What’s the difference between a ghostwriter and a content writer?

On the surface, these two can seem very similar. Either can be hired, for example, to write landing pages, social media content, blog content, even podcast or video scripts. And neither claims credit for the work in the form of a byline.

A lot of people use these two terms interchangeably, along with other semi-related terms, such as freelance copywriter. However, while they are similar in terms of tasks and responsibilities (and the fact that neither of them will credit you as the author), they really are very different from each other.

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What is a Content Writer?

A content writer is someone who, as the name implies, is hired to write regular, engaging content that serves a specific goal or purpose within the clients’ business or marketing agenda.

Content writers are typically hired to handle long-term needs, such as a series of related content or ongoing updates to a website. And, because they specialize in content marketing strategy, they are trained to deliver engaging, SEO-optimized content that will drive more traffic to your site.

Being a content writer is great if you enjoy semi-complex, longer contracts that involve strategy and purpose. And, as a content writer, you are paid to write website content specifically.

What is a Ghostwriter?

A ghostwriter is a writer who is hired to write on behalf of a company or brand. Like a content writer, these can be strategic pieces that will be going onto a website, or they can be books, guides, and video scripts – anything the client needs but doesn’t have time to write themselves.

As a ghostwriter, you are paid for the content and for the rights to use that content.

What’s the Difference Between a Ghostwriter and a Content Writer?

The biggest difference, I’m sure you noticed, is in what a content writer is paid for versus what a ghostwriter is paid for.

Even though you receive no public credit or recognition for the writing, as a content writer, you are paid to write website content specifically and as a ghostwriter you are paid for the content and for the rights to use that content.

What’s the difference when a client buys the content versus when a client buys the rights to use that content? The keyword is in the rights.

When you write content for a company, you are giving them the right to display that content on their website with their name on it – and that’s it. But when you ghostwrite content for a company, you are giving them full rights to the content to do with as they wish:

  • Display on the website as intended.
  • Turn it into a book.
  • Repurpose it into a video script.
  • Use it as a podcast script.
  • Cut it up and use pieces on social media.
  • Turn it into an interactive quiz.
  • Break it up and turn it into a series of blog posts.
  • Turn it into a workbook or guide.

You get the idea. Because as a ghostwriter, you are selling full copyright ownership to the client, they get to do whatever they want to the content you write for them.

But, if they hire you as a content writer, they don’t receive those same rights, even though their name appears on the finished piece instead of yours.

What does This Mean for You?

When you’re pitching your services to new clients, or interviewing clients for a discovery call, make sure you understand what their intention is with the content. If they plan on repurposing or using the content in any way other than as the original content for their site, then you need to use a contract that covers copyright ownership and ghostwriting.

On the other hand, if all they want is to provide a steady stream of high-quality content on their website, you can use a contract more suited for content writing. And you can always include clauses that would cover both you and your client should their intentions change later down the road.

And make sure you are clear in setting your clients’ expectations when it comes to hiring you for their content needs. Clients should know and understand ahead of time what they are allowed to use that content for and how to “upgrade” (for lack of a better word) to full copyright usage of the content should they want to later.

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