I ain’t ‘fraid of no ghostwriting

Ghost Writer.

I’ve done some ghostwriting recently as a freelance content creator. My first ghostwriting experience came as a surprise. Strange as that sounds, I was expecting to publish commissioned blog articles under my own name. When my first article was published with a different person’s name without any discussion over the simple fact of authorship, I was surprised. I now know of my naiveté.

I’ve been paid to write before. I’ve created material with no attributed author—things like brochures, quick guides, user manuals, catalog copy, “about” web pages, and so on. I’ve also researched and written a weekly and monthly column, as an organization’s employee, for regional newspapers. That gig doesn’t make me a journalist, but still… I’ve had a byline.

So the surprise of the ghostwriting experience felt, maybe, a little insulting. Perhaps my pride was hurt. Or maybe that sense of ownership when creating something evoked my sense of violation. Whatever it was, I had to do a little bit of soul searching about it. It took me maybe a day or two to reorient my thinking and accept the circumstances. After all, I was given a topic and was being paid for the research and subsequent article. It was work. I was being paid. I accepted that my name wasn’t on it. However, I decided that if I ever found myself as a writer for hire again, I would definitely be sure to discuss all aspects of authorship before accepting the job.

Since, I’ve ghostwritten more blog articles. And now, if I know I’m ghostwriting for a particular person—someone I’ve met, interviewed, and taken the time to consider as the author—then I’m all set. And then, in a reversal of fate, I’ve been thrown by the suggestion that a ghostwritten blog post could be published under my name. I rejected the idea. What does my reaction mean? Am I so easily thrown by this idea of authorship?

At the basic level, I think it means that I approach marketing content creation as I would a piece of fiction. I construct the narrator and her (or his) voice based on the parameters, self-imposed or imposed by others. But that’s not enough of an answer, I don’t think.

I went looking for what others had to say.

A blog post by Demian Farnworth called “The Brutally Honest Truth about Ghostwriting” discusses much more of what I have experience in marketing content creation. And lands on the argument that writers should be given credit for their work and that writing is valuable work. There’s more there, about authority of the writer, the ethics of ghostwriting and the violation of trust, of the contract, with the reader.

I don’t necessarily think Demian is right or wrong. I’d even play devil’s advocate to say that most people don’t care who writes the blog posts for CEOs, celebrities or corporate brands. Nearly everything can be farmed out. Why not content that represents a brand, whether personal or corporate.

So, I searched around for a few other perspectives on ghostwriting. I wasn’t entirely satisfied. I wanted to know what ghostwriters thought when working on autobiographies, memoir or business/tech books.

I found an article by Kelly James-Enger in Writer’s Digest, titled “How to Be a Successful Ghostwriter.” This article taught me how to be smarter about ghostwriting and the business of freelance writing. After reading this article, I know more than just to ask about authorship. I have a whole arsenal for establishing parameters.

Good. I feel prepared if I ever need to negotiate a writing job.

But I still wanted to know more about the “why.” Yes, yes… writers ghostwrite to make money. But there has to be more to it than that…. Right?

Then I came across Andrew Crofts’ website and his thoughts on “What a Ghostwriter Does, and Why.” He talks about sublimating your ego when ghostwriting, about capturing the voice of the narrator or subject of the writing. He talks about the joy of listening and learning. He talks about co-authorship versus ghostwriting, with or without recognition in the acknowledgments. In a way he is talking about the joy of creating within the parameters of the project: using words and phrases of the author to capture their voice. If their family and friends recognize the author in those written words, the ghostwriter has done his job, and done it well.

This sounds a lot like the thrill I get when discovering a characters voice in fiction, except you get a real live person to emulate. And really, my fictional characters are amalgamations of people I know or have met—not completely made up from my imagination. So maybe all of this searching for how others view ghostwriting was really a search for validation of the cycle of feelings I had. Maybe my initial thoughts and feelings were enough of an answer after all.

My ghostwriting experience is by no means extensive and my research is nowhere near exhaustive. The idea of ghostwriting longer works, works of persona versus business, intrigues me.

Image credit: Marcus Connor, June 8, 2012, http://www.brainlesstales.com/2012-06-08/ghost-writer


  • If it was clear up front that I wouldn’t get my name on something I wrote, I wouldn’t have a problem with signing that contract. My queasiness comes more from the perspective of a reader who also writes. I am disappointed when I find out an autobiography was mostly ghostwritten. Or when a series continues long after the original author died, with their name still listed as the author.

  • Melissa says:

    I feel similarly, Asa. But then I think, what if someone offered me the chance to ghostwrite a Sweet Valley High book? Or if Julie Andrews wanted a silent partner in writing the long anticipated follow-up to her first memoir? (Just me waiting on that one?) As my friend, it’s important you know I’d jump when they said jump. ;)

    • Asa Maria says:

      I’d totally jump on any of those. And I’m okay with the ghost writer’s name being buried way down on some obscure page, camouflaged in legal language. It just needs to be there somewhere. You know, like Tom Clancy still writes even though he passed away–a true ghost writer, if you will–but his books lists the author as “Tom Clancy with [ghost writer name].”

      • Erin Dodge says:

        I’m right there with both of you. I like how they’ve handled the Jason Bourne series/franchise now that Eric Van Lustbader writes it.

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