The three shades of ghostwriting

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With the popularity of content marketing and corporate blogging, it’s obvious there’s a whole lot of ghostwriting going on. Corporate CEOs, executives, and top engineers creating content takes them away from their day jobs.

Here are the three shades of ghostwriting:

1. Acceptance

Some organizations acknowledge the role of ghostwriters in generating their technical and thought leadership content.While the names of their executives and other key players may appear as the byline, the role of the writer who did the heavy lifting is at least heartily acknowledge the ghostwriter’s hard work behind the scenes.

The shade of acceptance is marked by more collaboration than the other shades. For example, it could be the ghostwriter collaborating with product marketing and subject matter experts (SMEs) with a C-level executive appearing on the byline. Take the example, one step further and the executive is participating in content reviews and even has expertise in the subject of the content being written.

I used a ghostwriter for a guest blog post a couple of years ago. It was more because of a timing issue than anything else. The post was about a topic I wrote about frequently.

2. Hubris

Having a ghostwriter on the team can go to some people’s heads, and they lay claim to the work as 100% of their own. The shade of Hubris often hits mid-level managers who get the budget for a ghostwriter for the first time.

The manager or executive may acknowledge the role of the ghostwriter in team meetings, but the exact contributions of the ghostwriter go unmentioned when that person is talking to their manager or even getting together their list of accomplishments come annual review time.

3. Disdain

There’s a good bit of discussion about the ethics of ghostwriting in business. Personally, I’m not sure where I stand on ghostwriting myself. I enjoy bylined work as much as the next writer, but I’ve seen my share of the hubris shade where ghostwriters help prop up the career of some unworthy people.

What I do think is that when ghostwriting becomes the ghostwriter doing 90%+ of the work and the name on the byline doesn’t have an original thought on the subject of the content is when the trouble starts.

The shade of disdain rears its ugly head when the name on the byline can’t speak about the topic themselves, takes all the credit, and reaps the professional and career benefits of becoming a false thought leader.

Where do you stand on ghostwriting?

Image by John De Boer via

Hi! My name is Will Kelly. I’m a technical writer and analyst based in the Washington, DC area. I’ve worked with clients like NetApp, Dell, and NeuStar to develop technical, training, and thought leadership content. My articles have been published by TechBeacon, Projects@Work, CNET TechRepublic, Network World,,, and others. Follow me on Twitter:@willkelly.

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