Ghostwriting or Copywriting: what are the differences?

Two terms that are easily used interchangeably but aren’t the same. In the world of content writing, ghostwriting is often used as “I pay you to write in my name” (or to write for and in the name of another and copywriting as “I pay you to write”. Which isn’t much of a difference and creates a lot of confusion. Even within the writing industry.

The constant process of finishing a piece of content
The constant process of finishing a piece of content

Let’s see then what are the actual differences between ghostwriting and copywriting.

Ghostwriting, a definition

What I gave above is valid and concise, but a more precise definition of ghostwriting would be:

“a ghostwriter is someone who is hired to write literary or journalistic works, speeches or other texts that are officially credited to another person as the author”

Thus, a ghostwriter writes for you and let you use your name on the content as the sole author. A ghostwriter is only paid for the content that can produce, with none of the fame or royalties that can be eventually gained after in other forms of writing.

A ghostwriter is someone that would write the lyrics of a hit and not be credited as the author nor having any rights to claim any earnings of the song that used the lyrics. A ghostwriter gets paid for the content and the scope of the work ends there. No questions asked, write, submit and get paid. Like a factory worker.

Taking notes before starting to write
Taking notes before starting to write

Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t only politicians or celebrities that turn to ghostwriters. Any individual that lacks either the skills or the time may choose to ask a ghostwriter to do the job in his/her stead. Sometimes ghostwriters are hired just as proofreaders or editors for a text that is already written, or partly so. Perhaps because an author lacks some specific knowledge that is needed to complete a book/article/essay and turns to a ghostwriter that is an expert in the field to provide the missing pieces (like a chapter in an ebook).

Ghostwriting encompasses a lot of different media and scopes. There’s not a ghostwriter that can write all types of content, most of them specializing in a few out of these typical ghostwriting subcategories:

  • Books
  • Autobiographies/memoirs
  • Magazine articles
  • Newspaper articles
  • Speeches
  • Songs and lyrics
  • Screenplays
  • Visual arts (both fine or commercial)
  • Essays
  • Blogging

With blogging and the first 4 being the main areas where a ghostwriter is needed for these days. Within blogging, for instance and especially when commissioned by large companies, there’s often no name at the end of an article. That’s a typical example of ghostwriting. Even in cases where companies have a multi-author blog, the name and picture at the end of a piece may not be the actual author of it.

Then what’s copywriting?

Copywriting is not interested in who actually wrote the text but is defined as “the act of writing a text for the purpose of advertising or other forms of marketing”. Referring to the dictionary definition, a copywriter is

a writer of advertising or publicity copy

as per Merriam-Webster’s definition.

The purpose of the content is what identifies somebody as a copywriter, not the name of the author attached to it. A copywriter writes to inform and educate for marketing purposes. Whereas a ghostwriter may be asked to write a critique or express a strong opinion, a copywriter wouldn’t (unless your company is really playing dirty with your competitors…).

A copywriter writes “copies”, written content that aims to increase brand awareness and encourage or persuade a person or group to take a particular action. Copywriting is a way for a brand to show expertise, get possible customers engaged and generate leads. It is marketing, deep down.

Copywriting often involves marketing tables and charts
Copywriting often involves marketing tables and charts

Ghostwriters don’t get to have their name shine under a well-written text. A copywriter does. The second difference between ghostwriting and copywriting is that in the latter the name of the author is shown under the piece, and the rights of the copy remain to him/her. A ghostwriter never gets even a short line of credit, whereas for a copywriter is implicit and required. Making yourself a name in the writing industry as a copywriter is clearly easier than as a ghostwriter.

Often copywriters are hired by companies to write all their advertising texts or employed by newspapers, magazines and broadcasters to write editorials (or “advertorials”), frequently. Companies can get a definite boost in authority by having a renowned author writing for them. Think of famous journalists, reporters or book authors, having a piece written by them on your site will make your brand look important, to say the least.

Ethics of ghostwriting

I am both a ghostwriter and a copywriter. I provide both services, according to your needs. Many freelance writers prefer to be only copywriters for ethical reasons.

It is easy to say why. As a ghostwriter you’re going to provide your writing skills and expertise without putting your face and name on them. To readers what you wrote comes from the company that has hired you, not from you. They can’t know who actually wrote the piece, and shouldn’t, otherwise it wouldn’t be ghostwriting.

That raises some ethical questions. A ghostwriting is showing a level of expertise and knowledge that the person or company that has commissioned the content hasn’t. They might, and just not have the time to write the texts themselves, or might not. More often the latter. Thus a ghostwriter is lending knowledge and skills to somebody, either a company or a person, that hasn’t either or both. Readers are ”tricked” into thinking that what they’re reading comes from the name the find on the piece. They then get a better impression of a company or person that doesn’t, ethically speaking, ”deserve” it.

Copywriting can be seen as unethical too as it is marketing and doesn’t “tell the whole truth” about a product or service. Which is a valid criticism of advertising in general. But generally we have a higher acceptance for marketing texts as a society and therefore copywriting isn’t seen as an ethically “gray area” by most.

Ethical discussions aside, whether you need a ghostwriter or copywriter, make sure that you both communicate in a clear and thorough manner. The writer you’re hiring needs to know well what you’re looking for so to be able to match the content with your ideas and ideals. Communication is vital to a happy and productive collaboration.

As a ghostwriter or copywriter, I’m available for a free consultation whenever you need. Feel free to contact me.