The “official steps” to Freelance Ghostwriting Success go a little something like this:
- Build your portfolio.
- Send potential clients your portfolio.
- Get hired.
If you’ve read any freelance writing articles recently, you got some version of that advice. In theory, it makes sense.
But what if sharing your portfolio with potential ghostwriting clients actually turns them away?
I learned that the hardest way you can imagine. In my early days as a ghostwriter, whenever I’d hear from an aspiring author looking for help, what did I say?
“Here’s a link to my portfolio so you can view some of my previous projects.”
You know what’s strange? Only a few authors asked for my portfolio. Most didn’t. But that didn’t matter to me — the articles told me to send my portfolio, so by golly I did!
Here’s what happened:
No messages back.
No replies to my follow up emails or follow-ups to the follow-ups.
One day, I sent my portfolio to an author while we were on the phone together. You know what he said right then and there?
“Interesting. You can write, but I don’t like your style. I’ll talk to other writers and get back with you.”
“Well, ack-shully,” I jumped in, “I was writing in my client’s style. I’m a ghostwriter. That’s what I do. If you look through my portfolio, you’ll see every sample has a different tone and feel.”
“Yeah, I don’t like those styles either. Maybe I should finish my book myself. That’s what my friends are telling me anyway. I don’t want my book reading like somebody else wrote it.”
This happened for YEARS. Authors reached out to me for help, took one look at my portfolio, and fell off the face of the earth. And I had no clue why.
Not until I got on a live video call with an aspiring author (whose project was PERFECT for me), and he asked an altogether different question.
“Can you tell me about any past client successes?”
“Oh. Well, I have a portfolio I can send — ”
“No, I don’t need to see a portfolio,” he said. “What I mean is — have your clients been happy with their books? Did they sell well? Once the book was done, what did they do with it?”
That conversation changed everything.
I realized that authors who make the best clients care about the results of THEIR book project, rather than what you’ve written for other people in the past. The fact they’re even having a conversation with you means they assume you’re a competent communicator! Sharing what you wrote for somebody else will only change their mind.
From that day forward, I’ve collected testimonials from every author I could. Since many clients don’t expect you to sign an NDA or confidentiality agreement, you can share the results they got from their book!
(Oh, you thought every professional ghostwriter is supposed to sign an NDA with every client? Another deal-killing myth!)
From now on, how much of a difference would it make if we stopped sending our portfolio and started showing testimonials? If we started putting a client quote in our email footer, on our LinkedIn profile, on our website…everywhere! And when our next potential ghostwriting client asks us for writing samples, we give them something better — third-party social proof that other authors got a return on their investment in your services.