Want to become a ghostwriter? Then prepare yourself to answer these three questions.
Ghostwriting has traditionally been a shadowy business. Your clients rarely, if ever, acknowledge you. It’s tricky to promote your services. And no child, come Career Day, has ever declared, “I want to have someone else claim credit for my work!”
How times have changed.
Today, ghostwriting is big business. Prince Harry’s ghostwriter just penned a long essay reflecting on his craft for the New Yorker. Perhaps he was inspired by the tell-all that appeared a few months ago in Texas Monthly by the ghostwriter for Chrishell Stause and Vanessa Lachey. Or the recap, from a year earlier, in Publishers Weekly, “Ghostwriters Come Out of the Shadows.” Indeed, ghostwriters are now publicly acknowledged for everything from Instagram captions to dating apps.
Yet despite the buzz, the profession in which I’ve built a career remains mysterious. Casual acquaintances ask, “You’re a ghost what?” Journalists ask, “How do I break into this field?” Colleagues ask, “How do I find clients?” And clients ask, “Where can I see your work?”
Here’s the good news: Starved of the spotlight, we ghostwriters are often quite chatty (especially if the subject is ourselves). We’re eager to swap war stories and show our scars. In that spirit, let me offer an intro to our industry for aspiring ghosts.
The best writers are also designers.
As many of you know, I teach business writing at the University of Maryland. The first presentation I deliver each semester is short and simple; the whole deck is 11 slides.
What can I convey in such limited space? It’s a mantra I repeat throughout the course, which I suspect that most of my students can recall well afterward: How your work looks can be as important as what it says.
In other words: To excel at writing, you need to master both form and function, both style and substance. You need to think visually.
Every writer must also be a businessman. Here’s a simple trick to sharpen your savvy.
Seasoned ghostwriters know a secret: Writing is the easy part. It’s everything else — from researching to revising — which consumes most of our time.
And yet, the one thing that would dramatically reduce our labor is the one thing we’re often reluctant to do. Lest we be perceived as overly inquisitive or insufficiently independent, we hesitate to ask a critical question upfront: “How many people will need to approve this text”?
These nine simple words matter for one simple reason: The more people you need to please, the more your writing will become a game of Whac-a-Mole.
Want to make your op-ed pitch-worthy? Then make sure you address these four essential elements.
As a ghostwriter, I’m often asked to draft op-eds. Yet contrary to what you might think, writing is the easy part; it’s the other stuff that’s hard.
Perhaps the hardest part is what happens even before I set pen to paper. For example, it’s one thing to have a great idea; it’s another to convey that passion with precision.
So the next time someone asks for help with an op-ed, take a step back and first address the following four issues. (If you’re feline-friendly, you can remember this formula as “CATS.”)
Visual aids make writing easier and reading more enjoyable.
Smart writers know a secret. They know that what you write — your choice of words — is only half of any project. The other half? How those words look — everything from your font size to your margin widths. Packaging and presentation matter more than most people appreciate.
This is one reason stores like Gucci and Whole Foods can charge a premium: The layout of their bricks and mortar gives rise to a certain appearance and ambiance. By contrast, while I have nothing against Marshalls or Giant Food, when it comes to aesthetics, their displays just can’t compete.
Many thanks to Sloane Shearman, who attended my writing workshop yesterday at the Institute for Humane Studies, for drawing this nifty cartoon:
In today’s the-world-is-flat era, few things can differentiate you better than polished communication skills. Indeed, even at the world’s top PR agencies—among people who make their living off the written word—those who can write well are shockingly few (and increasingly well-compensated).
Happily, the mechanics of good writing are eminently learnable. For most of us, the problem is readily diagnosable: our last English class was in college, and from our corporate perch today, we look down on continuing education—“Do I really need a two-hour seminar on something I do every day?”
News outlets should be mortified by the way they describe themselves on Twitter.
Every high schooler knows that you can’t choose your nickname. Happily, social media offers a remedy for people of all ages: the chance to write your own bio.
This ability to self-brand is priceless. Yet many fumble it. In fact, major media outlets approach their Twitter bios as if they were students cramming to finish their homework on the bus, rather than world-class wordsmiths. At a time when publishers are increasingly interested in driving social traffic to their sites, such box-checking results in a lost opportunity.
Does this description hit close to home? Does your Twitter bio read like a homework assignment dashed off en route to class? Fear not: here are 11 ways to burnish your brand.
This is what happens when you let an engineer write your website copy:
“Sorry, this page isn’t available. The link you followed may be broken, or the page may have been removed.”
Gee, thanks, Facebook. Couldn’t you at least have displayed a list of similar pages? Maybe linked to some frequently asked questions? At the least, you could have conveyed a witty apology or summoned a brand-appropriate quote. And, if all else fails, bring forth a kitten pic!
Sadly, Google is no better than its neighbor to the north. Here’s what the minds of Mountain View deign to tell the poor soul who gets lost on google.com:
“404. That’s an error. The requested URL was not found on this server. That’s all we know.”
Really—that’s all? That’s the best message a company known for its NSA-like amount of data, along with its whimsical and beloved doodles, can conjure up?
Surely, you jest.
That italicized sentence at the bottom of your blog posts isn’t a necessary evil, but an easily exploitable opportunity.
Ten years ago, after you finished reading a book, watching a movie, or listening to a song, it was over; you were done. If you wanted to share your reactions, you saved them for the water cooler.
Today, the traditional indicators of finality — a tombstone mark for an article (∎), the words “the end” for the silver screen, a trio of hashtags (###) for a news release — have been supplanted by a button that beckons you tinno “like,” “retweet,” “pin,” or perform some other variation of social-media sharing.
For example, by displaying a hash tag, TV commercials encourage you to “join the conversation” on Twitter. Magazine articles refer you to a website “for more information.” Even McDonald’s has climbed aboard the bandwagon, stamping QR codes that reveal nutritional data on its carryout bags.
How can you, dear blogger, get in on these gigs and thus propagate your posts? Specifically, how can you milk your content for more followers and fans?
Easy: just start making use of an often-overlooked implement in the marketer’s toolkit: your byline.