Over the past few years, I've ghostwritten/edited nearly a dozen romance novels with a friend who then self-publishes them. The way this has worked for us is she acts as a James Patterson type: she has great high-concept ideas that she then hires out to writers to fill in. I have no qualms about saying I'm very good at what I do (confidence--what a new notion for me!), especially as I've recently expanded my clientele to do the same work for another romance writer. I'm paid fairly well as a work-for-hire when there are projects to be had, and I love this work as it's fun, comes naturally to me, and is far from what I write/want to write as far as my own books, so there's no competition.
Recently, I was on Upwork looking for editing jobs and noticed there are quite a few requests for ghostwriters who are given the concept and then asked to run with writing the story. I'm led to believe that the majority of self-published authors in certain genres are using ghostwriters. I'm wondering how this works in traditional publishing and if it's similar. More than that, I'm wondering if it's possible to break into traditional publishing as a ghostwriter and if it's lucrative to do so.
So I suppose that's the question, which I'm hoping with your knowledge might provide some much-needed guidance. Can writers break into the industry as ghostwriters and is it financially lucrative for them? Or should I stay the course and continue as-is?
There are certainly a number of people writing novels that are published under someone else's name, or with the writer listed as a co-author. James Patterson is the classic example. I think John Sanford does some of his novels like this. And certainly there are now entire franchises written by a new author (Dick Francis, Robert Ludlum, Robert Parker)
Thus it is financially lucrative to be a successful ghost.
How to break in? The only people I know who have those gigs had writing careers before they had ghost careers. Their agents got them the ghost jobs, or their personal connections with estates did.
As a relative new-comer with self-pubbed titles in your resume, it's going to be a LOT harder.
The first thing you need to verify is that you are contractually allowed to tell people you wrote "someone else's book."
This is sticky point in all ghost negotiations. Some ghosts are contractually prohibited from telling anyone they wrote something. Others are allowed to mention it only within the industry as a reference for a gig. And some are allowed to have their name on the cover.
If you don't have this established in writing, you'll need to. The last thing you want to do is damage your income stream by having your "James Patterson" say "whoa Nelly, why are you telling people you wrote my book??"
The second thing you'll need to do is cough up sales figures. Self-pubbed books often don't do well. Trad-pubbed books often don't either, but there's a stereotype about the quality of self-pubbed books that has not entirely dissipated. You'll need to be prepared to address that.
How you'd query for this I do not know. Generally I'm not looking for ghost writers for my novelists. The ghost writers I have hired were for non-fiction, and I knew of them from their agent.
As you work on your own novels, you might just keep this mind as something to discuss with your agent when you hook up with her. It's another way to make money and I'm all in favor of my clients making wheelbarrows of dough.