I am a ghostwriter specifically for serial entrepreneurs, C-suite executives, and business owners. And one of the most frequent questions I get asked from both other writers and potential clients is, "What makes a great ghostwriter?"
Whether you are a writer looking to get into ghostwriting, or a busy entrepreneur looking for a wordsmith to handcraft your story, here's what you need to know about the art of ghostwriting, and what separates a good ghostwriter from a great one:
1. A good ghostwriter tells, a great ghostwriter shows.
I studied creative writing in college, and every single one of my teachers heavily emphasized the difference between telling and showing.
Telling would be me saying that I went into a room and turned on the lamp.
Showing would be me saying that even though I was exhausted, sweat hanging off the edge of my eyebrow, I dragged myself over to the maroon la-z-boy chair by the fireplace, reached to my right, pulled on the dangling gold string and turned on the lamp.
Obviously there are circumstances where telling works better than showing, and vice versa, but the point is for your writing to be colorful. Regardless of the subject matter, it should paint a picture in the mind of the reader. That's how you're going to keep their attention.
2. A great ghostwriter knows how to pivot between different voices.
Writing on someone else's behalf isn't really what makes you a "ghostwriter." You can hire an intern or an assistant to do that.
The value of a ghostwriter is for them to study your unique voice, and then execute that voice on their own--and be able to keep your voice separate from the other people they ghostwrite for.
What this really takes is having an understanding of voice and tone. For example, take a look at the difference between these two sentences:
A) So, obviously if you're going to put yourself out there, you should probably do it in a way that demands attention.
B) If you are going to put yourself out there, remember to do so in a way that demands attention.
Both sentences say the same thing, but by changing just a few words, they carry very different tones.
A ghostwriter is someone who can do this deliberately for you.
3. Ghostwriters are not intended to be one-off contractors.
Whether you are a writer or a client, it's important to acknowledge that it's in the best interest of both parties to build a working relationship over time.
Getting to know someone's voice, their nuances, key narratives, even opinions and perspectives, takes time. For the writer, it's important that enough time is allotted for them to really get a sense of what the client is looking for, and for the client, it's in their best interest to invest in working with the same ghostwriter for a solid period of time so that eventually they won't have to give the same instructions over and over again.
A great ghostwriter will be able to catch on quickly, but even still, it's the sort of relationship that benefits the most from long-term engagements. In fact, there tends to be a tipping point where the ghostwriter will be able to write and explain things even better than the client can articulate, which makes the ghostwriter's job effortless, and makes for a very happy client.
4. A great ghostwriter should be as well-read as the client.
One of the biggest differences between an average ghostwriter and a truly great ghostwriter is what else they bring to the table beyond the writing.
If you are working with a ghostwriter that knows your industry well, and stays abreast to what is going on, they should be able to bring additional perspectives and thought-provoking questions to the table that increase your value. In fact, chances are you'll find them making you re-think your own perspectives, pushing you (in a good way) to want to dive even deeper into topics and subject matters.
Your ghostwriter should be like your personal "idea coach," not just helping you put your concepts into writing, but help you really think through those concepts in the first place.
5. People hire ghostwriters for two reasons: they don't have time, and they don't have the writing chops.
Throughout ghostwriting for a range of thought leaders in an assortment of industries, I have learned that clients hire ghostwriters for two primary reasons:
First, they don't have time. Some of the smartest, most knowledgeable people are nearly invisible on the Internet because they just don't have the hours to put their thoughts on paper (or on Quora, LinkedIn, etc.). So the people you really want to be learning from, aren't the ones churning out written content on a daily basis--which is why so many invest in ghostwriters. There is a reason why some (if not most) of the biggest business books are all ghostwritten.
Second, they don't have the writing chops. I know a lot of people who enjoy writing, but enjoying it and being able to write on a daily or even weekly basis are two completely different things. Writing, just like anything else, is a sport. It takes practice, discipline, and persistence in order to do it well.
Where a ghostwriter really provides the most value is in being able to deliver on these two pain points--which means if you're looking to get into ghostwriting, this is what you need to deliver on, and if you're in need of a ghostwriter, these are the pain points you need solved.
A great ghostwriter should be able to save you significant time, and tell your story in an engaging way that provides each and every reader something of value.