Ask a Freelancer

Ask a Freelancer: How Can Ghostwriters Find New Clients if They Don’t Have Bylines?

By Nicole Dieker March 17th, 2015

If one of your writing services is ghostwriting, you can’t exactly say, “Look, I wrote this post… just under someone else’s byline.” How do you showcase your ability to emulate someone else’s voice and style without compromising the confidentiality of your previous work—especially when you want to support your case for a certain rate?

—Casper the Friendly Ghostwriter

If you are providing high-level ghostwriting services and want to find more clients, you probably can’t get away with using clips you’ve ghostwritten because they no longer belong to you. As you noted, doing so would breach the confidentiality of your ghostwriting relationship. However, there are other ways to prove your ability to potential clients.

Start with referrals. A good referral from a client who knows you well is one of the most direct ways to line up that interview or gig. Do you need a recommendation from a person you’ve ghosted for? If that person is interested in giving a referral, that’s great. If that person would prefer to keep the relationship confidential, ask one of your other clients instead.

To be clear, the referral doesn’t have to come from a ghostwriting client. Since the task is ultimately writing, getting a vote of confidence from an editor works just as well. Regardless of who you turn to, just make sure that person can actually vouch for your work. Some writers make the common mistake of trying to get a referral after one or two assignments, which is kind of like asking a substitute teacher to write your college letter of recommendation.

To give you more insight from a different perspective, I asked one of my own clients to speak about the process of hiring a ghostwriter and how recommendations might impact the decision:

If I wanted to hire a ghostwriter, I actually wouldn’t ask to speak to the person they ghosted for, because who knows what that person’s standards are. I would ask for recommendations generally and talk to others about that person’s work ethic, whether they meet deadlines, all the classic stuff.

Then, to determine whether they can actually write, I’d make them write something. A few somethings. See what their work looks like unedited, and whether they respond well to feedback, and how quickly they learn to incorporate what I’ve suggested. I’ve asked people to do a few trials for free before, but anything more than three blog posts I would begin to pay for—mostly because I want the person to know I respect their time and want them to want to work with me.

Then I’d hire them on a trial basis to continue to see what the quality of their work is like. Finding good writers is difficult, and it’s easy to make mistakes and bring on the wrong person. Hiring on a trial basis lets me make sure a writer is a good fit before committing.

As my source indicated, offering to write a trial piece might be another way to prove your value to a potential client. If you choose to write a trial piece, be very clear about your agreement up front, including:

  • The scope of the piece, including the number of revisions.
  • Who owns the copyright to the completed piece.
  • What happens if the client likes the piece and wants to purchase it.

Ghostwriting is one of those fields where writing a piece on spec could lead to a profitable relationship down the line, but be very careful before giving your work away. Prior to drafting a 1,000-word article, make sure you and your potential client have already talked about the scope of your relationship, including the amount of work you might be hired to complete, the level of research each piece requires, and—most importantly—the pay rate. You want to know before you write a spec piece that your client is going to pay ghostwriters a fair rate.

Here’s another good way to demonstrate your skills to a potential ghostwriting client: Build a portfolio of clips under your own byline that span a variety of writing styles. This strategy is the simplest way to sidestep any referral roadblocks. By showing potential clients you can write conversational blog posts, informative articles, formal press releases, and more, you prove that your writing is not limited to one particular style or format, which is crucial since you’ll have to express your client’s ideas in his or her own style.

While we’re on the subject of “best expressing your client’s ideas,” here’s one more tip, from The Bloom Group:

It’s essential that the ghostwriter research the expert’s area before that initial call so the writer can ask informed questions and not be baffled by the consultant’s references. There’s nothing wrong with asking a dumb question, but asking a lot of dumb questions will naturally cause the consultant to ask how on earth the writer could possibly convey his ideas in an intelligent manner to an intelligent reader.

Showing that you understand the subject matter on a nuanced level will help set you apart from other candidates. And even though referrals are helpful, sending over high-quality clips is probably the best way for you to get new work without needing to write spec samples. Your clips are your samples.

Likewise, as you have your initial conversation with a potential client—whether over email or phone—make an effort to mirror your client’s language and style. If they end emails with “thx,” don’t end your emails with “Sincerely, Nicole,” and vice versa. Mirroring someone is a natural way to build rapport, as well as a subtle tactic that convinces potential clients you can communicate like them.

If you are looking for new ghostwriting jobs, rest assured that you don’t have to compromise your current or previous relationships in order to snag that new big client. Instead, arm yourself with referrals, emphasize your ability to write in a variety of styles, and consider writing a short spec piece to prove that you are ready to step into a new pair of ghostwriting shoes.

Nicole Dieker still thinks the PBS series Ghostwriter was pretty darn cool. If you have questions about building a freelance career, send them to Ask a Freelancer via

Image by Daniel M. Nagy
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