Ghost-writing: a ghastly profession?

copywritingI was catching up with a friend of a few weeks ago, and I told him that I’m a copywriter, but that I could also be defined as a ‘ghostwriter’ (incidentally, ‘ghostwriter’ is a ridiculously cool job title.) He’s heard of ‘ghostwriters’, and starts telling me what a marketing farce of a profession it is, and how it legitimises plagiarism. I’m taken aback.

What is a ghostwriter anyway? Well, I define myself as a copywriter because I write material (‘copy’) for publication (in my case, as blogs online), often with my own name in the byline. A ghostwriter takes this and adds another aspect: anonymity. This is often needed in cases where the work is to be attached to an institutional publication, or if the writer is writing on behalf of a client.

Now, this anonymity is controversial. If a marketable name takes the work of a ghostwriter and claims it as their own, there are understandable issues of credibility there. This particular brand of ghostwriting put Gwyneth Paltrow in an awkward position when her ghostwriter, Julia Moskin, wrote an expose on the profession. Paltrow, who published a cookbook in 2011, claims to have written every word herself, and Moskin doesn’t deny this, saying that the ‘ghostwriting’ she has been involved in is the “routine work of wrestling hot, messy, complicated recipes onto the page in comprehensible English. That work can include transcribing scribbled notes into logical sentences. Measuring out ingredients and putting them in order. Producing the routine bits of the book like the glossary and the guide to ingredients”.

In this case, the book is often dictated or a collaborative effort between the ‘big name’ and the writer. Is that really so bad? In these cases, the writer then becomes the facilitator, much like how session musicians come in and add to pop records but remain uncredited. This is common practice in many professions.

Whilst Moskin’s New York Times articles talks about the exploitation of ghostwriters, others in the profession talk about the joy of being able to contribute to successful publications. Ghostwriter Catherine Knepper talks of the way she helps facilitate those writers that would otherwise remain in obscurity to find their way to publication, saying: “I really adore helping people get a book on the shelf”.

However, these are all big name examples, and the fact that these processes are often collaborative takes the edge off the controversy a bit. The problem with ghostwriting on a digital level is that an individual can regularly create posts for an organisation without knowing very much about it, and without the person they are supposed to be even reading their posts. Also, because these ghostwriters are not directly involved in the actual company, they become the outsider responsible for creating part of the online persona of the organisation.

However, I think that there are far more clear-cut ills present in the world of blogging. Copywriters are preferable to lazy executives who are forced to write blogs: literally resorting to copying and pasting from other blogs to save time (I’ve seen it!). So, when you see someone decrying ghostwriters, think: that ghostwriter had to work hard to create that copy, and surely that’s better than a ‘big name’ creating something half-arsed in order to fit the writing into their schedule?

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