What It's Really Like to Be a Celebrity Ghostwriter

In our 9–5 series, we profile women at the top of their game. This week, celebrity ghostwriter Pauleanna Reid chats with us about her cool literary gig

Ghostwriter: a headshot of Pauleanna Reid in a pink blouse.

Pauleanna Reid is a professional ghostwriter and motivational speaker (Photo: Courtesy of Pauleanna Reid)

Age: 29

Education: A certificate in office administration from Sheridan College

Length of time as a celebrity ghostwriter: About two years. But I’ve been building my reputation as a writer and journalist since 2009, when I started my blog and began freelance writing.

How did you get into celebrity ghostwriting?

Two years ago, a mutual friend introduced me to a CEO in the finance industry, who took an interest in what I did and the unconventional path I’d taken into writing, because I don’t have a formal education in it. He needed assistance with presentations, communications materials and the arrangement and flow of his public speeches. He decided to take a chance on me. From there, through networking, I was able to expand my client base.

Why do you think he took a chance like that?

He needed the help and was willing to give me the opportunity to prove myself.  He was confident in my track record with freelance projects at that point, knowing either I’d sink or swim. Through that process my confidence grew.

So how do you explain your job to people?

A ghostwriter develops and produces books, articles, speeches, stories and reports on behalf of a client. For me, these clients have so far included professional athletes, CEOs and celebrities. But the credit is given to the client, so I don’t share their names. I don’t need recognition, because quiet wins feel like the best kind to me.

Ghostwriter: a headshot of Pauleanna Reid in a brown and black jacket and black dress.
Because you’re not often getting credit for your work, do find most people are unaware that ghostwriters exist?

One question I always get asked is, “So people don’t write their own shit?” The thing is, not everyone is a writer. There are people who are obviously extremely smart, but struggle to translate their thoughts onto paper. That’s where working with a ghostwriter can help, to develop a person’s voice and help communicate it clearly.

Can you talk about projects you’ve worked on or high-profile clients you’ve worked with?

As I say, I work with pro-athletes, CEOs and celebrities, but I’ve signed non-disclosure agreements and can’t reveal their names. That said, I’m proud of the speech I wrote for someone at the 2016 Forbes Women’s Summit and I’ve also written personal essays and op-eds for clients that were published in Forbes, Fast Company, Inc., and Vogue.

What do you like most about your job? 

There’s so much variety, so I never know what upcoming project there might be on the other end of a phone call or email. I love working with executives and brands who like to take a stand on certain topics.

Ghostwriter: a headshot of Pauleanna Reid in a black shift dress.

What does your day look like?

I wake up at 4:30 a.m. most days of the week, because I love getting a head start on the world. I practise the “5 before 8” rule, where I like to tick off five tasks from my to-do list before 8 a.m. I have a morning call with my assistant to go over my agenda. I tend to skip breakfast and get straight to emails and client work, which takes up the majority of my day. I delegate tasks to other writers on my team—I founded a communications group called WritersBlok—and coordinate other projects with upcoming deadlines. I try to carve out time to email pitches and follow up on potential projects. I may step out for a meeting with an existing client, which is extremely important to me. I’m based in Toronto, but my role does require occasional travel. I have clients in Los Angeles, Atlanta, New York and Philadelphia, and am working remotely for the most part. Being in a different time zone than my client does lengthen my day, but I’m always willing to accommodate. My days don’t usually end at a set time for that reason.

Do you get approached by people to ghostwrite for them, or do you actively seek them out?

It works both ways. Sometimes I partner with PR firms or agencies, or work with clients based on a referral or personal relationships that I’ve cultivated and built. In some instances, I may actively seek someone out, because I think that they’re really interesting or feel like I can help them—maybe I saw a presentation of theirs that I felt like I could have made a little better.

How long does it take for you to get to know your client’s voice?

For my long-term projects, my role really requires me to get inside a client’s head, so I will spend a lot of time with the individual. Sometimes it’s not even that were spending time together, but more that I’m observing a day in their life. Other times, I’m on a project where it’s a one-time deal and I have very little time with the client, which makes it a little more difficult. I may only have one or two conversations, and then I’m expected to produce a piece.

How do you strike a balance between finding their voice but maintaining your own?

It’s a fine line because you have to respect the client’s wishes. We’re both experts in our own right, but it also has to sound and feel very much like them. Striking that balance is one of the most challenging parts of what I do. Because in my head, I can write something and think, “This is awesome.” But then a client could take a look at it and say, “It’s not me and doesn’t align with something I would say.” Clear communication is very important. Sometimes I win, sometimes I lose, but it’s a partnership at the end of the day. It’s challenging, but working together is the best part of it. I’ve worked with some clients for so long now that they’re comfortable shooting me a text with a few bullet points, knowing that’s all I need.

How does someone make money as a ghostwriter?

Like any other profession, writing is a service. My team negotiates based on terms for different services. What I would charge for marketing materials, for example, would be different than what I would charge for a book proposal. It varies, and I may also work with a client’s budget depending on the request. You can definitely make a living as a ghostwriter. For me personally though, I have other hustles: I’m also a motivational speaker and a brand-building consultant, and I do a lot of mentoring.

What advice would you give someone just starting out in this field?

Anything you love is worth fighting for. Honestly, I failed my Grade 11 and 12 English classes. But I have a lot of heart, and I feel like passion can take you anywhere.

You’re self-taught, which is pretty amazing. How exactly did you go about teaching yourself to write?

I studied other successful writers and started journalling and blogging. Both forms of writing were the start of a bigger vision I had for my career.

What do you read in your downtime?

Business magazines of all kinds—it helps me understand my client, whether it’s a CEO, influencer or athlete building up their personal brand. I have probably one of the biggest collections of business magazines you’ve ever seen in your life!

Is there time to write for yourself?

I try to squeeze it in whenever I can. I’m in the process of writing the sequel to my first novel, Everything I Couldn’t Tell My Mother. It’s important to have balance, because you can get so caught up in writing for other people that you totally forget about yourself, so blogging is really important for me to maintain my own voice.

How do you unwind after a long day?

I started playing chess when I was a kid and became addicted. For several years, I’ve ended every day with a game of online chess. I have it scheduled in my phone to alert me at 10 p.m. It keeps my mind sharp.

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