I charge six figures to ghostwrite a book. If you want to become a $100K ghostwriter, please steal my formula.
The method I use to maximize my ghostwriting income is to follow The 7 Systems of Influence, a framework I developed to help people get what they want. You can learn more about it at that link, but the short version is that the 7 Systems are:
- Genius Zone
There are plenty of six-figure ghostwriters who have never heard of the 7 Systems, but I promise you every single one of them is using them, whether they know it or not. Here’s how I use them and how you can use them to boost your ghostwriting income.
Simple enough, you want to get paid $100K to ghostwrite a book, right? There’s your vision—done.
The rest of it isn’t so easy. We’ll need to take a little bit more time on this next part.
2. Genius Zone
I know how to write.
I know how to write a book.
Maybe I can even claim that I know how to write a good book or a great book.
The problem is that if that’s all I can do, then I’m competing against every single other ghostwriter out there.
According to Reedsy, “Relatively inexperienced ghostwriters will ask for $20k-$30k per book,” while “Ghosts with more than a few years under their belt are likely to charge within the $40k-$60k range.”
The good news here is that if even if you’re inexperienced, you’re already 1/5 to 1/3 of the way to the goal, and if you’ve got some good experience, you might be 2/3 of the way there. And now, simply by figuring out your genius zone, you may be able to tack another $20-30K onto your pricing.
Your genius zone is the unique overlap of skills, characteristics, background, knowledge, strengths, and weaknesses that make you who you are.
To find your genius zone, we first identify your expert zones.
How to Find Your Expert Zones
Your expert zones are the things you know well, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re the best in the world at them.
For example, I lived in China for two years, so I could say I’m an expert on Chinese language, culture, geography, business, and politics.
Am I enough of an expert on China that I could make a career out of it? Probably not.
But am I enough of an expert on China that I know more than most people, and perhaps that knowledge would come in handy someday? Yes, because most people have never lived in China nor studied it. Compared to them, I’m an expert.
That’s just one of my expert zones, so when I list more, it looks like this:
- Systems and methods
- Venture capital
- Angel investing
- Hong Kong
- Non-fiction writing
- Book publishing
- Graphic design
- Interviewing executives
- Digital marketing
- Personal branding
- Thought leadership
I could list 100 more things as expert zones, and you could easily list 100-200 yourself, but this enough to make the point.
Homework: What are your expert zones? Make a list.
The next step is to begin overlapping your expert zones to find potential genius zones, like this:
Although the image shows two expert zones, you might try overlapping three, four, five, or more.
This is where things get fun because this exercise may help you discover a new calling, purpose, or mission in life.
When I go through this exercise, I like to start by asking myself what’s the one expert zone that absolutely 100% has to be part of my genius zone. For me, entrepreneurship is it. I’ve been an entrepreneur since I was a kid. I’ll always be one. I’m currently doing side-work writing Harvard Business School cases related to entrepreneurship, and I hope to go back to school someday, get a Ph.D., and do academic research on entrepreneurship. Perhaps I could be convinced to ghostwrite a book that has nothing to do with entrepreneurship, but it’s hard for me to imagine.
Homework: Do you have an expert zone that has to be part of your genius zone? Make a note of it.
As I look at the other expert zones on my list, some that stand out are:
- Technology. I have a master’s degree in information systems management, and I’ve always been a technologist.
- Internet. I’ve done web programming, been a network engineer, designed hundreds of websites, lived a life as an SEO expert.
- Startups. I’ve started multiple businesses and have always been active in the local startup community wherever I lived.
- Systems and methods. I’m good at recognizing patterns and trends and creating formulas and systems.
- Interviewing executives. I interviewed CMOs from 30 companies, including Spotify, Target, The Home Depot, PayPal, and GE, for my book Chief Marketing Officers at Work and many more for the 300+ articles I wrote for outlets like Forbes, Fortune, Inc., TechCrunch, and Entrepreneur.
- Non-fiction. I have no experience writing fiction and no interest to ghostwrite it, but I love, love, love writing non-fiction and would do it all day if I could.
Other expert zones might be relevant as well, but for now, this is plenty. When I combine these expert zones with entrepreneurship, then that turns me into a unique kind of ghostwriter. Imagine you were on the search for a ghostwriter to help the founder/CEO of a tech startup that had become a successful enterprise and who wanted a ghostwriter with a strong background in entrepreneurship, preferably a ghostwriter still running a business so they truly understood what it’s like, to write a non-fiction business book detailing the steps taken and explaining why they worked and how others could apply them. You could hire any old ghostwriter for $40-60K, and you’d get a good one, but that book is going to be around forever. What would it be worth to get someone who is just the right match?
Homework: What expert zones would you combine into your genius zone? Try a few combinations out and don’t worry, you can always change this later.
Of course, creating a genius zone like this means I eliminate myself from consideration for the vast majority of ghostwriting opportunities out there, but the alternative to a laser focus is to eliminate myself from all ghostwriting opportunities. And it’s not like I want to corner the market on ghostwriting. I’m looking for one, maybe two clients per year, at the most. If there are only 100 people in the world who would be interested in my genius zone, that’s more than enough to keep me busy the rest of my life.
As a ghostwriter, my audience is not everyone. It’s not every entrepreneur. It’s not every entrepreneur who wants a ghostwriter to write a non-fiction book.
The more specific I get, the smaller my market becomes, but the better a match I become for that small market. If I get focused enough, then it will seem to my ideal audience as though I’m inside their heads.
I believe it’s rare enough to find a ghostwriter who runs a business of any size (other than their ghostwriting business) that this makes me a rare breed. When you add the other components above, it becomes even more compelling—to the right audience.
To find your ideal audience, start by looking at yourself. Because effective ghostwriting requires you to get inside the head of the client, you’ll be a better, more efficient ghostwriter if you only work with clients who are as much like you as possible. The more you have in common, the better the match (all other things being equal).
I imagine a tech entrepreneur thinking, “I want to write a business book, but I don’t have the time plus I don’t know how to write a book, but I’ve got these great ideas…I need a ghostwriter,” and then they think, “But who could write my book the right way? They would need to be an entrepreneur, otherwise how can they possibly understand what I’ve gone through to get where I am today? How could they understand what it’s like to be the ‘boss’ and have the weight of the whole company and everyone’s payroll on your shoulders, and yet you’re never allowed to complain about it? Who else could understand the sacrifices I’ve made, without me having to explain it all…which would be embarrassing?”
That’s already a great match. But then let’s say that entrepreneur’s business is in Utah and they started it while they were in college, or soon after. They went through tough times. They almost went out of business more than once. They struggled to prioritize family and personal health over their business. That’s my experience, and while perhaps only a handful of entrepreneurs in Utah would relate to all this and are looking for a ghostwriter, but I’m not concerned about the numbers. I know there are enough. That gives me all the more reason to be transparent about my background so that when a potential client learns about me, they won’t be able to imagine working with anyone else.
Homework: Reverse your genius zone and create an ideal client profile, an imaginary person who would be the perfect client to work with, in part because you would understand them so well, and partly because they would feel as though they had to work with you.
Audience Bonus 1: Go Corporate
$100K is a significant expense for a potential client to pay from their bank account. Can you imagine someone having to justify that to their spouse?
However, it’s not a huge marketing investment for a company that’s doing $100M each year, and when it’s framed as an investment, then the focus becomes the payoff rather than the expense.
That’s why another part of my ideal audience profile is to search for clients who already want to write a book to grow their business.
Homework: Are there companies that would hire you to ghostwrite a book for one of their executives? Make a list.
Audience Bonus 2: Do More Than Just Ghostwrite
Can you bring more to the table than just ghostwriting and, therefore, niche down even further on your ideal audience? For example, through my team, I’m able to expand beyond ghostwriting and also offer:
- Strategy (helping authors figure out exactly what type of book will be best, vs. merely writing the book they ask me to)
- Book proposal writing (for those who want to pitch a traditional publisher)
- Self-publishing management (for those who want to self-publish, but don’t know where to get started)
- Cover design
- Interior design and typesetting
- Design and build of a personal brand website
- Social media management
- Marketing and PR, including getting clients into publications like Forbes, Inc., and Entrepreneur
These services may not matter to all clients, but they will to others, and
Homework: Are there additional services you can offer, either by yourself or by partnering with others, so that you can even better match up with the client who needs everything you provide and wants it all in one place?
We’re not talking about the book. We’re talking about the content you’re going to create to attract your ideal audience and convince them you’re the ghostwriter they must work with. After all, you might be the perfect match for someone out there, but they can’t hire you if they don’t know you exist or don’t know enough about you to know you’re the perfect match.
Can you answer these questions?
- Where does your ideal audience hang out, and where will your audience go to find a ghostwriter?
- What authority triggers do you quickly build credibility once they find you?
- What’s the message you want them to process about you as quickly as possible?
What’s Your Channel?
There’s nothing better than word-of-mouth marketing, but if you’re not ready to depend exclusively on that, then where else can you get in front of your ideal audience?
If I were targeting successful entrepreneurs in Boston, I might:
- Speak about the book writing process for free to local groups of entrepreneurs like Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) or Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC).
- Help a Forbes contributor who focuses on personal branding and thought leadership to write an article on why entrepreneurs should publish a book, and throw a mention in there that I’m in Boston.
- Launch a podcast interviewing successful authors, and start out interviewing author-entrepreneurs from the Boston area.
Homework: Where does your ideal audience hang out, and where will your audience go to find a ghostwriter?
How Can You Build Credibility Quickly?
“Show, don’t tell,” is my motto.
Telling: “I’m a very good ghostwriter, and I can do a really good job on your book.”
Showing: “I’ve ghostwritten six New York Times bestselling books for other entrepreneurs just like you.”
There is no better credibility builder than to be able to show a potential ghostwriting customer, “Look, I’ve already done exactly what you want me to do for other people who are just like you, and I’ve done it multiple times.”
However, you can still become a six-figure ghostwriter without that kind of credibility if you can show that even if you haven’t done exactly what the client wants you to do, you have done similar work that proves you can. If you haven’t written precisely the type of book your client wants you to ghostwrite, have you:
- Written other books that are similar?
- Written articles that are just like the book they want? (only shorter)
Or can you show any past work that makes the case that you are the ghostwriter they’re looking for?
Homework: What authority triggers do you quickly build credibility once they find you?
What’s Your Core Message?
If Jeff is right, what do you want a potential client to say about you once you’ve “left the room,” or delivered your pitch? That’s your message.
As they say, you can position yourself as cheaper, faster, or better (choose any two). If you want to be a $100K ghostwriter, then you know which one you can’t choose. And I’m not sure “faster” is what you want to focus on, either. “Better” is the best place to stake your claim. Value, value, value. Why are you the best choice? Never mind the price.
Do people buy Teslas, Herman Miller chairs, or $200 Apple earbuds because they’re cheap? Or because they can ship them faster? On the contrary, people will prepay and then wait several months for the delivery of their $80K Tesla. Then they’ll brag to all their friends about how long they had to wait for it. The message you want potential customers to take away is that even if you’re the most expensive ghostwriter, and even if you’re not available right now, you are the only ghostwriter for them, and they’ll take nothing less.
Homework: How can you make sure potential clients always walk away saying, “I’ve got to work with this ghostwriter.”
Imagine you have 30 days to land a new ghostwriting client, or you go broke. What needs to happen to meet the 30-day goal of landing a new client?
Do you need to rewrite your ghostwriting page on your personal-brand website, update your LinkedIn profile, or reach out to potential clients with your new pitch?
Homework: What’s your next step? What’s the one thing you can do, right now, that will move you towards your 30-day goal?
Thought we were done? Not quite. Going after a $100K ghostwriting contract isn’t easy, and you might need a little help from your friends.
However, collaboration is more than asking yourself, “Who can help me out?” Instead, ask yourself:
- Who has the same ideal audience that I do?
- What do they want from our shared ideal audience?
- How can I help them get what they want?
- How can they help me get what I want?
- Is there a way we can work together so we can help each other both get what we want?
Homework: Answer the five questions above.
Everything you’ve done above is a waste if you don’t learn to turn down work that isn’t a perfect fit, and that means it has to be work you love. As a ghostwriter, the love you need to have includes:
- Excitement for any project you take on
- Passion for the content you’ll be creating
- Goodwill for the client and the client’s audience
If Thom Yorke of Radiohead asked me to ghostwrite his memoir for a million dollars, I would be sorely tempted, but I would have to turn it down. Writing autobiographical content for a famous rock star would be interesting, and I’m sure I could do a decent job at it, but it wouldn’t match with my genius zone or my long-term plans. As a result, the manuscript would be sub-par and disappoint everyone.
On the other hand, I believe entrepreneurship can save the world, and that’s something to which I long-ago decided to dedicate my professional life. If I can ghostwrite a successful entrepreneur’s book and help them get their message into the world and help other entrepreneurs, then that’s the ghostwriting where I can shine, because I love that kind of work.
Homework: What is the ideal project for you, where you can fully immerse yourself in it and love it?
If you’ve never ghostwritten anything before, never written any book at all, and don’t have a lot of other writing experience, then it’s unlikely you could use these tips to jump straight to a $100K ghostwriting gig.
Maybe your first gig will $10K.
Maybe your second will be $20K.
Maybe your third will be $25K, your fourth $30K, and your fifth $40K. Then, with that experience combined with mastering the steps above, you may be able to leap into a six-figure spot.
But it depends. Even if you have minimal writing experience, if you find the right genius zone and ideal audience, you might be able to work yourself into a position where a potential client says, “Even though you’re not a very experienced writer, there’s nobody else who could do a better job writing this book.”
That’s where we all want to be.
Are you a ghostwriter? Does what I’ve written above ring true, or do you have a contrarian take on things? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.Liked it? Share it!