Ghostwriting? 3 Things You Should Know

If you’re a writer, you’ve probably been in a scenario that involves your work getting published under someone else’s name. Unless you’re a journalist, in which case you have the pleasure of telling everyone’s story EXCEPT your own (former journalist here — can you tell I don’t miss it?)

But three years ago, I was fortunate enough to get my first marketing gig at a small Internet software company called CyberAlert. While coordinating the marketing and social media activities, I also ghost-wrote all blog articles under the company CEO’s name.

Here’s the post I published two years ago during my last weeks at CyberAlert. I think much of it still holds true.

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The job of a ghost writer is a tricky one, as I’ve learned, but it certainly has its advantages. It can be a win-win for both the “ghost” and the “client,” so long as the relationship and editing process are carried out with respect and the mutual goal of producing better content. I had the fortune of working with an excellent editor — CEO Bill Comcowich — who respected my writing experience and took my ideas and suggestions into account.

As my ghost writing career comes to an end (for now, at least), I believe it’s fitting to share some lessons learned about working as a ghost writer.

1. Listen and be patient.

There are generally two ghost writing scenarios. In the first, the ghost writer uses the ideas of the client and turns those ideas into an article. In another, the ghost writer is paid to come up with the ideas and write the content.

In my case, I started out as the former, and slowly moved to the latter. As I learned more about the industry I covered (media monitoring and measurement, marketing, PR, search engine optimization, and social media) I began to mix my editor’s ideas with my own, and write a few of my own topics. But I only got there by listening.

Often, ghost writers are hired for their writing skills alone — not so much their knowledge of their client’s industry or topic. To write successful content, ghost writers must leverage the skills, knowledge and experiences the client(s) gained over the years. It’s important to learn not just the specifics within the topics — but also why your client wants things carried out a certain way.

It does take some getting used to. Likely, the first few pieces you send to the client will be returned covered in red ink (or redline). Instead of being discouraged, go through every edit to learn why each change was made. (Note: this is why it’s important to use a tool like Microsoft Word’s Track Changes or Google Drive’s Suggestion tool.)

Patience is essential on both sides. The writer must be patient with the client’s style and preferences; and the client must give the writer time to get used to them.

2. Pick your battles.

Ghost writing is all about compromise. The client agrees to compromise his/her exact thoughts for a different version of them, and the writer agrees to change his/her writing style to meet what the client wants.

As the writer, I’ve found it’s crucial to pick your battles. My editor and I disagreed on hundreds of headlines, sentences and word selections. If I fought to have my way every one of those times, the article and the relationship would flop.

If you and your client can’t agree on something, think to yourself: how important is this specific word/sentence/headline to the article? Does it change the whole meaning of the article? Will it have fewer “Likes” or “Shares” if it doesn’t get changed?

Learn when it’s worth it to stand your ground and when it’s time to back down — the writing-editing process becomes smoother, as does your relationship with the client.

3. Take advantage of the “free” education.

As a ghost writer, you’re being paid to research and learn about a new field. While you may forfeit the glory of having your name underneath a published piece, you’re given time and money to become an expert in an industry.

Getting this education, I think, is priceless. It allows you to become the writer you never would be if you relied on your own (lack of) knowledge about the industry to write content. Yes, you lose out on important opportunities to establish authority and thought leadership. But the Internet will always be there — and once you’ve acquired enough skills and experience from the experts, you can write even better content under your own name.

So, while I’m leaving CyberAlert with only two (well now, three) articles under my name, I’m also taking a network of knowledge and connections with me. Those can never be edited with a red pen.

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Tell me what your ghostwriting experience has been like! I want to hear both the good and the very, truly awful stories.