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Last updated on May 14, 2021

What is a Ghostwriter — And What Can They Do for You?

A ghostwriter is a professional who is hired to write texts that are credited to someone else and whose name doesn’t appear in the byline. From celebrity memoirs, to speeches, query letters, and blog posts, a ghostwriter can either complete an entire project solo or work collaboratively with the text’s credited author. And, much like ghosts, ghostwriters usually evade discovery. 

Ghostwriters are not to be confused with authors who choose to publish their work anonymously, authors who use pen names, or co-writer teams where both authors are credited. No — ghostwriters, as the name implies, work away from the spotlight to bring other people’s ideas to life.

Read on to learn more about what a ghostwriter is and can do for you.

They work on projects credited to other people

If you've been struggling to write a book, a blog post, or anything else involving words, then your solution might be to hire a ghostwriter — someone who has the writing chops to turn your book ideas into reality but who prefers to work in the shadows. 

Typically, readers don’t know of a ghostwriter’s involvement in a writing project. This may sound suspicious, but it’s actually a pretty transparent business once you bust the myth; party A brings the ideas and the knowledge, and party B puts it into a coherent text without taking credit for the final product. 

💡Curious about a ghostwriting career? Check out our guide to becoming a ghostwriter, complete with insights from professionals. 

Ghostwriter ethics 101

If you’re worried about the ethics of hiring a ghostwriter, let’s put it through a quick thought experiment.

Say someone bought your book and believed you wrote the whole thing, not knowing a ghost penned it. Have you misled that reader? The answer to this question depends on two things:

  1. The intent of the credited author; and
  2. The impact on the readers.

Let's contextualize these aspects with a specific example. Say that a lifelong birdwatcher wants to publish a birdwatcher’s travel guide but struggles to organize their thoughts and stay on topic. To remedy this problem, they contract an experienced ghostwriter to help them communicate their knowledge.

In this case, the author’s intent is to share their years of acquired wisdom with others — wisdom that the ghostwriter doesn’t possess but which they can help put into words. And if readers receive well-researched and useful information, then they get what they paid for, and all can walk away with an easy conscience.

On the other hand, consider someone who wants to start a new business that they know next to nothing about and uses a book written by someone else to establish themselves as an “authority” and attracts clients under these false pretenses. The “author’s” intent here — to take advantage of readers by feigning expertise — is indeed unethical. 

What is a ghostwriter: Frank Abnagale from the movie Catch Me If You Can
Catch Me If You Can's Frank Abnagale might just have gotten away with it if he had a ghostwritten book to bolster his fake pilot credentials. (Image: DreamWorks Pictures)

To learn more about what it’s like to work with a ghostwriter, check out this article by acclaimed ghostwriter Katy Weitz.

Do ghostwriters mind not taking credit?

If your concern instead lies with the feelings of the ghostwriter, rest assured: contracted ghostwriters are perfectly content with their jobs. Ghostwriting collaborations are as rewarding for the ghostwriter as they are for the person hiring them, and they’ve helped countless people fulfill publishing goals they could previously only dream of.

Ghostwriters complete clients' assignments and are compensated fairly for their work, just like any other freelance writer — the fact that they don’t receive public credit does not mean they are financially exploited. 

In fact, they often make more money than other types of freelancers, and they get to work with all sorts of interesting clients, learning a lot of new things along the way. Many ghostwriters publish under their own names as well, so ghostwriting doesn’t deprive them of a credited writing career.

Want more insight into how ghostwriters feel about their career? Check out Barry Napier’s account of ghostwriting for a living.

The conclusion? If you have expertise to bring to the table but simply don’t know how to translate it into words, hiring a ghostwriter is a perfectly reasonable choice. As long as you’re the person bringing the ingredients to the table, there’s no harm in having someone else assemble them into an appetizing experience. 

Looking to hire a ghostwriter for your project?

The best ghostwriters are right here on Reedsy. Come meet them today!

Learn how Reedsy can help you craft a beautiful book.

They bring other people’s stories to the page

Ghostwriters specialize in bringing other people’s stories to the page in both fiction and nonfiction. With this expertise, they’re particularly well suited for writing memoirs and other autobiographical texts. No one knows your life story better than you, but you may lack the know-how to tie it all together in a way that is easy to follow and that the average reader will appreciate. Enter the ghostwriter, who can synthesize all your memories and anecdotes into a moving autobiography or entertaining memoir, with a little bit of distance to the topic!

The best-known iteration of this is the celebrity memoir, often commissioned by publishers who understand the appeal of a household name. For example, not-so-anonymous ghost J.R. Moehringer helped Phil Knight tell his story about how he founded Nike in Shoe Dog and he’s also been working with Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, on his upcoming memoir. 

J.R. Moehringer: an experienced ghost with celebrity connections! (images: wikipedia)

But a ghostwritten memoir isn’t solely the reserve of celebs — anyone who's lived a full, interesting life can benefit from a nonfiction ghostwriter, especially if you've always wanted to write a memoir but have never had the time.

Check out David Wichman's account on how a ghostwriter helped him own his life story.

Ghosts can BOOst your business

Being seen as an expert in one's field is a major asset, and perhaps the best way to achieve this is by publishing a relevant book. But running a successful business doesn't necessarily mean you can articulate how you've done it — that's where the ghostwriter comes in. 

This type of nonfiction is often self-published and used as a point of authority for entrepreneurs. In addition to creating content for a book, the ghostwriter may also help shape the branding and tone of the client's other marketing materials (website, social media, etc.), to ensure consistency across all platforms.

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What will it cost you to hire a ghostwriter?

Find out here! Takes 10 seconds.

You can learn even more about ghostwriting fees in this post on how much it costs to hire a ghostwriter by Andrew Crofts — a ghost and author with more than eighty books under his belt!

Of course, harkening back to the ghostwriter ethics we discussed earlier, you want to make sure that you genuinely have the type of knowledge needed to publish a book on the topic before you consider hiring a ghostwriter for your business, or you might find yourself in breach of ghostwriter ethics.

Or nail a book proposal

Speaking of nails, ghostwriters are also invaluable partners when it comes to putting together a book proposal.

Proposal writing is an artform all of its own and can be tricky, especially if you’re a debut author submitting for the first time. So if you’re confident in your writing skills but not your proposal-penning, you can hire a ghostwriter with a history of working with publishers — someone who knows exactly what acquiring editors want to see. 

Does this sound like you? If so, here’s an article on how a ghostwriter can help you nail your book proposal.

When working on your book proposal, a ghostwriter will condense all the details of your book into a shorter form without losing any of its essence.

They’re style chameleons

To draw as little attention to their contributions as possible, a great ghostwriter can seamlessly adapt their writing skills to fit each client's needs. While their focus is on carrying out the client's vision, they'll also advise on content and style issues when needed and will work closely with authors and collaborators to make sure they find the right voice.

This is why, to keep up with demand, publishers of popular series can hire multiple ghostwriters to churn out books under a single author’s name. This is especially common with well-known children's series such as Nancy Drew, Animorphs, and The Baby-Sitters Club, probably because young readers devour them so fast!

What is a ghostwriter: a pair of ghosts
The team behind Nancy Drew take their lunch break.

In a similar vein, publishers also hire ghostwriters to continue an established author’s legacy. For example, have you ever wondered how Robert Ludlum, author of the original Bourne Trilogy, has managed to write 32 books since his death in 2001? 🤔 Publishers frequently do this when a deceased author leaves behind piles of unpublished work.

You might not be at that level of publishing success yet, but if you just want to keep up a high rate of writing output while publishing a series, you too can consider bringing in reinforcements in the form of a ghostwriter. Any ghostwriter worth its salt will know how to meet you where you are in terms of style and voice, making sure that your work stays consistent over time.

If you want to find out more, check out our list of popular novels you never knew were ghostwritten!

BONUS TIP: if you’re a blogger looking to turn your blog into a book, a ghostwriter will make sure that you don’t lose the voice that your readers fell in love with in the process, adapting to your brand like a chameleon.

They can write short-form content, too

Besides turning your blog into a long-form book, ghostwriters can also help you pen the content for your blog itself, or any other short-form content that you may be too busy to write yourself or want to make sure to get just right.

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Blogging and social media 

One growing source of work for ghostwriters is the blogosphere. Have you ever browsed a public figure’s blog and wondered if they actually wrote all the content themselves? If they're quite prominent, there’s a good chance they didn’t. Instead, they'll have a few dedicated ghostwriters who write content on their behalf. These ghostwriters will research, plan, and churn out numerous posts on subjects that appeal to that figure's audience, a model used by many businesses to run corporate blogs.

This is probably the most common type of short-form ghostwriting, not least because people don't always label it as such! Plenty of bloggers and business owners outsource their posts to freelance writers but may think of it more as uncredited guest blogging than bona fide ghostwriting.

Speeches

Another arena where ghostwriters excel is in speech writing. For anyone who lacks the time or skill to craft a memorable speech, ghostwriters are a godsend. These days, it’s a given that something like a presidential speech will be mostly another person's work. But you don’t have to be the POTUS to turn to a ghost for your next public speaking opportunity: some people even hire them to ghostwrite their wedding speeches!

This is by no means an exhaustive list of what a ghostwriter can do for you — their abilities in everything writing is almost uncannily diverse as the key skill for any ghostwriter is their adaptability.  

Should you have a story that needs telling but require a little help on the way, don’t hesitate to tap into this invaluable service and take your writing to a new dimension. 

Happy collaborating!

– Originally published on Jun 22, 2020