Pros and Cons of Ghostwriting

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on June 26, 2008 in Freelance Writing Business
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I nearly always prefer bylined projects when it comes to writing content. At the same time, I do quite a bit of ghostwriting as a freelance writer. Today I want to talk a little bit about ghostwriting, why I sometimes avoid it, and why I occasionally love it.

Problems with Ghostwriting

The obvious drawback to ghostwriting is that you get no public credit. If you run a writing business that revolves around your personal reputation, you want as much credited work out there as possible.

In some cases you won't even be allowed to use the ghostwritten material in a portfolio (even a private portfolio sent directly to prospective clients). While some ghostwriting clients will allow you to do this, others require that you sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA), meaning you can never claim involvement with the project, claim authorship, or imply the listed author isn't in fact the author at all. Even without an NDA, you would need the client's permission to claim authorship to prospective clients. This can be a problem if all of your work is ghostwritten, and you're struggling to find clients willing to let you use portfolio samples.

There are, of course, exceptions  - for example, when I write press releases, it's generally understood that the client's name and contact info will be present (as a media contact rather than an author). Yet, you would be hard-pressed to find a client that would complain if you used something like a press release in a portfolio. The same would likely be true of other types of business writing such as marketing materials (like brochures).

Reasons to Love Ghostwriting

Not being publicly credited is a big reason to avoid ghostwriting if that's important to you (as it may be for writers more solely focused on content writing). However, ghostwriting has its perks.

For starters, I couldn't write press releases (which I love) if I insisted on only writing bylined pieces.


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Additionally, I ghostwrite articles on several subjects from green business to finance topics. While they fit within my overall specialty of writing business-oriented content, and while I also cover them on some of my own blogs and websites, they're really not the primary focus for me. They're not the segments of my niche that I'm overly concerned with when it comes to building public exposure. On the other hand, it would be very unlikely for me to write about PR issues as a ghostwriter, because that is a primary focus, an a topic where I want my name attached as an "expert" source.

Another possible benefit would be for those who prefer being generalists (you know by now that I don't). You can write about new topics without having to worry about public perceptions tied to your author name attached to them.

Along those lines, ghostwriting can be an option for people with more than one specialty. Let's say you're a teacher, and your primary specialty is writing about secondary education issues. Most of the work you publish in that niche is bylined, and you've build a reputation around your writing in that area. However, you also have a "secret" passion for politics. You know enough to write about political issues, but maybe you're afraid that your political views would alienate readers familiar with your more formal writing on education. You can still follow that passion with your writing without having the two areas associated with each other by working as a ghostwriter for your political pieces.

What do you think of ghostwriting? Do you refuse to take on ghostwritten projects? Do you exclusively work as a ghostwriter? What challenges have you faced in ghostwriting, and how can similar writers work around them? Are there other reasons you love (or hate) it? Share your thoughts.

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Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, and indie author. She began writing for clients in 1999 and started her first blog in 2004.

She owns 3 Beat Media - a publishing and client services company which operates All Indie Writers as well as several other websites and blogs including The Busy Author's Guide and BizAmmo. Jenn comes from a background in online PR and social media consulting, having owned a small PR firm for several years before choosing to pursue a full-time writing and publishing career.

Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names in the areas of children's fiction, mysteries, and horror fiction. Jenn is an active member of the Horror Writers Association (HWA) and currently serves as the organization's Assistant Coordinator of Promotions and Social Media.


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5 Comments

  1. Lillie Ammann June 27, 2008 Reply

    Jenn,
    I write a lot for business clients, so I don’t get a byline for policy manuals, proposals, etc., which is fine with me. I ghost-write some articles for regular clients because I know them and their businesses well enough that I can write what they would say. I would not be comfortable ghostwriting a book or anything else that didn’t include some input from the “author.” I often edit work by people who have good ideas but are poor writers, which involves a lot of heavy rewriting. However, I’m working with the client’s information or story.

  2. Tina June 27, 2008 Reply

    A lot of my projects involve ghostwriting articles and books. My clients are professionals who don’t have the time or (perhaps) the talent to write something on their own. Typically, they have research material, notes, etc. and I create the written product from that. The upside – can be good money, and in a couple instances, the client wanted to change a few things here and there that honestly I thought made the flow poor…so in that case, I’m grateful that my name is not on the end product. The downside – I don’t get to use my work in my portfolio so I have few samples to show prospective clients…
    Overall, however, I enjoy ghostwriting.

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