I ghostwrite for several clients. I also publish work in various niche markets under pseudonyms. It never occurred to me that some people might consider ghostwriting unethical. Even in this age of transparency, ghostwriting is an accepted convention.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, what exactly is ghostwriting? Ghostwriting means writing something for someone else, with their name on it. The client receives all the credit, and the writer gets paid. Ghostwriting often pays better than bylined work, since you don’t get any recognition and can’t use the work in your portfolio.
A writer can ghostwrite:
- books (fiction or non-fiction)
- blog posts
Anything that can be written, can be written by a ghostwriter. Ghostwriting arrangements can work in a few different ways:
- The client gives you a topic and you write the article based on research and references the client provides;
- The client provides a title and outline, and you flesh it out into a complete piece
- You interview the client and, based on the information he provides, you write the piece with his name on it.
Challenges of Ghostwriting
To be a successful ghostwriter, you must be:
- able to adopt your client’s â€œvoice;â€
- discreet; no one can know you created the work;
- able to set aside your ego.
I remember the first time I ghostwrote an article. The client forwarded me an emailed conversation in which he received — and accepted — a compliment for the article. Seeing someone else take credit for my work stung a little at first but I realize that, by forwarding the email to me, he was passing the compliment on to its rightful owner. A good ghostwriting relationship is one in which a writer feels well-respected and well-compensated.
Is it Ethical?
Ghostwriting is an accepted business practice — but is it ethical for someone to pass your work off as their own? I believe so. Many intelligent professionals in a variety of field either can’t — or choose not to — write well. Some don’t have time; others lack the passion for it.
Ghostwriting is another form of marketing and is as ethical as writing ad copy. If your article directs traffic to the client’s website and, as a result, someone hires your client, the client is being selected on the basis of the services he provides–for his knowledge, not his writing ability. If I hire a bookkeeper, I don’t care if the person can write or not.
Of course, exceptions exist. It’s unethical to write a query letter for another writer. The person is being judged on their writing ability, and writing a query for another writer would be misrepresenting that person’s skills. Writing college papers for someone else is completely unethical, against college policy and possibly illegal, too.
Can you think of other situations where ghostwriting might be unethical? Would you consider ghostwriting articles to help a professional market a business? What about ghostwriting a book for a celebrity?