One of the blog’s readers posted a comment with regards to the writer who is wanting to hire ghostwriters to pen non-fiction articles. I thought the issue so important, I wanted to address her questions on the main board. Star writes,
“I did not have the same reaction you did. He was offering 35 cents a word, which is below the occasional $1 we can find, but ballpark these days. No byline? No problem! Exposure is worth nothing, as these columns so often point out. He is responsible for the accuracy of what he turns in. The only way to make money is to have employees and not do it all youself. What are those writing companies besides a version of this? (No, I don’t mean those stupid homework-doing companies.) My question–and I did write him–was where was he getting all this work!!?”
You’re right, Star, exposure is worth nothing. It doesn’t pay our bills. However, I don’t think anyone who started in this business as a freelancer hasn’t worked for the small community newspaper to gain investigative clips, reviews or whatever you wanted your writing specialty to be – for that $25 an article. I’ve never personally said that you’ll die of all exposure, as it is with nature, you’ll only die of exposure if you go outside without proper attire (not getting paid at all) and stay outside in the cold too long (writing for $25 for the remainder of your career- you won’t make it).
I learned the identity of this writer the other day and sent them an email (and no, I won’t reveal the identity as that would compromise my confidential source). I think my email says it all, but if you have further questions as to why not actually writing journalistic pieces (and this person does write for at least one major newspaper) is ethically repugnant, please feel free to post them. Good freelance writers always have more ideas than they can possibly sell, that’s why we are able to make a living doing what we do. And as I point out to our creative friend, there are legitimate ways to hire office assistants while still maintaining ethical and quality standards – our own, as well as those of the publications for which we pledge that the work we are submitting is our own, original work.
Instead of responding to this person’s ad and doing something that might have ramifications for the ad poster, the writer and the publisher, I would be asking myself if this person can get $1 a word, why can’t I?
For anyone who replied to this ad, hoping to get a piece of the action this writer is promising, I would also ask myself, “If my editors found out I was helping another writer scam – and this is what this is, folks, there is no gray area here – publications, how long could I maintain my business?” If that isn’t enough to scare you off, as it was pointed out on one professional board where this is being discussed, anyone involved in scamming a publication by providing a false byline possibly could be subject to a lawsuit by the publisher.
Here’s the email I sent this writer:
“My name is Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell and I’m a full-time freelance writer. I’m also the national chair for the Society of Professional Journalists Freelance Committee.
I’m writing to you as your Craig’s List ad for ghost writers has made quite a splash on writing and journalism boards – and I don’t mean in a good way.
Your information was forwarded to me because I routinely write about people in the market to scam writers but I’m taking the time to write to you as one of my colleagues thought you might be a person relatively new to freelance writing, and therefore, not fully educated in how unethical that hiring a ghost writer to write non-fiction articles as a journalist really is.
Our profession is constantly bombarded with scam artists wanting to make a quick buck off the backs of hungry and aspiring writers. I’m sure you’ve received plenty of replies to your ad. However, asking other writers to do all your work and then paying them 1/4 to 1/2 of what you’re getting, with no byline, is simply put, a writer taking advantage of other writers.
Besides the fact that it is a terrible writing business practice for the responders to your ad to sell their work for less than industry standard, as well as releasing all rights, it is highly unethical of you to present work as your own, especially when many of the contracts for publications for which you write require that it be your original work.
While your eagerness to use your own creativity to sell articles in this business is commendable, this practice is not. You might want to ask yourself these questions:
- If my editors were to find out that I’m doing this, what would they say?
- Many NY editors moonlight as freelance writers, and some of them have likely seen his CL post, as well, they’re probably reading about this posts on various writing forums. If this person found me so quickly, what makes me think editors will not find out who I am?
- How am I going to ensure the quality of the fact checking of these writers and protect my own writing reputation?
I hope you will take this advice very seriously. This not only could affect your freelance writing career, but if editors find out that writers are pulling stuff like this, contracts are bound to become even more onerous than they already are in our profession.
There are areas of publishing where ghostwriting is a very legitimate and acceptable practice. I can think of two – book writing and corporate writing. But it is not an acceptable practice in non-fiction magazine and article writing, otherwise referred to as journalism. If people cannot trust the byline of the writer, they cannot trust the whole article or publication. There are also very acceptable ways writers can hire assistants to help them with their freelance business. Research assistants, for example, can conduct initial research for queries and articles, as well as do more routine office assistant things, leaving you, the writer, free to write.”