As a writer at a link building firm, I’ve written on a lot of topics for a lot of different clients. I’ve written about everything from big business telecommunication strategies to jewelry pliers –and yes, I’m really awesome at trivia now. Often, to write for these clients, various pennames must be created. I can’t have my own name being all over the internet as an authority on hair bows, government policy, and clocks, that’d be ridiculous.
This, for me, is where the main moral grey area of link building lies. I’ve come to terms with it, however, by always making sure to inject a little bit of myself into the pennames I create. They become elaborate characters with quirky back stories. They are no different than the Lemony Snicket’s or Harry Turtledove’s of the world, except maybe less popular. In that way, the pennames are authentic, likeable (hopefully), and aren’t strangers to me.
If the penname I’m writing under is a stranger, writing becomes incredibly difficult.
This idea of writing as a stranger is the inherent problem in ghost writing for a client. I do not know the person that I am writing for, I have never met this person, and I have to put their name at the bottom of an article that I wrote. I have to be authoritative on the subject I’m writing for, an expert in the field, and any mistakes in the article do not reflect back on me, they reflect on the client.
Understandably, this can cause problems . . .
Ghost writing can be, and often is, creatively stifling. I can only guess the number of times that I have passed on a ghost written article to my boss for review only to get “…zzz” in the margins. They had put him right to sleep apparently. There was nothing wrong with my writing; it was just boring. The power of the writing was depleted.
I’ve now been ghost writing for multiple clients for several months now and have compiled a list of the challenges that I’ve run into and how I’ve attempted to overcome them:
If you haven’t noticed, this article has a distinctive tone. That’s because I’m writing it in my own voice which carries with it a unique tone. However, if I’m writing as Mr. CEO Businessman, I’m going to be more afraid to use my own writing style. I’m more cautious about using the personal pronoun “I.” I’m cautious because I don’t know what they would say; it feels dishonest.
I’ve found a solution that buffers the writing block of voice and tone 75% of the time. The first part is researching the topic being written about. This may seem obvious, but I mean serious research. I usually research until I have an opinion on the subject. Once I have an opinion, I make sure that it is in line with the person I’m ghost writing for, if possible, and start writing.
I also make time to familiarize myself with the client’s writing. This can typically be accomplished by reading through their website. I’ve been lucky enough to have found blogs within their websites that contain posts under their name, which may have very well been written by other ghost writers, but are still helpful.
Within these posts is a trove of phrases, quirks, content ideas and writing styles. Copy them. Not word for word, but don’t be afraid to do some borrowing. If my person says that database performance monitoring software is the most disruptive technology a business can invest in, I better use that vocabulary as well.
By using their verbiage, I inevitably begin to sound more authoritative the more I write on the subject, but therein lies the problem. Through pennames, authority is built through a steady progression of well-written content on high-authority sites. However, authority is direct and immediate when ghost writing for a reputable business person. I’ve used the weight and authority of a client’s name to get published rather expediently on sites with high domain authorities.
Conversely, using my client’s authority can get dicey. If I make a crucial factual error, or make egregious typos, my client’s reputation is harmed. Or, goodness forbid, I offend a webmaster and they, in turn, confront the person I’m writing for via any number of social media outlets. That has never happened, but it is a constant fear. Throwing around authority is a delicate act that requires moderation, like all things.
These are some of the challenges, successes, and worries that I have as a ghost writer for a link building firm. I’ve been able to overcome, or at least tame, most of my challenges via familiarization with the subject and client. My successes have come from experience, as most do. And my fears are on-going, but I am looking forward to dealing with them in the future.
Gabriel Stephens has a degree in Literature and a minor in History. Instead of teaching as most English Majors go on to do, he is trying his hand at link building in Boise, Idaho with Page One Power.
Image Credit: write.