As employees move closer to the top of the organizational chart, they discover perks and benefits that come with the added responsibilities of their new positions, such as better retirement plans, company-backed loans, and travel opportunities. They also learn that top executives frequently accomplish more by reaching out to specialized resources.
If you’ve ever read a magazine article or lengthy blog post from a corporate leader and wondered how they found the time to write it, you’ve discovered one of those resources. Many corporate leaders (and professionals) have plenty they want to say, but far too little time to capture those thoughts in words. So they turn to a professional known as a ghostwriter.
A ghostwriter isn’t someone who creates horror fiction. Instead, it’s a professional writer who develops articles, blog posts, and other materials on behalf of other people. Those people — the ghostwriter’s clients — then publish those articles, posts, etc. under their own names.
Is that unethical or dishonest? Not at all. A top executive may have a vision for a new office building but doesn’t design it on their own. Instead, they turn to a professional architect to transform their vision into renderings and blueprints. Even if they lack the talent to draw a building, they play a critical role in bringing that design to fruition.
In the same way, ghostwriters don’t create what they write from thin air. A ghostwriter’s job is to capture what that corporate leader knows and wants to share in the most compelling and effective way. It’s a lot like speechwriting (and speeches are often developed by ghostwriters).
How does the process work? When I’m engaged to ghostwrite a magazine article for a corporate leader, I begin by interviewing the “author” by phone or in person. There are two purposes for that. The most obvious is that it helps me better understand the gist of the article, the facts involved with it, and the angle the “author” wants to convey. The second purpose of that conversation is that it gives me a chance to hear how the “author” speaks, listen to the cadence of their conversational style, capture the types of words they use, and catch subtleties in how they explain key messages and points.
Then, when I write the article, I hear the “author’s” voice and word choices in my head. While I’m generating the words, phrases, and clauses, what I’m really doing is capturing what my client wants to convey in a way that sounds remarkably like them. One of the greatest compliments a client can offer is to say, “Wow! This really sounds like I wrote it.” Actually, they did. My role was to transform their thoughts into sentences.
I’ve ghosted articles and other materials for literally hundreds of executives and professionals, and if you read half a dozen, you’d have a tough time believing they came from the same writer. That’s the key to ghostwriting: the work should sound like it came from the “author,” not from the writer who ghosted it.
There are several reasons corporate leaders like to work with ghostwriters. First, even if they’re skilled writers, their time is at a premium and writing is rarely the best use of it. A story a professional writer can develop in a couple days might take that CEO a week to draft, with more important things pushed aside. Just as important, a professional writer comes to the assignment with a different viewpoint. Too many leaders write in their industry’s jargon, think they know how the outside world sees them, or assume everyone else shares their knowledge on a topic. An outsider can question and challenge those internal attitudes and assumptions. And a good ghostwriter is also discreet, so others won’t know they’ve received help unless they say so.
What do magazine editors and their counterparts think of this ghostwriting stuff? It might surprise you, but most professionals would rather work through a seasoned ghostwriter than deal directly with a corporate leader or a professional who does something other than write for a living. After all, an editor’s goal is to publish content that will be interesting and useful to their readers. A good ghostwriter will present the information in a more meaningful and engaging way. Plus, a busy editor knows that a ghostwritten story will require less editing and polishing than one submitted by a non-writer.
As you’ve read through trade magazines or scrolled through online publications like this one and seen articles written by other corporate leaders and professionals, you may have thought, “I should really author some articles on trends in our industry, but I just can’t find the time.” Many of those authors couldn’t find the time, either. That’s why they found their own secret friend.
Scott Flood creates effective copy for companies and other organizations.