In this article I interview Alex Cody Foster. He is an experienced ghostwriter who has worked on eight #1 Amazon Bestsellers, written for a successful thriller writer in the U.K., and served as John McAfee’s ghostwriter for six months, as featured in a Netflix documentary.
So do you want to know how to be a ghostwriter? Or not sure what they even do? Ghostwriters write content for others without being recognized as the author.
So if you’re interested in becoming a ghostwriter and finding beginner-level ghostwriting jobs, then your in the right place.
Many people dream of finding a ghostwriting job, as it can be a rewarding way to make money from home.
Alex has recently launched Ghostwriting University, an online course that teaches every step of the ghostwriting process, from finding clients to completing a fully published book. He also offers a free mini course with beginner tips on how to start ghostwriting.
The interview addresses common questions, such as;
- The typical salary for ghostwriters
- whether a degree is necessary
- who can be a ghostwriter
- how to start a career in ghostwriting,
- the ethical aspects of ghostwriting.
This information will help you understand how to become a ghostwriter and explore a potential way to earn money from home.
Please give us a little background on yourself and how you became a ghostwriter.
I was never any good at traditional education because I didn’t feel like I belonged to it, didn’t fit into that “box.” It felt limiting to me. I barely graduated high school (I got good grades, but they took points off your grades past a certain amount of school days you missed, and I missed a lot).
I think my GPA was 1.9. No colleges wanted me, and vice versa. Instead, I moved out at 15, graduated at 18 and built a solar trike that I intended to drive across America to film a doc on social and environment change.
The trike’s hub motors failed, however, on a precipitous hill, and I crashed it. I didn’t have the money to repair it, so I hitched across America ending up penniless and homeless on the streets of LA. A lot of crazy stuff happened there, some traumatic events, and I kind of lost my mind. I then became a homeless vagabond writer traveling around the world for the next few years, trying to fix my mind and rediscover an identity that I had lost.
I did, ultimately, by writing a “memoir” at 21850 pages. Yikes. But the experience was incredibly cathartic for me, so I kept writing. A novel, two, four, several books of short stories… and I posted them online. Someone reached out saying they had seen my writing and they wanted to hire me to ghostwrite their memoir. I didn’t even really know much about the craft aside from the Roman Polanski film ‘The Ghostwriter,’ but I did it.
The client ended up being a sociopath who had written in his journals intentions of murdering his ex-wife, and when I outed him and reported it, there went my first client. I had to really hustle, and I ended up penning some bestsellers and building a lasting career.
Will you continue to ghost write? Or do you think your branding will allow you to on your own name?
Now that I’ve got my first book under my name traditionally published, and several film/tv deals from other true crime books under my name and under contract with publishers,
#I’m largely putting ghostwriting on the back burner (aside from my course) as I focus on this burgeoning career of becoming a true crime author. I will still work on one or two high profile, big budget ghostwriting gigs a year until the foreseeable future, but it won’t be nearly as much as I did in the past.
Are you working on anything interesting at the moment?
A book about a notorious American drug kingpin, with that drug kingpin, which is optioned by Mark Wahlberg’s company and turning into a mini series with a major streamer next year.
Its a book on the Long Island Serial Killers (plural on purpose), which also documents how I was there on the scene witnessing Rex Heuermann’s arrest; a book on the Smiley Face Killers with Kevin Gannon, who at the time of his retirement was the most highly decorated NYPD officer in history; and lastly, a fiction horror series with James Patterson’s own co-author, JD Barker.
What is a ghostwriter?
A ghostwriter is someone who, as I like to say, “can step into the shoes of another and resume their stride perfectly.” We are secret authors, the people who write 80% of the nonfiction books that you read on the market, and you never knew we were even there.
How much can a ghostwriter earn? How much should a beginner ghostwriter charge?
A little and a lot. I charged $8k per book at the very start of my career, and now I charge $250k – $500k+ depending on the project. It boils down to your efficacy and track record.
So it’s hard for me to say what someone just starting out should charge as it depends on their skillset and experience. Assuming it’s a good writer, at least $10k per book project, and tack on another $10k-$20k each time your writing nets you a distinct level of success.
Do you prefer to ghostwrite certain types of books?
Yes, true crime, memoir, and narrative nonfiction. Fiction is great fun but I prefer to write my own. I’ve worked in pretty much every genre (except for erotica and children’s books, strangely), and it helps make you a very well-rounded writer by doing so. It also means you have more work you can take on than other writers who may pigeonhole themselves into a set genre.
When I first met other (much older) colleagues in this business, they urged me to focus solely on one genre. I promptly ignored that and it has worked wonders for me.
Do you think ghostwriting ethical?
I think that’s a better question for the author than the ghost. The ghost has to learn everything they can to adopt the tone and voice of their subjects. I see ghostwriting as a beautiful art form going back hundreds of years (Shakespeare himself was likely Sir Francis Bacon, the autodidact genius and expert on the Victorian courts).
What I find unethical is when authors lie about hiring a ghost; when they try to pretend they didn’t have any help. I don’t lie about being a ghostwriter, and I don’t think authors should lie about hiring them.
Can anyone be a ghostwriter? What skills do ghostwriters need?
Big no. You need to be a great writer, first and foremost. You need to be a great listener. You need to have empathy and leave your ego at the door (this includes political and religious affiliations; I personally never work with someone if they tell me I need to be an A or a B, such as a Biden supporter or a Trump supporter).
Now that I’m in a good position and can say ‘No,’ I only work with people who are highly intelligent, objective, open-minded, and willing to admit they may be wrong on subjects. I wouldn’t necessarily say you should do that in the beginning as you’re trying to build a career, but you still must always follow your own morals.
Any reasons why someone shouldn’t be a ghostwriter?
If you’re not a writer, you’re a bad listener, and you have a huge ego.
Who hires ghostwriters? Do celebrities hire ghostwriters?
Thought leaders, public speakers, celebrities and rockstars, politicians, self-help gurus, cult leaders—you name it!
Do you need a degree to be a ghostwriter?
Absolutely not. This may be the only career in which not having a degree can actually help you, since you haven’t been brainwashed by educational institutions’ very particular methods on how you should write.
Does a ghostwriter own copyright?
Never, unless you’re in a collaboration agreement of some kind.
Do ghostwriters get paid upfront?
Partially, but never 100%. Some ghosts do 50% up front and the rest at the end. That’s too risky. I do 20% up front followed by equal monthly payments of what’s left until the contract is done.
Do ghostwriters get recognition?
Nope. Unless you’re a ‘co-author’ instead, in a collaboration agreement. But then technically you’re not a ghost. You can get behind the scenes recognition, asking that you be able to mention to agents, publishers and potential clients that you share that you worked on X.
How do I start a career in ghostwriting?
I wish I could answer this but it’s actually a very long answer. I cover it in my course.
What other tips do you have for someone who wants to become a ghostwriter?
Work hard, constantly improve your writing, read bestsellers in your genre and figure out what makes them work and harness it.
What can a person learn from your course? Can you tell us about some of the people who have successfully taken your resource?
Everything it takes to be a successful ghost. One woman got a $25k project just weeks after finishing the course, and she credited that to the things she learned. I wish I knew all the stuff I taught in my course ten years ago when I started. So this is basically a 10-year headstart to anybody who wants to become a ghostwriter.
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