• “I know I need to produce thought leadership content, but I don’t have the time.”
  • “I hate writing, and people tell me it shows in what I write.”
  • “I tried writing articles, but they kept getting turned down by editors, so I stopped.

If any of these statements describes you, you’re not alone. A lot of business professionals want to get their ideas published, but it seems like an insurmountable mountain to climb. But there is a ghostly answer to all of these concerns – specifically, a ghostwriter.

I talked about how to work with a ghostwriter for a book, in post #86.

Having ghosted literally hundreds of articles and a few books over the years, I’ve got some advice on who can benefit from a ghostwriter, and how to work with one.

What does a ghostwriter do?

A ghostwriter is a professional writer, often a trained journalist, who can interview you or work with some text you’ve already prepared, to generate a first draft of your article, blog post, book or other content.

First of all, the ideas and expressions need to be yours, not those of the ghost. In my own work as a ghost, I’ll sometimes add some analogies or other ways to make the article come to life, but the ideas in the article must all come from the author. That way, the author can actually claim authorship.

Ghostwriting falls on the extreme end of the “editorial intervention” scale, because it involves the author starting with a blank computer screen. As well as ghostwriters, listed in order of how much involvement they have, there are three other kinds of writing professionals:

Substantive editors: This kind of professional will take your first rough draft and rewrite it to make the ideas sing.

Copy editors: If your work needs only minor changes to make it presentable, a copy editor is the way. Not that they “copy” your work – the word “copy” is just journalist-speak for any kind of writing.

Proofreaders: Your work may need minor spelling corrections, grammar corrections, and checks to be sure that you’re being consistent in the voice you’re using. A proofreader is the kind of detail-obsessed professional you need.

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How can a ghostwriter help?

A ghost can help you with all three questions starting this blog post.

First, about the time – if a standard trade magazine article is about 1200 words (I’d go about 1000 words for a guest blog post), it may take you several hours to write. That’s time not spent on client work, on marketing, or taking your kids to the zoo. You won’t get that time back.

Usually it takes me about ten or 15 minutes to interview the named author of the article to develop the concept and outline for the article. Then, it usually takes 40 minutes to interview the author to get information to write the article itself. After that, most authors I work with take about 30 minutes to review, correct and add to my first draft. That’s a bit more than an hour of the author’s time, total. I think that those time limits would work with most ghostwriters as well.

Second, about the quality of the writing: the ghostwriter is generally a skilled writer – maybe a trained journalist, and can probably turn out a better product than you can, for these reasons:

  • A journalist is trained to look for “the story” – the kernel of the message, which will make the information compelling for the reader.
  • The ghost will organize your ideas into a coherent flow. I recently had the experience of working with an accountant who wanted to write about proposed changes to the tax code. She just pulled up a chair and, with the help of her notes, presented her ideas. I was able to take that information dump and organize it in a logical way.
  • The ghost will bring in analogies and anecdotes to give life to your ideas – recognizing that the best analogies probably come from you.

Third, about getting the article turned down – several years ago I worked with an equipment manufacturer who had written an article about his company’s products. The editor of a publication for which I’ve written frequently had asked him to get in touch with me, because the first version of his article was too much of a sales pitch. I worked with the author to produce something that was informative, and demonstrated the need for the product – and the article was accepted for publication.

So, a good ghostwriter should work with you to develop an article that is more likely to be published – possibly because it doesn’t come across as a sales pitch.

How you choose a ghostwriter?

The ghost you choose doesn’t have to be local to you, although it helps to be able to meet in person. I have good working relationships with many clients I’ve never met.

Here are some of the qualifications I’d look for in a ghostwriter:

  • A former journalist, if possible one with experience writing long-form content such as blog posts and magazine articles, who knows how to find that story (maybe I’m biased, as this happens to be my background).
  • Someone with some business background, who can understand the business issues at stake, and put your ideas into a context that will be understandable and compelling for the reader (also known as a “potential client”).
  • Someone who understands search engine optimization: how to make the article more likely to get picked up by search engines, and also how to leverage the article using social media.
How can you find a ghost?
  • Ask people you know – and maybe ask the editor of the publication you want to write for, who they’d recommend
  • Find local associations of writers – they often have profiles on their members
  • Freelance sites such as Upwork may be helpful – just be sure to find a writer whose first language is the one you want to write in
About payment – I suggest that somewhere between US 0.75 per word and $1.00 per word is a good rate that will attract highly qualified writers who can represent you well.

Just to reiterate: the ghostwriter is a few steps up from being a stenographer who will just transcribe what you say. If you ask, they’ll do some research on your topic. But it’s important that you know the truth of all the information in the article – because it’s YOUR article; your name goes on it. You need to be able to stand behind it, and if a reader asks, “Can you tell me more about this point in your article?” you’re able to do it.

A ghostwriter is a good way to get your ideas in front of potential clients – but remember that they have to be your ideas.