What Does a Ghostwriter Do?
When I tell people I’m a ghostwriter, I often get blank looks. At a recent AICPA conference, many people were baffled that I would allow another person’s name to be published on something I wrote.
Ghostwriters are the people behind the scenes who pull ideas and insights out of someone’s head and turn those raw ideas into written pieces that a wider audience benefits from. Some write books, blog posts or magazine articles. Others help novelists keep up with their flood of creative ideas. Ghostwriters write speeches, memoirs, screenplays, and even music.
Who do ghostwriters work with?
Some people have the gift of gab, but the gift of writing, not so much. That’s where people like me come in. I work with busy professionals who want to share their ideas with a broader audience than they can work with in person. Many of my clients would rather go to the dentist than spend hours setting down their ideas.
Some of my clients know they need to create content to help others find them online, but are too busy doing the work of their business. A few are great writers themselves, but have way too much on their plates to keep up the pace of content creation that helps them build their businesses.
How do ghostwriters work?
The ways that ghostwriters work with clients spans a broad spectrum. At one end are intense collaborations between a client and myself, where the text is based on interviews that are recorded, transcribed, organized and edited into a coherent narrative.
On the other end of the spectrum, I create the entire piece based on an idea or an outline that we both agree on, and the client simply attaches their name to the finished piece. Most work is somewhere in between.
Depending on the work being created, I sometimes perform additional research to flesh out the points being made by my client. One of my clients explained our process of working this way: “I go on a rant, and Liz quotes a Harvard Business Review article that backs up what I just said.”
When I’ve polished the piece to the best of my abilities, I share it with my client for their review. Sometimes they change just a word or two. Sometimes they delete or add whole sections. When they’re happy with the piece as a whole, then either my client or myself will submit the piece for publishing. This might be on their own blog, or it might be a book published on Amazon.
Ghostwriters find the magic
Ghostwriting isn’t just transcribing interviews and editing those transcripts into a polished work. I also connect the dots in my clients’ thoughts so that new insights or a powerful message pops out. Sometimes my clients aren’t aware of this insight until I point it out. Sometimes that message is something they take for granted – something they think everyone must also know, but almost no one else really understands.
Ghostwriters are masters of disguise
A big part of ghostwriting is capturing the voice of my clients. I may write the words or polish a transcript, but the final piece has to be recognizable as that person. According to a framework developed by master of voice, Abbey Woodcock, voice is a combination of vocabulary, tone and cadence. Some people use specific words or catch phrases that are unique to them. For example, one of my clients uses a ton of adverbs like actually, realistically, practically and uniquely. Another client rarely uses those words.
Tone is the mood or emotional backdrop of a piece. The same information can be presented in a dry factual narrative, or with a sense of humor. Tone is harder to capture in writing than in speaking because we don’t have the benefit of hearing or seeing the person. Emojis are a way we try to capture that in texts or on social media, but in books or blog posts, I have to find other ways to capture tone.
Cadence is the rhythm of the writing. Some people speak lyrically, almost in iambic pentameter. Others have a choppy cadence, more like a carnival barker. Cadence is a combination of sentence length, sentence structure and word choice.
Getting the voice right is tricky. It’s easiest if I can listen to them talk. I record as many conversations as I can, with their permission, of course. I scour the internet for podcasts, webinars or videos. I seek out anything they’ve written.
Ghostwriting isn’t for everyone
Working with a ghostwriter requires trust. The client needs to trust that the ghostwriter will honor and respect their ideas and experiences, and that the ghostwriter will not betray their confidence. The client needs to trust that the ghostwriter will craft a piece of writing that makes the client’s ideas and experiences shine.
For the ghostwriter, this requires leaving the ego behind. After all, no matter how brilliant the end result, the client’s name will be on it as the author, not mine. Sometimes I get a mention as “research assistant” or as “editorial director” but mostly I’m invisible. Only my contact at Accounting Today knows that I’m the ghostwriter behind pieces published under three different names.
Personally, I find the work fulfilling. As a CPA, I understand the challenges that accountants face in their work. As a writer, I love working with visionaries who are trying to move the profession forward. I love helping my clients clarify their ideas so they resonate with readers, and so that readers come away with ideas that help them in some way. What I most love is hearing from my clients how sending that work out into the world helped them make more money, or increased their visibility in the marketplace.
Do you have a book in you that wants to get out? Do you need help keeping up with the writing you know you need to do? I work with thought leaders in accounting to help them get their ideas out to a wider audience. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to see if we’re a good fit.