Do Ghostwriters make you a Phony?

By

Chelsea Irwin

I hate to break it to you, but most of what you’re reading online was written by the man behind the curtain…

If you really think that CEOs and VCs really have the time to sit down, with no interruptions, long enough to actually write some of the articles that they are posting online… you’re either naive, or have witnessed this first hand. I have witnessed this first hand, and work with CXOs who not only write their own content but enjoy writing it… I also know that this is rare.

(My hat is off to every executive that is as involved in the content creation process as the C-level team at Golden Mailer is.)

So what are you actually reading most of the time?

It starts with an idea. Usually something the “author” came up with in the shower or while his/her eyes were starting to glaze over at yet another employee’s birthday calibration. (I’m shocked the ice cream cake didn’t hold everyone’s interest for at least 15 minutes… especially those of us with lactose issues!?)

Then they get all ramped up about this idea. This is the fun part…? They want it published in Forbes.com! “There’s no reason it shouldn’t be, it’s an excellent idea that probably NO ONE has ever written about before.”

This is when the content writers (or “ghostwriters”) come in…

ghostwriters blog, Golden Mailer, Chelsea Irwin

First, you talk them off the ledge. Let’s start with a meeting. Hash out some talking points, possibly some analyst support, and then we can send you a mock up.

“FORBES!”

Yes, I understand. Let’s get what ever it is in your head down on paper first. ALWAYS RECORD THE BRIEFING CALLS!! These are high profile people and they read and meet with powerful connections multiple times a day. It’s almost like herding cats. First remind them of the topic. (By this point they have already thought of 10 more ideas – It should be a series!) You take what you can from the call; apply it to the topic at hand, and as a professional content writer, the rest is up to you.

You research and read and hopefully come across some of the material that sparked the initial interest in this topic. It’s your job to make “brilliant verbal diarrhea” sound great. You listen to the call over and over. Google some of his key phrases – BUT DON’T PLAGIARIZE! Attribute phrases if it fits. I have NEVER been afraid to attribute anything. It shows that I’m not plagiarizing and I did my research, or at least it shows that the author has.

This is a topic that could go on for pages. But I have two very important takeaways:

  1. As the writer, you have a responsibility to reflect the author’s opinions and point of view with facts and clear concepts.
  2. As the author, you have a responsibility to provide the writer with clear information. Not everything you have learned in the last 20-years. You must stay on track and stay focused for at least 15 minutes. You also have a responsibility to yourself to read EVERYTHING that is published with your name on it. Otherwise, you have no one to blame but yourself.

But no, I don’t think having a ghostwriter makes anyone a phony. I think most content writers would agree. They simply turn an idea into something you can share with other people.

After posting this discussion on LinkedIn

I was very surprised with how many people disagreed with me. When I really looked at the responses and why these people were disagreeing with me, I did find a common theme. “Writers” and “Journalist” – not just “Content Writers” – have a strong attachment to their words; it’s their intellectual property! The respondents that were fervent believers that putting your name on something you didn’t write is, “plagiarism, simple as that,” are the same writers that develop their own ideas and inspiration. Not to mention, many of them are book authors. I would agree that credit is due when someone ghostwrites a book.

I disagree that publishing a book about your life, which you didn’t necessarily write, but has your name listed as the author, makes you a liar. Many people make a living as Ghostwriters. They don’t have the name recognition to get a book deal, but they have the skills to help readers understand the author with words, the way the “subject” would want people to view them.

Maybe we can get into outsourcing your social media and engagement next time… That’s another can of worms!

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