I’m a moth to flame when it comes to discovering trends in content marketing. Over the past week, I’ve stumbled upon several 2020 year-ahead predictions and 2019 year-end round-ups that say ghostwriting is going to gain traction in the year ahead.
And, I believe it.
After a few chats on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook with some of my content marketing and writer friends, they’re feeling the momentum build, as am I.
So, let’s chat about it.
In this blog post, I’ll dig into:
- What is ghostwriting in the content marketing community?
- What are the benefits of ghosting, from a writer’s perspective?
- Why clients ask me to ghostwrite
- How ghostwriting affects a writer’s portfolio
- When is it a good idea to take on a ghostwriting project?
- What I wish clients knew about ghostwriting
What is Ghostwriting in the Content Marketing Community?
I spend my days partnering with businesses to help them produce content for their online outlets, from websites to social media feeds. The actual content includes landing pages, blog posts, e-books, whitepapers, tweets, scripts for YouTube videos and so much more.
Sometimes I’m asked to write under my byline, without a name at all or to assume the role of someone from the business. For example, in the past, I’ve written as a CEO, magazine publisher, a senior executive in the marketing department and an IT team member.
Ghostwriting in content marketing is when a writer adopts another person’s voice, or writes in their own voice, to craft content published under that person’s byline — not their own.
The purpose here isn’t to mislead or misinform an audience. Instead, it’s to get the ideas and words out of the minds of busy folks who don’t have the time or writing skills to craft the content.
Public speakers have speech writers. Novelists have unnamed co-authors. Presidents have teams of writers assisting with official documents. The idea of ghostwriting isn’t unique or new.
What are the Benefits of Ghosting, from a Writer’s Perspective?
When I was just starting to write publicly, I wouldn’t have dreamed of accepting a ghostwriting project. My ego wouldn’t allow it. I coveted every single byline, like a shiny gold star. I wrote that!
Now that freelance writing has been my full-time career for nearly 11 years, the thrill comes from the people I meet, the facts I learn, the personal sense of accomplishment when I finish a piece I’m passionate about and the feedback I get from readers. Sometimes my name is on the content, sometimes it’s not.
Ghostwriting generally pays more than bylined content. Why? The writer usually can’t put the piece in their portfolio or share it online as a way to entice new clients to hire them.
More than once I’ve received emails that start out with, “Hey, Angela! I just read your article on…”. That conversation turns into a connection and possible future writing work.
That chat can’t happen when my name isn’t connected to the things I write. Period.
So clients, please budget a bit higher for ghostwriting projects. We love doing them, but on the back end, it can be crickets for our careers if we only take on ghost projects.
Why Clients Ask Me to Ghostwrite
Over the years I’ve been looped in on more ghostwriting projects than I can count. The most common reason I’ve done this work for others is that they don’t have the time to create content for themselves.
And, why do they want that content written?
Here are the top reasons I hear:
- They want to build their influence with thought leadership pieces
- They want to connect with their audience, employees or fans
- They have a message to convey, but lack the skills to express it well
- They need consistent content output and can’t keep up
- They need a backup writer to polish or edit their posts
- They have ideas, but can’t figure out the best way to communicate them
- They’ve been told to get it done by upper management
- They have too much on their calendar and need to delegate some tasks
At the end of the day, some busy professionals simply see writing as a task to outsource, even if they are competent with their communication skills. It’s a chore. So, they hire someone else to do their writing so they can focus on their core role and the things they excel at within their business.
I respect that.
How Ghostwriting Affects a Writer’s Portfolio
As I mentioned earlier in this piece, ghostwriting can have a negative effect on a writer’s ability to promote their services. When writing isn’t credited to the actual writer, it’s tough to get the mileage out of the work completed.
But, there is hope. Many ghost clients have been fine with me adding the content to my professional writing portfolios online. Some platforms allow me to label it as ghostwriting to make a clear distinction that I wrote the words, even though another name appears on the piece.
The people viewing those portfolios are likely managing editors and publishers looking to hire me.
Bottom line: They’re reviewing my writing skills, not the byline.
When is it a Good Idea to Take on a Ghostwriting Project?
As a writer, you have to ask yourself why you’re doing what you do and what you hope to get out of it long term.
- If you are craving bylines, don’t take on ghostwriting.
- If you need a paycheck, take the gig.
- If your gut says to steer clear of the project, say no.
- If you love the topic and don’t care about getting credit for the work, go for it.
In my years of working on content marketing, I’ve never been asked to ghostwrite something that’s filled with lies, negativity, misleading information or straight-up false claims. If I’m ever presented with that type of project, I will decline it without hesitation.
As with any writing project, you have to pick and choose what makes sense for you professionally, financially and morally.
What I Wish Clients Knew About Ghostwriting
Oh, where do I even begin?
I’m thinking back to a project from a few years ago where I both generated ideas and created content for a senior-level executive. I enjoyed reading his previous writing to learn his quirks, sentence structure and tone. I geeked out on our rambling phone conversations about topics we both shared a passion for.
I honestly felt like an actress taking on a new role each time I wrote content for him. I became part of his team, but undercover.
I think that partnership was solid and enjoyable for everyone involved. It helped him articulate his ideas in a constructive way, on a consistent schedule that his audience enjoyed. It was a win-win and something other executives should consider.
The secret was the solid connection and trust to create content that resonated all the way through from the executive, to the writer and out to the audience.
On the flip side, I’m also reminiscing about a ghostwriting project that didn’t go so well. I started out by reading several blog posts written by the lady I’d be working with. I felt like I had a good feel for her style and mindset on the topic.
I crafted the first post-draft for her to review and she loved it.
Then her editors polished, sliced, diced, chopped, rearranged and worked their skills, stripping the content of anything that gave it personality or a conversational quality.
The senior executives above us all hated the final post, and the project was canned. Oh, well. You win some and you lose some.
Ghostwriting isn’t easy.
It takes finesse to learn someone’s writing style, have the resulting content pass through all the hands of a content marketing team and make it to the published page as the author and ghostwriter intend.
In the end, this writing style gets more ideas and words out there, and that’s a good thing.
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Note: This post was last updated on October 28, 2022.