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Ghostwriting: What It's Like Copywriting in the Shadows

Copywriting as ghostwriting

 Copywriting | 5 min read

When I first interviewed for a copywriting position at Bluleadz, by far the most interesting question someone asked me was how I felt about essentially becoming a ghostwriter.

It was a good question because at that point most of my writing was in the academic and fiction world, where personal authorship is highly valued.

I often think back to that question when I’m approaching a new project or struggling to get through an assignment.

While I felt like I had a pretty good answer at the time, the experience of writing blogs, website content, and other resources for clients has clarified and expanded my thoughts about copywriting as a form of ghostwriting.

It’s Not About You

Are you the sort of person who loves to have their name associated with their work and goes out of their way to put their distinctive, personal stamp on everything they do?

If so, you should probably stop reading now because you’re going to have a hard time being a copywriter (just be sure to convert on a CTA before you leave; don’t go dragging my metrics down just because I’m dishing out some hard truths here).

via GIPHY

Ok, in all seriousness, this is a really important point.

As a copywriter or content creator, you have to remember to be humble when you go about your work. This is a hard habit for many writers to break, especially if they come from a field other than content marketing. Writers spend a lot of time honing their craft and creating a distinctive style that sets them apart from the crowd.

Unfortunately, standing out is actually a detriment for a copywriter. You’re trying to call attention to the subject you’re writing about, not to the writer or the writing itself.

It can be a big mindset shift that pushes people out of their comfort zone. The goal is to deliver information quickly, concisely, and in a compelling way without being seen or noticed.

There’s a very simple phrase I keep in mind whenever I’m writing for a client: it’s not about you.

By this, I mean that what I think and feel about the writing is always subordinated to the needs of the client or to other instructions handed down to me. There’s some latitude, of course, but every decision I make MUST be filtered through that lens in order for me to write content that’s going to be effective.

The Ghost in the Blog

Of course, you’re not disappearing from the scene completely.

The real goal of any copywriter is to make everyone believe they’re someone else. While it may be a bit of a stretch to think of copywriting as ghostwriting, the characterization isn’t all that far off base.

When you write for a client, your primary goal is to capture (or create) their distinctive voice. Your words should be indistinguishable from their words. This is often one of the hardest aspects of the job. There’s a distinctive language and tone running through every industry, and it’s up to you to capture that voice in your writing.

Luckily, this often isn’t as difficult as it sounds. When you take on a new client, you’re usually already reading quite a lot of industry-specific content to get up to speed on all the relevant technical details about the client’s market.

Much of this material will be written in the style and format that’s familiar to the industry. Pay attention to pacing and turns of phrase. Look for how much personality bleeds into the technical jargon or for whether there’s room for humor or anecdotes. The way this content is written is every bit as important to your research as the information it conveys.

At the same time, you have to be ready to swerve into another lane if that’s what the client wants.

An industrial manufacturing company, for example, might normally require a very technical, formal writing style, but if the company is run by a band of eccentrics who want to inject some fun and personality into their marketing, you need to find a way to make it work.

Remember, it’s not about you.

But Don’t Be a Robot

via GIPHY

When you’re ready to start writing for a client, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of copying the formalistic trappings and jargon of their industry and churn out a bunch of shitty content that sounds ok at first glance but doesn’t really have much substance to it.

Look, there’s a reason robots haven’t replaced copywriters yet (heavy emphasis on the “yet”). People can see through bland, disinterested copy. The average person may not be able to identify precisely what’s wrong with it, but they’ll either get the impression that something isn’t quite right or they’ll forget about it immediately after reading it.

A decent copywriter or an industry insider, on the other hand, will know right away if a writer doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

You’ve probably read plenty of this content: press releases that sound like a parade of vague statements, a blog post that never seems to get to the point, or webpages heavy on buzzword filler that leaves you wondering just what the hell the company does.

To be perfectly honest, there’s a lot of bad copywriting out there.

Some companies don’t put much value in the written word because writing is something that everyone can do, unlike coding or drafting engineering blueprints.

They end up skimping, asking a technical writer to handle their blog or tasking a web designer with writing their own website copy. Or they find a cheap copywriter who can churn out mindless pablum that doesn’t help prospective customers understand anything about the company.

As a copywriter, you have a responsibility to be interesting. It’s not really in your job description, but writing content that grabs people’s attention and directs them to take action is your primary job.

And you’re never going to get them to do that if everything you write sounds like it was churned out by a low-rent algorithm. Your writing needs some life and personality to it, something that makes people want to know more about the author and their business.

Only that author isn’t you.

Remember, it’s not about you.

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Published on March 25, 2019

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