As a freelancer, you may be familiar with ghost writing. Ghost writing is when you either write for someone else on their behalf or you have someone else write on your own behalf. Basically, someone else does the work and the other person gets the credit. In college, this would be known as cheating.

Now, I’m not here to judge the notion of ghost writing. Actually, I believe it has its time and place. However, I’ve been freelance writing for years now. I’ve seen the ugly side of ghost writing. That’s why this post is necessary. It’s necessary for freelance writers to know proper ghost writing etiquette. Let’s begin.

For Shame

You should be glad you’re reading this. Because I’m using my collective knowledge of years of freelancing to write this for you. It shortens your learning curve. And when you see these ghost writing tactics for yourself, you’ll already know what’s going on.

Some freelance writers get over loaded. It’s understandable. Freelance writing is one of those careers where you must work more and more hours if you want to make more and more money. Sure, you can (and will) get raises. But there’s a direct correlation between the time you put in and the money you earn.

What’s tempting to do is to outsource your work. Basically, let’s say someone has hired you to write an article for $400. You know an enterprising young writer who you assume would do the job for $100. So you hire that person to do the gig. Is this okay? I say absolutely not. You were hired to produce the content. The person who hired you had you specifically in mind. Though, if you don’t think this is a breech of written or unwritten contract, I invite you to tell the employer exactly what you are doing. If they see no problem with it, congratulations. Pocket the $300 different and be on your way. Even open an agency while you’re at it.

I’ve never been thwarted like this in any way. I just know some people who do this and it’s slightly irritating to me. I feel like they are lying to the clients and the readers. When in doubt, don’t hire it out. Or just ask if it’s okay for you to do so.

Note: It’s great to hire everything else out.

It Has to Be Messy

I don’t hire other people who write my work. But I know other people who do. And I know it has just got to be messy. First, the profit margin must be great enough. You need to find someone who will write the piece for a seriously lower amount. Because you’ll still have to edit, work with the client and manage logistics. That’s no small feat. You also must consider any fees such as PayPal fees or fees for providing resources to the writer such as journal subscriptions, etc.

Second, a ghost writer could simply Google their content, find out where it ends up and contact that employer directly. Circumventing you and perhaps ruining your reputation. That’d be fun, huh?

It’s Not Cheating but Make Sure It’s Not Deceitful

In college, I had a professor make an edit to his syllabus that said no student should be deceitful. Because he had a problem with students kind of circumventing the truth. The same should hold true in the world of freelance writing. If you’re being deceitful, knock it off. But if you’re able to pull together a team of content creators and where you can make money yourself… that’s fantastic. As long as everyone knows – keep it up.


William Lipovsky owns the personal finance website First Quarter Finance. His most embarrassing moment was telling a Microsoft executive, "I'll just Google it."

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