As someone who has done it in the past, ghostwriting can certainly be a little creepy at first. Wondering if your topics and ideas are doing justice to it can calm your spine.
In my view, it all comes down to knowing when to use your subject’s voice or your own to take away the ghostwriting fear. And it should be half a mix – too much from column A, and the piece may lack structure. too much from column B and you’re just writing, not ghostwriting.
I learned early on that a Frankenstein-esque combo voice where you try to write as yourself and your subject at the same time isn’t really a thing. So save yourself the headache and split your voice and your voice like this.
What is ghostwriting?
Ghostwriting involves writing a copy under someone else’s name. For example, as a freelancer, you can be hired to write a blog post that will be published under the name of the CMO.
Ghostwriting is essentially when someone else has the line for a piece you wrote.
How to Fix Ghostwrite
- Interview the person you are ghostwriting for.
- Make sure you understand the voice of the person you are writing for.
- Find the subjects.
- Be flexible.
1. Interview the person you are ghostwriting for.
The most important part of ghostwriting is understanding the material you are writing about. As a ghostwriter, you likely write on a variety of topics, from industry blogs to memoirs. Before delving into each of the pieces, it is imperative to speak to the person you are ghostwriting for and discuss the topic in depth.
Pam Bump, Audience Growth Manager on the HubSpot blog team, says, “If you can, interview the person you’re ghosting for by phone or video call. That way, you don’t just jot down all the important details you want cover the content, but you also learn more about how they speak or how to present tips. This can help you write content that naturally reads as if it was written by them. “
2. Make sure you understand the voice of the person you are writing for.
By jumping off that last point and interviewing the person you’re ghostwriting for, you can get an idea of their voice. We’ll explore when to use your voice or the client’s voice below, but every piece you write should have a specific style and tone.
Bump adds, “Alternatively, if you can’t interview them to get a feel for how they are speaking or how they present their thoughts, you can read some of their other blog posts, social media posts, or published works to get a feel for how they write. “
3. Find the subjects.
When interviewing the person you are ghostwriting for, it is important to think about the narrative and structure of the play you are writing.
Karla Cook, HubSpot’s senior manager on the blog team, says, “It’s important to meet with the person you’re ghosting for at the beginning of the project and have a conversation about what the piece written should cover. This is their chance to share your brilliant, unfiltered thoughts with you and it is your job as a ghostwriter to identify topics, strong phrases and possible narratives as you approach the production of the piece later. This is an opportunity to get a feel for it too Getting to know how your topic is approaches communication and can help inform how you represent your voice. “
4. Be flexible.
While interviewing the subject is the best way to learn more about the subject you are writing about, it is important to be adaptable and flexible in order to be successful.
Cook adds, “People who use ghostwriters are usually busy, so if you can’t meet with them in person, ask them to take a voice memo or even jot down a few notes on a document to get started.”
Now let’s examine one of the most important aspects of ghostwriting: when should you use your own voice versus your client’s voice?
When to use her voice
1. Main ideas
The argument of the piece should be determined by your topic, regardless of how you personally see it. Remember that it will be published under your byline. Your opinion is controversial and should therefore be silent.
Aside from this thesis, I also avoid adding or removing ideas. If a subject goes out of the way to make an argument, it means that it is important to them and should be included in the finished product in some way. Conversely, if the topic doesn’t mention a topic, don’t bring it up no matter how much you think it would bring the point home, clarify the point, or sound fantastic.
It’s very simple: if you don’t say it, I won’t write it.
2. Signature words or phrases
If I wrote an article for Emeril Lagasse, you’d bet it would start with “BAM!”
You would have a hard time finding me in my daily life with this phrase – hell, it’s not even my exclamation. But Emeril says it and for that reason I would write it.
“Bam!” is a pretty harmless example, but I’ll bet you can think of some preferred phrases that sound pointless, silly, or unnecessary. But if the topic speaks like that, then the topic would probably write like that. Including signature words makes the article look more real, especially to readers who are familiar with the person.
The only time I would cross out or edit a favorite phrase would be if it were inadvertently grammatically incorrect. All other instances of “BAM!” “fuggetaboutit”, “poll says,” and “that’s all people!” Stay inside.
3. Data points
Data is rightfully included in almost every business article these days. Nothing can support an argument like the perfect statistic or the perfect chart.
The problem is that there are a lot of statistics that are not perfect. Sometimes a topic offers great data to support its points, and sometimes … less great. But I’m trying to keep in mind that I’m not the expert here – there is a reason the subject used this specific data and it is not up to you to judge if it is up to date.
I want to use most of the data points that subjects give me, but I always inquire about the source. That way, if I feel really shaky about the numbers, I can go back and check their accuracy for myself. When I find a problem, I bring it to my attention and let them determine if they should still publish it.
When to use your voice
In general, people who use ghostwriters are busy doing fascinating things. That means their minds are cluttered with interesting information and with so much on their plates that they may not always be the best organized speakers. They likely haven’t had time to document exactly what they want to talk about, and they might throw in an off-topic fact or two.
The ideas of the subject should be the flesh of the play, but it is the responsibility of the writer to organize those thoughts in the most logical and effective way. Set the topic up for success by grabbing an anecdote they mentioned in the middle of your interview and moving it to the opener if you think it belongs there. Likewise, conclusions can come from anywhere – carefully look for a solid conclusion and bring it to the last paragraph.
List the arguments presented and arrange them as you find best. Your subject is likely grateful for the organization’s help.
Not many people move from one point to the next with perfectly designed sections. Instead, they jump back and forth, interrupting themselves, or changing direction abruptly.
That said, it’s up to you to add the beautiful transitions. I find this to be easier to provide in your own voice as everyone has their own way of getting arguments flowing. Trying to mimic someone else’s segue style can result in a garbled article.
3. Very necessary explanations
I am trying not to include items that my topic has not at least made reference to, but there is one important exclusion from this rule: explanations.
Some topics are so involved in their subject area that it can be difficult for them to break down their arguments for laypeople. The author should act as the proxy for the audience, and if he feels that something needs clarification, he should return to the topic. If the topic does not provide an adequate explanation, ghostwriters should take it upon themselves to provide concise supportive information – but this should be done in just a few sentences.
Bonus: when you shouldn’t be using a voice
As important as understanding which voice to use is knowing when not to use a voice – in other words, knowing what to cut.
As I mentioned above, topics that rely on ghostwriters are often brilliant, passionate people. That is, they can sometimes start on a tangent.
You don’t need to make the article representative of the time you spent on each item. You might have handled one argument in five minutes and one in twenty minutes. You should include both of them in the piece, but try to assign each equal space by reducing the second. Take an editorial eye on which details are important and which are not, and trim accordingly.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in August 2014 and has been updated for completeness.