I sold my soul ghostwriting.
A couple years back I was hired to be the lead ghostwriter* for the chief executive officer of a big one-hundred person startup located in the heart of Silicon Valley.
*For those of you who don’t know what ghostwriting is… it’s an anonymous writer who gets paid to write articles or books under the name of another writer, business guru, athlete or celebrity.
I was tasked with coming up with creative ideas and breathing life into those creative ideas in the form of great big 2,000-word thought-leadership articles.
It was a nice little side-gig that paid damn well. Especially back then, when I was first getting my start in the writing business.
Once a week, I would show up to the computer and I would sell my soul for $500 an article.
I was damn good at it, too. Damn good.
The moment I put pen to paper the anonymous articles I was shelling out for this “thought-leader” were setting the internet world on fire.
Today, one article, in particular, remains a top twenty-five article of all time on Medium, sporting well over 150,000 applause, millions of views and hundreds of comments praising this chief executive officer for his original thought, brilliant thinking and poetic way with words.
I will never tell anyone (not even my closest of friends) who the company nor the CEO was. Not because I signed a contract that holds me liable to keep my mouth shut (there surprisingly was no contract), but because I’m not proud of what I spent nearly a year of my life doing.
To be candid, it kills me to realize some of my best, most read, most loved, most wildly respected writing of all time is something not even under my own name… but instead under someone else’s name.
That’s challenging as both a writer and a creative to come to terms with. Wildly challenging.
I wrote a couple dozen articles and made $10,000 before I decided to walk away from the ghostwriting game for good.
And while it was certainly the right decision for both myself and my creative writing shop, Honey Copy, it was by no means an easy decision –– walking away from money on the table is never an easy decision.
While I don’t necessarily view ghostwriting as intrinsically bad, I do think it’s important that I bring to the world’s attention (or at the very least my reader’s attention) that it is taking place far more often than you or even I realize.
Exposing the underground world of ghostwriting.
There are two million blog posts slung out every day. Some of them are written by the people who sign their names at the bottom. Most of them aren’t.
While upon first making that realization it might be easy to pass judgment on business executives, celebrities and athletes, we have to remember that even the United States president doesn’t write his own speeches (and many times his own books after his term is up).
With that said, we can’t judge the ghostwriters who chooses to ghostwrite, either. President Obama’s head speechwriter took home an estimated $172,000 a year during his ink slinging days…
Being that the average writer makes somewhere around $50,000 a year, it’s easy to see why a writer might choose anonymity to nearly quadruple their annual salary.
With that said, I do think there is a right and a wrong way for both ghostwriters and their employers to engage in the act of ghostwriting.
I think the right way is removing anonymity. Right now, you can Google the name of Obama’s speechwriter. It’s public information. It’s a guy named Jon.
I think that’s pretty damn cool. I think it’s so cool that after I retired from ghostwriting days, I chose to model this same practice at Honey Copy.
Ghostwriter for hire? Not anymore.
Now, when I work with brands on writing anything from articles, ebooks, sales emails, websites, billboards or product copy… we view the engagement as a partnership.
Over the years I’ve really worked to build the Honey Copy brand and the face behind it and I’m astonished to find brands not only want me to write for them but want me to sign my name at the bottom of what I write.
Eventually, I want to become such a prolific writer that the world’s biggest brands view me like they would view a renowned designer.
They don’t want me to be anonymous, but instead want my signature on literally everything I write because the value isn’t just in me writing for them… but in partnering with the actual writer himself… Cole Schafer.
I want this in part to stroke my ego as a creative, I will admit. But, in addition, I think it is more honest and authentic to the customer and the reader.
There is a reason people get an icky feeling when they hear the word “ghostwriter”. There is a reason I got sick to my stomach realizing some of my best work was published under a name that never wrote it.
No, it’s not necessarily intrinsically wrong but I’m not entirely sure if it is right either. It’s certainly not being transparent as a brand or a writer and here at Honey Copy if I am trying to achieve anything… it’s transparency.
So, long story short. I ghostwrote for a year. I made $10,000 doing it. I sold my soul in the process. I walked away from the game in hopes to buy my soul back. To date, that decision has cost me another $10,000.
And, I learned a damn good lesson… I’m not a fucking ghostwriter.
If you want to hire me, I’ll sign my goddamn name.
By Cole Schafer.
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