In defense of ghostwriting

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Not everyone can write easily or well, but that doesn't mean their stories and insights aren't worthy of circulation.

Ghostwriting – the act of publishing copy under someone else’s name – is viewed with a measure of suspicion in certain quarters.

According to the skeptics, there is something mildly disingenuous about hawking a book or a blog or an op-ed piece that wasn’t cranked out verbatim by the person whose name appears as author. While I can understand the knee-jerk reaction, such concerns are misplaced.

Let me explain why.

Why do we need ghostwriters?

Ghostwriting allows stories to be told and messages to be delivered that otherwise wouldn’t be conveyed. Business executives, politicians and celebrities often don’t have the time to write full-length copy at the frequency required for maximum impact. While not everyone can write so easily or well, that doesn’t mean their stories and insights aren’t worthy of circulation. In many cases, a good writer will articulate the credited author’s experience or opinions in a more succinct and engaging way than the subject herself. The vast heritage of political speeches would be nowhere near so rich without the considerable talents of speechwriters, for example.

Ghostwriting: The acting of publishing copy under someone else’s name. Alternatively, a method that allows stories to be told and messages to be delivered that otherwise wouldn’t be conveyed.

How can I trust what I am reading if it wasn’t written by the credited author?

Simple. Quality ghostwriting requires an incredible amount of skill and research. To be able to modulate the voice and outlook of another person or organization is a talent. Think of other fields. The actor who plays an historical figure with great likeness receives the critics’ plaudits. The tribute band that gets it right to the last detail wins musical acclaim. So it should go with the ghostwriter.

But I know the actor is not actually the person he’s playing. I’m not always aware a work was ghostwritten. And why does the listed author deserve recognition anyway?

Because the listed name remains the official author of the project irrespective of how heavily involved she was in the line-by-line composition of the work. Indeed what carves out ghostwriting in a category of its own is the special relationship between writer and author. A close working dynamic between the two is essential. In some instances, the ghostwriter will receive an outline text for crafting into shape. In other cases, the ghost will start the process from scratch and deliver the initial draft to the author for feedback and edits. A good ghostwriter will quickly know his client so well he can produce on-brief copy with great fluency.

At the very least shouldn’t I know that a ghostwriter was involved in the process?

Sometimes the writer will receive a minor credit of some form. But not always. It can depend on the contractual relationship between the writer, the client and the publisher. Either way, the client remains at the head of the process and nothing should go to publication without her general consent.

What if the client is unhappy with the published work?

That’s an avoidable situation. When a client puts her name – or the name of her business – to something she didn’t write verbatim, she needs to have developed strong bonds of trust with her writer or writing team. Not all writers are made from the same cloth. It’s essential the client feels comfortable with the skill and professionalism of the ghostwriter. A good writer will work hard to ensure his client is reassured about the overall process and the quality of the resulting work.

What qualities should I look for in a writer?

Someone with strong curiosity about the world around him, and a knack to understand the opinions and perspectives of other people, businesses and institutions. Someone who is patient, diligent, and motivated by the prospect of relaying events to the satisfaction of his client and to furthering his client’s success. Someone who is happy to play behind the scenes on behalf of the people he represents.

In many respects, writing is like any craft. We can appreciate a well-designed chair without needing to know the names of everyone involved in the chair’s production. So it is with writing. With well-rendered copy, the structure and content of the piece will facilitate the delivery of the credited author’s message as though it had been written by the subject herself. We recline, relax and away we read.

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