What’s ghostwriting? Is it ethical? Is it legal?
Many business owners or managers, tired of seeing how other users’ posts go viral so easily on social media while theirs get lost in the shuffle, start considering ghostwriting.
A lot of people and brands use ghostwriters to create content on their behalf, and there’s no shame in it. In fact, ghostwriting can be a very honourable practice – as long as you’re transparent about it.
The practice of ghostwriting has been around for centuries and was commonly used in fields such as politics, entertainment, and academia. However, with the rise of the digital age, ghostwriting has become a popular way for users all over the world to improve their online presence and grow their businesses.
But, what’s ghostwriting?
In this post:
- What’s ghostwriting?
- What’s a ghostwriter?
- Why do people hire ghostwriters?
- Is ghostwriting ethical?
- Is ghostwriting legal?
- Ghostwriting in literature
- What should I look for when hiring a ghostwriter?
- Privacy issues: how to deal with confidential information
Ghostwriting is the practice of writing content for other people, who will then post it as if it was their own. It’s a common practice in many industries, and it can be an excellent way to get high-quality content without having to spend hours in front of the computer screen yourself.
What’s a ghostwriter?
A ghostwriter is a professional writer who is hired to create content on behalf of someone else. They are skilled in various writing styles and genres and have the ability to capture the voice and tone of their clients. Ghostwriters are essentially the invisible hand behind many articles, blog posts, books, speeches, and other written materials that are attributed to someone else.
The role of a ghostwriter goes beyond simply putting words on paper. They often work closely with their clients to understand their ideas, objectives, and desired outcomes. This collaboration allows the ghostwriter to effectively convey the client’s message in a way that resonates with the intended audience.
As the name implies, ghostwriting is usually a highly confidential arrangement. The person who writes the content doesn’t put their name on it. A ghostwriter agrees to waive all rights, once they receive payment, to the content they produce. Instead, they remain “in the background” while you take all the credit (and the traffic, and the conversions!). Have you watched the film The Wife, with Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce? Well, that kind of thing. In other words, the true author’s identity is a mystery.
Examples of works created by ghostwriters
We normally associate the concept of ghostwriting with celebrity memoirs, but ghostwriters provide services for all kinds of content, not just published writing:
- Blog posts
- Business books
- White papers
- Magazine articles
- … and many more.
Why do people hire ghostwriters?
There are several reasons why individuals and organisations choose to hire ghostwriters. Here are a few common motivations:
- Time constraints: Many busy professionals simply don’t have the luxury of dedicating hours to writing content. Hiring a ghostwriter allows them to focus on their core responsibilities while still producing high-quality written material.
- Writing expertise: Not everyone possesses the skill or confidence to articulate their thoughts effectively in writing. They may have valuable expertise or unique stories to share but lack the writing skills to bring their ideas to life. Ghostwriters can collaborate with these individuals, drawing out their knowledge and experiences and transforming them into compelling narratives.
- Overcoming writer’s block: Even experienced writers occasionally encounter writer’s block, where they struggle to generate ideas or articulate their thoughts. Ghostwriters can step in to help overcome these creative hurdles and provide fresh perspectives and inspiration.
- Confidentiality: Ghostwriters are bound by confidentiality agreements, which means they keep the client’s identity and involvement confidential. This allows some people to engage in unethical practices to their own advantage, like academic ghostwriting, where students hire ghostwriters to help them with their assignments, essays, or research papers.
Is ghostwriting ethical?
The ethics of ghostwriting can be a topic of debate. Some argue that it is deceptive or dishonest to present someone else’s work as your own, while others view it as a legitimate service that helps individuals and organizations communicate effectively.
So, is ghostwriting cheating? The ethical implications of ghostwriting often depend on the context and the intentions behind it. If the purpose is to deceive the audience or misrepresent the author’s expertise, then it can be considered unethical. However, if the content is produced with transparency and integrity, the ethical concerns may be mitigated.
Let’s look at this this way:
Architects know how to design buildings, but they don’t usually lay the bricks themselves. They hire “ghostworkers” (masons, carpenters, electricians, etc.) to do that for them. Similarly, a clothing designer may sketch out their ideas and send them off to a ghostworker to be made into reality.
We could say that, in all of these cases, the people who are doing the “real” work aren’t getting the credit they deserve because their names aren’t on the final product. Outsourcing work is a perfectly normal and accepted practice in many industries, so it’s hard to argue that ghostwriting is inherently cheating, especially when writing is a field many professionals don’t master (and they don’t have to).
Architects know how to design, clothing designers know how to create fashion, but usually they don’t master the art of writing. A ghostwriter is that link between the knowledge of the professional in their field and the ability to communicate it to their audience and grow awareness. And most importantly, they knowingly enter into this agreement, in which they receive payment for their work.
When does ghostwriting become unethical?
While ghostwriting is inherently ethical there are some cases where it can become unethical.
The field of academic studies or research
In these cases, a ghostwriter writes papers and presentations that are then published with the name of a person who didn’t actually do the work. This isn’t just misleading: it constitutes a form of plagiarism, misconduct, and cheating. It’s a completely different story to ghostwriting a blog post for marketing purposes. Imagine a scholar receives a job or promotion based on the ghostwritten papers – that would be unfair.
Misrepresentation of the person paying for the ghostwritten content
Another case where ghostwriting can cross the line into unethical territory is when the person who’s paying for the content uses it to misrepresent themselves. For example, if they’re hiring a ghostwriter to help them build a portfolio of articles to get a job as a columnist, but they don’t mention that they didn’t write the articles themselves, that would be dishonest. Also, who guarantees the ghostwriter will keep quiet and respect confidentiality? There have been cases where they violated it!
Any dishonest use of ghostwritten content
The key here is transparency. As long as everyone involved knows that the content was ghostwritten and there’s no attempt to mislead anyone, ghostwriting can be a perfectly ethical way to get high-quality content. Companies of all sizes who are established as institutions regularly publish content across different platforms by relying on copywriters. The public rarely finds out the names of these copywriters (and editors). And that’s perfectly fine.
Is ghostwriting legal?
In general, ghostwriting is legal because it constitutes an outsourced service, although the legality of ghostwriting may vary depending on the context and the jurisdiction.
The fact is that there are no specific laws that directly address the practice of ghostwriting itself. Instead, the legal issues associated with ghostwriting tend to be related to copyright, contract, and intellectual property rights.
When engaging in ghostwriting, it is essential to have clear agreements in place between the client and the ghostwriter regarding ownership, attribution, and usage rights of the written content. These agreements should address issues such as whether the client will claim authorship, how the work will be attributed, and any restrictions on its use or distribution.
Ghostwriting in literature
Some people argue that literary ghostwriting is fraudulent. They say that the consuming public will spend money on something not worth it. They think that ghostwritten books are a way to make quick money without contributing anything of value.
The question then becomes: Does it matter who wrote the book, as long as the book is good? This debate has been around for a long time, and there’s no easy answer. Some people believe that ghostwritten books are “fake” because the actual author’s name isn’t on them. Others believe that ghostwritten books can be just as valid as any other book, as long as they’re well-written and provide value to the reader.
Sometimes, the public is aware of the situation. In the Millennium saga by Stieg Larsson, for example, Larsson died before finishing the last book. He only left a draft! So his family hired a different author to finish the book, but the public knew it.
Those in favour of ghostwriting in literature argue that, the author and the ghostwriter work in complete synergy. The ghostwriter faithfully reflects what the author would have said if they had the time, talent or patience to write the piece themselves. When you think of it this way, the conclusion is that ghostwritten books can be just as “real” as any other book.
Why should I hire a ghostwriter?
As a business owner or marketer, chances are that you’re always looking for new and innovative ways to get your message across to potential customers. However, you may not have the time or resources to create all the content you need on your own. This is where ghostwriting comes in.
Hiring a ghostwriter can save you a lot of time and hassle. With a ghostwriter, you can outsource the task of creating high-quality content to someone who’s an expert at it. In other words, you get the content you need without sacrificing your valuable time.
Ghostwriters are professionals who know how to research and boost your content in a way that resonates with your target audience. Not only that, but ghostwriters can help you to create content that’s optimised for search engines, which can help you to attract more traffic to your site and improve your chances of conversion.
And, if you’re worried about ghostwriting being dishonest, don’t be. As long as you’re upfront about the arrangement with your ghostwriter and you aren’t using hostwritten content to mislead people, there’s nothing wrong with it. There’s no reason why ghostwriting can’t be an ethical way to get your ideas in good shape for a wider audience.
There are many reasons why you might want to consider hiring a ghostwriter for your social media marketing campaign. Here are just a few:
- You don’t have time to write yourself
- You have good ideas but need help putting them into words
- You want to make sure your content is high quality and error-free
- You’re not a confident writer
- You want to add a professional ghostwriter’s touch to your project
- You simply can’t make your message across in the way that you want to
If any of these sound like you, then ghostwriting could be a great option for your next social media marketing campaign.
What should I look for when hiring a ghostwriter?
When you’re looking to hire a ghostwriter for marketing purposes, there are a few things you should keep in mind. Here are just a few:
- If you’re hiring them for social media posts, make sure they have experience ghostwriting for social media. While any good ghostwriter will be able to write engaging and compelling copy, not all of them will have experience crafting content specifically for social media platforms.
- Similarly, if blog posts are what you’re after, make sure the ghostwriter has experience with this type of content as well. Again, while ghostwriters are generally good at writing all types of copy, some may be better equipped to handle specific types of content.
- Check out their previous work. A good ghostwriter should be able to provide you with examples of their previous work, so that you can get an idea of their style and see if it’s a good fit for your needs. While NDAs (non-disclosure agreements) may prevent them from sharing ghostwritten work they’ve done for other clients, they should be able to share work they’ve done for themselves or other projects.
- Make sure they understand your brand voice. The whole point of ghostwriting is that the person you hire will be able to capture your brand voice and tone in their writing. The best way to do this is to provide them with some examples of content that represents your brand voice, so that they can get a feel for what you’re looking for.
- Finally, make sure you’re on the same page in terms of what you expect from the ghostwriter. Be clear about deadlines, deliverables, and any other expectations you have for the project. This will help to avoid any misunderstandings down the road. ghostwriting can be a great way to get high-quality content for your social media marketing campaign
Privacy issues: how to deal with confidential information
When you work with ghostwriters, sometimes you need to share confidential information about your business with them, for example for projects like case studies. If your ghostwriter is also in charge of managing your social media, they may also have access to login information for your accounts.
In these situations, it’s important to have a ghostwriting agreement in place that stipulates how this information will be used and protected. These non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) will help to protect your business and give you peace of mind that your confidential information is in good hands. The agreement should cover things like:
- What information can be shared and what needs to stay confidential
- How the ghostwriter will use the information
- What will happen to the information once the project is completed
By putting these things in writing, you can rest assured that your confidential information will be safe and won’t be used in a way that you’re not comfortable with.
Ghostwriting examples in marketing
The range of content ghostwriters can create is vast, but there are some types of content that are more popular than others. Here are just a few examples:
- Blog posts: Many businesses hire ghostwriters to create blog content for them. This can be a great way to keep your blog active and fresh without taking up all of your time. Besides, it takes a lot of time and effort to produce meaningful blog content on a regular basis. Just provide your ghostwriter with a topic or general idea, and they’ll take care of the rest.
- White papers: White papers are a great way to show off your company’s expertise and generate leads. But they can be quite time-consuming to produce, which is where ghostwriters come in. A ghostwriter can help you to put together a well-researched and thought-provoking white paper that will showcase your business in a positive light.
- eBooks: eBooks are another popular type of content that ghostwriters can help with. If you’ve ever thought about writing an eBook but don’t have the time or energy to do it, a ghostwriter can take care of it for you. Some eBooks are as short as 20 pages, while others can be 100 pages or more. No matter what length you’re looking for, a ghostwriter can help you to create a high-quality eBook that will appeal to your target audience.
- LinkedIn or other social media posts: Ghostwriters can also help you create posts for LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook. If you keep posting content but can’t create engagement among your audience, you may not know how to put your finger on what’s wrong. A ghostwriter can help you to create social media posts that are both informative and engaging, giving your audience the valuable content they crave while also helping you to build a strong relationship with them.
- Audiovisual content: Ghostwriters can also help you to create your scripts for audiovisual content like podcasts, webinars, or even video marketing content. These types of content are becoming increasingly popular, so it’s important to make sure that your scripts are well-written and engaging. A ghostwriter can help you to create a script that will capture your audience’s attention and keep them coming back for more.
As we’ve seen, ghostwriting is ethical as long as you use it without the intention to deceive. It can be a great way to get the content you need without having to do all the work yourself – and the return on investment can be well worth it. Conversion rates can improve, sales can go up, and your audience will be more engaged with your brand.
It’s important to remember, though, that ghostwriters are not mind readers. In order to get the best results, you’ll need to provide them with clear instructions and expectations. The more specific you are, the better the final product will be.
If you’re thinking about hiring a ghostwriter, we hope this article has given you a better understanding of what they can do for you and how to make ghostwriting work for you without deceiving your audience.
And here are some other articles you might find helpful:
- Cultural Influence on Search Behaviour and Why It Matters for SEO
- How to Use Neuromarketing to Improve Conversions
- Gender-Neutral Language: The Proven Marketing Benefits
- Translating a Website: The Ultimate Guide for Business Owners
Author: Maria Scheibengraf
Maria Scheibengraf is an English-to-Spanish marketing and SEO translator specialised in software (SaaS, martech, fintech), and Operations Manager at Crisol Translation Services, which she co-founded in 2016. With a solid background in programming and marketing, Maria has an in-depth understanding of the technical intricacies involved in software programs, websites, and digital platforms. Maria is also the author of The SEO Translation Bible.