Ghostwriting for Dummies

I’ve got a confession to make. Okay, not so much a confession, since it’s already one of the worst kept secrets ever.

My name is Erik, and I’m a ghostwriter.

(“Hi, Erik.”)

You probably already knew that. I own a company that ghostwrites blogs for other companies. I recently wrote a humor novel about a ghost in Irvington, a historic neighborhood in Indianapolis. (Ghost. Writing. Get it?) I’ve even ghostwritten a number of speeches, including for two U.S. Congressional campaigns about 6 and 8 years ago.

I recently helped ghostwrite another book that I’m very proud to be a part of.

I helped Kyle Lacy write Twitter Marketing for Dummies. Actually, I wrote half of it.

Not many people will know it, especially because my name is not on the cover. (Because I’m a ghostwriter; we don’t get our names on covers.) However, my name is there in the acknowledgments, and there are a few places where Kyle and I have some back and forth with each other on Twitter. We also reference people in our made up tweets, like Doug Karr, Michelle Ball, Lorraine Ball, and a few others.

I was really pleased that Kyle asked me to be a part of the project. And I was honored that he thought enough of my writing skills to ask me to help.

So how well is this book going to do? We don’t know. We both have ideas of grandeur, of a wild book tour where social media noobies and spammers Internet marketers flock to the bookstore in droves, screaming our names. But we also know that the harder work is yet to come. Writing a book is easy, promoting it is where the real work comes in.

If only there was some way we could market the book to a lot of people, quickly, easily, and even for free. I wish someone would build a tool that would communicate with thousands of people simultaneously, in short text-based messages. If only, if only. . .

We’re also looking at speaking engagements and presentations to corporate groups, conferences, and of course, the screaming groupies. So if you know of any speaking opportunities where people want to know how to use Twitter for their online marketing, send Kyle (@KylePLacy) or me (@edeckers) a tweet and we’ll get in touch with you.

Kyle and I are already discussing another project or two we are considering. He’s got the connections, and I can type 95 words per minute; together, we’ve got the know-how about the subject matter. The world is our oyster, and we’re going to write about it.

BUY NOW! Twitter Marketing for Dummies at Amazon

Why We’re Opposed to Medical Ghostwriting

My friend Melanie Audette recently sent me an article from the New York Times about the problems of medical paper ghostwriting, and how Senator Charles Grassley (IA-R) is putting pressure on the National Institutes of Health to put a stop to it.

Medical ghostwriting, sayeth the Times, goes something like this:

But evidence of the breadth of the practice has come to light only gradually, most recently in documents released in litigation over menopause drugs made by Wyeth.

The documents offer a look at the inner workings of DesignWrite, a medical writing company hired by Wyeth to prepare an estimated 60 articles favorable to its hormone drugs. In one publication plan, for example, DesignWrite wrote that the goal of the Wyeth articles was to de-emphasize the risk of breast cancer associated with hormone drugs, promote the drugs as beneficial and blunt competing drugs. The articles were published in medical journals between 1998 and 2005 — continuing even though a big federal study was suspended in 2002 after researchers found that menopausal women who took certain hormones had an increased risk of invasive breast cancer and heart disease.

We’re opposed to this kind of ghostwriting, because it’s dishonest, unethical, and presents all kinds of conflicts of interest.

“What’s that?” you’re asking. “But you’re in the ghostwriting business.”

Yes, but we’re not that kind of ghostwriter.

In medical ghostwriting, a writer for a pharmaceutical company will create a scientific paper extolling the virtues, efficacy, and non-lethalness of their drugs. But rather than release them under their own name, they instead invite some university professors to attach their name to the paper. The professors get publication credit in medical journals (very important if they don’t have tenure), and the drug companies can say, “Look, Dr. Dwayne Hoover of Medical University said our drug works and won’t kill you.”

The full scope of the ghostwriting problem is still unclear, but recent revelations suggest that the practice is widespread. Dozens of medical education companies across the country draft scientific papers at the behest of drug makers. And placing such papers in medical journals has become a fundamental marketing practice for most of the large pharmaceutical companies.

You have hopefully seen the problem here. First, the professor didn’t write it. Second, the professor is attaching his or her name to a drug that may actually not work as advertised. Third, there is an assumption of public trust that the professor did the work and did not receive payment for allowing his or her name to be used.

Universities Hypocritical In Their Response to Plagiarism versus Medical Ghostwriting

The New York Times said something interesting, something that should send shudders through the hallowed halls of our educational institutions:

Yet many universities have been slow to recognize the extent of the problem, to adopt new ethical rules or to hold faculty members to account.

It’s rather ironic, since universities will expel students for putting their name on a paper someone else wrote, yet do nothing to the faculty members who do the exact same thing. So what’s the difference? Could it be that the professors bring in large research grants are valued members of the academic community and should be forgiven these little errors of judgment? If so, what kind of message does that send to the students who have been expelled for exactly the same thing? But more importantly. how will the universities turn their backs on all that money find a fair and ethical way to treat transgressors on both sides of the desk?

“But, but,” sputter the social media purists, “that’s what you do for your clients.”

Au contraire, my naïve little friends. We get the information from our clients and write it for them. The client tells us what they want to talk about, we gather the information by interviewing them, and then write the article based on what they told us. It’s the client’s words, the client’s thoughts, we just transcribed it.

It’s the same way a CEO writes a letter to the shareholders or a politician writes a speech (i.e. they don’t, someone else does).

“But, but,” re-sputter the purists, “it’s not their own work. They have to do their own work.”

Look, let’s join the real world here for a minute. As we have said before, this kind of ghostwriting goes on in the business and political world everywhere else. CEOs and politicians don’t write their own material, and no one has uttered a single squawk. Marketing directors freelance their graphics design and copywriting to professionals, and no one complains (nor should they). In fact, there are only two places where practitioners are expected to write their own content: journalism and. . . oh, uh. . . academia. Oopsie.

(And then there was one.)

Like I said, we’re opposed to medical ghostwriting. We never put words into a client’s mouth or thoughts into their head. Anything we create has originally come from the client, whether it’s a recorded interview, an article they forwarded, or even an article we found and asked “what do you think?” We don’t come up with something that may run counter to the client’s beliefs or practices and ask them to approve it.

This is vastly different from the university professors who let someone else write something they may not actually believe just for the sake of a publication credit and a fat research grant.

So while the academicians may sit on their high horse and unfurl their banners of academic integrity, you may want to take a look behind you first.

There seems to be some confusion within your own ranks.