Do You Write for the Bucks or the Byline? How I Started Ghostwriting

There was a time when seeing my name in the newspaper, or in a glossy magazine, was enough to make me squee.

I hated assignments that didn’t offer author credit, and generally avoided them. What’s in it for me? I thought, not even considering the possibility that a paycheck could be enough.

In fact, when I first began writing about sex and my editor brought up pen names, I shrugged off his suggestion. I wanted the credit, no matter how kinky the content.

(Which is why my Playgirl debut was particularly thrilling. They ran a cartoonified head shot of me next to my article… and directly below a drawing of what appeared to be an orgy. My mom made copies and handed them out to friends.)

So how did I end up ghostwriting ebooks and blog posts?

I’ve been working on a big ghostwriting project for the past month and, since I started, some people have asked me for advice on how to get into ghostwriting. The truth of the matter is that I didn’t seek out ghostwriting opportunities, and never even considered it an option for me. I mean, I was absolutely traumatized when I found out that Carolyn Keene was actually a collective of ghostwriters (Nancy Drew, you broke my heart). And I thought that getting the credit for something you didn’t write was totally cheating, and that the ghostwriter was only an accessory to the crime.

But since I started ghostwriting, I’ve come to two realizations:

1. I may have the writing talent but, sometimes, someone else has the fabulous idea and the background knowledge and experience. Putting the two of us together? Writing gold.

2. This ghostwriting stuff pays way better than the other stuff I’ve been doing.

I don’t know if I’ll seek out more work like this. This client came to me because he liked my style and wanted to work together. But if you’d like to take a more proactive approach to ghostwriting, there are some fabulous posts out there that can help you, like:

Stay tuned for a post on how to rock the ghostwriting process. But in the meantime… do you make money as a ghostwriter? If not, would it break your heart to give up your byline?

Related: Having Trouble Defining Your Specialty? How To Determine What Makes You an Original, How To Avoid Homelessness and Starvation When the Checks Aren’t Regular, Pinpointing Dream Job #328


  1. I’ve ghostwritten articles before as part of full-time regular jobs I’ve had, and it always bothered me that someone else got the byline when I did all the work.

    For me, it felt weird using those articles as writing samples (at the time, they were my ONLY published writing samples), because I always worried that whoever was looking at them would think I was lying when I said that I wrote them.

    On the other hand, it did make me feel good that I was able to pass as the voice of a CEO of a hospital, insurance experts, and others in fields that I barely understood… 🙂

    • Yes! That’s the other issue. Using ghostwritten pieces in your portfolio, even though they don’t carry your byline. I used to feel the same way when I did book reviews for PW. Book reviewers didn’t get bylines, and I always worried that an editor might call me a liar if I used one of my reviews as a sample clip.

  2. Another interesting book to read is Jennie Erdal, Ghosting (Canongate UK, 2004), her personal account of working as a ghost writer for one particular man.

  3. I have made great money ghostwriting. Currently, I ghostwrite for companies. It’s called marketing and communications. Odd, but a lot of writers never consider that every time they write a brochure, newsletter, or any other corporate communications project without their name on it, they’re ghosting. Same goes for press releases, slogans, sales letters, and blogs.

    But for some reason, there are writers who get bent out of shape because their names aren’t appearing in the byline. In my opinion, if they pay me enough to keep my name off it, I’m totally fine with it as long as the check clears. 🙂

  4. I have never done ghostwriting, except on a volunteer basis for an organic gardening friend with a message on toxic chemicals to share in the most effective way possible, but I totally get what you are saying. If I had not re-invented myself as a green innkeeper, I think I would have tried ghostwriting. I’m always glad to see when the name of the ghostwriter figures prominently on a book.


  1. […] the other month, I asked if you write for the bucks or the byline. As someone who had stumbled into a fairly steady stream of ghostwriting and co-authoring work […]

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