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I had an email today from a young woman advertising her services as a writer for independent professionals (consultants, speakers, trainers and the like).  She promises she can ghostwrite articles, books and blog posts, she can re-craft website wording to improve the chance of being found by search engines, she can write brochures, email blasts, and whatever else the self-promoting independent consultant (speaker, trainer) needs, she can do it.  She can, too.  I followed her link and read her samples.  She’s literate and articulate.

 I appreciate that she’s trying to align her abilities as a writer with income-producing possibilities.  I’m only sorry she’s fallen for the idea that writing is a disposable commodity. The kind of writing services she’s offering will produce writing that’s as meaningful and intentional as speed dialing.  The publication of that kind of writing works similarly. Write something, anything, and use key words and phrases “guaranteed” to get Google’s attention.  Whether that’s what you mean to say or not isn’t the point.  It’s whether Google gets it. 

 Beyond the targeted words and phrases you must use to get noticed, the finished product (article, blog post) doesn’t matter much either.  The purpose of a lot of blog writing and internet article publication isn’t to say something.  It’s to move the self-promoting independent professional (whom you’re working for as a ghostwriter) up on the search engine hit parade.  It’s to promote the brand.  It’s to slather that person’s or company’s name across the internet.  You take what you’ve written and load it into online article blasters that will scatter your words like confetti to many internet destinations where it’s entirely likely no one will read it.

 That’s how much of article and blog writing is intended to work.  It’s not about saying something.  It’s about getting noticed.

 At a meeting of professional speakers a couple of years ago, one of them mentioned she had recently bought her way into a prestigious collection of essays.  It’s a questionable practice, at best, where some publisher puts out a collection of articles by famous business writers (like Ken Blanchard, who wrote The One Minute Manager) and you, a lowly otherwise unnoticed peon, write an article, then pay a sizeable fee so that it is then included in this collection.  There you are, Sam Nobody, right there in the same volume as Ken Blanchard.  The speaker who was telling us she’d done this finished up by saying, “You must have a book, you know.  A book is a calling card.”

 There are jobs like that for crafty self-starting English majors looking to parlay their writing abilities into a paycheck.  Just know what you’re getting into.  It isn’t writing anyone will read, and it isn’t writing you’ll be proud of.

2 thoughts on “Ghostwriting and Dubious Practices

  1. Thanks for this thought-provoking article. One thing I like about evolving search engine parameters is the emphasis on valuing “natural” text. That is, “good” writing rather than simply lists of keywords or even semi-sensical paragraphs stuffed with search terms. How search engines determine “good” writing may be debatable, but it’s clear that the battle for relevant search engine results has long been moving toward articulate prose.

    Still, even if disposable prose is the essence of search-focused writing, is there no art in utility? Surely there are subversive possibilities in otherwise purely functional internet copy. I think of commissioned portrait paintings, mercenary art that sometimes managed enduring quality. Or sonnets commissioned for patrons that legitimately found their way into our cannon of great literature. Perhaps someday we will value the best internet writing more than even the authors intend.

  2. I would agree that simply commissioning work doesn’t demean it. But in the days when sonnets were commissioned, those sonnets were actually read. I imagine there is functional internet copy out there that’s worth reading, but in the barrage of messages put forth every minute, they’re simply lost in all the noise.

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