The work of ghostwriters spans nearly every industry and avails itself to whatever shape and style is necessary. This can include, but is certainly not limited to:
- novels written under the name of well-known novelists;
- thought leadership blog posts for CEOs and other C-Level executives;
- biographies for athletes, entertainers and other public figures;
- speeches for television, radio and other public engagements.
As most industries are increasingly recognizing the importance of content marketing, the modern gig economy continues to grow with freelancers. The result is a natural marriage between the two—an industry hungry for more content and a rising class of freelance ghostwriters in need of the next gig.
New platforms have arisen in response to this marriage, making it easier than ever before for those wanting content to find someone who will create it.
The challenge, of course, is that not all content is created equal. (tweet this)
And not all content marketing is created equal, either.
For the busy executive who could care less about quality and a writer’s credentials and simply wants one long-form blog post delivered to them on the same day each week, such platforms have perfectly met their needs.
But most of these platforms, as they typically rely on a combination of ratings and number of reviews, struggle to assess the quality of the freelance ghostwriter. While such ratings systems can be great, they can also create an environment whereby the freelance ghostwriter who does the most for the type of aforementioned busy executive will rank the highest.
In this sense, the freelancer could perhaps be considered elite at delivering low quality content with great speed and reliability. For leaders in many industries, this is enough and even well beyond their expectations.
But what about that busy executive who wants high quality content and a ghostwriter without twenty other gigs, someone who can take the time to understand the unique demands of their sector and even their personality and voice?
Or what about that public figure who may already have a book deal lined up and now needs help finding an elite ghostwriter to help them craft their memoir?
How valuable are such platform-based ratings and reviews systems? Likely not as valuable as a single recommendation from a trusted source in that executive’s industry.
But as ghostwriting lives in the arena of anonymity, such recommendations can be hard to find. Some executives feel hesitant to ask other executives, “Hey, did you write your last piece? Sorry, I mean, I loved your latest post and wondered about your editorial process for creating it. Could you fill me in?”
The same can be said with public figures asking each other, “Who did you get to write your biography. Sorry, I mean, I thought your biography was incredibly well done. How did you pull all of those pieces of your life together?”
So while the writing process and the ghostwriting profession will never be paint-by-numbers, here are five factors that most often seem to separate truly elite ghostwriters from good ghostwriters:
- Project Management
Let’s briefly break each of these down.
Integrity in Ghostwriting
To put it bluntly, many ghostwriters feel stuck. They are at once expected to maintain complete anonymity while relying on referrals to maintain steady work. See the problem? The best of them aren’t able to divulge details about who they’ve worked with and what they’ve written, and yet this is often the best way to separate themselves from the many freelance content creators out there.
While some ghostwriters have risen to prominence because word spread (either through a celebrity, for example, publicly singing their praises or because they, often in ways that upset their clients, sung their own praises), most that take integrity seriously are playing that difficult game of maintaining anonymity while essentially keeping their finger’s crossed and hoping that their clients will spread the word.
My advice here is simple: the ghostwriter must, at all costs, maintain integrity while bringing this aspect of their work into the earliest conversations with the client.
I find that the client often doesn’t realize the depth of this situation, and that once it’s brought to their attention they are more than happy to help—even if it means, upon successful completion of the project, baking a promise to make a few referrals into the contract.
Versatility in Ghostwriting
As previously mentioned, good ghostwriters may be elite at various components in this craft, but truly elite ghostwriters have showcased their mastery in more than one domain. Why is this especially important? Because change really is the only constant.
Big paragraphs were the norm when writing for the web a few years ago. Such paragraphs now are often a tell-tale sign of an old-school writer that hasn’t evolved.
In addition, every project from every client should be viewed with a beginner’s mind. Certain aspects may be similar from project to project, but the client deserves a fresh approach.
Along with that, the scope and details of projects often change. The initial concept brought to the table for the ghostwriter typically remains the same but, for a variety of reasons, many details change throughout. The elite ghostwriter is adept at being able to pivot.
My advice here: cultivating versatility in your writing outside of the ghostwriting industry makes developing your versatility within much easier. If your specialty is ghostwriting biographies, for example, try your hand at journalism or even poetry. Each genre will open up new perspectives and skillsets that will be applicable to your work as a ghostwriter.
Curiosity in Ghostwriting
I can’t stress this one enough: In every genre I’ve worked in, the best writers are the most curious writers. (tweet this)
For some this may come more naturally, but for most of us curiosity takes practice.
My personal practice of cultivating curiosity involves daily meditation, as well as occasionally writing poetry and practicing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ).
Meditation allows me to observe my breath and my mind’s thoughts rolling in like waves. This practice of slowing down carries over into the rest of my day, allowing me to slow down to notice and maintain a genuine curiosity about those beautiful details around me that I otherwise would have been oblivious to.
As for poetry and BJJ: both, to me, are life-long disciplines of detail. One deals with movement on the page and the other with movement on the mat, but in their own ways they continuously push me to ask questions, practice precision, and continue cultivating a sense of curiosity.
My advice here: find your curiosity practice, and strive to consistently maintain it.
Project Management in Ghostwriting
Good ghostwriters may be elite writers, but elite ghostwriters also have elite project management skills.
Ghostwriters, of course, are judged for their capacity to write well. While this is undoubtedly the cornerstone of the profession, writing well can quickly matter far less when timelines are routinely missed, ideas are hastily compiled, and the many aspects of a client’s overall project are disjointed and unorganized.
Elite ghostwriters strive to always deliver on time and in a manner that surpasses expectations. This can only occur when the ghostwriter takes project management as seriously as they do the craft of writing.
My advice here: the best way to develop in this regard, in my opinion, is through actual on-the-ground experience.
The fast-moving SaaS sector is filled with some of the best project managers out there, and having a leadership role in this industry will teach you the principles of project management through repetition.
If you can’t get that experience, check out some of the resources provided by the Project Management Institute.
Commitment in Ghostwriting
This is where the entire package comes together. A ghostwriter with sharp writing skills and world-class project management skills still isn’t enough. The best ghostwriters are also fiercely committed to the client and their project.
Again, this level of commitment can easily spread thin when a ghostwriter is juggling too many projects. It can also spread thin when the ghostwriter’s motive for taking on a project is purely about making money. Yes, this matters. But there must also be a deep interest, curiosity and even fascination with seeing the client’s project come to life.
In other words, elite ghostwriters are lifelong learners. Even if they are taking on a project unlike anything they’ve done before, if they are stepping into it with an obsession to learn (and bringing the qualities mentioned here) the project will likely be a major success.
A final word on “elite”
There are not lines in the sand here; there is not a clear way to delineate between a good ghostwriter and one that is world-class.
But if you’re thinking about hiring a ghostwriter, assess them based on this combination of qualities. And if you’re looking to take your ghostwriting career to the next level, make an honest habit out of rating yourself according to these qualities.