Women Who Work: Ghost Writer and Copy Editor, Hannah Sandoval

Hannah is the owner of her own business, the PurpleInkPen, and commits to her own blog, I Just Want to Write. She proves that you can start your own movement even in an industry like books and publishing. She is a fiction manuscript writer and a copy editor. Catch up on her journey below!

How did you make the leap to your current role? I knew I wanted to write books by the 8th grade, but I didn’t know it could be a full-time career until senior year of college. An internship was required to graduate, and the professor that ran the program talked briefly about freelancing. Still, at that point, I thought I’d probably end up working with a publishing house, but the freelancing idea stuck around in the back of my head. I got an internship with a printing company, then another with a guy who had a huge book series that was being considered for a TV show who needed his manuscript edited. When I graduated, though, I quickly discovered there are no publishing houses in Chattanooga. I didn’t want to move. I did some searching and discovered Upwork. I made a profile, and one of the first jobs I landed was ghostwriting a fiction series. I was stunned. Someone was going to pay me to write a novel?! Now I know that the few hundred dollars I was paid for that gig was a pathetically low rate (you’ll find many of those on Upwork, though it can be a good place to get your footing if used correctly), but I had caught the bug. I didn’t look back.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? I wanted to be a vet when I was very small. I adore animals, but I discovered I adore crafting worlds and people and meaningful stories on a page even more. I think the first time I realized I might actually want to be an author was when my 8th grade English teacher asked us to write our own Greek myth as an assignment. Pretty sure mine involved unicorns.

What was your first job ever? Did it help you in your current role? Working in a fast-food place called Culver’s. Haha, it hasn’t really helped. I suppose it may have helped instill customer service tactics that help me charm clients. I suppose it also forced me to be a little less shy, which certainly helps in all aspects of life.

What made you want to start your business? What or who inspired you to do so? What made me start was the overwhelming drive to have a job that just let me write and edit stories. I didn’t want to settle for anything less. All the 9-5 jobs I found in my frantic last-college-semester search only had writing as an additional skill requirement. I would have to work in insurance or health care. That sounded dreadful. I refused, said, “Screw sensible for once in my life!” and so PurpleInkPen was born.

What does your job entail? How do you explain what you do to others? Well, there are two facets to my job. My business tagline is “Manuscript editing and ghostwriting services for authors who want to win more readers.” That’s what I do in a nutshell. I help authors and people who wish to become authors. I help fiction authors who are looking to self-publish or looking to wow a literary agent polish their manuscript. It’s especially important for self-publishing authors. Errors of any kind pull readers out of the story and, in large quantities, cause the author to lose credibility with audiences. I polish manuscripts to publishing perfection. For the ghostwriting side of things, I help people who have a story to tell (whether that be a highly marketable fiction idea or a self-help method that can change people’s lives) but who have no time or who lack the experience to write a whole book. I help them get their ideas cohesively onto paper in a way that will engage readers from cover-to-cover. Being a ghost means I don’t get any credit or royalties, but it also means I’m paid more than, say, a co-author. Highly experienced and established ghosts command rates of $1-2 per word (can’t wait to get there, let me tell you!). As a ghost, I get to live in a story and/or spread a message and then hand the final product over and wipe my hands clean with a fair chunk of change in my pocket. I don’t have to worry about design, publication, distribution, or marketing, though I can give my clients pointers on those things. I just write. The most difficult part of being a ghost is capturing your client’s voice and vision, but the challenge is also half the fun.

How long have you been doing this? Two years professionally—one part-time and one full-time. I’ve been writing and editing much longer than that, though. I majored in English with an emphasis in writing, so I’ve also received lots of training in the field.

What is a day for you like? Well, if I’m honest, I sleep in longer than I should. I used to get up bright and early, but when my husband switched to night-shift about six months ago, my schedule got wonky in an attempt to actually get to see him. One of the great things about freelancing, though, is that it’s incredibly flexible. I usually work from 10 am to 3:30 pm, with an hour for lunch in between. Then I take a break for family time, dinner, relaxation, and then if I didn’t get everything finished, I work from around 9 pm to whenever I get done. I don’t mind working late at night. I like having a break in between daytime work and nighttime work to cool off my brain. Lately, I’ve made working out a part of my routine, too. Sitting in front of your computer all day can make you flabby and lethargic real quick. My husband made me a treadmill desk that I walk on when I edit, but that still wasn’t enough (though it helped my back—yeah, freelancing can give you back issues at 24). Now I do P90X or some other workout video every Monday, Wednesday, or Friday morning.

How do you end your work day? Haha, lately, by closing down whatever document I’m working on in the late night hours, binging music videos on YouTube to make my brain stop running a mile a minute, and then go straight to bed.

How did you go about starting your business? What were some of your initial steps that you took? Well, as I said, I initially started with internships, then moved to Upwork. Many of the freelancing gurus will tell you to avoid Upwork like the plague, and with good reason. There are far more low-paying clients than high-paying on there, and many of those low-paying clients are paying absolutely insulting rates. However, if you have a bit of knowledge beforehand about the rates of your niche, and if you have the patience to sift through the dredge for the hidden gems, you can find some good jobs at decent rates to help you get your first samples. The advantage of Upwork is that there are thousands of jobs all in one place, it provides you with a secure payment system, and clients can find you. However, Upwork takes a pretty big cut of your earnings, too (20% in some cases, yikes!). My advice would be to use it as a tool to get some quick paid samples and then cut and run after a month or two, moving toward making your own website and using cold emailing as a way to prospect for the right clients. But I didn’t know any of this, so I stayed on there for a year, and it’s primarily how I got my start, though I did use other job boards occasionally.

What are your biggest responsibilities as an entrepreneur? My biggest responsibilities as an editor are to respect my clients’ works, make sure they can put their best foot forward come publishing time, and to deliver constructive criticism with tact, kindness, and targeted knowledge. As a ghostwriter, my responsibilities are to capture the client’s voice and vision so that the final product is even better than they dreamed, protect my client’s privacy, and provide as much publishing direction as possible.

What has been the hardest part of your transition? Figuring out how to charge, forcing myself to get over the stereotypical writer self-doubt and shyness to actually charge what I’m worth, and finding new clients as I raise my rates (which forces me to adjust the types of clients I target).

What has been the easiest part of your transition? Actually doing the work. I love it, and even on the rough days, I’m thrilled that this is actually my job.

What keeps you motivated? If I’m ever feeling overwhelmed or if I fall short of a business goal and become discouraged, I think about waitressing. That was the closest to true depression I have ever come, putting on those non-slip shoes and realizing I’d have to fake smile through another shift. Then I think about all I’ve accomplished so far. Thanks to my choice to freelance, I am the published author of two books at 24, with another coming soon. That’s just in my own name. As a ghost, I’ve worked on nearly a dozen books. I’m making money doing what I love, which is something not everyone can say.

How do you define success now? Moving forward, raising my rates as I gain experience and building credibility in a niche that relies heavily on publishing credits for advancement. As long as I’m improving year to year, no matter how much or how little, I will feel successful.

How do you prevent burn out? When my brain starts to hurt, I stop. I watch some YouTube videos, read a book, maybe do some minor tasks that relate to the behind-the-scenes aspect of a business. You have to know yourself and your energy levels. I can recognize when I’m getting tired, and I always take the time to take that break because if I don’t, I know my work will suffer, and the whole thing will just take longer to complete. You also need to make sure you’re making time for yourself, outside of anything business related, every day. I take my corgi to the dog park in the late afternoon to veg out, stand in the sun, and completely forget about work for an hour or so.

What do you think is the most important characteristic to have for someone who wants to take a similar career route to yours? Passion. A fierce determination not to settle for a subpar career path. Freelancing is hard. Most people who try quit in the first year. The idea of working from home is glamorous until you realize you actually have to run a business, and that’s after you build it from the ground up. If you don’t love what you’re doing, you won’t make it happen.

What do you wish you knew before starting out on your own path? That you don’t have to settle for dirt cheap rates just because you have no professional samples. You’re a writer; you have samples of some kind. You don’t have to slave away for someone who doesn’t appreciate what you do. There are people out there willing to pay fairly for writing talent. The starving artist image is a myth.

Did anyone help you in developing your own business? I found a lot of encouragement and guidance in the blogs of Gina Horkey and Jorden Roper and in the books of Kelly James-Enger.

Do you have a work idol? Is there a working woman or man out there that you admire? Probably Kelly James-Enger. She started off as a traditional freelance writer (pitching articles to magazines), but she transitioned into ghostwriting. She makes a very nice full-time income working part-time hours. Her writing style is witty, inspirational, and incredibly informative. She has been my largest inspiration in my niche.

What is your favorite thing about the industry you work in? I love falling in love with characters, real or fictional. I get to meet some wonderful characters crafted by amazing up-and-coming authors. I get to help craft characters, putting flesh on bare bones, and make other readers fall in love with them. Even in nonfiction, I meet some endearing characters on the page. For instance, one of my published works is a biography of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, written for high schoolers. It was a commissioned project, meaning the publisher assigned me the topic and paid me to write it, and I only knew the bare minimum of Wright’s contributions to the world going in. I knew nothing of his eccentric, devious, but somehow incredibly lovable personality. He was hilarious, and I fell head over heels for him in the process of completing that book. That’s where the magic lives for me.

What are some tools that you can’t live without?

  1. FreshBooks is my holy grail! It’s an invoicing and accounting software. You pay a monthly fee for it, and they take a tiny percentage like PayPal does from each invoice. It allows you to create professional invoices in seconds, allows clients to pay you via credit card directly through the invoice, and automatically keeps track of all your earnings, filing all that info into reports that are invaluable come tax time.

  2. I can’t live without Word’s Track Changes function. It’s free if you already have Word. It allows you to insert editing corrections right into the document in red, so you don’t have to bother with traditional editing marks that most authors nowadays don’t know how to read, and you don’t have to insert a comment for every little comma error—you just put the comma right in there. But it doesn’t permanently alter the document. It lets the author then see the corrections you’ve made and either accept or reject them because all editing ultimately comes down to the author’s choice. It’s their book.

  3. Canva is my go-to platform for creating blog images. Having a blog is a great way to bring clients directly to you, and having images for all of your posts helps you get more clicks. Canva is free, though there is a paid version and some of the fancier design elements must be purchased for $1 each. I just use the free version. It’s a drag and drop system that’s super easy to use, and you don’t have to be a designer to create an attractive image with it.

  4. The Chicago Manual of Style is my go-to style guide. It’s the standard in publishing, so it’s the one I base all my edits off of unless the client directly requests AP, MLA, or an in-house style guide.

What do you have on your desk or working space right now?

My Chicago Manual of Style; a writing journal where I jot down plot and character inspirations; another journal where I keep track of my pitches, blog post ideas, personal research notes, etc.; and a bunch of random do-dads like a sticky note pad from our realtor, a sword of Gryffindor letter opener, and address stickers.

What do you want other women in similar situations to know about your chosen career path?

First, if you can’t handle having someone else’s name on a book you wrote, this is not the career for you. You must be able to recognize that the product you created would never exist without your client. You merely brought their idea to life. You have to be satisfied with the pure joy of creating a book and realizing you’re getting paid good money to do so (something everyone told you was impossible when you expressed interest in being an author as a teen). Second, in freelancing, the wage gap only exists if you allow it to. You are your own boss. You set your own salary. Lastly, you don’t have to settle. If you just want to write for the rest of your life, this is how you can do it. You do, however, have to work hard and shatter your own self-doubt if you want to succeed.

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