If you read many white papers—and you certainly should be if you’re thinking about writing them—you’ll notice that some of them give the name of the author and some only the name of the sponsoring company, or possibly the research firm used to gather the data. So you might be wondering what determines whether a white paper author gets a byline. Is it a standard part of the contract negotiation, the way it is for books? Is there such a thing as an “As told to” white paper?
If a company hires you to write a white paper, chances are your name won’t appear anywhere on that document, and neither will anyone else’s—except possibly that of the sales manager the reader is supposed to contact. Michael Stelzner, author of Writing White Papers, says on his blog that he’s written more than 100 white papers and never once been given a byline. That’s probably why he never mentions the issue in his book.
And it’s not just Stelzner’s book, either. You can find plenty of guides on how to write and design a good white paper, but I have yet to see one that mentions anything about author bylines, even though the standard white paper format ends with a “company information” section.
White paper writing isn’t usually ghostwriting in the sense that you’re writing in the voice of a specific individual, but it’s almost always writing where you don’t get attribution. There are only two instances I can think of where you’ll get a byline for a white paper you write.
You’re the Client
That’s right: if you’re a consultant or a business owner and you write a white paper to market your own company, you should put your name on it. If I were to write a white paper about ghostwriting (for this business) or podcasting (for the Podcast Asylum), I would certainly put my name on it. If you find yourself helping a sole proprietor with a white paper, his or her name will go on it, and you really will be ghostwriting, even though a traditional white paper has much less of a personal “voice” to it than a book does.
You’re An Industry Expert
So why would a client hire you to write a white paper for their company and then put your name alongside theirs? Because you’ve written so much about the field that your name adds credibility to the white paper’s conclusions. Unfortunately for the professional white paper writer, it’s journalists who are most likely to fall into this category. Even though you may be an expert after writing a few dozen white papers, that won’t help your client’s marketing if their prospective buyers have never heard of you.
On the other hand, there are many industry experts who are not writers, so you might get hired to improve the readability of what they produce. But in that case the byline will be theirs, even if you get part of the fee.
If you do want that byline, don’t be shy about demonstrating your expertise. But remember that it takes time to develop a relationship as a thought leader, and it doesn’t necessarily pay very well. If you can make as good a living from white papers as Michael Stelzner does, why worry about attribution?