In order to be a successful ghostwriter, it is important to build a portfolio for yourself.
If you do not build it, to be fair you may have to spent your career as a salaried employee and found yourself with zero author credit and a client base who preferred I stay in the shadows.
The thing is, how you can prove you wrote what you say you wrote?. I simple language we say “What is the proof of your writing work?”
It’s a layered problem. For starters, ghostwriters don’t put their names on their work. You might have got lots of writing experience, but you still don’t get bylines.
Then, too, there is the very real fact that many clients fear being “outed” for hiring a ghostwriter.
1. Include a portfolio permissions clause in every contract
While this type of clause is standard for most types of freelancing, ghostwriting clients have anonymity concerns. Many feel embarrassed they’re not writing the content on which they put their name. I respect that. But it does not have to be a roadblock to business development.
Ghostwriters should include a permissions clause in every contract.
Mine is typically very simple. It states that I reserve the right to include the contracted work in part or in full within my professional portfolio.
That is sufficient for most clients, though some stipulate additional parameters. For example, some clients allow me to use their pieces in my portfolio but request I remove their name. Others specify word count limits.
2. Excerpt fee-based content
The rise of ebooks and other fee-based content presents a new challenge.
Long-form ghostwriters, for example, are currently in high demand to write self-help books, memoirs, and romance novels — all of which are revenue-generating products. Obviously, it’s bad form (if not outright theft) to freely distribute an ebook, for example, that otherwise sells for $10. And yet, contract writers still need to showcase the work.
The solution is to provide excerpts.
Product excerpts allow a ghostwriter to show relevant work samples without robbing a client of potential sales.
When you’re writing a contract for a fee-based product, include a clause that grants you permission to use excerpts of that product in your portfolio. As stated previously, some clients may wish to stipulate additional parameters such as word count or other limits. In my experience, these requests are typically reasonable and easy to accommodate.
If you find you didn’t secure usage permissions in your original contract, follow-up with the client.
Include the excerpted text in your request and a brief statement about how you plan to use it.
3. Maintain a client testimonial catalog
On rare occasion, I’ve had clients withhold permission for the use of individual pieces, but instead, offer a testimonial on my behalf. I always take them up on it.
In fact, I recommend all ghostwriters not only maintain a catalog of client referrals, but that they also include these statements in their portfolio.
Even a handful of compliments can help a ghostwriter stand out from the competition. They also go a long way in justifying fees.
The most compelling testimonials address the fact that ghostwriters offer more value than just the production of an article or ebook, etc. The best ghostwriters help clients clarify ideas and strategize arguments.
They reduce customers’ workloads and relieve their content development headaches.
Hiring a ghostwriter needn’t be anyone’s shameful little secret, and I’ve found that a few good conversations can go a long way in assuaging this fear for my clients.
Ghostwriters provide a valuable service to clients, but it is up to you to advocate for your own careers. Building a strong portfolio not only helps you land more work, it allows to increase your rates, expand your expertise, and establish your professional standing. We can’t let something as singular as a byline stand in the way of earning what your worth.