When you think of a ‘ghostwriter,’ more often than not you imagine someone hidden away in a dark room tapping out some C-list celeb’s latest ‘autobiography,’ right?
Well you may be surprised to know that ghostwriters are doing a lot more than you think; in fact, this very article was created by a ghostwriter!
That’s a lie. I was just joking for dramatic effect – I’m writing it myself, I swear.
There was scandal earlier on this year when it turned out YouTube sensation Zoella’s book, Girl Online, had been ghostwritten – but did you know that many of R.L Stine’s Goosebumps books were written by various ghostwriters? Hell, even The Diary of Anne Frank wasn’t written by Anne Frank.
And it’s not just books – a number of CEOs, online personalities and experts have ghostwriters updating their blogs and even Twitter accounts on a regular basis. Is anyone else experiencing serious trust issues right now?
See? Another joke! I’m a joker!
But isn’t ghostwriting unethical?
Some people criticise the use of ghostwriters, but the ethics surrounding this issue are definitely in the grey zone. It really depends on how you look at it.
For example, a person has a really great idea for an article, but is lacking the writing talents needed to complete the project and hires a ghostwriter. Do you consider that drastically different to a blogger hiring a techie to build their site? Or a graphic designer to create their logos, banners and PDFs?
The blogger doesn’t advertise the fact someone else completed those specific tasks – they just take credit for the finished product that was built from their vision and project management skills. Those freelancers were just fulfilling tasks needed to make another person’s great idea a reality.
Who uses ghostwriters on a regular basis?
Many successful bloggers, online personalities, politicians and CEOs have amazing ideas, but are lacking the time it takes to research and format engaging articles, emails or sales letters on a regular basis. Hiring someone who can write these pieces for them ensures their audience is still benefiting from the client’s ideas and knowledge, while the client is free to use their time more efficiently.
Similarly a start-up business or industry expert may be lacking the time and talent it takes to create SEO-friendly content that will draw people to their site and hire some help. The client comes up with each article idea and reviews the finished topic to make sure it’s top-notch – the ghostwriter just did the research and made it look pretty.
Even in the case of ‘autobiographies,’ we know that the ‘celebrity’ has told their story and someone else has just styled it into a readable format – the unique information we’re looking for is there and that came from the person who’s name is on the cover.
When is ghostwriting unethical?
As with ethics in general, there is no ‘black and white’ answer to this question. It is an undoubtedly grey area, but in my mind, here’s where things veer into unethical territory.
1. The Story of Zoella
In Zoella’s case, the promotional campaign around the launch of that book was: “Omg, the super-young, super-talented YouTube sensation Zoella is releasing her super-awesome debut novel.”
People bought Girl Online because the vlogger had written it herself. It wasn’t a guide to being like her or some generic beauty eBook – it was a fiction novel their favourite YouTube star just wrote. – or so they thought. If something is being bought solely because you think that person has written it themselves, that’s a problem.
2. Outright denial
If someone designs a logo for me, I’m not going to shout this from a rooftop. I’m going to take the item I envisioned and paid for, put it on my site and be done with it. BUT if someone asks me if I created it myself, I’ll say: “Hell no, it was this awesome person!”
If you’re challenged about who wrote your book/article/etc, and you flat-out lie, that’s a problem.
3. You’re not qualified
You claim to be an expert in A, B or C, but actually have no idea what you’re talking about. Meanwhile your poor ghostwriter is researching and creating lots of content on the topics you claim to be an authority on. You, sir, are a fraud and your ghostwriter is the real person with the knowledge and talent, so if you’re taking full credit for their work, you’re wading through some murky depths.
4. You don’t refer
No one expects you to publish your ghostwriter’s name on every piece, but you should be giving your talented collaborator some promotion when you can. If you know people looking for ghostwriters or even copywriters, recommend the person you’re working with. Don’t hide them away like a dirty secret.
Since ghostwriters create content under other people’s names and brands, it’s hard for them to get exposure and extra freelance work, so help them out.
The Final Word: Is ghostwriting unethical?
At the end of the day, a ghostwriter should only ever be a helping hand; someone with skills needed to bring your ideas to fruition. Like a designer creating a beautiful infographic around your words, ghostwriters give life to your creative ideas, philosophies and expertise. If your name is going on it, it should be some kind of collaboration, otherwise you’re just lying to your audience.