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If you hire a ghostwriter for Op-Ed Ghostwriting

In a World of Op-Ed Ghostwriting, Have Readers Become Invisible, Too?

Some op-eds are written by their nominal authors, while others are ghostwritten by PR firms with an agenda. Can readers tell the difference? If you hire a ghostwriter, what happens...?

Hire a Book Ghostwriter

SINCE ITS LAUNCH in 2015, STAT News has published award-winning, in-depth, and independent reporting on health, medicine, and the pharmaceutical industry. Some recent digging by the media watchdog HealthNewsReview, though, turned up something less savory at STAT: two opinion articles that looked like the work of an ordinary patient and doctor, but were actually shaped by public relations firms working for pharmaceutical companies or their interests.

The incident has raised larger questions about how easy it is for PR professionals to game opinion sections.

In one case, HNR reported, a PR company apparently authored an op-ed that was published under the name Robert Yapundich, a physician in North Carolina. The piece was headlined “How pharma sales reps help me be a more up-to-date-doctor,” but it was not disclosed that the piece had originated with a PR firm (Yapundich later admitted that he made edits, but that he did not write the piece), nor was it reported that Yapundich had received payments from pharmaceutical companies in the past.

In another case, Deborah Clark Dushane, a retired educator in Michigan, published an op-ed in STAT praising television drug commercials. The ads, she wrote, had led her to a drug that cured her chronic hepatitis-C. “Those commercials raised my awareness of the disease and gave me the courage to try again to beat it,” Dushane wrote.

But when HealthNewsReview called up Dushane, she admitted that a PR firm representing a pharmaceutical company had asked her to write the op-ed and submit it to STAT. The firm also reviewed and edited Dushane’s draft prior to submission. And while there is no evidence that the pharmaceutical company, Gilead Sciences, paid Dushane for her efforts, they did fly her out to California “to learn more about the company and its products,” according to a lengthy disclosure that STAT has since appended to her op-ed.

STAT retracted Yapundich’s piece and promptly changed its op-ed policy, requiring contributors to answer a list of questions about conflicts of interest and outside assistance. But given STAT’s stature as a top-flight journalism organization, the incident has raised larger questions about how easy it is for PR professionals to game opinion sections elsewhere. It also highlights a lack of clear industry standards on what amounts to ghostwriting, in which public relations professionals, acting on behalf of powerful interests, write what appear to be original articles and essays that are then published under the bylines of individuals.

Is that ever acceptable? And if so, how are readers made aware of what’s written by PR professionals in pursuit of an agenda, and what’s truly the product of an individual with something to say?

“A lot of editors seem to be very adamant that the byline is the actual writer. But I think that’s a little naive.”

CERTAINLY, the media landscape can be confusing for readers, even without hidden authorship and unclear incentives. While research on ghostwriting itself is sparse, there’s evidence that for many readers, it is increasingly difficult to differentiate between commercial communication and journalistic communication online. A 2016 Stanford University study, for example, found that middle school students struggled to distinguish between journalism and sponsored content on the homepage of Another recent study indicated that adults were frequently unable to distinguish between so-called native advertising — which is designed to look like an article — from actual editorial content.

Reasonable people might disagree on what exactly distinguishes an op-ed ghostwritten by representatives of a pharmaceutical company from an advertisement. But these larger confusions suggest that many readers may have little idea about where the opinion content they read comes from. When I brought this issue up with Patricia Parsons, a communications professional and former professor at Mount Saint Vincent University in Canada who has written about the practice and ethics of PR ghostwriting, she questioned whether there was clarity even with politicians. “These days, people will say, ‘Well everybody knows that politicians don’t write their own speeches.’ I’m not really sure that’s true anymore. I think there are an awful lot of people who don’t realize that politicians, for example, don’t write their own speeches.”

While it may be invisible to many readers, of course, it’s an open secret among journalists and opinion editors that politicians, CEOs, and other public figures often don’t write their own material — and it’s not just well-known figures who get help (or prompting) from public relations firms: Nonprofit leaders, local activists, think-tank fellows, and academics sometimes turn to ghostwriters and communication consultants, too. And PR firms frequently work directly with opinion editors, pitching and submitting op-eds on behalf of their clients.

The PR firm that ghostwrote Yapundich’s op-ed, Keybridge Communications, offers an “a la carte services menu” that describes the process to potential clients (the document was obtained and published last year on the left-leaning media watchdog site “First, we write a 500-800 word op-ed,” the menu explains. “Then we place it in one or more newspapers around the country. If we’re pitching to a national audience, we guarantee that we’ll reach at 50,000 readers.” The service costs $5,000, according to the document. For $2,500 per month, Keybridge will also write regular letters to the editor.

Some opinion sections do try to avoid ghostwritten material altogether. Michael Lemonick, the chief opinion editor at Scientific American, told Undark in an email that all contributors are required to sign a contract stating that “you represent and warrant that the Work was written solely by you.”

But for most opinion editors, the practice is acceptable, if not ideal. “Having a person write your op-ed, to me, is no different than having a speechwriter to write for a presidential candidate,” said Joanna Pearlstein, the deputy managing editor at Wired Magazine, who oversees their opinion section. “I don’t necessarily have an objection to that. I do want to know who’s behind the piece, and I like to have an idea of why they’re writing it.”

Elizabeth Souder, the assistant editorial page editor at The Dallas Morning News had similar thoughts. “I’ve found that a lot of other editors seem to be very adamant that the byline is the actual writer,” she said. “But I think that’s a little naive. I don’t think you can even assume that among even our best unpaid columnists. If you’re going to be publishing free content, you’re going to be publishing content marketing. And there are going to be other editors involved that you don’t know about. That’s reality.”

Perhaps so, but is this process entirely transparent to, and understood by, everyday readers? What made the cases at STAT unusual, after all, was that the writers did not appear to have any obvious institutional affiliations; they were just concerned individuals with something to say on topics of interest to them. It took some digging, on the part of HNR and others, to reveal that they weren’t always writing about their own experiences, and certainly not without the prompting and participation of multinational corporations.

It’s hard to tell how pervasive the practice is, but none of the eight opinion editors interviewed for this article said they thought it was widespread. Souder said the closest thing might be political groups that will ask a local citizen — say, a veteran — to put her name on a pre-written op-ed. “If that veteran really is a member of the group, really does care about that, well great.” Souder said. “But it’s hard to tell if that’s the case. And it feels slimy.”

David Haynes, the editorial page editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, also pointed to some politically motivated ghostwriting, but added that the commercially driven tactics used by pharmaceutical companies to target STAT seemed unusual. “I think for our news organization, that would be relatively uncommon,” he said.

At least one PR professional I queried regarding the Deborah Dushane op-ed seemed to agree. Michele Ewing, a longtime public relations professional who worked with clients in the health care sector, and who now teaches in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Kent State University, said it was the first time she’d seen something quite like it. She added that it seemed like “a clear violation” of the Public Relations Society of America’s code of ethics — as well as a questionable business tactic. “There are other ways to tell that patient’s story,” Ewing said. “You don’t need to do it through the op-ed page.”

Where does that deception begin? Is it the moment that anyone claims authorship for a piece they did not write?

STILL, NOT ALL opinion editors agree that ghostwriting like this is necessarily a problem. “If it reflects her opinion, it doesn’t really matter if she wrote it or not,” said Ned Barnett, the editorial page editor of the News & Observer in Raleigh, North Carolina, after I sketched out for him the basic details of the Dushane case. D.J. Tice, the commentary editor at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, made a similar point: “The simple fact that some PR flak from the company helped them,” he told me, “does not seem so sinister to me, as long as it’s expressing their opinion or their view.”

Everyone would agree that deception is not okay. But where does that deception begin? Is it the moment that anyone claims authorship for a piece they did not write? Is it the moment when readers no longer understand that a ghostwriter may have been involved in producing an op-ed? Is it the moment when editors themselves aren’t sure whose opinion they’re publishing? And does it matter if the writer formulated the exact words of the opinion, as long as she’s willing to stand behind, and remain accountable for, the content?

Finding ethical and professional guidelines on the practice of op-ed ghostwriting is difficult. I brought this up with Haynes, who also serves as a co-chair of the opinion committee for the American Society of News Editors. “As for industry-wide standards, I’m not sure there really are, which is one thing that I think ASNE, through its opinion committee, probably ought to think about,” Haynes said. “It’s an issue that we’ve sort of informally raised as maybe a mini-project for our committee to take a look at and see.”

One thing that is clear: The issue isn’t going away. We are, after all, in a golden age of content marketing, in which companies and other organizations try to produce “content” that very intentionally masquerades as journalism, but which is little more than advertising. At the same time, newsrooms have fewer and fewer resources to vet contributors, even as the need to publish more material grows.

“Public relations firms have found that this content marketing approach is really effective, right?” Souder said. “They know how to write, and they can do it effectively, and they know what newsrooms want, and it’s free content.

“And,” she added, “newsrooms are struggling.”

Michael Schulson is an American freelance writer covering science, religion, technology, and ethics. His work has been published by Pacific Standard magazine, Aeon, New York magazine, and The Washington Post, among other outlets, and he writes the Matters of Fact and Tracker columns for Undark.



Hire a Book Ghostwriter for Your Book or Books

Authors working with book ghostwriters include but are not limited to:

How to Hire a Book Ghost Writer

Hire a Book Ghostwriter

  •           Woody Allen - The Rainbow Horizon and others
  • ·         Alexandre Dumas - The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo
  • ·         Michael Crichton - Latitudes (finished posthumously)
  • ·         Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond
  • ·         R. L. Stein
  • ·         Tom Clancy
  • ·         Robert Ludlum.
  • ·         James Patterson
  • ·         Alan Greenspan, Chairman of the Federal Reserve

How to Hire a Ghostwriter for your Book 

The above is by Karen S. Cole, book ghost writer since 2003, book agent since 2005. I've helped thousands of people get published, and so will you. OR MORE!!!

I'm Your Friend Forever. Read a book every day of your life. A book is a tremendous friend, one that keeps where you put it, one who leads to foolish which causes Changes.
- Jughead Jones, best friend of Archie Andrews.



DeAnna Knippling Ghostwriter

Interview With DeAnna Knippling: Ghostwriter


Ghostwriter Deanna Knippling
Ghostwriting has become big business with the recent boom in self-publishing. While often hired for works of non-fiction, ghostwriters are increasingly being sought for fiction.

Colorado author DeAnna Knippling has been ghostwriting novels for nearly a decade and has more than 20 full-length books under her belt. I recently spoke with her about this highly secretive occupation.
Check out the interview here below.
Geeks of Doom: How did you get into ghostwriting?
DeAnna Knippling: I got into ghostwriting about 2008, mainly with writing…dun dun dun…murder mystery party games. I wrote for a number of companies that shall not be named, then gravitated to Freeform Games in the U.K. (All their games are great, hint hint, and are easily played from the U.S. as everything can be printed out. They have a GREAT editing process and are run by a bunch of total gamer geeks, in the best possible ways.)

From there, I worked on several short projects for a variety of ghostwriting clients, then in 2009 did Choose Your Doom: Zombie Apocalypse, which was a great book that kind of fell through some cracks. I was also getting into self-publishing at the time, which actually ties in: the big rush in self-publishing brought with it a Gold Rush level of authors digging through the new turf, but also a secondary Gold Rush of people offering those authors services — like the general store owners, bartenders, etc. who set up in towns supporting the miners — and entrepreneurial types who hired authors to ghostwrite for them.

Suddenly, some indie work was selling really well, and a group of people went, “How can I get me some of that…without actually having to write all the books?” I was trying to break into professional short story markets and failing miserably but actually getting the work done on the indie side and building a portfolio that way; the entrepreneurial types looked at my writing and said, “Well, it’s better than I can do,” and hired me.

I’m not saying it’s the most noble beginning in the world, but I’ve always said to myself that the most important thing that I can do as a writer is get more words under my belt. I consider ghostwriting my paid internship. Of course I’d rather have all the fame and fortune under my own name (as well as own all the rights). But I’m okay with ghosting as a part of the process of getting there.

Geeks of Doom: How does the process work?

DeAnna Knippling:  For me, each client is different. I think part of that is the ebook revolution being so new; “best practices” is kind of a running experiment and not a solid idea yet. Also, I’ve been running a lot of numbers lately and determining which clients are worth the time, and which ones eat up profit with all the side tasks and lack of organizational skills, so my client base has changed somewhat.
That being said, what tends to happen on a new book (not from an existing series) is that I get a genre that the client wants the work to be in. Thriller, adventure, cozy, horror — whatever. A number of scenarios will get pitched back and forth; lately, there has been more discussion on how the book might be used to set up a series. I approve of that; it means I have more work coming up. But also it seems like it’s far easier to promote a series; the ones that I’ve done that sell the best for my clients have been in a series. I’m starting to change what I, personally, plan to write because of my observations there.

The books that are being written in existing series are more constrained; there tends to be more of a plot for the upcoming book already established, although I’ve never had a client outright tell me that my feedback isn’t wanted. How much feedback often depends on the client. (And genre — I think I’m learning to expect the unexpected when it comes to trying to plot cozies.) A lot of the time what happens with books from an existing series is that I’ll go over the previous books and make a file of notes with character and place names and details; I tend to struggle with those. I’ll sometimes type in sections of the books to try to get closer to the style the client’s looking for. I may do short outlines of each book if I think I’m going to forget timelines.

It’s important to agree on plot before you start. I’ve had clients decide to massively try to change drafts…without paying any extra for it. With an outline in place, you can say, “This isn’t in the approved outline. You’ll need to pay for rewrites.”

Once the work is in progress, I try to budget about 20K words per week. I generally write one major draft (receiving feedback at the end of each week). At the end of the first draft, I stop and wait for approval and/or edits; after the edits are in, I do a cleanup draft where I fix infelicities, bad grammar, and typos, and punch up characters if they come across as flat
— an extra day or two of solid work, maybe.

I’ve noticed the process tends to produce books that aren’t epic or daring or challenging or rule-breaking or subversive. I’m not being asked to write game-changing literary masterpieces. Mostly just series books that fit their genres and tell a good story.

Geeks of Doom: How many books have you ghostwritten? Are they mostly fiction? What genre are they in?

DeAnna Knippling: Buhhhh…I’ll have to go look. Okay. Since 2013 (when I started keeping better records), I’ve completed 21 novel-length projects, two novelettes, and five short stories. There are other projects that I’m not counting because things went belly-up before I could finish. I’m not counting non-fiction articles; I’ve written some, but it’s not my happy place (except the ones I write for a particular librarian, which are always an ADVENTURE). I tried my hand at a couple of non-fiction books before 2013 and hated doing it. I also hate writing short stories for clients; where I don’t feel that personally attached to novels, I completely freak out about yielding my short stories to clients. So I stopped doing that.

Genres: horror, sci-fi, middle grade, suspense, cozy mystery, and adventure. The word count is 1.6 million ghosted words and counting.

Geeks of Doom: Who hires a ghostwriter for a novel?
DeAnna Knippling: There are the big-scale ghostwritten novels that often get “also-by” credits or editorial credits for the ghostwriter. I don’t write those yet. I’m still at the smaller end of the scale, where it’s indies all the way down. The people who hire me fall into two groups: 1) writers who have hit a sweet spot in the market and want to have someone to chase down more books in that niche ASAP (whether it’s in the same series or not), and 2) entrepreneurial types who see a market niche and want to exploit it. The second group are not necessarily writers — that is, they might have written a book or two, but tend not to have serious aspirations as writers. They primarily want to make money. There are some professional book-packaging units that sell book packages to big publishers; these would be the indie equivalent of that. They package the books they think will sell and send them directly to the market rather than through a big publisher.

I tend to have more luck with the first than the second. There are a lot of entrepreneurs who want to sell stories but don’t necessarily have a working knowledge of what a story is. That’s not to say that I haven’t had good clients who aren’t primarily writers — just that the ones who are also writers currently writing their own series and books and who just want to expand outward more quickly tend to have better luck. It turns out that understanding what makes a story, let alone a good one, is more difficult than it looks, as any acquiring editor at a big publishing house could probably tell you :)

Geeks of Doom: What are the biggest challenges facing a ghostwriter of fiction as opposed to non-fiction?

DeAnna Knippling: I feel like ghostwriters of non-fiction have more challenges than I do, because of the research involved. Even if you’re going to specialize in a given subject and therefore have most of your research done ahead of time, it’s still more work than I have to do. I spend time researching locations and a few facts here and there, but nothing like the non-fiction people have to deal with. But maybe they would say the same about what I do :)

My personal biggest challenges are learning when to say “no” on a project or to a revision (i.e., an unpaid one), and when to say, “I’m not moving forward until you answer my questions,” but that probably applies to non-fiction ghostwriters as well. The things that it seems like would be hard, like writing a lot of words per week or not having seven bajillion drafts in which to “perfect” things, tend to be non-issues. The things that tend to tear up writers working on their own work tend to be decisions that are made ahead of time. I also started out with more projects where an outline was provided to me, rather than having to make them up myself, which was another weight off my shoulders. You’ve been hired to write a book as good as the books in your portfolio (which aren’t ghosting books, by the way, just stuff that you wrote for yourself). Generally, if you’re paying attention, you’ll be a better writer than the books in your portfolio, because every book makes you a little bit better. So feeling like you’re a terrible writer isn’t even really part of the process most of the time.

When things go amuck, it’s generally in setting up the project scope, developing the outline, and being able to write in the genre in general.

Geeks of Doom: Many fiction writers, I feel, would be reluctant to give away ideas without getting credit. Is that a concern for you? For example, you wouldn’t want to end up writing the world’s greatest mystery novel and then handing it over to a client.

DeAnna Knippling: 1) I have more ideas than I’ll ever be able to write. 2) I have ideas that don’t fit my personal “brand” at this point, like cute cozy mystery things. “DeAnna Knippling” writes horror and darker science fiction and fantasy, although she’s starting to get comfortable enough with mysteries that she’s going to expand there, too. “Insert Pen Name Here” gets to try out all kinds of things. I may try my hand at some romances, just to see what happens. 3) The books that you get hired to write as a ghostwriter generally aren’t “big” or “world’s best” novels. Just as comedies rarely win Oscars, the bread-and-butter books of a genre generally don’t win awards or become famous anyway. People read them, go, “I liked that, is there anything else in that series?” and just keep reading. They’re comfort food, not haute cuisine. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

That being said, it’s usually the opposite problem. I come up with something (ahem) brilliant, and the client’s like, “This is not the book in which to bite off more than you can chew. Save it for your own work.” Although I have pulled off a few things I’ve never seen before and lamented that I’ll never be able to brag about it. No, it’s short stories that I can’t bear to ghostwrite at this point. I think I’m one of those short story writers who learns to write novels because you can’t make enough money selling short stories. Short stories are where my true loyalties are. Some subconscious voice goes, “Pfff, novels. Whatevs.”
I didn’t say it was rational. That’s just how it works for me. Also…there are some ideas that end up in the “me” file, ideas that I can’t bear to give up, that I may or may not ever write, but that at least will never grace the halls of another pen name!

Geeks of Doom: Do you find it easier to write as a ghostwriter?
DeAnna Knippling: I used to. Now, as I get better at writing novels, I find myself more and more impatient to get back to what I’m writing for myself. My best hope is that as I get better, I’ll be able to shift more of my income stream to writing that I get to keep rights over ;)

Geeks of Doom: What’s the pay range for ghostwriting a novel?
DeAnna Knippling: From “you can’t even pretend to pay your phone bill with that” to “co-writer with royalty benefits on a NYT bestseller list.” I’ve been working my way up, personally — but if you want me to be more specific than that, you gotta hire me to find out. :P

Geeks of Doom: Is ghostwriting unethical?
DeAnna Knippling: I’ve never had anyone say that. They all want to know if the people who hire me are on crack or something. “Good for you, but…how do they EVEN make any MONEY???!!!???”

If I did have a non-writer who said ghostwriting was unethical, I’d probably just ask them where they work. Because if you’re going to go, “But contributing your work to someone else for money is unethical!” then probably you’re the kind of crazy that’s interesting to talk to for like 15 minutes. If a writer said that, well, I probably wouldn’t stick around to talk to them. Because some writers have a whole lotta ugly for people who have any kind of success and will come up with all kinds of gobbledygook to try to “prove” you don’t deserve your success, for whatever reason, and they should have had it instead.

It’s ethical to make money doing creative work for other people who hire you to do so, just like any other job; if it’s unethical for other people to take credit for the successes generated by their employees under their brand…well, have fun explaining that to Walt Disney’s lawyers sometime.

There’s a fine line between ghost writing and co-writing; see Gwendy’s Button Box. And pseudonymous writing gets even more complex; Carolyn Keene of Nancy Drew fame was mostly written by Mildred Wirt Benson, from 1930-1948, setting the tone and scope for the Nancy Drew mysteries (at $125 a pop), but there were over a dozen other writers as well.

The really important thing here, I think, is to understand copyright and what you’re giving up as a writer if you choose to ghostwrite, and the murky gray area of what you give up vs. retain as a co-writer. People who are interested in making a living off writing should, no joke, read Nolo Press’s The Copyright Handbook. (As a side note, when I was getting setup as a freelancer, I referred to several of their books; I recommend them overall if anyone wants to a) get into freelancing, or b) is already freelancing and is living in constant, nightmarish fear that they’ve screwed something up and have accidentally summoned the IRS.)

Geeks of Doom: Enough about ghostwriting, what projects of your own are you working on?
DeAnna Knippling: I’m working on an ’80s-style horror series featuring the fae. (Who doesn’t love homicidal interdimensional travelers?) The series is called “A Fairy’s Tale” and currently features By Dawn’s Bloody Light, a serial killer novella, and One Dark Summer Night, a you-done-pissed-off-the-monsters-now novel. Coming up are Under Twilight’s Spreading Blight, a monsters-in-the-basement novel, and Of Noon’s Harsh Birthright, a bloody-stupid-secret-military-base novel.

DeAnna Knippling: I’m working on an ’80s-style horror series featuring the fae. (Who doesn’t love homicidal interdimensional travelers?) The series is called “A Fairy’s Tale” and currently features By Dawn’s Bloody Light, a serial killer novella, and One Dark Summer Night, a you-done-pissed-off-the-monsters-now novel. Coming up are Under Twilight’s Spreading Blight, a monsters-in-the-basement novel, and Of Noon’s Harsh Birthright, a bloody-stupid-secret-military-base novel.

James Aquilone is a writer from Staten Island, New York. His first novel, Dead Jack and the Pandemonium, has been optioned for film and TV. Follow him on Twitter @JamesAquilone.



Review: Falter & Fall

Falter & Fall Falter & Fall by Dr Vivekanand Jha
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book of elegant, sophisticated poems, 51 in all, is by an Indian writer. His manner of turning a phrase is uniquely his alone. Each poem inhabits but one page, mostly, but every one of them grabs you the instant you begin to read. Forthright, evocative, each easygoing poem beckons you into reading more. The entire book’s beautifully flowing language is written to cover a deeply wide variety of topics. This is no ordinary book of simplistic love poetry or redundant religious verse. Rather, the poet takes you on a revealing journey involving hidden, dramatic and political aspects of Indian culture. A must-read for those who enjoy truly nativist Indian poetry!

View all my reviews