What unites a celebrity’s tell-all autobiography, a CEO’s profound LinkedIn post and a government minister’s ‘op-ed’ in a newspaper? They are almost certain to have been written by a ghostwriter.
Ghostwriting – where a professional writer produces content on behalf of another person, who receives the author credit – is everywhere and we consume it without even realising. It’s a bedrock of the media and publishing industries.
Here, James Cheng-Morris, one of our ghostwriters at Thought Leadership PR, explains why ghostwriting is so widespread, and how it works.
Why would you use a ghostwriter?
There are two key reasons: time and writing expertise.
Whether you’re writing a book, crafting social media posts or you’ve been asked to write a contributor article for the media, it takes up vast quantities of a precious resource: time. Many of our clients, for example, are CEOs of successful companies or busy business consultants. Setting aside three hours of their day to write an 800-word article is unrealistic. Using the services of a ghostwriter, whose sole purpose is to write content in their voice, is an effective time-saving alternative, especially when it comes to writing articles for the media where deadlines are constant.
Meanwhile, even if you have the time, you still need writing expertise to ensure your content is published. If submitting an opinion piece, for example, all media outlets have editorial standards – so the article needs good structural flow, factual accuracy and relevance to its audience.
Of course, it takes time for a ghostwriter to get to know the delicate nuance of your views. In my role, I’m both a PR and a ghostwriter. That means as well as pitching my clients’ ideas to the media, I ghostwrite them too once they’ve been accepted. This is what we do for all of our Full-Service clients. If your work is written by a PR agency without a journalistic background, or someone in your team who hasn’t had professional editorial training, your article may not be accepted by the publication you submit it to.
How does ghostwriting work?
The ghostwriting process revolves around building a rapport with the author. When a partnership starts, the ghostwriter will carry out an extensive interview (or interviews) with the author, establishing their personal background and talking points on a range of different topics. After a while, the ghostwriter will have a vast bank of notes to refer to, and should have established a level of familiarity which allows them to write in the author’s unique “voice”.
Is ghostwriting legal?
It’s natural to wonder, given an author gets full credit for a piece of work which they haven’t physically written. But ghostwriting is perfectly legal and legitimate.
A ghostwriter’s job is to accurately convey and structure the author’s expertise or insight, and as mentioned above, capture their voice in doing so. While the author may not have typed out the copy on a word document, the content is still their personal thoughts, and therefore it’s still their work. In any case, the author always has the final say over a ghostwriter’s copy, meaning they have to be fully satisfied it captures their viewpoints before it is submitted.
Does the ghostwriter and author need to be from the same field of expertise?
Absolutely not. While a ghostwriter having knowledge of the author’s field of expertise can clearly help, the best collaborations can often be between two people from different backgrounds.
I always use my two favourite autobiographies by footballers – Roy Keane’s The Second Half and Rio Ferdinand’s Thinking Out Loud – as examples of this. Both employed ghostwriters and neither were football journalists. Ferdinand’s was ghostwritten by Decca Aitkenhead, a feature writer known for profiles of leaders and celebrities in The Sunday Times. Keane’s was written by Roddy Doyle, a novelist and screenwriter.
Keane later reflected on Doyle’s ability to “soften me up” and open up on difficult subject matters, while Aitkenhead also wrote of how she overcame Ferdinand’s instinctive reluctance to talk about his emotions. My point being that neither Doyle or Aitkenhead needed to be in the football “bubble” to write these excellent books. More important was their ability to listen, probe and write skilfully on behalf of the author.
The same applies to the ghostwriting work I do at Thought Leadership PR. We have clients from a range of different fields, from leadership coaches, sports academics to tech company CEOs. Do I pretend to be an expert in these areas? No. Instead, I use my interviewing and writing expertise to capture clients’ voices and transmit their messages in a structure and tone that works for the media. This way, the final product is accessible – and hopefully interesting – to the widest possible audience, while never compromising the integrity of the client’s viewpoints. That is the role of a ghostwriter.
Typically the type of ghostwriting we do for our clients is ghosting an opinion article (known as an op-ed) or an advice article for the media. Or submitting pitches for talks. On our Full-Service Personal PR package, you get your own ghostwriter (like James).