"Required reading" for today's smart writer.

"Required reading" for today's smart writer.
Information & inspiration to hone your craft and increase your cash...Since 2009

Monday, September 11, 2017

Ask the Expert-With Ghostwriter Dawn Josephson

Meet Dawn Josephson.
She's a ghostwriter and author who has shared some useful insider's tips and strategies on this very lucrative field for Pen & Prosper readers today, as part of my ongoing "Ask the Expert" series.
Please make her feel welcome with your questions and comments.
As always, thanks for your time and readership.
Q. Can you tell readers a little about who you are and your background?

I’ve been a freelance ghostwriter and editor since 1998. I have been in the writing and publishing industry since 1993. But I have been writing since childhood and got my first piece published in the New York Newsday when I was just 8 years old (I won’t give an exact year, but let’s just say it was back in an era when Carter was President).

I worked for book and magazine publishers prior to freelancing. I started ghostwriting quite by accident. My boss at the magazine I worked for wanted to write a book. Since I was the magazine’s Editor-in-Chief, he asked if I would “help” him. Little did I know at the time that “help” meant, “write it for me.” But that’s what happened. It was my first ghostwriting project.

While my boss was promoting the book, a PR rep I worked with and who saw the book asked me (in private) if he really wrote the book by himself or if I had a hand in it. I told her what had happened since there was no confidentially agreement in place. She said, “Great! I have some clients who need books and articles ghostwritten. Can you help?”
And so the journey began.
Q. What is your writing routine? Do you write every day?

I write most days, but not every day. A lot depends on my workload. I try to take at least two days off per week so I can recharge.

As for a routine, I’m a bit of an ADD writer. I don’t sit for long chunks of time and write. I need frequent breaks. So I may write a few pages and then go for a walk. Write a few more pages and then break to fold some laundry. I write better with frequent breaks.

It’s funny because 15-20 years ago I used to be one of those writers who had to write in complete silence and could not be interrupted for anything. I’d write all day without stopping. But as I’ve gotten older, my ways have changed. I’ve always viewed change as a good thing though.

Q. I see you’ve been ghostwriting since 1998. How has the publishing landscape changed in the evolving years?

Oh my! Where do I start???? So much has changed. I’ve been ghostwriting since 1998 but in the publishing industry since 1993. When I first started writing and ghostwriting, email was in its infancy. People sent me manuscripts via floppy disk. Revisions were often faxed. Looking back, it’s amazing we got anything done at all.

Self-publishing was a dirty word you said in private. These days it’s a thriving industry with high quality products. Talk about a night and day difference!

While publishing something has gotten easier, gaining attention for your work has not. There is so much more competition for books now that many great titles never get discovered. Today, marketing your book is more important than the actual publishing process. I’ve seen too many wonderful books never get the readership they deserve simply because of poor book marketing.
Q. Since many ghostwriting jobs are not published on traditional job boards, can you share a few tips on how you garner clients?

To secure ghostwriting gigs, you need to find your niche and immerse yourself in that. This isn’t a profession where you can be successful scanning job boards. You need face-to-face networking. People need to trust you with their ideas. They need to feel comfortable paying you a large sum of money for your work. In many respects, ghostwriting for someone is like a marriage. It must be a good fit between the client and the ghostwriter. The only way to nurture that relationship and ensure you will have a successful project is to really get to know your clients. But realize that it goes beyond a single project. When you have a successful relationship with someone, they refer you to others. And that’s where the gold is!

My niche is professional speakers. When I was developing, cultivating, and nurturing my niche, I was an active member of the National Speakers Association (NSA). I held leadership positions in the NSA as the Writers and Publishers PEG (Professional Expert Group) Chairperson for several years. I went to all the meetings, hosted monthly teleseminars, did the group’s newsletter, etc. I traveled around the country and spoke at regional NSA meetings. I sponsored meetings. I advertised in publications my niche market read. It was essentially another job, but it got me incredible exposure in my niche.

Today, I am so established in my niche that I no longer have to do those things. All my business now comes from word-of-mouth, and I have no shortage of work. Getting to this point did not happen overnight. It takes hard work and dedication. But it will happen if you stick with it.
Q. What are some important qualities one must have to be a good ghost writer?

You need to really listen to your clients—not just for their information and ideas, but also to their style. Remember, as a ghostwriter, whatever you’re writing is not yours. It can’t have your voice. You must be able to mimic your client’s voice. This is easier said than done.

You also must have a small ego. This isn’t a profession for someone who wants fame and to be in the limelight. Some clients may not want others to know they used a ghostwriter, so it’s common that no one but you and your client know of your participation in a given work. You must be okay with that.

Finally, you must be tight-lipped and trustworthy. Depending on your clients, you will be hearing information that no one else has ever heard before. You can’t blab about it before the book comes out (and often even after the book comes out—you can’t admit your involvement with it).
Q. I see you’ve also produced a number of books. Are you a traditionally published author or self-published?

My clients have done a mix of traditional publishing and self-publishing. The exact publishing venue always depends on the client’s goals. Sometimes it makes more sense to self-publish, and vice-versa.

I self-published my books through my own publishing company. Because I did so much speaking at NSA events and writer’s conferences across the country, I had a direct link to my target audience. I didn’t need a publisher to connect me to bookstores, distributors, and potential buyers. I could reach all these outlets myself, so I did and didn’t have to share my profits with a publisher. It was a wise decision.
Q. You provide coaching to authors as well. Can you tell readers what that entails and why it’s beneficial to today’s freelancers?

I provide two types of coaching. The first is for business professionals who want to improve their business writing skills. Because writing is vital in business success, sometimes people need a boost in their writing skills. Some people have said to me, “My boss told me if I want a promotion, I need to improve my written communications.” Coaching is a great option for these people.

The second type of coaching is for freelance writers who want to break into the business. Many freelancers come to me because they’re scanning writing job boards and earning peanuts—barely enough to pay their monthly electric bill. With coaching, they learn a better way to grow their business that harnesses their unique strengths. As I tell my clients, “It takes work and it takes a commitment to getting out of your comfort zone, but if you commit to the process and actually do the work, success will come.” Coaching often can shave years off your learning curve.
Q. Do you have a blog? Why or why not?

No, I don’t have a blog. I have never had one, believe it or not! I write a lot of blog posts for others though. I’ve often toyed with the idea of doing a blog, but in the end I have enough business through word-of-mouth that I don’t feel it’s necessary in my situation. I do see it as an important aspect for someone just starting out though.
Q. Since ghostwriting clients typically like to remain anonymous, how can a writer use those associated projects to gain additional work in the field?

Well, you would never use a “clip” to get a ghostwriting gig. I’ve ghostwritten for some major people, but due to our contract specifics, I can’t name them. But that’s okay. Because this isn’t about name dropping. It’s about developing a relationship with your prospects and clients. Let’s put it this way: Think of the biggest name person in your field or someone famous you greatly admire. Even though you can’t say you do work for that person, imagine that person telling their friends, family, or associates, “Hey, if you need someone to help you with that writing project, I can refer you to someone.” That’s where the money is! That’s how you get the big projects! You focus on the relationship and then those big players tell others about you.

Realize, too, that I do ask all my clients if I can use them as a reference. Many, even those who stipulate that I can’t advertise myself as being their ghostwriter, will agree to be a reference in specific situations. This way it’s up to the client to say what they are comfortable with. Some will just give a general reference, as in “Dawn is great!” while others will be much more specific if asked on their terms. 
Q. How important is “platform” in attracting publishers and clients today?

Platform has been and always will be important when attracting publishers and clients. What industry or audience do you want to be known in? What makes you stand out in that industry or audience? You must make yourself stand out in some way to get noticed. Again, scanning job boards won’t get you far. You must roll up your sleeves, get out there, and make yourself known to attract the high paying ghostwriting gigs.


Q. What’s the most you’ve ever earned on one ghostwriting project?

Let’s put it this way … I’m currently easing into semi-retirement. I’m still working, but I’m definitely cutting back so I can pursue other things in life that are important to me. When I was ghostwriting full-time, I consistently earned a six-figure income. It is possible.

Q. Is there a ghostwriting organization/association that you would recommend for training, networking, and/or job leads?

There is a ghostwriting association:

As for job leads, again, it doesn’t work like that. I hope I can stress this enough. To get the high paying clients, it’s about immersing yourself in your niche industry or client base, talking to people, and building relationships. That’s what makes for a successful ghostwriting career.


Questions or comments, readers? Any ghostwriters "lurking" here?


  1. Dawn's post inspired me more than anything I've read this summer. After reading this I realize I can add ghost writing to my resume. I penned a poem for a couple. It won a wedding package. They thank me on their anniversary. I also wrote a published personal essay for a family member based on their experience, and a book based on a year's worth of personal letters from a pioneer. This may be an avenue I wish to pursue. Thanks Jen and Dawn.

    1. Hi Linda - that is great to hear! Keep exploring this option. And keep networking. It can be a very lucrative career if you put in the effort. Good luck!

  2. Lin
    You definitely should consider it. There are many rewards. Great to get your feedback here.

  3. Awesome post and quite the inspiring interview. I really hope to become more of a voice in the writing world.

    1. Thanks so much for adding to the conversation here. Wishing you much luck!

  4. It's nice to meet you, Dawn! I appreciate you sharing your insight and experience. Ghostwriting has been on my radar for a while, but haven't jumped in yet. This may be the time!

    Jen, thanks for the introduction to Dawn. You are a lovely hostess! :)

    1. Hi Karen
      Great to hear from you today. Thanks so much for stopping by and weighing in.

    2. Hi Karen - Glad to hear you enjoyed it. Do jump in! There's no time like the present. Good luck!

  5. Thanks, Johnpaul. You can certainly do it. Don't give up on your goals. Put in the work every day and you'll get there. Good luck!

  6. Readers
    Hopefully you will have a better experience than I did. I tried to gain membership in the Ghostwriters Association multiple times and never received a response. Go figure?