Surviving as a Ghostwriter in the Shadows

Digital publishing is a funny thing.  Too often, we the free writers of the virtual world, are treated like footnotes within bigger projects, most of which we’ve created in their entirety.  Our names never appear anywhere, we get no credit, only a fat paycheck to ease our woes.  Paychecks are lovely, don’t get me wrong, and one of my favorite things about this life, but I’m also really into getting *more* paychecks.

That’s where it gets a little tricky.  When you’re a ghostwriter, that is to say, a writer who never gets credit for their work, how do you prove the article attributed to Mr. Dan Smith was actually penned by you?  How can you establish that you have the chops you claim?

My Ongoing Fight with Nest (Yes, the Smart Thermostat Company)

This whole piece was inspired by a recent issue I had with a marketing piece that landed on my desk, via a couple of layers of marketing agencies, from Nest, the company that makes the little round learning thermostat and now a bunch of home security stuff.  I’m working under a non-disclosure agreement, so I can’t tell you too much about it, except to say that either the marketing company or Nest itself wanted me to include information about their Nest Pro program for building contractors within this 1200 word piece.

Except no one would give me the fucking information.

So I went to Nest directly and asked for it.  I explained the project as best I could without breaking my NDA, but I was constantly deflected.  I finally reached someone I thought would help me.  When I explained I was a ghostwriter acting on behalf of a marketing firm whose name I didn’t even know because of the layers that separated me from them, that door slammed shut in my face.

I started pondering this situation from that moment on.  I also emailed my company’s contact, again requesting the information I’d been after for most of a month.  I got a one sentence response, at which point I just threw my hands up, wrote the piece as best I could and turned it in.  That’s one I’m glad to be done with.  Nest is paranoid, this marketing firm is incompetent and I was the ghostwriter stuck in limbo between them.

Proving Your Meddle from Writing Purgatory

Because I was a journalist first, I very rarely encounter problems with potential clients believing that I’ve produced the content that I’m using for samples.  They can google my name and find plenty of things to back up my long career in this here writing life.  But a lot of you aren’t so lucky and have ghosted most of your lives, so I came up with some ideas for how to actually support your claims.  Ghosting is great when your clients edit your work into garbage, but it’s heartbreaking when you’ve written something that goes viral and it has someone else’s name on it.

Next time you have someone doubt your ghosted pieces or your status as a ghost, try these tips, ok?  I think any reasonable person would find these acceptable solutions.  If not, fuck ’em.  You don’t want to work for that asshole anyway.

#1. Ask your existing clients for a reference.  When you write consistently for a particular client, you should be developing a relationship with them.  You are, right?  This comes in handy when you’re trying to expand and find new clients because that other client you’ve been ghosting for can provide you with a reference that says you’ve written their content.  I’d suggest choosing the samples you want to use and ask the client to specifically mention those pieces.  Or, if you write their entire blog, for example, they could just pen something like “Sally has been writing my blog exclusively since 2009 and we’ve seen engagement triple during that time.”  That’s a nice thing.

#2. Suggest a paid trial.  I was recently asked if I could provide samples of an email campaign I’d worked on for a potential client and I had to tell them that this violated my agreement with every client I’d ever written those for.  Email campaigns tend to be kind of tightly protected secrets, even though most companies end up writing them kind-of-the-samey.  But, anyway, since I couldn’t give him the specific kind of sample he wanted, I suggested we do a paid sample so I could show him what I can do with an email.  I’m a wicked email slinger, but no one knows it.  It’s ok.  I can sleep at night knowing that no one realizes how mad my skills are.  Anyway, we’re in the middle of that now, so I’ll let you know, but I think it’s going to be ok.

#3. Provide bylined copy that’s unrelated.  I’ve had to do this more than once.  The nice thing about having a mature and established voice is that no matter what you write, it’ll kind of peek through.  Anyone who reads much will be able to recognize your signature on both your bylined copy and your ghosted copy.  Even if your bylined copy is about high school baseball, it’s better than nothing.  You might as well try as not.

Ok, that’s what I’ve got for you today.  The holidays were a mess and got me terribly behind.  I’m gonna go over into the other window and write a buncha blogs now.  Until next time…