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  • Writer's pictureThe Noteworthy Conversation

Chapter Nineteen: Ghostwriting

With Halloween just a few days away, we're celebrating the Noteworthy way: exploring the hair-rising, spine-chilling, blood-curdling topic of...ghostwriting. While this term may conjure up images of the dearly departed scribbling away at a desk, ghostwriting simply refers to when a person is hired to write something with the official credit going to another, usually with the understanding that the ghostwriter is never revealed as the true creator responsible for the work.

Although there are well-known instances of the practice dating back hundreds of years, the actual term "ghostwriting" was coined in 1921 by Walter "Christy" Walsh (December 2, 1891-December 29, 1955), who worked as a writer, cartoonist, and sports agent. He is even considered to be the first agent in baseball. Walsh understood public relations and hired a team of ghostwriters to produce articles and books on behalf of his players. Discretion, however, was often overlooked by Walsh, as he chose to give credit where credit was due. Walsh is quoted as saying, “Don’t insult the intelligence of the public by claiming these men write their own stuff.”


Why Use Ghostwriters?

If a person decides to utilize the services of a ghostwriter, it's because this method is the most effective way to achieve the desired end result, that result being a well-researched, well-written piece of material delivered on time. This could be because the person is overburdened with other responsibilities and cannot produce the work by themselves while staying on deadline, or because the person may not have the skillset or discipline to craft this kind of work in the first place.

We see examples of both of these scenarios on all of our bookshelves. Many memoirs from high-profile individuals, including elected leaders and celebrities, use ghostwriters because their schedules do not allow for dedicated writing time. Often in the case of novels or self-help literature, the person listed as the author on the front cover might only be responsible for the premise, but they themselves lack the eloquence of putting that premise into words for an audience. Hence, the hired ghostwriter and a higher-quality final product.


A Name That Sells

Sometimes, however, ghostwriting is a key component of output strategy, just in terms of quantity alone. For example, some of the most beloved and still-recognizable children's or young adult book series of the past one hundred years have been written entirely or in-part by ghostwriters. This includes The Bobbsey Twins (102 published books), Nancy Drew (175 published books), Sweet Valley High (181 published books), The Hardy Boys (190 published books), and The Baby-Sitters Club (213 published books). Edward Stratemeyer (October 4, 1862–May 10, 1930) brought us this approach to book packaging when Stratemeyer Syndicate began to sell series concepts to publishers, and kept up with the high demand through the use of multiple ghostwriters.

The demand for the familiar continues to perpetuate the utilization of ghostwriters for bestselling authors like James Patterson. Publishers know certain names sell books, so they satisfy the market need with a seemingly constant output of new content. Patterson has more than 200 titles credited to his name since 1976 and, unlike some other bestselling authors, does not attempt to hide his use of ghostwriters, nor has this practice appeared to have had negative impacts on his book sales.


The Ethics of Ghostwriting

Utilizing ghostwriters is not plagiarism. Although the argument could be made that in both scenarios someone is taking credit for work that another person produced, with the use of ghostwriting, the person is fully aware and consents to their work being credited to someone else. They are in fact paid for this service and the arrangement is cemented in contracts and the occasional non-disclosure agreement.

Just as Walsh originally argued, the obvious use of ghostwriters and attempts to hide it can be viewed as an insult by some consumers. They might feel they are being tricked or lied to, and would prefer that people not receive credit for something they did not do themselves.

At Noteworthy, our variety of services could all be considered ghostwriting on behalf of our clients. We take on the tone, voice, and mission of our clients in order to best portray their brand in all written content. We ensure that their social media platforms, website content, blogs, and newsletters all reflect their style and goals. Then they are free to reap the benefits of that content, including a wider audience and higher sales.

Ghostwriting does not need to be shrouded in nefarious undertones. Writing, although subjective and very personal, can also be viewed as a professional service, an exchange of goods just like any other product. This is how we work with other entrepreneurs and creatives, so if your content is feeling neglected or not up snuff, consider reaching out to Noteworthy Communications. We can be your very own friendly ghost!


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