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A Tantalizing Taste: How to Sample Writers & Identify Talent

Writing samples. The bane of my professional writing existence.

Don’t get me wrong. I have great confidence in my writing ability. I have written for dozens of clients who were much older, much younger, different religions and races, and male…in fact, primarily male, and I’m a woman.

In other words, my clients’ personal stories and life experiences were very different from my own. Yet, I was able to successfully capture their voices, use their personal stories and help them deliver the messages that only they could deliver.

The key to a truly wonderful ghostwriter – as opposed to a good writer – is that we can, and must, morph into the persona of our client. It isn’t just about good grammar or pithy quotes. It is more about telling the story in the way that the speaker would tell the story, but better.

We don’t create the recipe for success, we are the sous chefs who make the chef look even better. We give our principals that extra edge.

For example, one of my clients – a cabinet secretary – started his speeches with the same jokes, jokes he had used for years. The jokes were becoming dated, unwieldy and verbose. I tried to remove them to no avail. Ultimately, I stopped fighting his natural tendency to start with a joke, and updated the jokes, making them shorter and honed them for the audience. Success. The jokes took up less time in the speech and became more relevant for the audience.

In another instance, I had a client who loved to use numbers. Dozens of numbers. Mind numbing numbers. I tried to explain that too many numbers turned the data into white noise for the audience and had the opposite effect she wanted – the audience had to work too hard to figure out which number to remember, which one was important, and how the numbers were applicable to them.

After several attempts to just use one or two figures in a speech, to which my client simply added new ones, I began to put the numbers in context for the audience.  This slowed the pace in which the speaker delivered the numbers and gave mnemonic devices for the audience to use to remember the key numbers.

With this in mind, next time you – as a ghostwriting candidate – submit writing samples, use samples with different voices, to show how you can change your voice to match the speaker. In your cover letter, point this out and explain the significance. This ability to change voice makes you more valuable to the company because you can write for more than one person, when the need arises.

As a client looking to hire a ghostwriter, I urge you to focus on how different the writing samples are instead of looking for a writer that sounds like you. Even if you are so lucky as to find someone with multiple samples that sound like something you would say/write, you may find that he/she has little range.

Range is especially important if you want to hone your speaking and messaging skills. The writer with range also will be the best candidate to assist others in the company, when the need arises.  You never know when your second in command may need to take over a speaking engagement for you, or when someone else’s speechwriter may be out ill, and ask to borrow yours. It is important to have someone who has the flexibility to work with more than one person.

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