My Life as a Ghost

March 12, 2013

When I made the transition from journalism to public relations, it was a revelation to find out I could be paid a lot more for putting someone’s name other than my own on the articles I wrote.

It’s a peculiar way to make a living.  Yet there are thousands of ghosts walking the halls of corporate America. 

Ghostwriting is much more common than most people realize:

  • Pick up any hardcover biography of a famous person.  The chances that that person wrote the book are nearly zero.
  • Pick up a magazine or read one online.  While many articles are still written by professional journalists, a growing number are written by “experts,” who are, in turn, helped by experts – those who write for a living.
  • Listen to a politician’s speech or a speech at a business conference.  If you’re still paying attention five minutes in, it was most likely written by a professional.

You can’t see a ghost, of course, but we’re everywhere.  Even on many blogs you read (though not this one, of course).

Ghostwriting Is Translating

Some people have a problem letting someone else do their writing for them.  They understandably have a moral problem presenting an article as theirs when it was written by someone else.

But is it any different than letting someone else write your speech?

The ghostwriter is merely a translator, taking factual information from experts and presenting it in a manner that makes it easier to understand and, hopefully, more entertaining than if the experts wrote it themselves.

Ghostwriting is not without its challenges.  Some experts are horrified when they read their thoughts translated into English.

Many attorneys, accountants, doctors, engineers and other professionals are most comfortable with a language other than English.  If something with their name on it is written in a language that the average reader will understand, it’s a shock to their system.  They worry that someone may think they’re intellectually challenged.

Fortunately, professionals who are secure with themselves usually recognize the value of the ghostwriter.  “C” level executives rarely make extensive edits to my writing; lower-level managers sometimes do.

Those who let us ghosts do our job are rewarded.  They can save the time they would otherwise spend writing an article.  The probability that their article will be published is high, since it was professionally written.  And they may even get compliments from readers who are impressed by how well they write.

Those who have a problem letting someone else do their writing should stop being scared of ghosts.

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