Making sense of writers’ titles: Freelancer, ghostwriter, content marketer, copywriter, technical writer, and more!

It’s funny — when you’re in an industry long enough, you pick up terminology and assume everyone knows it too. This happened to me frequently last week. I’m selling an ebook about how to become a freelance writer and there have been several times when I’ve been asked (through email and during interviews) to define different titles for writers.

So I’m going to attempt to do that here. However, you should be aware that this certainly isn’t a complete list and some writers (myself included) will occasionally combine or alter the titles according to their brand and the services they provide. But this is a good workable list.

The interesting thing about this list is that the titles are built for different purposes — sometimes describing the medium written, sometimes describing the types of content written, and sometimes describing the business model of the writer.

WRITERS’ TITLES AND THEIR DEFINITIONS

  • Writer: This is the generic title for someone who writes anything. I prefer this title for my own business since it encompasses a variety of writing methods and models, plus I can stick any combination of “Business”, “Finance”, and “Real Estate” onto the front when needed.
  • Author: This is the title for someone who writes books. Typically it’s reserved for someone who writes print books but I think that is really changing. There’s so much grey area in the industry now, you’ll see it used for someone who writes Kindle books and I think you’ll see it more and more for ebook writers, too.
  • Blogger: This is the title for someone who writes exclusively for blogs. A blogger might only write for their own blog or they might be hired by others to write bylined or non-bylined blog content for other blogs.
  • Freelance writer: This is the title used to describe a writer who is hired by someone else to write for them. It’s built around their business model (that is, they freelance — obviously!). Some freelance writers require a byline (they require their name to appear on the content they wrote, such as if they wrote for a magazine) although this “byline rule” isn’t always the case. Freelancers may be generalists (they’ll write anything for any client) or they might be specialists (they’ll write specific content for a specific category of clients). To give you an example, I do some freelance writing but usually only hired by financial and real estate professionals to write online content.
  • Ghostwriter: A ghostwriter is very similar to what I’ve described as a freelance writer, above, except that they don’t require a byline. Again, they might be generalists or specialists.
  • Journalist: This is the title typically used to describe someone who writes bylined copy (i.e. it has their name on it) about news, current events, politics, business, etc. There is often an investigative element to their writing and they’re hired by a company (such as a newspaper or blog) to report on something (compare this to a ghostwriter who might be hired by a company to write on behalf of that company).
  • Copywriter: This is the title used for a writer who specifically writes copy that is meant to compel an action. This might be direct mail or infomercials or sales letters. A copywriter might be employed by an agency or they might be freelance.
  • Technical writer: This is the title used to describe someone who distills technical content into understandable, usable formats. There are very few freelance technical writers; they are mostly employed by organizations. Technical writers create policy and procedure manuals, instruction manuals, and “how-to” material.
  • Content marketer: This is a fairly new title and, as the name suggests, it’s used to describe a writer who creates marketing content. They might freelancers or employed, and often the content is for online consumption. In my experience, content marketers tend to work on the traffic-generation side of marketing rather than the sales side (which is often done by copywriters)… although this is certainly not a hard and fast rule.
  • Internet marketer: Although you might not immediately think of this person as a writer, they really are because the internet is so copy-driven right now. (That’s changing; we’re seeing more video and image marketing but words still dominate). I should point out that there are other types of internet marketers who are not writers, and these include search engine optimization specialists and traffic data analysts.

There’s a lot of confusion around these terms (and, as you read these, you probably notice that they’re not always well-defined) but these are the basic building blocks. (Additional reading: I tried to make sense of two of these titles in another blog post: What is the difference between copywriting and technical writing?)

Of course, you may encounter writers who add different words or combine some of these together. For example, I often refer to myself as a “Business, Finance, and Real Estate Writer” and other times I brand myself as a real estate investing copywriter. You might meet someone who calls themselves a “freelance ghostwriter” or a “freelance blogger” or a “freelance journalist” or a “journalist blogger” or an “internet marketing copywriter” or a “scriptwriter” or a “grantwriter” or a “health copywriter”… and the list goes on and on.

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