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How to Become an Author – Ghostwriter Salaries


Name: Rick Lanning
Job Title: Ghostwriter and Photographer
Where: Missouri – United States
Employer: Self-employed. I just finished writing a book for a retired investment banker who lives in the Caribbean. He was born in London and managed an investment fund of over $22 billion daily trading in currencies.
Years of Experience: 25 years
Relevant Experience: I had my own radio show and have written for some 50 magazines since 1970.
Education: High school graduate, two years of college and a graduate of a creative writing school in Hollywood, CA.
Annual Salary: See PayScale’s Reseach Center for the median Author Salary in the U.S.

Looking for a career that offers challenge, excitement, and creativity? How about a career that includes traveling to exotic locations and bumping elbows with the rich and famous? This may sound too good to be true, but, if you have a knack for the written word, can build rapport with diverse people, and love to tell a great story, you might be the perfect candidate for a career as a ghostwriter.

For Ghostwriter Rick Lanning, a typical work day could include meeting Willie Nelson or jetting off to the Caribbean to work with his next big client. In this Salary Story, Rick reflects on the interesting people, places, and stories he has encountered during his 25 years as a ghostwriter.

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Job Description of a Ghostwriter

Rick: I approach successful people to help them write their life’s story in book form. These may include professional golfers, actors, musicians, business owners, race car drivers, rodeo bronco or bull riders, gamblers, adventurers, sports fishermen, models, hunters, artists, architects, and many more. Once we come to an agreement, I begin writing the book either from a diary or material they provide me or from personal interviews with them, family members, friends and peers. I also include the photography that would be used to illustrate the book. We can either work at the principal writer’s home or office, or we can do the job via the Internet.

PayScale: How did you become an author or ghostwriter?

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Rick: I ghostwrote my first book in the late 1960s when I was a reporter for the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner. I wrote it for a person who had a winning system for the card game blackjack. My second book was a spiritual book on how to survive a loved one’s death, written through the eyes of a female pastor. My third book was about a professional golfer named Eddie Rack and the forward was written by Arnold Palmer. In each case, I persuaded the individual to let me help him or her get their message across in book form.

PayScale: What do you love about being a ghostwriter?

Rick: The freedom to travel. I also have the freedom to choose projects that interest me. I meet some of the world’s most interesting people because of my work. In my feeling, each person is a walking, talking book. It is my job to tell the story in their language, not mine, and to hit all the points that make their story salable. I always try to get the individual’s family and friends involved and often ask them to write an excerpt that I will later edit and crop so it can be included as part of the book.

PayScale: What are the biggest challenges you face as a ghostwriter?

Rick: Finding the right person who wants to tell his or her story and who is willing to pay my fee to do the work. And sometimes it is hard to find the right publisher after the book is finished. Some individuals don’t want to pay me and try to persuade me to write their story under a plan where we would share the remuneration. I generally turn down such requests. Writing someone’s autobiography is a tough business that wrings you dry. It’s like being married to the principal author. If the marriage “takes,” a good book results and my client is happy.

Right now, I am looking for a publishing company to publish a book about the world economy written through the eyes of a retired investment banker. Gerald Staines spent many years of his life trading currencies for his clients 120 Central Banks around the world and five heads of government. His book, Exorbitant Privilege, explains why the world economy collapsed and how to fix it so it never happens again. If there are any publishers out there who want to have a huge international best-seller, contact me on my email,

PayScale: What’s the most amazing thing you’ve done as a ghostwriter?

I lived in Nevis in a guest house on the property of a $5 million mansion about two miles from the Caribbean Sea. At night I slept in a four-poster bed and awoke to see a sparkling blue sea and dozens of green monkeys chattering and leaping around the property. I even fed them bananas. And I have met such celebrities as Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, George Jones, Hank Williams Jr. and many more during my travels and as part of my work schedule. While working as a reporter for the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, I covered the murder trial of the Charles Manson family and interviewed Manson in the courtroom where Vince Bugliosi prosecuted him.

Being a ghostwriter opens the doors to many treasures, mostly consisting of some of the world’s most interesting people. At Taliesen West, the Frank Lloyd Wright architectural school in Scottsdale, AZ, I attended cocktail parties and workshops and met such people as Arthur and Kathryn Murray, Josef Stalin’s daughter Svetlana, Chief Architect Wesley Peters, and Mr. Wright’s widow, Olgivana.

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