Has Ghostwriting Killed the Freelancer Byline?
As writers, one of the most precious things we can accomplish is seeing our bylines on an article we put our blood, sweat and tears into. It is one of the most satisfying things to see my name attached to an article, no matter how big or small. It says to the world, “I created something and I’m sharing it with everyone.”
Freelance writers depend on the byline to grow their writing portfolios in order to prove their credibility as a writer. When applying for new jobs or trying to gain work, clients are always going to ask for writing samples. That can be a hard request to fulfill if all your work has another person’s name at the top.
Content marketing has normalized the use of ghostwriting, where the name that appears on the article is not the original author. So for nearly every carefully crafted blog post or byline article a freelancer writes, a CEO or other employee gets the credit. A 2012 study showed that 45% of CEOs create their own content, a number that has likely decreased as content marketing spread and quality freelancers have emerged. This is a good practice for companies because it allows them to have well-written posts for top-notch content marketing strategy. And when quality matters far more than quantity in the marketing game, this can make or break a company’s approach.
While ghostwriting is a great advantage for businesses, has it killed the byline? That most important feature is concrete proof you can write. How are freelancers expected to navigate their careers without a robust compilation of their work serving as hard evidence? Thankfully, content marketing is growing in popularity and being a ghostwriter is just another trade, not a disgrace to the byline.
Find Your Voice
When ghostwriting for various outlets, it’s easy to get lost in the subject and style of whatever industry you are writing about. In fact, the ability to modify your writing style to fit various industries and authors is one of the things that sets really high-quality writers apart. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t find opportunities to let your original voice shine through. Of course it is important to stay within the limits of the industry, (you wouldn’t write a cheeky blog post for a serious CEO), but to establish your value as a ghostwriter and to prove your work, stay true to your voice.
Every writer has the small details that make it evident he has written something. This isn’t always obvious to the average reader, but to fellow writers or avid followers, a writer’s personal style is apparent in every phrase and sentence. Think about the posts you’ve proofread or edited for fellow freelancers or friends. You probably heard their voice as you read it and they probably did the same for you.
If you want to use your ghostwritten articles as part of your portfolio, ensure that all the samples have a cohesive and common voice throughout. Then it becomes clear that you did the work and you wrote the creative posts rather than whoever a company claims wrote them. This works especially well if you continue to write for one company, one outlet or one person. Together, you can create a balance of style and voice that blends their requirements with your personal touches. They receive the message they want to communicate and you can still recognize your own writing.
Using this tactic also takes a great amount of trust from whomever is reviewing your writing samples and the companies you work with. Your work ethic, cooperation and pride in your work will set a solid foundation for this trust, bringing others halfway to believing in your efforts. Many writers find great esteem in ghostwriting. It’s all about perspective.
As you gain more experience as a freelance writer or ghostwriter, you will notice the ways to negotiate on your terms. If you are producing high-quality work for consistent clients, they will turn to you for all their content needs. This positions you to negotiate for a few bylines of your own if you really find that you want or need them. You can also forge a fluid relationship for pitching ideas, receiving feedback and proposing your own content strategy.
Working directly with the people who claim your bylines gives you both some control over what is going into posts and how the company or topic is being represented. Offering to help with social content and even getting their plan off the ground with well-performing content proves to an internal marketing team that you are invaluable to their efforts.
If ghostwriting has killed the byline, it certainly hasn’t killed writing. It has fostered a respect and demand for quality writing from freelancers who are willing to contribute their talents to a company looking to communicate effectively. The equilibrium of ghostwriting and freelancing can create some really positive results.
How do you build your writing portfolio when dealing with a decline in byline opportunities? Let us know in the comments!