The Ghostwriter’s Anguish: All Guts, No Glory

As a ghostwriter, you need to be prepared for the harsh reality: This work is all your guts — and none of your glory.

In the past, I’ve written about being a ghostwriter. But recent events have me pondering the whole ghostwriting thing lately. I’m not talking about giving up ghostwriting books, which I kind of enjoy and which pays quite well.

Most of the books I’m a ghostwriter for are mainly vanity propositions, things like books for service providers to show to potential clients and memoirs. It’s interesting work, and I like it, but it’s not likely to garner widespread praise.

What I’m talking about is some of the ghostwriting I do for other writers. Seems weird, right? Other bloggers and even freelance writers ask for a ghostwriter. They’re already writers, and they need a ghostwriter? It’s really more about time than anything else.

But here’s where it gets hard: Watching someone else take all the credit and get all the glory for that piece you wrote. And you can’t say anything.

APPLAUSE

Is Pay a Good Substitute for Glory?

Before you become a ghostwriter, it’s important for you to decide if pay is a good enough substitute for glory. When I first started as a freelance writer, I just wanted to get paid. I needed the money, and I was determined not to let this work from home thing fail. So pay was an adequate substitute for the lack of glory and the fact that I couldn’t use my byline.

Now, though, I’m more of a diva or more of something. I kind of want the glory, since I put in the work. In some cases, I’ve just provided the base, and the writer adds some things around what I’ve written in order to personalize it a little bit more, or expand on it. In other cases, it’s straight up my text be published elsewhere.

I’ve started tacking on a premium for ghostwriting, since it is kind of a bummer to watch someone else lauded for your work. And one of the problems with working as a ghostwriter is that, too often, the words you write as someone else are better than the things you come up with as yourself.

Ghostwriter Guts: If Everyone Else Gets Your Best, What’s Left For You?

It’s true that not everyone I write for — or even ghostwrite for — is getting my best. The sad, ugly truth is that if you aren’t paying me very well, there are days when you’re not getting Miranda in her Truly Professional mode. The ghostwriting pays a little more, so I usually put more effort into that.

And that’s where we come to the true anguish of the ghostwriter. It’s all guts and no glory. Sometimes, I’m truly creative with the things I write for others. I’m supposed to be writing as them, so I get in there and really make the effort. There are times when I just feel the flow. And that almost never happens when I’m writing for myself. (By the time I’ve started writing for myself, I’m mentally exhausted from writing for everyone else, even if it’s not all ghostwriting.)

So, since someone else is getting a pretty decent version of me, they can turn it in somewhere like MSN Money, the Wall Street Journal, or the Huffington Post. Pieces posted on others’ blogs are picked up in round ups by awesome people like Rob Carrick (and in the old days when Phil Villarreal was doing it for Consumerist). Rob Carrick has lauded so many things that I’ve written for other sites — ghostwritten and not — but has yet to feature anything from one of my own blogs. It’s a little maddening.

Ghostwriter

The worst, though, is when I’m ghostwriting for people who write for the same places I write. The idea is this: Hire a ghostwriter and turn it in. Collect the fee. Pay the ghostwriter, and you still profit. Sometimes, even with the premium I charge for ghostwriting, I know that the other blogger is getting a screaming deal. Coming away with that type of profit for doing nothing?

I know it’s my own fault because I know how much these places pay. Of course, a lot of the time I don’t ask where the article is likely to end up. And that might need to stop. It’s one thing to ghostwrite a guest post for a fellow blogger just looking to get his or her name out there. That blogger probably isn’t getting paid for the work. The fee paid to me is basically a marketing expense.

It’s quite another to know that, even after paying my fee, the blogger is making out like a bandit. It’s a gut-punch to see something you write go up under someone else’s name on a site where you yourself are paid quite well for the work. You know that, even after tacking on your ghostwriter premium, that blogger was probably paid double what you were.

And you don’t even get to build your own brand.

What do you think about ghostwriting? Is it something you would do? How would you approach it?


6 Responses to The Ghostwriter’s Anguish: All Guts, No Glory

  1. I’m not a ghostwriter and, to be honest, probably couldn’t do it. Time, as you mentioned, is the big thing and, if you’re right about the money part being so slim, I’m not sure how motivated I would be.

    On the other hand, there seems to be a plethora of “bloggers” who are more than willing to write guest blogs for free to capture backlinks or some other SEO benefit. I’m not really sure if they do it for money, for exposure or both. I know is that for my real estate site (vs. my free form rant site)the guest bloggers seem to be everywhere.

    Thank God, though, for people who can write. I bounce around the blogosphere quite a bit and see a lot of abysmal writing (mine included).

    PS…I saw this on Google+. So, at least, that works. 🙂

    • The money can actually be quite good for ghostwriting. The real question is how long it remains worth it when you can’t point to your ghostwritten work as part of your portfolio, and when you decide that recognition is what you want more than extra money. It’s all about weighing the options, and figuring out what you really want it all to look like.

  2. Pay is absolutely a substitute for glory, especially as I already get bylines in my day job. The only problem is now all the stuff I’d like to find future gigs writing about, I’ve ghostwritten, so can’t use most of it to show prospective clients!

    • I agree that pay can be a substitute for glory; I just think there’s a point at which you end up with diminishing returns. I guess it depends on your reasons for writing. And I agree that it’s disappointing when you KNOW you could do something, but you can’t PROVE it because you can’t point to what you’ve ghostwritten!

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