A portfolio is not just a collection of your work; it’s a powerful tool that showcases the depth and breadth of your skills as a creative artist. It’s a testament to your versatility and adaptability, and it’s a key to unlocking new opportunities in the ghostwriting profession.

But what if you can’t disclose the details of your past work? After all, you may have signed an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) preventing you from sharing the content and details of a project, making it impossible to share that work with prospective clients.

You can see the dilemma, I’m sure.

This article explores how to build a ghostwriting portfolio in a way that protects you, your client, and the copyright of the work you’ve handed over.

Ready? Let’s go.

What is a ghostwriter?


Essentially, a ghostwriter is a talented creative writer who produces work on behalf of other clients. Some people consider ghostwriting a lesser art form, but it’s not true: ghostwriting requires a superhuman level of versatility, research ability, and work ethic.

After all, when you ghostwrite, you’re typically:

  • Writing a large volume of work to a strict deadline.
  • Adopting the client’s voice.
  • Anonymous

You’ll typically work alongside an editor who helps guide the work as you go, helping align the voice, content, and tone with the client’s wishes.

Ultimately, ghostwriting can be a lucrative vocation, providing professional anonymity and the chance to work on some fascinating and varied projects.


How does a ghostwriter work with a client?


There’s no one way that a ghostwriter engages with their client because each contract is individual to the project. The most common path is to be paid an upfront or partial fee to produce the literary work with an agreed deadline. Then, at the end of the project, you hand over the rights of that work to the new owner.

Some ghostwriters negotiate a royalty split into the terms of their contract, which means they’ll get a lower upfront fee with the chance of ongoing returns from sales. This can be a risk because the work may fail to achieve its commercial aims, which is why many ghostwriters prefer to work on a buy-out basis.


Specify sharing in your contract


We recommend you discuss all contractual terms before the job begins and negotiate a clause allowing you to use excerpts of the work for your portfolio, stipulating how, where, and under what conditions you can share it.

Of course, the client may well deny you that right, and that’s absolutely their prerogative. However, some ghostwriters increase their fees in this case because it’s challenging to demonstrate your work if you’re not allowed to share it in any way.

Either way, you will likely sign an NDA to protect the client’s interests and intellectual property.


What type of work does a ghostwriter do?


Ghostwriting is perhaps most regularly associated with the celebrity biography, but it covers all forms, from copy- or document writing for corporate businesses to creative writing under a pseudonym.

At Relay Publishing, we hire ghostwriters to write under established author pseudonyms covering a range of novelistic genres.

For example:

What is a Non-Disclosure Agreement?


An NDA legally binds you to absolute confidentiality throughout the execution of the project and after the end of the contract. Your client is sharing sensitive information with you, after all.

The contract is likely to specify which project elements are protected under the agreement. It may also prevent you from sharing any contracted work online or with prospective clients.

So, how the heck do you build a portfolio?

Building a portfolio as a ghostwriter


Unless you can get a clause written into the contract permitting you to use excerpts of the work under controlled circumstances, you’ll need to be clever when putting together your portfolio.


1.    Create dummy content


Your contract may prevent you from sharing the published author’s name, excerpts of the project, or even any details about the work.

In this case, create work samples that represent the projects you’ve worked on. You’re a writer, so creating some example pieces to share on your website is unlikely to pose a massive challenge.

What to create

Think about the types of jobs you’ve enjoyed and replicate those. Ideally, write at least five samples representing the topics and voices of your past work. Showcase your strengths by showing a variety of styles.

For example:

  • Write a witty blog post on a specific marketing topic or current affair.
  • Create a technical piece with an informative and authoritative voice.
  • Build a press release about a fictional company or service.
  • Fake an autobiography passage, written in the tone of your recent projects (with none of the details, of course).
  • Author an opening chapter to a novel in your favored style.

Remember: while it’s important to represent your versatility, be sure to proofread your work thoroughly before hitting publish — you won’t have an editor for this, after all.


2.    Be general about the project


Your best work might remain confidential forever more, but that doesn’t mean you can’t represent it in general terms.

Create generalized bullet lists that give broad details about the project, grouping your work history into categories that classify the client without identifying them.

You may have written a training manual for the police: describe it as an “internal training manual for public service providers.” Perhaps you wrote copy for a well-known website selling gardening equipment: explain it as “blog writing for noted Home & Garden provider, more than 25 articles published.”

Again, the terms of your agreement might prevent you from sharing examples, but you could write a non-specific sample copy to represent the project.


3.    Create project descriptions


If you can’t show examples, write compelling descriptions describing the project. Remember to demonstrate your passion for the project.

For example:

Scenario: You’ve ghostwritten a novel under Relay Publishing’s Leslie North’s pen name. Perhaps you wrote SEAL Guardian, Brothers in Arms #3.

You may not be able to publish a directly identifying precis of the piece, you might say:

Suspense romance novel

June 2014-Sept 2014

For this project, I developed existing characters in an espionage setting. The protagonist is determined to stop a madman from framing our heroes for murder, clashing with a beautiful FBI agent charged with solving the same case. As they clash, a fiery attraction ignites, but with the killer still at large, they must find a way to join forces in a suspenseful tale of passion and danger.

This way, you’re honoring the terms of your NDA and avoiding the potential for someone to add a comment on Amazon accusing the writer of hiring a ghostwriter! After all, your previous client might be your new client’s nemesis!


4.    Ask for commendations


While many clients will insist on complete anonymity, they may still offer a written commendation based on your work on the project.

Again, you won’t be able to use their name, but give them a generalized title, such as “USA Today bestselling romance author.” However, you’ll need to ensure that the description isn’t code-loaded; ensure the description is unique and untraceable.

One of the easiest ways to ask for recommendations is on LinkedIn — send your clients to your profile, asking them to leave a review of your work.


5.    Ask for references


Your direct client might not agree to give you a reference, but perhaps the project editor or a representative of the client might. Of course, always ask permission before stating a reference because it could backfire if they refuse to give you one.

When applying for a position, it’s always helpful to add that you could provide a “client’s contact details upon request” in your cover letter. It’s probably better to avoid listing the name at the application stage — if the potential client Googles the name, you may have broken the terms of your NDA.


6.    Create a ghostwriter’s profile


You might have an agent or work entirely independently.

Either way, have a profile that includes:

  • A good-quality headshot.
  • Your relevant qualifications and educational achievements.
  • Awards
  • Industry experience.
  • Personal interests.

Yes, personal interests! If a client wants someone to write content for a gardening website, your interest in growing your own veggies demonstrates your interest in gardening.

Whether you’ve signed up with an agent, set up an account on a freelancer platform (like Upwork), or set up your own website, create a compelling ghostwriter’s profile that presents you as a human being!

Show that you care about your work and demonstrate your passion. And remember to update your profile and portfolio regularly.


7.    Send samples


Samples can be tricky, but if you’re clever at the contracting stage, you could retain the rights to a portfolio sample of the piece.

Your contract will likely relinquish your rights and future claim to royalties, but that doesn’t stop you from requesting a clause entitling you to a sample of two or three pages. This wouldn’t give you the right to post the sample on your website, but you could send that sample if the potential client signs an NDA before receiving it.

That way, your original client’s integrity remains safe, and you can prove your past work on a potentially high-profile project.

Of course, all of this must be negotiated with your client at the contract stage. It can feel awkward to make these demands with new clients, but ultimately, your career development is essential as well — so, don’t be afraid to ask.


Your caution is their caution


It might feel super awkward to request NDAs for samples, but actually, it demonstrates the lengths you’ll need to go to protect your former client’s integrity. That’s only ever a good thing — it shows that you’re professional and have personal integrity.


Building a ghostwriting portfolio


Whether you’re looking for your first ghostwriting job or are a seasoned professional, it can take a lot of work to prove your worth to prospective clients. But with our hints and tips, you can represent your professionalism, talent, and ambition.

You could try to get an agent, sign up for a freelancer’s platform, or garner work entirely independently — no matter which direction you choose, build yourself a platform that demonstrates who you are without compromising your former relationships.


Relay Publishing wants to hear from you!


We’ve published more than 1500 books in multiple languages (and counting) at Relay Publishing, producing bestsellers in various genres, including romance, YA fantasy, sci-fi, thrillers, and post-apocalyptic fiction.

We pair ghostwriters with editors to help match the writer’s experience level, so we’re always on the lookout for new or experienced writers with a passion for storytelling.

So, if you’re brimming with enthusiasm and love spinning a yarn, we want to hear from you!

Get in touch today!