Person on stage performing hip-hop music

Ghostwriting is everywhere—if you know where to look

Lawyers and law firms should not pooh-pooh ghostwriting. It has long been used by politicians, corporate executives, U.S. presidents, authors, and hip-hop artists alike.

When I tell prominent lawyers that I ghostwrite marketing and business development content for lawyers like them, they sometimes give me a funny look.

They tilt their head to one side and say something like, “Should someone who’s at the top of their game like me, a partner at a large law firm, be working with an outside ghostwriter? Isn’t that a little beneath me?”

My answer is always, of course, “No, it’s not beneath you.” And then I tell them what I’m about to tell you.

The more prominent a person is, the less time they are going to have to write a particular piece of content. Thus, they will need a ghostwriter to help them write it. Because prominent people publish content under their own names all the time, ghostwritten material is all around you—if you know where to look.

Op-eds

Look no further than national news publications like the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal for examples of ghostwriting hiding in plain sight.

Every day, these media outlets publish op-eds in their print and online editions. Many times, those op-eds are “written” by politicians, executives, and other prominent people.

U.S. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell “wrote” this op-ed published on February 15, 2021, in the Wall Street Journal regarding former President Donald Trump’s second impeachment.

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi “wrote” this op-ed published on August 10, 2020, in the New York Times regarding gig workers deserving better benefits than they currently get.

And Republican U.S. Senator Tom Cotton “wrote” this infamous op-ed published on June 3, 2020, in the New York Times about cracking down on protests concerning racial justice.

(As you could tell from the Editor’s Note accompanying the online version of Cotton’s op-ed, the op-ed was problematic for a number of reasons and maybe should have never been published. But that’s a discussion for another day.)

It’s no accident I am putting “written” and “wrote” in quotes regarding these op-eds. Do you really think two busy U.S. senators and the busy CEO of a top technology company wrote these op-eds themselves?

Do you think Mitch McConnell sat down in the middle of a busy day and carved out 3 or 4 hours to write his op-ed? Of course not.

McConnell, Khosrowshahi, Cotton, and countless other high-profile op-ed “writers” almost certainly worked with ghostwriters. Perhaps they worked with colleagues. Perhaps they worked with external ghostwriters. But I am willing to bet they had help crafting those op-eds.

Now, to be clear, I’m not saying that McConnell, Khosrowshahi, and Cotton had no role in crafting their op-eds. And I’m not saying other high profile op-ed “writers” like corporate executives aren’t involved in the creation of their op-eds. I’m sure they’re dictating to their teams and ghostwriter(s) what they want the overall direction to be of an op-ed and how they want to get there.

But I highly doubt they’re writing the first draft of their op-eds. In fact, I highly doubt they’re writing any drafts of their op-eds. Instead, they are likely reviewing the drafts as they come in and giving comments and edits to be incorporated into the next version.

Speeches

Another example of ghostwriting hiding in plain sight is speechwriting.

Let’s shift our attention to the White House. Every recent U.S. president has had dedicated speechwriters. (What are speechwriters but ghostwriters for speeches?)

Do you think busy U.S. presidents are sitting down and writing speeches from start to finish? Of course not. They have speechwriters. They talk to their speechwriters about what they want to say in a speech and the themes they want to convey. The speechwriters then turn around and draft a speech, with their boss(es) chiming in and suggesting edits.

Notable speechwriters for U.S. presidents include:

  • Theodore Sorensen (President John F. Kennedy)
  • William Safire (President Richard Nixon)
  • James Fallows (President Jimmy Carter)
  • Peggy Noonan (Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush)
  • Susan Hughes (President George W. Bush)
  • Carolyn Curiel (President Bill Clinton)
  • Jon Favreau (President Barack Obama)

Of course, U.S. presidents aren’t the only people to employ speechwriters. Corporate executives often have their speeches written for them by their colleagues or outside consultants.

Like U.S. presidents, these corporate executives might, along with their communications aides, provide their speechwriters with the big themes and/or specific points they want to hit with their speeches. But they are not taking time out of their busy days to write the speeches they’re giving to their colleagues, at conferences, or during other large gatherings.

Books

Books are yet another example of ghostwriting hiding in plain sight.

There are many books that have been ghostwritten. The “author’s” face may be on the cover and the book may be a bestseller. But the book was not written solely, if at all, by the “author.”

In these cases, the “author” conveys their ideas to a ghostwriter and then reviews the various versions of the ghostwriter’s draft manuscripts. But the “author” is not spending hundreds of hours writing these manuscripts themselves.

Scribe Media, one of the most prominent book publishing/marketing companies, touts its ghostwriting services. Given that the company claims to have worked with over 1,700 authors and published 14+ New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestsellers, there is a good chance that many of those NYT or WSJ bestsellers were ghostwritten.

But Scribe Media is continuing a tradition of ghostwriting in the book publishing industry.

Michael Crichton, author of Jurassic Park and two dozen other novels, never used a ghostwriter while he was alive. But the books published under his name after he died in 2008 were apparently ghostwritten in his unique writing style based on the notes he left.

Carolyn Keene, “author” of the Nancy Drew books was not a real person. Nancy Drew books were written by ghostwriters.

Franklin W. Dixon, “author” of the Hardy Boys books was likewise not a real person. The Hardy Boys books were also written by ghostwriters.

Ann M. Martin wrote the first 35 novels in The Baby-Sitters Club seriesSubsequent novels in the series were written by ghostwriters, including Peter Lerangis.

Don’t forget about memoirs or autobiographies written by prominent people. If you see one written “with” a co-author, the book was almost certainly ghostwritten by that co-author. Here are three examples out of hundreds (if not thousands):

  • Donald Trump “wrote” The Art of the Deal with Tony Schwartz
  • Howard Schultz “wrote” Onward with Joanne Gordon
  • Sam Walton “wrote” Made in America with John Huey

Many, many more memoirs and autobiographies of high-profile people were written by their co-authors or uncredited ghostwriters.

Hip-hop songs

Did you know there are a number of well-known hip-hop songs written by people other than those songs’ performers?

In other words, you have hip-hop artists ghostwriting other hip-hop artists’ songs.

I’m not just talking about obscure songs. Many popular hip-hop songs were ghostwritten.

Remember Sean Combs’s (a.k.a Puff Daddy’s) tribute to the Notorious B.I.G., “I’ll Be Missing You?” According to the BBC, Combs’s portion was ghostwritten by Sauce Money.

According to Rolling Out, these hip-hop hits were also ghostwritten:

Even an art form as personal as hip-hop has room for ghostwriters.

Ghostwriting is everywhere

Back to those skeptical lawyers I mentioned at the beginning of this post.

When they tell me they’re not contemplating using ghostwriters because they don’t believe prominent people use ghostwriters, I tell them they’re wrong and point to the examples above.

As for you, dear reader, when the concept of working with a ghostwriter is presented to you, remember that ghostwriters are used by people in various industries and in various areas of public life—including politicians, corporate executives, popular authors, and hip-hop artists.

Don’t let the idea of using a ghostwriter scare you. Ghostwriting is more prevalent than you think.

In fact, there’s a good chance something you read (or heard!) within the past day or two was ghostwritten and you didn’t even know it. Those creators got the benefit of publishing something under their names without having to be the ones to bear the burden of creating it from scratch.

Imagine what such an arrangement could do for you and your marketing and business development efforts.

Bottom line: Lawyers and law firms should not pooh-pooh ghostwriting. It has long been used by politicians, corporate executives, U.S. presidents, authors, and hip-hop artists alike.

Wayne Pollock is the founder of Copo Strategies, a legal services and communications firm, and the Law Firm Editorial Service, a content strategy and writing service for lawyers and their law firms. The Law Firm Editorial Service collaborates with today’s and tomorrow’s rainmaking lawyers to ethically craft knowledge-conveying, book-of-business-building marketing and business development content.

Contemplating engaging a ghostwriter to ethically collaborate with your firm’s lawyers to write and publish blog posts, bylined articles, client alerts, and the like? Click here to schedule a 30-minute Content Strategy Audit to learn if collaborating with an outside writer is the right move for you and your law firm.

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