Agency Solutions

The Voice Behind the Curtain: How Do Ghostwriters Work?

CopyPress

Published: May 31, 2022 (Updated: June 16, 2022)

As a kid, were you team Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys? Maybe you were an equal opportunity mystery fan and loved them all. Maybe you thought Carolyn Keene and Franklin W. Dixon would be your sleuthing best friends if you knew them in person. But what if we told you that neither of those people exists? They’re just pen names owned by publishing companies to put on stories written by ghostwriters. And ghostwritten work is everywhere, but you may never know unless someone tells you. How do ghostwriters work and why do brands use them? Today we’ll see, with topics like:

What Is Ghostwriting?

ghost and tablet on black background to signify how does ghostwriting work

Image via iStock by @pictorious

Ghostwriting is a creative process when an author, journalist, or other writer develops content without credit for their work. In some situations, there may not be an author credit or byline on the piece at all. In other cases, the company or brand name gets credit for the work. Our CopyPress blog and knowledge base articles appear this way. We have a marketing team that writes pieces, but you don’t know them by name.

Most commonly, ghostwritten pieces get published, recited, or performed under someone else’s name. That person gets recognition for it. This practice is common for political speeches, celebrity memoirs, and other similar content. Most ghostwriters agree to a gig like this because, while they don’t get name notoriety for their work, they get paid to write it in the first place.

Why Would Your Company Use a Ghostwriter?

Some people wonder why it’s even worth it to hire a ghostwriter. What can they do that you can’t? Here are a few common reasons brands and companies hire ghostwriters:

They Help You Share Your Ideas the Right Way

Are you a professional in your industry or field, but you’re just not a writer? If figuring out sentence structure and fighting with punctuation isn’t your thing, that’s okay! But lacking top-notch writing skills shouldn’t prevent your great ideas from getting out into the world. Hiring a ghostwriter can make them a reality. Through interviews, outlines, and a close working relationship, a ghostwriter helps capture your thoughts and visions into pieces that your audience understands.

This situation also works the opposite way, if you’re not the one with the topic knowledge. If you want to create content about a topic that isn’t your strong suit, look for a ghostwriting expert who is. Coupled with their grasp of the English language and storytelling, they can share the information your audience craves to establish your company’s thought leadership credibility in new areas.

Related: The Pros and Cons of Using Jargon

They Save Time

Is your brand recognition picking up? Is your brand becoming a well-known name in its industry? With all your other company growth efforts, you may not have time to write the content yourself. If your audience is looking for, or sometimes demanding, new content, hire ghostwriters to give them what they want.

This practice is more common than you may think. Celebrities have public relations (PR) and media teams that create content for their social profiles. But the viewers think it all comes from the celebrities themselves. Content marketing professionals like Neil Patel do it too. They’ve got empires to run. They need help with other tasks.

They Increase Content Volume

Sometimes, that audience demand is more than just one or two people can handle. And content marketing is about just that: creating content. While it’s better to take your time with a piece and research it well, the process is lengthy. Adding even just one ghostwriter to your team or staff can help double the amount of content you can produce in a day or a week. More content means more opportunities to rank for keywords on Google search engine results pages (SERPs). Higher rankings lead to more organic traffic. That leads to more conversions and sales.

Is Ghostwriting Legal?

Yes, ghostwriting is legal, as long as you’re hiring people to complete a job and compensating them for it. It’s important to state the terms of your agreement with a ghostwriter during the hiring process in a legal document, like a contract. This helps all parties understand their expectations and you have a record of the agreement if there would be questions later. Some legal areas to consider and explain to your ghostwriters when creating a contract include:

Copyright

With ghostwriting, the content publishers assume the copyright of the work. Look at our CopyPress marketing materials again. The brand owns the blog and knowledge base articles. Our marketing writers can’t go sell the pieces they write to another publication and make money from them.

But there are some cases under the work-for-hire copyright agreement that only cover a brand to hold the copyright for the original published work. Any repurposed material doesn’t count. For example, the brand holds the copyright to a ghostwritten article, but if the team adapts it into an eBook, the copyright permissions could change. Make sure you discuss all potential options with a legal team to understand them best. Be clear about copyright and content use expectations in all contract agreements.

Disclosures

If you’re paying a ghostwriter to create content, you likely want your audience to think it came from you, and you alone. If this is your plan, it’s important to include a nondisclosure agreement (NDA) in the ghostwriter contract. This section states the ghostwriter can’t take credit for the work under their own name.

NDAs have varying levels of severity. Some are airtight, where the ghostwriter can’t even tell a friend or spouse that they wrote for your project. Others are laxer, where the ghostwriter just can’t take credit for the work in an interview or print. At CopyPress, our marketing writers can share their pieces as part of their creative portfolios to show their qualifications and experience writing in the content marketing industry. Talk with your ghostwriter and your legal team to find an NDA that fits everyone’s expectations and needs.

Content Expectations

What type and quality of content do you expect from the ghostwriter? Are they writing multiple blog posts or one eBook? How long is each piece? When do you expect the finished product? Is there a review and revision period? How much research do you expect the ghostwriter to do before creating content? These are all questions to consider when looking for a ghostwriter. They’re important to ask on an application or in an interview before signing someone for your project. Make all these things clear in your contract so you get what you pay for.

Payment

The payment might be what your ghostwriter cares about most. How much can they make for the project? Are you paying per piece, word, or hour? Can they receive any additional compensation if you repurpose the content? How and when do you expect to make the payments? Just as the content expectations lay out the rules the ghostwriter has to follow, the payment section is the one you must uphold. Make sure you set realistic figures and timelines that fit your budget and the workload of your finance department.

Best Practices for Working with a Ghostwriter

There are special considerations to make when looking for ghostwriters and how they fit into your content marketing strategy. Here are some best practices to review when looking to hire:

Add More Time to Your Process

Adding ghostwriters to your team can save you time to devote to other projects. But getting them on the team takes time. The hiring process can be lengthy. Then, when you find the right fit, you have to onboard new ghostwriters to help them better understand your company and writing expectations.

And it doesn’t stop after you’ve onboarded new writers. Now you have to create content briefs or project outlines as guides. You also provide feedback and revisions on every piece and handle the publishing yourself. The process moves smoothly after you get it settled, but it’s not instant. You have to put in the time and the work to get your ghostwriters to produce the content you expect.

Find Writers in Your Field

Ghostwriters aren’t just knowledgeable about the grammar and mechanics of the English language. Many of them have vast content knowledge in other fields and industries. Being a talented writer is just a bonus. But not every excellent writer makes a good ghostwriter for your brand or company. You need someone who understands your audience and what you do. You also need someone who specializes in the types of content you develop, like white papers or eBooks.

Depending on how intricate your industry is, being a talented writer isn’t enough to make a piece great if the ghostwriter doesn’t understand the subject. For example, tech companies often talk about highly intricate and nuanced topics. Do you want someone who has never seen a piece of code in their life writing content about coding? And passing off the content under your brand name? Make sure you look for talent with proven experience in your niche or industry.

Provide the Right Reference Materials

Even knowledgeable writers need resources to better understand your brand voice, audience segments, and content expectations. It’s your job to provide them. This may include a style guide document that outlines your brand voice and content goals from your marketing department. The best writers are also excellent readers, so your reference materials may include samples of previous work that best highlights your brand voice and company tone.

If you’re starting your content creation efforts for the first time with a ghostwriter, you may not have a repository of content to share. Find other ways to show them exactly how you want your brand voice to sound. Consider sharing content from other sources or drafting sample pieces for their review.

Provide Clear Topics and Detailed Instructions

Each content project is different. Any topic you choose can have tens or even hundreds of different angles to approach to put a new spin on it. How is your ghostwriter supposed to know what to expect if you don’t tell them? Create content briefs for every project and outline exactly what you expect.

Ghostwriters should be able to take the reference documents and content brief and develop the pieces you’re looking for. If they can’t, there’s one of two issues. First, they’re not as good of a ghostwriter as advertised. Second, you haven’t been clear enough in your directions. To make sure it’s not the second situation, include the following in each article brief:

  • Word count expectations
  • Content keywords
  • An outline of headings or subtopics
  • Links to your style guide or reference documents
  • The tense of the piece
  • Special grammar requirements, like the use of the Oxford comma
  • Words, topics, or phrases to avoid, like idioms
  • Internal and external linking requirements
  • Research directions or expectations, such as interviews or required reading
  • Audience segmentation details

If you need help selecting the right topics and keywords for each brief, request your free content analysis report from CopyPress. This document provides keywords and phrases to fill your brand’s own content gaps, making your topic selection relevant and your brief writing easier.

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Ask for Test Pieces

Yes, you really can ask your ghostwriters to submit a test piece of your choice before you sign them on a project. Provide your potential ghostwriters with a test brief and resources to see what type of content they deliver before hiring. This lets you review their content knowledge and writing expertise to see if it fits your expectations.

To incentivize the test piece process, you can pay a nominal flat fee for the work so the ghostwriter doesn’t feel you wasted their time completing the exercise. Provide constructive and actionable feedback for all your candidates, not just the ones you hire.

Is There a Better Solution Than a Ghostwriter?

Brands consider many questions and avenues before deciding on the topics and creation methods for content. You may wonder if the story you want to share is too personal to pass off to someone else. Another concern may be that your audience feels tricked if they find you used a ghostwriter. Yes, in cases like these, it might be best to write the content yourself and sacrifice the time and content volume to create a more authentic experience and relationship with your audience.

But most people understand that content that comes from a brand isn’t coming from just one person. Your audience is intelligent. They can figure it out for themselves. But that still means a ghostwriter might not be perfect for every project. Ghostwriter and idea person relationships are often close. That intimacy is great, but what about when you need to scale up production? You’d need to hire another ghostwriter, and another, and so on. Is that saving you time? Is it keeping things cohesive? Probably not. Working with a content agency is a better bet.

With CopyPress, we’ve perfected this ghostwriting process for all your brand content. We have a team of strategists, writers, editors, and quality assurance specialists to make sure every piece is high quality and cohesive. We work with you to create a living style guide that follows your project from campaign kickoff to publication. Add as many or as few creatives to your project to meet the scale. Our creatives deliver pieces you feel proud to share with your audience, no matter who writes them. Ready to get started? Schedule your free introductory chat with us today.

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