them professional creations instead.

9. Ghostwriting is good for your ego. You don’t get any glory or credit. Nobody knows it was your writing that made a book sing, or caused people to weep, or others to cry “aha!” as an idea illuminated their life. Your writing does not belong to you. It belongs to the author, who is not you. Yes, this is a positive thing. It keeps you from getting puffed up with self-importance.

10. You can use your inborn artistic talents in a way that helps people. You were given a gift – you can write – and by ghostwriting you can use that gift to give back. What is more fulfilling than that?

If you are interested in becoming a ghostwriter, my new online interactive program, “Living as a Ghost” ( teaches writers how to be successful ghostwriters and provides a resource for ongoing support. We ghosts should stick together – it can get lonely out here in the ether.
Kim Pearson is an author, ghostwriter, and owner of Primary Sources, a writing service that helps others become authors of professional and compelling books and articles. She has authored 6 books of her own, and ghostwritten more than 30 non-fiction books and memoirs. To learn more about her books or services, visit

Bookmark and Share


  1. Thank you, Kim. This is a great post. I love it that you get to listen to people's stories. I love listening. If I look back at what I've spent so far, I guess I could've paid a ghost writer and maybe would be published by now. I like talking too, so I think I'd be an easy client to work with, but I've been bitten by the writing bug and dream about holding a book I've written. Happy ghosting, Simon.

  2. I've always said if you really want to make money in this industry, be an editor, PR agent, or a ghostwriter!

  3. Excellent tips for anyone who wants to try the ghostwriting biz. Thanks for sharing, Kim.

  4. Is it ever irritating to you, when other people get credit for a great book? Even if you're getting paid, your talent is what shines. How do you deal with that?


  5. What an interesting career you have, Kim. I hope you'll blog more about it.

    Straight From Hel

  6. Yes, I am a happy ghost, and I hope to blog more about it here on the BRP. I've blogged about ghostwriting on my own blog, and I will be sharing many of those thoughts here in the future.

    Dani, sometimes I get a crick in my ego when a book I ghostwrote gets good reviews, but it doesn't last too long. Mostly it makes me feel like rubbing my hands together in glee, as if I have a secret no one else will ever know. This is probably a character defect, but for a ghostwriter it's a good defect to have.

    What is frustrating to me are clients who get cold feet about sharing real stuff about themselves or their ideas in compelling detail -- quite often they want to substitute generalities or safe cliches so they won't feel so exposed. "But what will my mother/neighbor/boss/dog think?" they wonder.

    This is normal for those authoring a book for the first time. As non-writers, they don't know that writing takes you deep. The frustrating part for me is that if I can't convince them otherwise, I have to water down the language because the book belongs to them, not to me.

  7. For a writer, journaling is such a key part to a memoir. As you say, Kim, things are examined, processed, revealed, and resolved through the writing process itself. It seems like that might be missing for a client who hires a ghostwriter - so does that make their story a bit more "plot driven", so to speak, expecially if they aren't open to deeper examination? I suspect this may be part of the reason they back away - not revealing too much to themselves as well as to the rest of the world.

    I'm just speculating here.


  8. So true. I find people almost look down on ghostwriting at times, I suppose because the 'writer' is not getting 'credit.' However, it's a wonderful profession in which you can learn so much about a variety of topics and get paid for writing. Great points you have made, thanks!


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. If a glitch is preventing you from commenting, visit our Facebook page and drop your wise words there: Blood-Red Pencil on Facebook