Remember the Five Rules of Ghostwriting

When you came on board the Ghostwriting Professional Designation Program (GPDP), you regularly heard one of Claudia’s key selling points: “Our students, on average, start with fees of $35,000 for their first book.”

That sure gets a potential ghostwriter’s heart pounding! But making the big bucks is based on remembering the Five Rules of Ghostwriting:

1. Make the client happy—As a GPDP grad, you’ve probably already experienced the tons of common issues in first-draft manuscripts—like characters with no depth or nonfiction that doesn’t address key BISAC niche markets. Remember that simply telling your client about their book’s issues doesn’t help anybody. Claudia repeatedly emphasizes that no matter how unsaleable a book seems, it’s your job to find the gold hidden in any first draft. To make that book stand out in a way that entices— even excites—potential markets, first make your client happy by listening to their vision, then explain how to accomplish it by turning issues to improvement opportunities and work closely with them through the chapter-by-chapter method. 

2. Get paid—Certified Ghostwriters get high-endfees because they are book-industry insiders who conduct their business professionally by having a signed NDA with the client and a signed contract that transparently states the total project cost—paid through regular monthly payments until final manuscript delivery—along with the writing process, duties of each party, and legal minutia. Demonstrate your authority through A&Rs, mentoring, or wowing your client by MLEing their manuscript.

3. “It’s not my book”—In GPDP you learned to practically become the author and to adopt their voice whenever you make necessary changes. 

But here’s a predictable scenario: You’ve startedyour own business as a Certified Ghostwriter, gotten your author’s materials, and confidently delivered your Chapter One. But then you got it back…and the author didn’t agree to a single change. “I don’t know why you changed this,” their email may say. “Anyone will be amazed to see how important  __ is.” 

Having a close relationship with your author is key here. Try a few times to explain why you made the changes you did. But if your author is unmovable or angry or depressed, simply agree to include the information, just the way they want it.  Claudia explains, “You can try to change their minds once. You can try again. And you can even try one more time. Three strikes does not mean you—the ghostwriter—are out. It means you must provide your author with some finished product. If it’s not what you’d try to sell, so be it. You’ll learn to just keep repeating, ‘It’s not my book. It’s not my book. IT’S. NOT. MY. BOOK!’” Consider it the professional ghostwriter’s mantra. 

4. Never quote before reading—Certified Ghostwriter Beth Brand tells the story that before she took GPDP, she took a job from a friend who was on the verge of publishing her book and had asked for Beth’s insights. She charged that last-minute author only $3,000 for reading the manuscript, explaining why the book wouldn’t work, and making the many changes it needed. Even then, Beth sensed it was not the right fee. 

Many authors will push for “just a ballpark fee” quote before the ghost has seen the author’s material. Try simply saying, “I guess between $10 and $150,000.” Such a witty reply shows an author you’re seriously not going to quote a price before you know what material you’ll work with. For Beth, it was live and learn. When she discovered Rule #4, she already had real-world experience in the importance of never quoting before you read, and in GPDP, she learned she had charged one-tenth of what she should have. 

5. Always analyze for the positive—It’s very easy to guide an author with “helpful” analyses like, “Your protagonist won’t generate reader empathy if he stays such a crass yokel” or “These are great blogs, but they really don’t meld together to offer an overall theme.” 

Such critiques are much too general and brusque. They won’t gain your author’s trust or make you a true companion to help them turn straw into gold. Remember Claudia’s teachings to empathize with your author and analyze for the positive, framing manuscript’s faults as improvement opportunities (addressing no more than three at a time), and assuring the author you’ll work with them through every change. 

Using GPDP’s Five Rules of Ghostwriting creates happy clients and happy bank accounts!


Remember to check the blogs on our site and to reach out when you need consults to get a client on the right track, help with MLE, or business advice. Help us grow by reminding others about Wambtac’s “Intro to Ghostwriting” course. Last-minute enrollment is still open for March, then there’s a final May Intro class prior to the full Ghostwriting Professional Designation Program (GPDP) beginning in August 2021.