Ghostwriting–Don’t Blame the Writers

Anyone involved with medical communications knows well the recent controversies surrounding “ghostwritten” journal articles, i.e., articles that were written by medical writers who received no recognition for their work. I’m not going to get into a big discussion about the situation here, too swamped with deadlines right now, but I just had to post about something that just happened.

I got an email this morning from a doctor asking if I could help him write some articles and submit them to journals. He would provide all the information. Certainly, I told him, I’d be happy to. We discussed a price and all seemed well until I said, “Oh, you should know that you will need to give me some kind of credit for assisting with the article.” He was flummoxed, didn’t know what I was talking about. So I explained about the whole ghostwriting thing, the ethics policies of the American Medical Writers Association, etc etc. I stressed that I was not expecting to be named as an author, only to have some kind of blurb along the lines of, “Thanks to Debra Gordon, MS, for her assistance with the drafting of this manuscript.”

He just emailed back that he … Continue Reading

AMWA ghostwriting medical writing

The Care and Feeding of a Freelance Medical Writer

horseMany have asked me: How can I make sure that my freelance medical writer is happy? For, as any freelance medical writer knows, we can be an ornery lot, arguing over the merits of yellow vs green when highlighting PDF references; Endnote vs RefMan; the true meaning of a P value. Yet, like any high-strung, thoroughbred, given the right care and feeding, your medical writer can be your greatest asset.

To that end, here is my advice on the care and feeding of your freelance medical writer.

1. Be specific in your commands. I just met with a new client about writing needs assessments. Rather than verbally explain things to me (and the other freelancers he uses) he handed me a folder. Inside was a sample needs assessment with his comments as to what worked and what didn’t work. He also included a sample letter of agreement and a checklist for identifying potential faculty. It was only my years of training that prevented me from leaping across the table and hugging him.

2. Commit to your training regimen. You know how much … Continue Reading

deadlines freelance medical writing payment

Medical Writing in 2010: Resolutions

I’m sure you’re all sick of reading predictions and resolutions. Well, too bad. You’re going to read one more.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what the next year will bring. It’s my 11th year as an independent (read: freelance) medical writer, a major milestone in my book. I’ve gone from writing $50 newsletter articles to authoring entire books. From shying away from scientific writing like CME and journal articles to getting to the point where they make up the bulk of my business. So what do I plan in the next 365 days?

1. To continue to organize my marketing efforts with the help of my virtual assistant (thanks, Katy!). This includes the database she’s established, this blog, quarterly email newsletters, following up with potential clients on a regular basis and delving deeper into Linked In and the potential it holds for business development.

2. To develop a book proposal on my own for my own book, no coauthors. Idea is there; just need to write the proposal!

3. To market myself as a speaker at professional meetings on writing, freelancing and medical communcations.

4. To expand the part of my business related to meeting coverage. I LOVE covering … Continue Reading

medical writing resolutions

Ode to a Copy Editor

The heavens must be aligned today because I’ve been reminded twice in the past few hours of the importance of copy editors.

For those who don’t know what a copy editor is let me just say this: A good copy editor is to a piece of writing what the Secret Service is to the President: protection of the most profound type. She (and most are women) stands between excellent writing and disaster. She is the one who asks if you really meant to say that direct medical costs for asthma in the United States are $11 million a year, or $11 billion a year (the latter). She is the one who realizes you skipped a reference and now none of your endnotes are in the right place. She is the one who knows that you really mean to write multiple sclerosis, not muscular dystrophy.

Bottom line, she is the one who can see the trees in the forest when the writer can barely even see the forest anymore.

For no matter how many times a writer edits a piece, even, as I do, printing it out and doing a final edit on hard copy or, as my friend … Continue Reading

copy editor medical writing

What I’m Thankful For As a Medical Writer

In the spirit of the upcoming holiday, here are 15 things I’m thankful for as a freelance medical writer (full disclosure: I stole this idea from my friend Alisa, who has an awesome blog on marriage and romance you should follow at

I’m thankful . . .

1. That I get to work in sweaty workout clothes and no one knows (except my dogs and they smell worse than me).

2. For clients who know what they want, pay promptly, and actually provide feedback.

3. That I learn something new on every project.

4. That I can write about topics that affect everyone.

5. That I have more job security than anyone in a “traditional” job.

6. That I can set my own schedule.

7. That I have a PhD husband who shares my office when he’s not traveling and can decipher statistics for me.

8. For the Internet. How did anyone do this job without it?

9. For my friend Gen who told me about the wonderful world of double computer screens; couldn’t live without them!

10. For all the other freelancers at AMWA who listen when I need to vent and provide such great advice

11. For … Continue Reading

medical writing