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How I built a ghostwriting business, and earn $5500/month from anywhere in the world

  • Matt Rudnitsky

  • From New York, USA
  • Author and founder of Platypus Publishing

  • Business Model: FreelanceAuthority
  • $5,500monthly revenue
  • $5,000monthly profit
  • All info self-reported by interviewee
  • Published December 5, 2019
  • Reviewed and edited by Rita Epps

Who are you and how do you make money online?

I’m Matt Rudnitsky, and I make money by helping entrepreneurs write books that launch or grow their businesses.

My company is called Platypus Publishing. For entrepreneurs with a budget of $10k+, we offer:

  • Full ghostwriting/publishing
  • Turning their ideas into a book without them doing any writing (just ~15 hours of deep phone interviews)
  • Turning their existing content (blog, podcast, online course, etc.) into a book

For any of that, our clients do zero writing or editing (unless they want to).

For entrepreneurs with more time and smaller budgets, we offer:

  • Intensive coaching to clarify and test their ideas, and walk them through the writing and publishing process
  • A complete, do-it-yourself book on self-publishing (if you join my newsletter, it’s free)
  • A self-guided online course (Permission Publishing) to do it yourself

Basically: If you want to write a book to grow a business, we’ll figure out a way to help you. We believe everyone can and should self-publish a book (professionally).

In the past two years, I’ve made just over $100,000 in profits.

That said, most of my income came from a few big projects ($45,000 ghostwriting/marketing contract, $20,000 for turning an online course into a book, etc.). There have been many months of <$1,000 in revenue, after completing big projects.

The online course just came out last month and is where I’m hoping to grow the business. To help people who can’t afford $10k+ services. It should also make revenue more stable.

The unique part of my business is that my clients own 100% of the rights and royalties to their books.

When working with traditional publishers, they take ~90% of your profits (and own creative control). I think that’s garbage, so I don’t believe in it 🙂

What does a typical workday look like for you?

I spend a lot of time alone at cafes, banging my head into my computer, trying to find the right word for a book.

On average, I work 25 hours a week.

But I spend hours agonizing where my next client will come from. And dozens of hours stewing on ideas, taking notes and reading.

I always read for 30-60 minutes before working. Then, I try to write for an hour.

After that, I spend 1-2 hours on my most important business task, and then I try to do something fun. Go to the gym, the beach (if I’m traveling) or a nice lunch.

Then back to work for another 2-3 hours, out to dinner, TV time and bed.

It’s a simple life, but I love it 😊

100% of my job can be done remotely.

90% of it is writing, and 10% is talking on the phone or via email (outreach or interviewing). So, I’ve spent the past few years visiting around 50 countries. I’m currently in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico. Off to Mexico City next week.

What’s your backstory and how did you come up with the idea for your business?

My only “real job” was as a sports blogger for a mid-tier US sports blog, SportsGrid. I made $20,000 a year, and our office was located in New York City.

After six months of living with my parents, I asked my boss for a raise. “I might be able to live on $35,000 in NYC.”

“We really appreciate your work, and agree that you deserve a raise. We can offer you a raise to $28,000. That should do.”

I put my phone on mute, broke out into hysterical laughter… quit and never was employed again 🙂

When I wrote for the blog, I realized the US media completely ignored sports gambling. It was a taboo topic and the content was horrific. In college, my grandma had given me a $100 birthday gift that I turned into almost $10,000 sports gambling, over two years. Then I lost it all in two months.

I realized I had a useful story to tell – how to avoid going broke while gambling – not the usual “how to get rich”…

…so I decided to self-publish a book.

I expected nothing. I did almost zero marketing. But I hit a nerve, and made $1,150.06 in my first month. Almost $15,000 to date.

This was after I had quit my job, and moved to Prague to save money. I planned to teach English for a few months to pay the bills, but quit soon after when my book started making money.

I was flabbergasted, and realized I had to help others do what I did.

But of course, getting clients wasn’t easy.

My first client was Trevor Kraus [now the author of Ticketless: How Sneaking Into the Super Bowl And Everything Else (Almost) Held My Life Together]. He wrote an article about sneaking into the Super Bowl and mentioned he was “shopping it around to publishers.”

I knew he’d never get a publishing deal – it’s almost impossible without a huge platform – and offered to help him with editing, marketing, and publishing.

He was interested, but decided to go with a “professional” editor with 10+ years of experience. I had zero.

I refused to take no for an answer.

I edited two chapters for free, as a sample, because the “professional” had done the same.

I’ll never forget his response: “Quite frankly, your edits were just as helpful as hers.”

And of course, I was way cheaper. I offered the first round for $450, and unlimited subsequent rounds for $1,000.

It was a horrible financial deal (the book wound up taking three freaking years), but I got equity in the book and built a case study and relationship.

I parlayed that deal into one turning an entrepreneur’s podcast into a book – the same strategy…sent him a free sample to prove myself – and then a job at Tucker Max’s Book in a Box (now called Scribe Writing), where I Iearned how to interview people and turn their ideas into books.

Armed with that knowledge, I set off on my own… and have gotten all of my clients from cold emails or referrals.

Now, I charge about 10x what I charged Trevor, as I have a 5-year track record.

For every offer I’ve sold, it’s started by getting on exploratory, free “strategy calls” with clients.

I find out where they’re stuck or lacking, and then reverse-engineer a fair package to help them reach their goals.

Early on, I always offered an extensive free sample of my work to prove myself.

After all of this experience… and with tons of people asking me for a cheaper offer, it seemed natural to create an online course to help the masses, at scale.

What are your top tips on writing effective cold emails?

My cold-emailing technique is simple.

I explain the strategy behind it in my free email course for Reedsy – How to Get Your Book Covered by Mainstream Media – but here’s the gist.

Subject Line

Include their name/company name and a “curiosity loop” – create a question in their mind that will only be answered if they open the email. Or a personal congratulations for a recent accomplishment.

Examples:

[Name], quick idea to double your book sales

[Name], congrats on crossing 10k subscribers!

Body

Paragraph 1: Personalized compliment

The first paragraph should ALWAYS be a personalized, genuine compliment about the person and/or their work.

When I was a sportswriter, 99% of pitches I received were from people who had never read my work. It’s incredibly frustrating to be treated like a number.

You don’t need to write a novel, you just need to show genuine appreciation.

Show that this isn’t a mass email.

That you’re a fan and/or customer… or you just discovered them and plan to become one.

Show proof if possible (a screenshot of you sharing their work, buying their product, etc.).

Example:

I LOVED your recent article [title]. After reading it, I immediately went from [doing X silly thing] to [doing Y smart thing]. Within a few days, I already [got X result].

Paragraph 2: Share 1-3 clear ideas on how you want to help them

Relate the ideas directly to their business.

Example:

Because you get your clients such crazy results [insert specific case study story], it seems natural you should write a book to get the reach and recognition you deserve.”

Paragraph 3: Social proof

Example:

I’ve worked on over a dozen books — first at 4x-NYT bestselling author Tucker Max’s publishing company, Scribe, and now on my own at Platypus Publishing. My clients’ work has been featured on ESPN Radio, The Daily Beast and more.

Paragraph 4: Quick, clear ask. A yes-or-no question

Examples:

Of course, writing a book can be a pain in the butt. That’s why I help people through coaching and ghostwriting.

Are you interested in the possibility of a done-for-you book, written in your voice?

Of course, writing a book can be a pain in the butt. That’s why I help people through coaching and ghostwriting.

Wanna hop on a 10-15 minute call to see if we might partner up?

Signature

Include one title and link, maximum. Zero is fine, too.

Only include information if it is directly relevant to your prospect’s business/situation. If it will distract them from the one objective of your email, don’t include it.

Your goal is to get a yes, and to continue the conversation. Not to give them multiple things to ponder.

Other Tips:

  • Keep your email to 5 paragraphs or fewer, and 3 lines per paragraph or fewer. Short and sweet with one clear ask. End with a yes-or-no question.
  • Do not make the ask difficult or intimidating. Don’t ask for money or even a long phone call or email response. Ask if they’re interested, or if they would like a quick phone call.
  • Don’t include more than one link and one photo… or you risk going to the spam folder.
  • Always follow up 2-3 times over the course of 2-3 weeks, if you don’t get a response.
  • When someone ignores you, it’s likely because they’re busy. If they’re not interested, they’ll say so.

How did you prepare to launch the business?

There never was an official “launch.” I just constantly developed the skills of writing, cold outreach, and selling…by trying to do them every single day. I also read business books obsessively.

I learned how to write by being a journalist, then self-publishing a book, then another, then by ghostwriting books for over a dozen authors. I’ve also done freelance copywriting to hone my persuasive writing chops.

I learn through doing, observing and feedback. I try to get as much as possible.

How much money did you have to spend to get started?

I spent $5 on my first self-published book (for a VERY SIMPLE cover on Fiverr).

I didn’t even have a website or email marketing software until this year, when I started focusing on building my brand (to shift from high-ticket client work to online teaching).

I made my first 6-figures without investing a dime. Just a crap-ton of time and rejection.

Now, I pay about a hundred bucks a month for simple tools like ConvertKit, Webflow, Boomerang, and Evernote.

Any other costs – interview transcription, cover designers, etc. – is on a per-project basis, after I’ve been paid.

Talk us through your first few months (or first year) in business.

My first few months of business were heaven.

My self-published book made way more money than expected, and then I was able to convince Trevor I could help him — which later led to my job at Book in a Box, which then gave me the street cred to approach others.

When I convinced the 7-figure fitness guru to hire me to turn his podcast into a book (for $5,000), I was on cloud nine.

Then I started to hit a wall. The honeymoon was over.

He paid me the first installment and said he loved the book. But then he had to push it off “indefinitely” while he restructured his business.

I got similar messages every few months, and never saw the rest of my money. The book was never published.

Trevor’s book took way longer than expected, so I spent (literally) hundreds of hours working for free.

Book in a Box was going well, until a client put his book on hold while he sorted out some personal stuff… and I wasn’t assigned another book until we finished (a year later).

I constantly doubted myself. I was living in Prague with a bunch of English teachers who didn’t get entrepreneurship. I couldn’t relate to anyone. I felt totally alone.

I wasn’t working crazy hours, because I didn’t have enough work. It was devastating.

Then, it slowly came together. I got more work from Book in a Box, to sustain me while I built my own business. Got another client from a cold email. Joined Remote Year to find a community.

Things started looking up, and have been better since (besides a few, shorter, similar periods of no work).

There have been a few mistakes I’ve made, constantly:

  • Stopping outreach after signing a client.
  • Counting on one big project to sustain me, and not having a plan for what’s next.
  • Not creating enough content to build my brand.
  • Not connecting enough with other entrepreneurs, or adding value to them.

I’ve actively worked on these things this year, and business and life have been MUCH better and more fulfilling.

What kept me going was my obsession with freedom – I hate taking orders or following a schedule – and living in low-cost centers so I wasn’t desperate for money (Eastern Europe, Mexico, South America, SE Asia).

Recently, I’ve focused on partnerships with other entrepreneurs, and it’s changed everything.

Don’t go at this alone! You have value to add to people, and when you do that, they’ll happily return the favor. And you’ll make a friend you can relate to.

How did you make your first $100 online?

I made my first $100 by selling my first 25 or so books. In my first month, I made $1,150.06. That came from a 46-person email list I had built, a few hundred Twitter DMs, Amazon searches and word of mouth.

I did no other marketing.

For client work, my first five clients came from cold emails, offering people help.

These were not ordinary cold emails.

They were highly personalized — I showed that I understood their business and was offering genuine value.

How does the business make money today?

I’m building an email list by partnering with other entrepreneurs and offering free content (or affiliate deals) to them/their audience.

My last partnership resulted in 800 new subscribers.

I can’t recommend One Click highly enough!

For that partnership, I did a free workshop on “How to Write a Book That Generates 6 Figures In Business,” based on what I’ve learned in my own biz, and at Scribe.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to bring existing clients back, as books tend to be a one-time thing. I’ve gotten a couple of referrals, but not much.

I’m also working on building up my blog and starting a podcast.

In the past, I went with a “write it and they will come” strategy (because it worked for my first book). But this almost never works, long term.

You MUST write about other people, write case studies, include them in your work… and REACH OUT!

What are some of the challenges particular to this kind of online business?

My biggest challenge is generating leads, and sorting them from those with no budget vs. those rare ones with a $10k+ budget.

So far, I’ve only succeeded with highly-targeted research.

Generally, reaching out to people whose work I’m familiar with.

My strategy of trying to help people I respect is a great way to get started, and a horrible way to scale.

You run out of people fast, and you’re very reliant on individual clients when you’re charging $10k+. A few dry months and you make NOTHING and panic.

Long term, you need stability with a lower-priced product and a platform you own. Hence, why I’m focusing on my email list and the online course.

Newbies overlook how much time you have to spend reaching out to people and convincing them.

Most people are not willing to do a dozen of hours of free work to get their first high-ticket clients. But why would someone trust you otherwise?

Another challenge is that writing a book usually isn’t an urgent need. Everyone I speak to is interested, but so many people say: “It’s not a priority for me now, I’ll get back to you in six months.”

And then they say the same thing six months later.

I’m working on finding an introductory offer – perhaps more of a lead magnet ebook – to give them a lower-cost, more-immediate return.

If you were starting the same business today, from scratch, how would you do it?

I would start building an email list and partnering with people from Day 1.

I’m ashamed it took me five years to take this seriously.

Instead of sporadically publishing content, I would publish an in-depth blog post at least once a month, and a short newsletter once a week.

I would start the same business, but focus more on the online course, and less on client work.

More time on building that inbound lead source (email list) vs. cold outreach.

Editor’s note: you might also enjoy our interview with Esther Inman, revealing how she built her online course business to 1000+ students and $430,000+ in annual revenue.

What books, podcasts, courses or other resources would you recommend to someone who wants to follow in your footsteps?

Books:

For my full list of book recommendations, check out The 22 Immutable Books on Working For Yourself.

Podcasts:

Courses:

What are your top 5 business tools?

1. ConvertKit

I don’t think ConvertKit is better than other email marketing software, but it’s better than Mailchimp and simple and fairly priced. And everyone should be doing email marketing.

2. Evernote

If you want ideas, you must take notes. Notion seems like a good alternative, but I like simple tools. Evernote is very, very simple.

3. Webflow

The only way I’ve found to build attractive websites if you’re not a designer or coder. It’s like Squarespace on steroids (I never liked Squarespace).

4. Boomerang

Boomerang has tripled my productivity. Seriously. It’s so damn simple, but having the ability to “boomerang” follow-up reminders means no opportunities get lost. Or just scheduling emails to remind myself of future tasks.

5. Samson Q2U Microphone

Now that I’m going on more podcasts and starting my own, a microphone is essential. For webinars, too. For $60, this sounds as good as you’ll ever need. Super-easy to use, too.

Where can we go to learn more?

Follow me on Twitter, Instagram, or email any questions to rud@plat.pub.

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