“Ghost writing…it’s not just for Halloween anymore.”
We couldn’t get through #AllHallowsReadNISM without talking about ghost writing, could we? It’s a spooky term that we use all year long. And believe me – as someone who does a lot of ghost writing – there are plenty of scary ways ghost writing can go wrong.
Let’s start with a definition of ghost writing to make sure we’re all on the same page:
“A ghostwriter is a writer who is hired to author literary or journalistic works, speeches or other texts that are officially credited to another person. Celebrities, executives, participants in timely news stories, and political leaders often hire ghostwriters to draft or edit autobiographies, memoirs, magazine articles, or other written material.”
As this is the Wikipedia definition, it must be true, right? In my opinion, it really does encompass the important points. A ghost writer does the work of writing for people who have other areas of expertise. They never receive credit. And if they’ve done their job well, no one even realizes they exist.
It may not seem like things could go too terribly wrong with ghosting (that’s what the cool kids call ghost writing). But I’ve seen two primary challenges emerge repeatedly – and I’ll share one recommendation that may solve both if you’re considering employing or becoming a specter yourself.
When ghost writers can’t seem to write in their client’s voice
A writer (of social media posts, blogs, music, books, etc.) may believe that their raw ability to create is all they need to ghost. And it’s true that their creative talent will get them far – but there’s one additional piece that’s needed for success. A ghost writer has to sound like their client.
Is your client a terrible speller? Well, you are, too, now. Does your client use slang popular in certain parts of the country? That’s now part of your vocabulary. Dig a little deeper – do they often use complicated and unusual words? Simple language? Industry terminology? As a ghost writer, your first task is to identify these patterns. Your second task is to replicate them.
When people hire a ghost writer and then disappear themselves
The burden of research is on the ghost writer, but (especially in social media) the client has to be accessible – it’s difficult to accurately capture how another person would respond to current events. With enough time it certainly becomes second nature, but to start, a healthy feedback loop is critical.
If you’re ghost writing for someone on social media, it may be a simple as a quick message to say, “How do we feel about <insert current event here>? I know we want to join this conversation, but I want to make sure I have the right tone.” As a ghost writer, make sure your client understands it isn’t a magical process. You can do a lot on your own, but it’s faster (less time-consuming/expensive) if they’re willing to help.
It’s easier to edit than author
If someone hires you to write for them and you ask for what they feel is too much feedback, they may question your skills or professionalism. Similarly, if you hire a ghost writer and feel like you’re doing as much work as you were doing before, you may be questioning your choice to invest in a writer. While you two get used to each other, here are a few tips:
- Share what has worked before and what you’ve learned from others. You are not the first people to use ghost writing as a technique, so you have the benefit of learning from others as well as your past experiences.
- Be honest from the start. If your ghost writer makes you sound angry and jaded (and that isn’t your goal), talk about it. They may not realize it. There may be a reason for it. You’ll never know if you don’t talk about it.
- Set response deadlines. Writers are used to deadlines and clients are typically comfortable saying, “Have the final copy to me by Tuesday.” But in many cases – especially if they’re writing as someone else on social media – the ghost writer needs timely responses, too. And it may seem like common courtesy, but unfortunately some people aren’t as responsive to people they’ve hired as they should be. Ghosts – set some expectations and explain why they are important!
- Remember that it’s easier to edit than author. One good way to start as a ghost writer is to do all of the heavy lifting for your client – writing in their voice, completing the project – and then asking for feedback. It’s much easier to edit an existing piece(s) than it is to have to create content from scratch. Even if there are a lot of edits to start, it will still be easier than asking them to respond to a piece that’s only partially complete.
What’s on my bookshelf?
As a ghost (writer), you might guess I prefer audio books. Those paper books are just so hard to pick up. I’m currently listening to Killing Marketing: How Innovative Businesses Are Turning Marketing Cost into Profit because I love disruptive techniques. I rarely find myself fully on board with the people presenting the concepts – but they always leave me with so much to think about. On deck I have Blue Ocean Shift: Beyond Competing – Proven Steps to Inspire Confidence and Seize New Growth, the eagerly anticipated follow-up to Blue Ocean Strategy that was just released last month. Another example of thinking differently, I fell in love with the idea of creating blue oceans – a place where you are so good you don’t even have competition – when the first book came out. I’m excited to see what their next book introduces.
Author: Ann Onymous, SMS
Ann Onymous is a ghost writer – and that’s all she’ll tell you. In fact, she might be a he. There’s no telling where she lives or how she spends her time because…well, that’s the point of being a ghost writer, isn’t it?
Would you like to guess the identity of our ghost writer? We will tell you they really are a certified social media strategist and they’ve written for the NISM blog before. Feel free to share your guess – as well as your thoughts on ghost writing – in the comments!