There are two questions that come up more than any other when I talk to writers about breaking into ghostwriting. The first is: how do I get clients? The second is: how do I show them samples of my work if everything I do is confidential?
I find these questions frustrating, because you definitely already know the answers to them. No, really, you do. And once I cover them here, you won't necessarily be any further on your way to successful ghostwriterville. In fact, you’re likely to be in the same place you were before I answered them.
But sometimes we all need to be told that we're on the right track with our business, so I look at this as taking some time out for reassurance. After we take care of that, we can get into what makes a kick-ass ghostwriter, you know, kick-assy.
Six Non-Fiction Sample Ideas
- Use the same clips for ghostwriting as you’ve been using for non-ghostwriting. Generally speaking, even if these are article, newsletter or whitepaper samples rather than book samples, it'll be enough for clients to decide whether your style/approach works for them.
- Create new material for the sole purpose of acting as a sample. Sometimes, clients with book projects want to actually see a sample book you’ve completed. When I first started ghostwriting, I pulled out an old non-fiction book that I wrote back in 2009. I'd unpublished it because the content needed to be updated, but it still worked for a sample. You may have the same sort of stuff tucked away in a hidden file on your hard drive. Even a book that you haven’t finished can be used as a sample that's a few chapters long. One note on creating works for samples: make sure you get these edited and proofed just as you would any piece you were planning on publishing or turning in to a client. Polish 'em up, format them nicely, and make them shine.
- Put a blog on your site to help establish your authority. We writers think clients want to see clips solely in order to judge our ability, but often it’s more about building trust. If you only have a couple of writing samples to share, the blog offers you another way of showing your authority, dependability and experience.
- Let your marketing materials do double duty. Many writers give away free white papers, guides and reports as a way of marketing. You can use these same items as samples.
- Write a book to publish under your name. Do you have anything of value to say in a book that you can publish under your own name? Of course you do! Not only would that make a great sample for clients, it can also give you valuable experience while creating a passive income.
- Start a newsletter. I’m not a big proponent of newsletters on a writer’s site, but if you’re looking for a way to show you can create a longer work in a cohesive manner, that could be your solution.
Four Fiction Sample Ideas
As a disclaimer, while I do write fiction under my own pen names, I’ve only done a small amount of fiction ghostwriting for clients. I’d love to do more, but it’s not where my marketing focus is. I’m going to share with you what, in my limited experience, helps score these fiction ghostwriting gigs.
- Your non-fiction samples. You and I know that not every writer who writes non-fiction well can transition into fiction. It’s a completely separate discipline. But sometimes, clients who hire ghostwriters don’t realize that and will judge ability based solely on non-fiction samples. Obviously, you’ll want to show a range of voices and maybe stay away from any academic/formal samples.
- Write some short stories for the purpose of having samples available. You can even publish them so that you generate an additional income—just make sure that you segregate pen names if you have some content that wouldn’t please your non-fiction clients or that you simply want to keep quiet/private
- Create a web serial on a blog. Web serials are fun, challenging, and relatively straightforward. They also give you continually fresh content, making them a very compelling sample. If you choose to do this, you must set a predictable schedule and stick to it. If you aren’t sure that you can commit, post some standalone shorts on your blog instead because an unfulfilled serial is going to make you look undependable to clients. As always, make sure anything you’re going to show as a sample has been formatted, proofread and, for fiction especially, edited so that it really is your best work.
- Submit shorts to magazines. Some clients will be especially attracted to this as having been published in a magazine (or by a book publisher) validates your talent. I’m not saying that’s objectively necessary or even important, but it could matter to some clients.
Okay, my fingers are tired, so it’s your turn. What do you provide clients for samples when everything you do is a secret?