There’s Nothing Supernatural about Ghostwriting – Plus, 7 Ghostwriting Secrets

There’s someone lurking behind a lot of the publications you read -- but it’s not a zombie or ghoul.

Halloween seems an appropriate time to explore the little-known realm of ghostwriting.

You’re not likely to find ghostwriters haunting teenagers or terrorizing small towns. But they’re out there, behind the scenes in many books, articles, speeches, blogs and even pop songs.

Staying out of sight is part of the job.

In public relations and internal communications, it’s our job to make our clients look good, not ourselves (talented as we may be).

One way we do this is to position them as experts in their fields, as the go-to experts on subjects from health care to legislative policy, corporate sustainability to cooking.

That’s where ghostwriters come in. We all know that many – if not most – celebrity books aren’t written by young pop stars or ingénues; they’re written by spirits you never heard of.

The same goes for many columns you read on the op-ed pages of the local newspaper and the speeches you hear at conferences.

Busy executives often don’t have time to sit and pen a 1,000-word newspaper column or magazine piece. And frankly, though many of them are at the top of their field and have great messages to share, grammar and punctuation may not be their strong points.

So think of the ghostwriter as the medium through which a spirit – in this case the client – communicates. The ghostwriter doesn’t need a crystal ball or tarot cards, though a good dictionary can make it easier.

So how can you become a hauntingly good ghostwriter? Several ghostwriting organizations offer some secrets.

  • First and foremost, understand your role. This is NOT you talking. Your job is as interpreter or translator, to take your client’s big ideas and make them comprehensible.
  • Set aside your own opinions. Keep your ego in check.
  • Invest the time. Spend a minimum of several hours with your client for an op-ed, many more for a longer piece. Listen to your client’s concerns, opinions and ideas.
  • Ask questions. Many people have a hard time verbalizing their ideas. Sometimes it helps to talk them through.
  • Do your research. Your client may be adamant that his company sells more widgets or has the best outcomes, but it’s important to have data to back that up.
  • Let your client’s voice shine. Just remember to watch the grammar.
  • Edit. Save plenty of time for updates. 

So while you impersonate someone else this Halloween, keep in mind that there’s a whole kingdom of ghostwriters lurking out there, and we do it every day.

But if we do our jobs right, you’ll never know we’re there.

Lisa Crutchfield, a former newspaper reporter, is still working on her Halloween costume. She's considering Lois Lane.