What is ghost writing? We peek behind the mask…

by Alice Starkie

What is ghost writing? We peek behind the mask…

While horror is a keystone literary genre, the term ‘ghost writing’ doesn’t actually mean writing about vampires, werewolves and assorted other ghouls.

Instead, it actually denotes the practice of writing copy without being credited for your work.

But why would anyone do that, you might ask?

What is ghost writing?

Ghost writing is an effective way for businesses or individuals to commission content. The copy is written by a writer but it is officially credited as the work of the person who commissioned it. It is a phrase often associated with celebrity autobiographies, but ghost writing is an all-encompassing term which takes in a wide range of literary forms.

Ghost writing can include anything from press releases and business copy to blog posts and screenplays. Even politicians use ghost writers. Remember JFK’s famous ‘ask not what your country can do for you?’ inauguration speech? The words were actually written by presidential adviser Ted Sorensen.

The practice is beneficial for both the commissioner and the writer, who can find themselves covering a range of different topics, meeting a variety of interesting people and being paid handsomely.

Who needs ghost writing?

Ghost writing can be a viable and necessary option for a range of businesses and influencers. For example, a social media influencer whose platform has grown too large to keep up with demand for content may use ghost writing to provide their audience with regular and engaging content that they may not have been able to produce themselves as frequently. A growing business which doesn’t have the time or experience to create a high quantity of quality copy may also need a ghost writer.

In the era of social media where demand for fast content is higher than ever, ghost writing is becoming more and more important. Ghost blogging is now a viable career path, as is ghost writing for social media accounts. Did you really think your favourite celebrity was typing out those tweets herself?

Is ghost writing always a solo effort?

You may be wondering how ghost writing can be produced on a subject or area where the writer is not an expert, but this problem is solved simply, through effective communication and research. The writer is expected to work in conjunction with an expert or an individual who has a story to tell but lacks the skill or the time to adequately present it in an accessible way.

Is ghost writing considered ethical?

Cast your mind back to December 2014, when news headlines were dominated with the ‘scandal’ that social media influencer Zoella, real name Zoe Sugg, used a ghost writer, Siobhan Curham, for her debut novel ‘Girl Online’. This revelation placed Sugg under serious media scrutiny. Sugg’s fans initially felt cheated and deceived by Sugg’s use of a ghost writer, which begs the question: is ghost writing ethical?

While some readers may have felt they had been falsely sold the novel, the general consensus eventually supported Sugg’s use of a ghost writer as the storyline and the ideas put across in the book were still Sugg’s – it’s just that the use of Curham helped deliver the narrative in a more appealing manner.

Sugg went on to have an additional two bestsellers, indicating readers’ support of both her and her use of a ghost writer.

Far from being viewed as a moral grey area, ghost writing is actually considered to be the most financially lucrative form of freelance writing.

Famous ghost writers

We know what you might be thinking – if a ghost writer operates in the background, how can there be any famous ghost writers? Well, some practitioners have become so successful in the art that their name has become as equally valued as the client they are writing for. Professional ghost writer Andrew Crofts’ book ‘Confessions of a Ghost Writer’ was marketed as a tell-all book offering an insight into his glamorous ghost writing career. An important lesson to learn from Crofts’ book is that ghost writing is a challenging yet rewarding medium of writing.

As Crofts says: “I could stick my nose into everyone else’s business and ask all the impertinent questions I wanted to. At the same time, I could also live the pleasant life of a writer.”

Qualifications needed for ghost writing

As with all forms of writing, you don’t necessarily need a specific degree or qualification to become a ghost writer – it’s more about your skill as a writer and your ability to tell an interesting and cohesive story. Saying that, a BA degree is often considered useful, and, for some organisations, necessary, to become a professional writer. Degrees including journalism, English and history are considered particularly helpful for ghost writing as they provide academic proof that a ghost writer can research effectively then display the found information in a concise and comprehensive format. While some dedicated online courses aim to teach ghost writing, these are not always necessary as employers and clients may find themselves swayed by a strong portfolio of writing work.

Is ghost writing the career for you?

Ghost writing is considered more financially lucrative than other freelance writing jobs and, while it’s becoming harder to carve out a career in newspaper journalism, for example, it’s a growing profession, partly due to the increase in self and electronic publishing.

But that’s not to say ghost writing is an easy career. It will take time for you to build up a client base and gain trust. Ghost writing is also a career that requires humility as you sign over legal credit to your work, with specific terms being negotiated in a contract. Ghost writing is not the career for someone looking to receive widespread acclaim or fame, but it is ideal for those who can demonstrate strong communication skills and a passion for writing.

Main image credit: it’s me neosiam

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Alice Starkie

Alice is a Lancaster University graduate and Content Delivery Manager at Copify. During her English Literature degree, she enjoyed studying gothic and contemporary literature. Alice has a particular interest in beauty copywriting and enjoys attending concerts in her spare time.