What I’ve learned about ghost writing

Ghost writing – where writers work with bylined contributors – is a common way to produce editorial content. Rupert Cornford shares more about his experience helping people to share their ideas in clear, simple, and readable ways.

“So, how does this work? I haven’t done this before.” I am facing someone I have met once, on a Microsoft Teams call, and we have been asked to develop an article for publication. The person I’m speaking to has all the knowledge, and has been preparing for a few days, but I feel some words of reassurance are still needed.

“We’re just having a chat,” I suggest. “I’ll ask some questions and encourage you to share what you know. We’ll spend an hour talking and sharing stories. At the end of it, I’ll go away, write something up – and share it with you…”

Simple. Well, mostly.

A lot of my editorial work involves ghost writing for people in businesses. I spend time with them to understand their ideas, points of view, and opinions on a particular topic. Often, they want to help their clients understand more about something in their market: a trend, a story that matters, or an issue that needs to be clearly explained.

They want to demonstrate knowledge, expertise, and stories from their own work to enrich the message. It’s a way of them downloading what they see, hear and experience in their day jobs – and, in many ways, making sense of it all.

I encourage them to set the scene, explain why something matters now, and explore current themes and challenges. We might also include some advice about the future and potential next steps for readers to consider.

But as much as possible, we try and tell a story; using the rhythm of narrative to keep people interested. I want readers to enjoy what they are reading and be engaged in the process. With technical topics, this can be harder to achieve. But we focus on how people can relate to a subject, keeping it simple, and what the audience needs to understand.

The process is similar to journalism. But the person named in the piece is usually conscious of the language they use and whether the article sounds like them. In my experience this is more of an art than a science. It depends on the level of trust and understanding between the ghost writer and the contributor. As time goes on, it’s easier to develop this muscle, and how creative and opinionated they want to be.

As contributors share their knowledge, they are trusting the writer to produce something that reflects their point of view. But also allows enough creative flair for the article to be interesting and readable – and valuable for its audience. Ghost writing, I think, is mostly about trust, accuracy, and mutual respect.

“Thanks for this, I feel like I have talked a lot,” as we neared the end of the hour. I offer a knowing nod. “That’s a good thing,” I say, “it means we’ve got lots to work with.” Thankfully, the piece of client work I’m referring to is the final stages of being approved and will then (hopefully) appear in a publication. Phew.

Ghost writing sounds like a faceless pursuit – and some people argue that others get all the glory. And in many ways, that’s the point. But I have learned it’s a process of relationship building and creativity. Helping people to find their voice and share their ideas with the world. And I get to do what I enjoy doing.

For more information about ghost writing, or to share your ideas and experience, please get in touch with me at – rupert@storypublishing.co.uk.