Is Ghost Writing Unethical?

“You’re a business ghost writer? Isn’t that…shady?”ghost writing ethics

If I had a dime for every time I heard that response at networking events I’d certainly not need to freelance any more. But I’m used to it. You see, I spent most of my career in public relations, a field with its own negative connotations. It seems the people who think all public relations professionals are “spin doctors” are the same people who believe writers who help others artfully craft their thoughts are unethical flacks.

Rest assured, though, if you’re interested in writing on behalf of others or are in need of hiring a writer yourself: There’s no shame in it. Just be aware of what ghost writing is and what it isn’t first.

  1. Ghost writing is a legitimate profession.
    I’ve worked long hours as a communications agency account executive. I’ve been a PR manager for nonprofits. I’ve run my own PR consultancy. It’s only now—as a freelance ghost writer who works an average 20-30 hours each week—that I’m finally reaching my income goals.What’s more, my work is steady. I’ve had many of the same clients for more than 3 years, my client load is nicely distributed (so if one client “goes away,” I can still pay my bills), and I often know exactly what’s on my plate months in advance. No matter how you slice it, ghost writing—for me—has been a solid, reliable career path.
  1. A ghost writer is somewhat different from a content provider.
    I could easily call myself a content provider or some other trendy name but I don’t. That’s because I feel the term “executive ghost writer” best reflects what I do and why I do it. First, I prefer to work directly with executives and business owners—helping them craft pieces that come “from them,” with their vision and voice. Second, with my experience in public relations, I approach business writing from a thought leadership perspective.I’m not a sales professional or even a digital marketing guru, although I will—at times—find myself writing sales materials and writing exclusively for SEO or conversion purposes for my clients. Other business writers are specialists in those areas, but I’m focused, first and foremost, on elevating the exposure and influence of the person I’m writing for.
  2. There is an ethical—and an unethical—way of doing things.
    Allow me to get on my soap box. I truly chuckle when someone questions the ethics of what I do. I get it: There are ghost writers walking this Earth who don’t believe in an approval process; whose clients have no idea what is being published with their name attached to it. I’ve heard rumors about certain celebrities being surprised about what’s written in their own autobiographies AFTER they are published, for example. But what executive wants to operate that way?For my regular clients, I often create a 6-month (or longer) editorial calendar for planning purposes. Then, every month, I sit down with the executive or business owner and discuss what exactly they want to convey in the blog, article, brief or other piece we’ll be creating. Again, it’s their own vision and voice. After it’s written, I insist on the client reviewing and approving the piece. Everything that is published is approved by the person with their name attached. Always.

In the end, the pieces I’ve ghost written for my clients include their input and approval. Often, most of my legwork includes adding research and other details to support their viewpoint. In the end, my clients come to rely on me because I’m able to help them communicate what they’re thinking without the grammatical mistakes, unclear structure or seemingly baseless claims that are likely to crop up if they wrote the pieces themselves. Plus, it saves them valuable time and effort.

In every profession, there are ethical and unethical ways of doing things. Ghost writing is as legitimate as they come. Executives, doctors, attorneys, engineers and other professionals—for the most part—are not writers. Just as you have plenty of service providers helping you get through your own professional and personal life, smart, savvy business people with plenty to say simply need help saying it the best way. Those who say it best often have someone by their side digging out all the gooey goodness from the inner depths of their frontal lobes. If you crave seeing your name in lights (or on a byline), ghost writing isn’t for you. But it’s a great fit for me and I’m not ashamed to step in front of the curtain (just this once) to declare my love.

LuAnn Glowacz

LuAnn is an executive ghost writer, editor and communications consultant. As the owner of WordCove, she helps CEOs and business owners share their brilliant minds with the world. Learn more at www.wordcove.com

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