A Ghostwriter’s Musings on Ghostwriting
When people ask what I do for a living, I tell them I am a writer and marketing strategist. If they ask me to drill down, I rattle off the types of projects I work on. When I get to “ghostwriting,” people tend to stop me.
“Who do you ghostwrite for?”
“Do you like it?”
“Doesn’t it annoy you that your name isn’t on the story? Don’t you want credit?”
“Is it legal?”
Apparently, your average layperson finds ghostwriting more interesting than, say, running a branding workshop or website copywriting. I understand the interest. There is something kind of weird, kind of cool, and kind of thought-provoking about ghostwriting. There are also misconceptions. I am not sharing original ideas and giving someone else credit. I am helping someone present his or her thoughts in the best way possible, as a means to achieving a business goal.
Like much of Marketing, Media, and Publishing, ghostwriting is collaborative. More hands touch most professional content than you may realize. For example, when I write branded content for Inc. or a company profile for Fast Company, I am supported by an editorial team. These people aren’t credited on every piece, but their input makes my work better. It is sort of the same with ghostwriting. Me and my partners help our clients share opinions, make predictions, and give advice. Sometimes it is the company that hires me, sometimes it is an individual. They reach out for a variety of reasons. Perhaps they don’t have time to write the piece, or writing isn’t their jam. Maybe their CMO or PR partner is “forcing” them to get serious about thought leadership. Or, they realize that collaborating with folks who have written and pitched dozens of thought leadership articles will improve their chances of creating and publishing a successful story.
The thought leadership process
The ghostwriting I do has a business objective. I have written articles for more than 20 executives, most of whom work in Marketing, Adtech, or Technology. Those pieces have run in Entrepreneur, Forbes, VentureBeat, Fortune, AdAge, Adweek, and lots of others. The articles are typically part of a thought leadership strategy that is created to support a PR and marketing plan. The process goes a little something like this:
- Work together to come up with article ideas that align with the marketing strategy while appealing to editors, as well as the business’s target audience.
- Get on the phone to talk through these ideas. (I approach these calls the same way I approach any interview. I do my research, and I come prepared to ask questions.)
- Based on the discussion, I write an abstract—a brief description of the article idea—and share it with the thought leader, and usually, the PR team.
- Pitch the article to relevant publications. (I do much of my ghostwriting in partnership with Blast PR. We have worked together for 5+ years. They are way better at pitching than I am! Occasionally, I will do “light” pitching for a client, and/or, the client will reach out to publications themselves.)
- Once we get a hit, I write the full piece for my client’s approval. Then, we share it with the editor for review and, hopefully, publication. If we don’t get a hit, the client publishes it on their company blog, LinkedIn page or Medium.
When the link goes live, the client shares it on his or her social media networks, and the company does the same. The business can also use it as fodder for email marketing and promote it on the company homepage.
Why I like it
I love this aspect of my business because I get to talk to brilliant people about topics that interest me—marketing, branding, media, adtech, emerging technology, mobile, culture, and small business, to name just a few. Many of the articles I write are about trends, predictions, and best practices. I learn from them and, because I work directly with businesses to develop brand and marketing strategies, they make me better at my job.
I like the challenge of capturing someone else’s voice and conveying his or her ideas. I try to elevate the content, adding research and ideas of my own. It can be a balancing act, for sure. And yes, a little writing credit somewhere would be nice (and sometime I get it). But I don’t have ethical qualms about the type of ghostwriting I do, because it is collaborative, and because it is really a marketing/PR initiative.
But no likey that
There have been occasions when I have had to create something from nothing. I have conceptualized topics and written full piece with literally no input from the person or company I was writing for. Businesses can get away with it when the topic is benign–“X Predictions about the Future of Marketing,” as opposed to something opinion-driven or controversial, i.e. “Why Snapchat Is Overrated.” But it never feels great. My choices are to regurgitate what you can find on the internet, or to put my heart and soul—my intellectual property—into the piece and credit someone else.
I make sure those instances are few and far between by “warning” clients at the onset that, although working with me will save them time, I still need something from them. I need their perspective. I need their expertise. And yes, I need a wee bit of time. Nearly everyone is happy to give it, too, because they want the piece to be as good as it can be. After all, it is their name on the piece–not mine. And, I swear, I am (almost always) fine with that.
Next time I will tell you about a ghostwriting project I turned down and ramble a bit about why. Is this my diary? Hmmm.
By Jacqueline Lisk