Not everyone has the time or talent to write. While I have not seen any specific studies, it is not unreasonable to assume that the majority of C-level executives do not develop their own articles or speeches. In my own experience, most people with a significant span of responsibilities within a company prefer not to devote time to writing. They are engaged in the process of drafting material, but they highly value having a writer to support them.
The challenge lies in finding the right person to fit this role of ghostwriter for the busy executive or thought leader.
Here’s a simple guide to help identify what to look for and what to ask when choosing a ghostwriter.
Can the ghostwriter hear your voice?
When you are putting your name on an article, or delivering a speech, you want to sound like yourself. The end product should be a refined and perfected version of the way you speak. It should feel authentic.
You should seek a ghostwriter who is capable of hearing and mimicking the subtleties of your thinking and style. This becomes visible in factors such as word choice, sentence length, use of humor, and overall tone.
But even more so, the end product should fit your way of approaching a topic. It should stick close to the way you connect ideas and the kinds of logic you use to get from a point to a conclusion.
An expert ghostwriter will be able to pull together cues from the way that you communicate in conversations and emails, from your previous articles or speeches, and from your overall demeanor.
In addition, all of that must be cross-checked with the brand voice and brand messages of your organization.
From overarching messages to the actual wording, the ghostwriter’s product will come across as something that comes from you. Yet it still must ring true with your organizations overall story and collateral. Your ghostwriter will take you through this process is a structured manner.
Does the ghostwriter know your field well enough?
There are plenty of generic writers out there, or writers whose experience focuses on specific industries. If you want your ghostwriter to be able to meet you where you are, however, your ghostwriter must be conversant in your specific field. That includes industry knowledge, familiarity with key trends, and understanding and familiarity with your target audience.
Simply put, you need a ghostwriter who is properly equipped to grasp the nuances of your thinking, who knows the difference between truisms and true insights, and who can deliver the messages you wish to deliver in a way that is optimized to the needs of your audience.
Basic facility with the technicalities of writing matters, but you should take that for granted. Beyond that, expect a level of subject-matter expertise so that what you wish to communicate makes full sense to the communicator you have engaged.
Can the ghostwriter ask questions to clarify your thinking?
The ability to ask good questions is a complement to subject area competence. You should expect active listening from your ghostwriter. A strong ghostwriter will push you toward clarity of thinking and purpose.
Tough questions you should expect include:
- Why is that important?
- How is that different from what company X or expert Y said?
- What is the logic behind that?
- What is another way to look at that?
- What are some examples and counter-examples of that?
Your ghostwriter will use that process to pressure test what you say. In addition, the answers to those questions should be distilled into a very clear trajectory for the final output. They will boil down to a vision for what people should know, do, feel, and decide differently after they hear or read your messages.
Does the ghostwriter aim true?
Finally, nothing is more frustrating than receiving a first draft and feeling like it is totally off-base. While some ghostwriters can correct course easily after missing the goal on a first draft, ideally, the first draft should come quite close to the final product.
A close-to-final draft indicates that your ghostwriter heard your voice, knows your field, and clarified your thinking. In that sense, it provides reassurance that the process worked. In addition, having a close first draft streamlines the process.
If the goal of a ghostwriter is to save you time and effort, multiple rounds of major revision end up missing the mark.
Engaging a ghostwriter can be an uncertain process. It’s hard to know that what you will get at the end is something you will be proud to stand behind as the named author.
By examining these four questions up front, you’ll have better outcomes, as well as a better experience throughout the writing process.