My Top Five Ghostwriting Mistakes (and How I Fixed Them)

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I’ve been a ghostwriter for a few years, which means I’ve been hired to write books for other people. I signed Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) so I can’t tell you what they were about, but I can tell you about the process and how I got better at it over time. Starting, of course, with all of the mistakes I made along the way. Here are the top five mistakes I made when ghostwriting my first book (so that you don’t have to make the same ones!).

Mistake 1: I overestimated my writing speed

When I first started out, my reliable writing speed was about 500-600 words per hour. Sometimes it would get up to 800, and sometimes I would get stuck and only reach about 400. This is normal when you’re first starting out. My writing speed now is a comfortable 1.2k (1,200) words per hour that I can maintain about 90% of the time. But when I was writing my first book, I wasn’t honest about how fast I was actually writing and so I kept missing the word count goals I set for myself.

Doing this is a mistake because it’s disheartening and it set me up for failure before I even sat down to write! If I had been honest with my word count average (instead of my word count ideals) then I would have given myself the extra time and avoided feeling like it was crunch time all of the time. In the following books, I gave myself extra time and it took so much stress away that I could barely believe it! And now, my writing speed has gotten so much faster that I can set more ambitious goals; BUT always remember to account for low days or unexpected hurdles. Don’t assume you’re going to have an amazing writing day every single day before your deadline, and then cut yourself some slack when you end up needing to use up some of your buffer time. You’ll be a much happier author that way, I promise.

Mistake 2: I had too few client check-ins

I was a brand-new ghostwriter and very nervous about my first contract, so I wasn’t as assertive as I should have been with my client. Having regular check-ins makes sure that everyone is on the same page and keeps anyone from being blindsided by the unexpected. Set expectations with your client, and consider what you’re bringing to the table. Examples of things to consider include:

  • Hard deadlines: does the first draft need to be done by a specific date so that it can be handed off to the editor? Books have many moving parts, so make sure you establish deadlines that absolutely cannot be missed.
  • Soft deadlines: is there a words per week expectation (e.g. 10k words/week)? This will keep you on track to meet hard deadlines, but still give you a little wiggle room in case you write above or below your set goal.
  • Revisions: does your client expect you to do the revisions after it’s been evaluated by them/their beta reader/etc.? If so, consider how many you’re willing to do, and whether you want to be paid for each revision or include them in the overall cost of the project. Don’t blindside them with extra fees, but make sure to get paid what you’re worth!

Mistake 3: I didn’t make reference sheets

When you’re writing a book, it’s easy to think that you’ll obviously remember all of the little details (because you’re the author, right?) but I’m telling you right now: make reference sheets. Whether it’s for characters (things like last names, eye color, any notable physical characteristics, background information, etc.) or settings, having all of the details written down is a lifesaver so that you don’t end up writing a character that is missing a left hand in chapter one but then in chapter 20 his right hand is gone!

Also, reference sheets should be regularly updated as you’re writing. It’s valuable to write organically, so maybe you don’t know that your main character has an exceptionally loud laugh until the love interest cracks a joke a few chapters in, but once you have established it add that detail to the reference sheet so that you can use it later. Consistency is key! You don’t have to have full character designs before you write your first word, but by the end of your book those reference sheets will be packed with all of the little details that popped up along the way. When you pass your finished book back to your client, include the reference sheets! It’ll be useful for others in the publishing process, and it’ll show your client that you were paying attention and crafting your story with care.

Mistake 4: I mismanaged deadlines

This ties in with overestimating my writing speed, but when I was a freshly-minted ghostwriter working on my first book, I was not consistent in my creative process at all. I would write every few days with the deadline quietly looming, and then all of a sudden realize that I have two days to write the remaining 7k words in my milestone! Cue panicked writing sessions to barely make the submission deadline, and then… repeat the same mistake the following week. It took me quite a few tries to find a rhythm, but it pays off to regularly set aside time to write and then stick to those time blocks. If you end up getting done ahead of schedule, or you’re still overestimating your ability to get the writing done, then tweak the blocks until you find something that fits you as a writer. Everyone writes differently, but make sure you take the time to find your own rhythm and then commit to being consistent.

Mistake 5: I didn’t celebrate small wins

After writing my first book and officially closing the contract, I… started submitting proposals for the next contract. I didn’t celebrate at all, I just immediately tried to dive back into the fray. In hindsight, it was a huge accomplishment! I wrote a whole book start to finish for the very first time! But I was so consumed by the need to fit in as a professional ghostwriter, that I forgot to let myself enjoy that win. Writing is hard work, and whether you’re ghostwriting your first novella or your 50th novel, you’re still writing! Acknowledge all of the work you’re doing and celebrate when you reach your deadlines or get good client reviews. You’re not a content mill, you’re an author who is getting paid to work within your craft. I think that’s worth celebrating, don’t you?

In Conclusion

Now that you’ve learned some of the things to avoid when trying your hand at ghostwriting, you’ll be able to tackle your next contract with more confidence. Just remember: writing is hard, but not impossible. It takes planning and practice and patience (so much patience…) but at the end of the day it’s worth it.

So what do you think about ghostwriting? Have you tried it? Do you want to? Let me know in the comments! And if you don’t want to miss out on any Author Rescue content, join the monthly newsletter!


3 thoughts on “My Top Five Ghostwriting Mistakes (and How I Fixed Them)

    1. Content creation in general is no easy feat! I bet your experience as a technical writer would translate really well to ghostwriting, plus a lot of genres (especially science fiction) is made more realistic with technical descriptions. And there’s always non-fiction, which I’ve found requires a more technical voice to succeed. Best of luck to you no matter where you decide to take your skills! 🙂


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