Aside from a handful of James Bond novels and a pocket guide to Jethro Tull, Raymond Benson’s most famous work just so happens to be a Tom Clancy spy-thriller.
For millennials of a certain age, the term “ghost writer” draws up a spooky and, in retrospect, painfully hokey educational TV show from the mid-nineties. But it’s also been an incredibly common content-outsourcing practice for a long time, including some very well-known pieces of literature.
Ghostwriting has become increasingly popular in the content marketing world as well. Chief executives and influencers from every industry want to get their voices and opinions heard but either don’t have the time or the skills to put their thoughts into words.
Thankfully, this need presents a unique opportunity for content creators to make it happen. Though it can be very challenging, it’s certainly not impossible. Here are four tips to help you become a successful ghostwriter.
1. Have a conversation
Just because the credited author isn’t writing the piece doesn’t mean they don’t have strong opinions on the topic.
Many companies go to great lengths assembling detailed brand manuals and thoroughly pondered style guides to help out those communicating for them. Individuals, on the other hand, don’t come with such materials. This serves as both the first challenge and opportunity in successful ghostwriting.
Interact with the credited author. Ghostwriting for an individual gives a writer the unique opportunity to have a person-to-person conversation. Ask the credited author questions about the topic and pay close attention to their unique opinions, personality, speaking style and vocabulary. These are characteristics an individual will possess that the brand will not.
You might not be able to sit down with them for a 2-hour conversation over dinner, but even a 15–20-minute phone conversation can help you get a better feel for what they want to say.
2. Take lots of notes
A big fear people have regarding ghostwritten projects is the possible lack of an individual spark.
“The biggest negative, for me, was the voice and tone the writing took,” Moz CEO, Rand Fishkin, said of a ghostwritten project, according to Demian Farnworth. “There was nothing technically wrong with the content, but some of the magic was missing.”
I’d say that’s a pretty reasonable fear. That’s where a good set of notes comes in handy.
Whether you’re having that conversation with the credited author, reading other content they’ve written or getting some feedback, quick and thorough notes are an extremely effective way to capture their unique perspective. Unlike internet research, those important details are crucial to the “magic” and won’t be captured unless you write them down.
3. Know the audience
The plot thickens.
Usually, blog content ends up published on a company blog page or perhaps a special landing page dedicated to thoughts from the CMO. Ghostwritten content, at least in our experience, is often meant for some other place entirely.
It could be for an industry blog or for a special circle of other movers and shakers. Make sure you know exactly where this article will be published and how the credited author fits into that audience.
4. Use an outline
Just as the credited author will have opinions on the topic, they will certainly have an opinion about how they come off.
Outlines are helpful for any writing project, and they can be particularly useful in this aspect of ghostwriting.
After you’ve taken an obscene amount of notes, drafting an outline can help you organize your thoughts for the piece and also give the credited author a first look at how you plan to tackle the subject. Detail the points you tend to make on their behalf as well as how you’ll make them. Yes, the piece will most likely be reviewed before it’s published, but personality and tone are weaved in throughout an entire article and thus are very difficult to alter after it is completed.
Giving your subject an opportunity to see and give feedback before you write will almost always mean fewer headaches on the back end.
Despite its spooky and ominous name, ghostwriting is very common in content and influencer marketing circles, and it’s something we encounter often. In fact, we have some award-winning ghostwriters on the Brandpoint Writing Team.
It’s a practice more nuanced than standard content writing. But if you take care and follow these four tips, you’ll have the tools you need to put anything into someone else’s words.
If you’re looking to bolster your own blog, check out these three strategies for establishing credibility in your content.