By: Christopher G. Fox, PhD
Ghostwriter to the Rescue
While I have not seen any specific studies, it is not unreasonable to assume that the majority of C-level executives do not develop their own articles or speeches. In my own experience, most people with a significant span of responsibilities within a company prefer not to devote time to writing. They are engaged in the process of drafting material, but they highly value having a ghostwriter to support them.
That’s where we, as writers, can potentially help. This type of job-based writing may not sound appealing to every writer; however, it offers us an opportunity to contribute our skills in unexpected and often remunerative ways.
For executives, the challenge lies in finding the right person to fit this role of a ghostwriter for the busy executive or thought leader.
Here’s a simple guide to help understand what they are looking for, and how to become the right partner for a ghostwriting client.
1. Can you hear your client’s voice?
When someone is putting their name on an article or delivering a speech, they want to sound like themselves. The end product should be a refined and perfected version of the way they speak. It should feel authentic.
Fiction writers have an advantage as they create voices for their characters and are therefore more accustomed to different word choices, sentence length, use of humor, and overall tones. That ability to write in multiple voices is a huge advantage for writers who work on fiction, actually.
This ability becomes visible in factors such as word choice, sentence length, use of humor, and overall tone. It is just a short step from fiction, creative, and dramatic writing to applying those skills as a professional ghostwriter. Here are some especially helpful tips on developing a voice.
However, the end product should fit your client’s way of approaching a topic. It should stick close to the way they connect ideas and the kinds of logic they use to get from a point to a conclusion. Once again, our fiction skills come to bear here. If we practice learning how to get inside a character’s mind and really plot out the way they think and act, we can activate that skill as a form of empathy, too.
Also, an expert ghostwriter will be able to pull together cues from the way that the client communicates in emails. Listen to how they speak, read any previous articles, or look at their overall demeanor if you can visit with them in person.
One professional secret to keep in mind if you pursue ghostwriting: the marketing or communications department can become your best friend. Be sure to cross-check any work you do with the brand voice and brand messages of your client’s organization. Not only will it speed the process of revision and approval, but it also helps position you for repeat work. For more on brand voice, read this.
From overarching messages to the actual wording, the ghostwriter’s product will come across as something that comes from their client. Your ability to take a client through this process in a structured manner will put you far ahead of other people competing for the same work.
2. Do you know the client’s field well enough?
There are plenty of generic writers out there or writers whose experience focuses on specific industries. However, If you want to be able to meet clients where they are, you must be conversant in their specific field. That includes industry knowledge, familiarity with key trends, and understanding and familiarity with the desired audience. At a minimum, you should brush up on this by reading as much as you can on the topic one to two weeks before your first meeting. Here is a short guide for learning almost anything in 48 hours.
Knowing these difference mean you can deliver the right messages in a way that optimizes the needs of their audience.
Basic facility with the technicalities of writing matters, but for the most part, clients take that for granted. Beyond that, they expect a level of subject-matter expertise so that what they wish to communicate makes full sense to you.
3. Can you ask questions to clarify your client’s thinking?
When questioning your client, think of yourself as a hard-hitting journalist. Not to mix metaphors, but being a ghostwriter also means being a bit of a chameleon. You play many roles. The ability to ask probing and relevant questions is a complement to subject area competence discussed above. Use active listening techniques. A strong ghostwriter pushes their client toward clarity of thinking and purpose.
Tough questions you should ask include:
- How is that different from what company X or expert Y said?
- What are some examples and counter-examples of that?
- Why is that important?
- What is the logic behind that?
- What is another way to look at that?
In other words, your goal is to pressure test what your client says. Also, you must distill the answers to those questions into an apparent trajectory for the final output. They will boil down to a vision for what people should know, do, feel, and decide after they hear or read what you are writing on the client’s behalf.
4. Do you aim true?
Finally, nothing is more frustrating for a client than receiving the first draft, and feeling like it is fundamentally off-base. While some ghostwriters can correct course quickly after missing the goal on a first draft, ideally, the first draft should come quite close to the final product.
A close-to-final draft indicates that you have heard your client’s voice, you know their field, and you clarified their thinking. In that sense, it provides reassurance that the process worked, and that builds trust.
Also, having a close first draft streamlines the process. If your goal as a ghostwriter is to save your client time and effort and to finish a job within a fixed amount of time at a fair rate for yourself, multiple rounds of major revision end up missing the mark.
Engaging a ghostwriter can be an uncertain process for both the writer and the client. It is hard for clients to feel confident that what they will get at the end is something they will be proud to stand behind as the named author. It is also hard for ghostwriters to find the right mix of empathy and writing skills to get the job done.
By examining these four questions upfront, you will have better outcomes, as well as a better experience throughout the writing process.
Even though ghostwriting may not be for every writer, it can actually work out as more than a way to pay the bills. It becomes a way to hone craft as well.
Christopher G. Fox, Ph. D. is a writer and communications strategist living in Los Angeles. He works with executives and subject matter experts to help them build reputations through messages, conversations, stories, and thought leadership.
His website, Syncresis® is a consultancy focused on thought leadership, patient communication, and content strategy. Its unique virtual operating model means that teams are purpose-built to the needs of a specific client and project.
He is also the creator of Kindness Communication®, which promotes the idea that the worlds we move in can be better places if we make kindness the core of how we operate.
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