Not Everyone Has a Clear Picture of What Ghostwriting IsJan 22, 2022
by Christina Yeager
If you’ve been a writer for any length of time, the subject of ghostwriting has probably come up. Ghostwriting sometimes gets a bad rap. That got me thinking - what is ghostwriting, anyway?
Basically, any writing that you do without receiving credit, or while giving another person or entity credit, is ghostwriting.
Memoirs and celebrity autobiographies might be the types of ghostwritten work most commonly known to the general public, but every day millions of lines of content are authored by ghostwriters all over the world.
Ghostwriters are everywhere
Let’s take a look at some of the most common ghostwriting opportunities you probably never realized were ghostwriting.
Item descriptions for catalogs
Seinfeld fans will remember Elaine briefly crafting exotic imagery for the fictitious “J. Peterman” apparel catalog. In reality, copywriters – who tend to provide more of a marketing focus than content writers, if you’re wondering about the distinction – do the exact same thing for every item for sale in retail catalogs, both printed and online.
Contracts for this type of work may differ – sometimes you may be allowed to claim the work for your portfolio, other times not – but the bottom line is that your name will not appear in the finished product as an author. That makes it ghostwriting.
Copy for websites
In addition to the cushy, regular blogging gig every writer wants, there’s a lot of writing that happens around websites, both upon their creation and when they are routinely redesigned or updated.
Who do you think writes the welcome message and initial site description on the home page? Who writes the ‘About’ info? Who crafts the bios of dance teachers, musicians, carpenters, lawyers, and realtors? Magical elves and fairies called ghostwriters, that’s who.
What else might you be called to write for a newly designed or revamped website?
- Practice group descriptions for law firms
- Class descriptions for a community college
- General information pages for any number of local businesses, from dance studios to electricians to pest control
These types of assignments aren’t going to give you an author credit on the website, but depending on the business you may be allowed to use excerpts to get additional work.
Most webmasters only deal with the design end of things, and leave the writing to the business owner – who hopefully is smart enough to hire a ghostwriter.
Social Media statuses
Defining the mysterious trade of ghostwriting, we turn our focus to another facet of the profession that might not have occurred to prospective ghostwriters in our midst: social media posts.
Think your fave celeb’s tweets are coming from them? Oftentimes, you’re right; but you’d be surprised how many times that’s NOT the case.
Ghostwriting in the social media sense can be divided into two categories:
- Corporate – where a marketing associate, intern, or anyone else deemed fit, posts on behalf of the brand; no single-named entity is usually associated with the posts
- Personal – where someone other than the person whose name appears on the account posts on their behalf; the intent is for the public to believe the tweets are coming directly from the person named to the account - think your favorite celebs
Ghostwriting for celebrities is so common that celebrities have taken to stating, "It's really me!" when they are running their own accounts. Even then, sometimes they just mean that it's their verified account, and not the account of a fan who beat them to the punch with a clever name. It might not mean they are actually crafting each tweet. Though they might be...
The whole point is not to be able to tell the difference. The best ghostwriters can capture the voice of their personal clients, while promoting their message, so that no one is the wiser.
With corporate clients, it can go either way. You may be asked to sound like a PR rep, delivering the brand's message, but appearing clearly to the public as a hired hand, or you may be expected to sound like the voice of the CEO, board, or family behind the brand.
The amount of guidance you’ll receive from clients will vary, but whatever the assignment, one thing you DON’T want to do is confuse your own personal voice with that of your clients’. Tweeting your own opinions from within client accounts is social sabotage, and will only land you in a heap of trouble.
There are a variety of ways to earn money as a ghostwriter online (and off). Our breakdown of them continues this week with a look at web articles.
You know that many businesses employ ghostwriters to be the voice of their company (or top execs) via their blogs, but many businesses also use ghostwriters to write pieces to call attention to other publications on their website, or to help create or solidify their standing as a thought leader in their industry.
What makes these articles different from blogs?
- They’re usually longer – anywhere from 700 to 1000 words, whereas the typical blog post is only 300
- They’re often more formal in tone, as they are meant to reach a broader audience than just those already following the company blog
- They may require more research as they are often more fact-based than opinion-based
This type of work allows you to showcase a different set of skills than writing ghost tweets, for example. You won’t be able to claim credit in the traditional sense, but you may be able to negotiate portfolio excerpts into your contract for the sake of getting additional work.
These are the most common ghostwriting opportunities you probably never realized were ghostwriting. Ghostwriting is a very particular skill that many busy CEOs are more than happy to pay for, but you have to know how to find them and be prepared for the weirdness of seeing your work bylined by someone else. Once you get past that, you’ll be on your way to a solid career as a ghostwriter.