What’s the deal with freelance ghostwriting?
Since I started freelance writing full time in 2011, it has been quite a learning experience. I’ve accepted work that made me want to take a time machine back and NOT accept it, but I’ve also stumbled upon some neat projects that I’ve enjoyed very much. I’ve made mistakes. Not been paid. Had to completely rewrite things because important details were left out of my original instructions. Taken on more work than I could feasibly get done on time without around-the-clock writing.
But overall, I feel very blessed to do what comes naturally to me (writing) on a daily basis and be home with my kids and make some money in the process.
So why do companies hire ghostwriters anyway? What’s the big deal about assigning a byline to the REAL writer? There are several legitimate reasons for this — the biggest being that companies want just one or two representatives that “speak” for them through blog posts, articles and any other company documents. To build a brand, it is easier to have one voice, or a handful of faces, to assign to official company materials. Other times a big name in a particular industry feels pressure to write but is either a terrible (TERRIBLE) writer or has no time to make that happen.
Whatever the reason, jobs for ghostwriters are not hard to find. But is it for you? Let me break it down a little more to help you decide:When people are just getting started in freelance writing, certain niches of the market may be confusing. One of those is ghostwriting. In a nutshell, when you are hired to ghostwrite, you give up any rights to the final product and cannot claim it as your own. The work you do belongs to someone else.
The Good of Ghostwriting
The money. When big names need some help managing their writing workloads, they call in ghostwriters. This often means a slightly (to greatly) higher pay scale. Think about it — even the President and First Lady have speech writers. I turned in a 1,500-word (about three typed pages with some paragraph breaks) earlier this week that I charged $100 for writing. It involved more research than a typical piece of writing, but took me about 4 hours total to complete (from my house). I like this particular client a lot — otherwise I probably could have charged even more.
No attachment. Let’s face it — you may not want your freelance career to be built on topics in which you have no interest. When a potential client Googles your name, do you want a blog post about “Choosing the Right Plumber” to pop up first? The same is true if you are writing content for a site that features information you don’t want associated with your name (think weight loss pills or discount insurance). When you ghostwrite, you get paid for the work but have no liability or connection to it later.
The Bad of Ghostwriting
No credit. It is very unlikely that you will find a client who will vouch for you and ADMIT that you wrote something under his or her name. Freelance writers are always looking for future work but it is tough to use examples of ghostwritten material that has someone else’s name. I have written a few pieces that I was very proud of in the end but are ones I will never get credit for writing. I still know it was me and I got paid for the content. But sometimes seeing a different name on your work stings.
Ethically questionable.This point is for every writer to decide on his or her own. I don’t have any hard rules on this but mainly just go with my gut. If I’m writing content that has no name on it (the basic material of most websites or press releases) I have no problem ghostwriting. If the material has a name on it, that is not mine, I consider it more carefully. Is the person planning to post it on his or her own website, or will it be sent out to other places under the guise that the client wrote it, instead of me? In other words, who may be deceived by this change and does it really matter?
I have one client who contracts me to write about 15 guest blog posts each month for a variety of sites. These other clients KNOW my editor is not writing the pieces but for many, her name is the one that appears because she is the face of my client. It is easier (for lack of a better term) to just say she submitted it instead of explain who I am. That being said — I have requested my own byline on a few pieces that I felt would not make sense without my name (moms in business, tips for freelance writing, etc.) and my client has agreed and granted that. If you are hesitant to ghostwrite a specific piece or for a particular client, ask for a byline or look for something else.
If you want to include ghostwriting on your list of qualifications, but also want to get some credit for what you write, ask your client for a compromise. Find out if there are any byline opportunities. Maybe for every 10 blog posts you write, one can have your name on it. If this is not an option, ask to use the client as a reference. If the client is uncomfortable admitting that you ghostwrite his or her material, just ask for a vague reference that emphasizes your professionalism and adherence to deadline. Money in the bank is nice, but so is getting credit where credit is due.
I’ve said it before and I hope to still being saying it in another two, ten or twenty years: right now is a great time to be a freelance writer. Web content is something EVERY company wants more of but may not have the manpower to complete in-house. That’s where you come in. Whether you ghostwrite, have a pen name or use the one your mama gave you, getting paid to write from home is a nice way to earn a meager-to-comfortable living. Remember that you are your own boss; trust your gut when something doesn’t smell right or add up. Picking quality, loyal clients will lead to less headaches, and more revenue, for you in the long run.
Let’s connect on social media too: