Can you convince people that you are someone else entirely?
How to give your ghostwriting an authentic tone.
It has been over two decades since Bill Gates declared that “Content is King!” and it has never been truer. This is the age of sponsored thought-leadership pieces, LinkedIn blogs and myriad other ways for industry experts to bypass the usual routes and speak directly to their audience through content, content and more content.
Many of these experts are excellent communicators in their own right, but struggle to find the time to commit their thoughts into a 600 word article. As such, the demand for ghostwriters is on the rise, as is the requirement for in-house communications teams to embody their senior leaders and create content that cuts through the noise and speaks with purpose to their target audience.
Giving someone else’s voice a platform, and indeed elevating it further, is nothing new to our community – it echoes the skills that speechwriters employ day to day and is seen in fragments every time a press officer adds a quote to a press releases (spoiler alert – most senior leaders don’t write their quotes).
For our industry, being able to convince people that our words are that of someone else entirely is part of the job.
The current trend is towards increasingly ‘authentic’ content. A discerning audience is conditioned now to be more cynical of highly polished speeches or rent-a-quote lines that see a CEO espousing the virtues of a ‘ground-breaking’ new strategy. A well-crafted blog - either internally owned or as a guest post elsewhere – can be inherently useful to the reader, but only if it is rooted in truth.
For ghostwriters, the challenge is to get to grips with the subject and find a way to balance their voice and truth with your own phraseology, and end up with something that feels as though it was penned by one singular mind.
It is not an easy task.
Without further ado, here are a few tips I have picked up from much wiser writers than me:
1) Any time that you can spend with your subject at the start of the project is crucial. Ask as many questions as you can and be brave enough to go off script if you sense an interesting angle - ‘why?’ is often where the best answers are to be found.
2) You’re not hunting for oodles of language or content in these discussions, it is more like sifting for gold. Sometimes it is just a turn of phrase that helps you to connect with your audience. I once had a cancer immunologist explain a process as ‘molecular Lego’ – it has stuck with me ever since.
3) Record your conversation (assuming you have permission of course). There are plenty of options for how to do this – I use an app called RecUp that sends the file straight from my phone to my DropBox. Doing so helps you to focus on asking questions and engaging in fruitful conversation without having to worry about accurate note taking and capturing the mannerisms that give that authentic voice.
4) as many examples as you can from your subject. It might be previous blogs, emails to staff or YouTube videos – it all helps you to understand who they are and how they communicate.
5) Embrace the challenge. For any writer, becoming someone else for 50 words or 5,000 words is an interesting and worthwhile challenge and can provide a break from the norm. It can be tricky to get it right first time so look to it as an opportunity to learn and hone your craft.
6) Always ask your client to track changes! Knowing what they have changed helps you get to grips with what is important to them.