Monday, September 22, 2008

The Ghost in the Portfolio

I recently had a question from Diana over at Indigo Inkwell about how to use ghostwriting projects in your resume. Peter Bowerman wrote recently about how he doesn't generally ask permission to use client pieces in his portfolio, and I think this is a pretty sensible approach--the worst that can happen is that they ask you to take it down. This isn't true in all instances, however. Sometimes the writing sample contains sensitive corporate information. And sometimes it's a ghostwriting assignment.

Ghostwriting projects can be a little more difficult, because the client is publicly saying that he is the author. If it comes out that the client isn't actually the author, it could conceivably hurt his reputation in some industries. Because of this, it's best to be careful when you use these projects in your portfolio. Here are a few of my thoughts on the issue:

First: be aware of what is and isn't "ghostwriting." I've heard all sorts of strange definitions of ghostwriting; one of the funniest recently was from someone who wanted to use articles from one of my clients' sites on his own site, and thought "ghostwriting" meant "anyone can put their name on the piece." Not so. When you ghostwrite an article for someone, you write it. The client gets all the rights to it, and puts it out under their own name.

Ask before you start the project. Check with the client beforehand to make sure they won't mind if you use the work as a writing sample. If they have a heads-up before they start, the client may be willing to work it into the contract.

If you can, get it in writing. It's generally best to put in a stipulation that says you can use the project in your portfolio, post it online, and discuss it with prospective employers.

Notify the client before you post the work. If you don't have permission and you didn't tell the client you want to use the project, tell him before you post it on your website. If he doesn't object, go ahead. If he does--or if he doesn't respond, and you have no correspondence that proves he gave you permission earlier--don't chance using it.

Anyone else have experience using ghostwritten projects as portfolio pieces? If so, I'd love to hear your advice.


Unknown said...

How I handle ghostwriting credit is to mention working with the client. I don't go into specifics, but rather I list my clients and provide links to their websites. That way I've not violated any nondisclosure. I could've edited for them, proofed for them, or written for them. The client and I are the only ones who will know.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jennifer,

I disagreed with Peter, and I still disagree with posting samples without securing permission. First, having them ask you to take down the samples *isn't* the worst thing that can happen. You can lose a good client by posting things on your website that they don't want posted.

Second, it's just common courtesy, I think. Once the contract has been paid in full, it is now their work.

Third, I also consider how I would feel. If I hired someone to design my website, for example, and I saw images of it all over their own website without knowing about it, I'd feel a little put out.

So I think business-wise and courtesy-wise, it is just a good idea to double check before posting work.


Kimberly Ben said...

I include a clause in my agreement stating that I have permission to use the finished product as a sample for other clients (that's not verbatim). There have been cases where a client requires me to sign a non-soclosure, so I may amend this section of the agreement accordingly.I feel more comfortable knowing that it's been dealt with openly.

Jennifer Williamson said...

Lori: this is a fantastic idea, especially if you forgot to get permission at the outset to use something. Thanks for the tip!

Graham: This is definitely a good point. It can be difficult for writers to secure permission for everything, but it can also be risky to use copy without permission. Every writer has a different comfort level with this issue, and I think if you're in doubt, ask.

Avid: I tend to include a clause as well, or at least inform clients at the outset that I want to use the project as a sample.