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Posted on Jun 22, 2020

What Is A Ghostwriter? All Your Questions Answered!

Ghostwriting is the process of writing for a project that will be credited to someone else. The creator in this case is called a ghostwriter, and they may complete the entire project or act as a “partial” ghostwriter who works with the publicly named author — but either way, the ghostwriter's own name will not appear in the byline.

As a result, unlike most writers, a ghostwriter's aim is to draw as little attention to their contributions as possible. They seamlessly adapt their writing skills to fit each client's needs and focus on carrying out the client's vision as that client sees fit, though they'll also advise on content and style issues when needed.

Basically, they're less of a ghost and more of a guardian angel. And if you've been struggling to write a book, a blog post, or anything else involving prose, a ghostwriter might be able to help you get it done! Read on to learn all about the different ghostwriting services, how much it costs to hire ghostwriters, and more.

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Ghostwriting vs. co-authoring

First off, we'll address a common point of confusion about ghostwriting: it's not the same as co-authoring a book, at least not in the traditional sense.

Co-authors are publicly-acknowledged writing teams, like Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, who co-wrote Good Omens and both received authorial credit. Ghostwriters do the same work (and get paid for it!), but don't receive a byline, so the named author takes sole credit in the public eye.

Sometimes this helps maintain the author's reputation, as with celebrity memoirs. Sometimes it's just for simplicity's sake — for example, many popular series have multiple ghostwriters, so all titles remain under a single name (we'll talk more about this below).

But whatever the circumstances, rest assured that contracted ghostwriters are perfectly content with their lots: they fulfill clients' assignments and are compensated fairly for their work, just like any other freelance writer. They may not get bylines, but they often make more than other types of freelancers, and they get to work with more interesting clients.

Now that we've cleared that up, let's dive into the different types of ghostwriting and which projects can involve a ghost. (Spoiler alert: if it involves any kind of writing, there's bound to be a ghostwriter for it.)

Three types of ghostwriting

Nonfiction books

Long-form nonfiction is perhaps the category most associated with ghostwriters — not least because of the celebrity memoir phenomenon mentioned above. However, ghostwriters work on all sorts of nonfiction tomes, from spirited self-help books to innovative business books!

A ghostwriter might research and write the entire project, or they may simply fill in gaps left by the author. Either way, they're integral to the production of such nonfiction books. Let's take a look at the most popular nonfiction genres and how a ghostwriter might operate differently within each of them.

1. Memoirs and autobiographies

No one knows your life story better than you, but you may lack the objectivity to tell it in a way that other readers will appreciate. Enter the ghostwriter, who can synthesize all your memories and anecdotes into a moving autobiography or entertaining memoir!

Again, the best-known iteration of this is the celebrity memoir, often commissioned by publishers who understand the appeal of a household name. That said, anyone who's lived a full, interesting life might benefit from a nonfiction ghostwriter — especially if you've always wanted to write a memoir, but have never had the time.

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

2. Business books

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! That said, running a successful business doesn't necessarily mean you can articulate how you've done it — and that's where the ghostwriter comes in.

More so than memoirs, this type of nonfiction is often self-published and used as a point of authority for businesspeople. 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 their presentation is consistent across the board.

3. Lifestyle books

Are you more likely to buy a cookbook written by Chrissy Teigen or Joe Schmo? Probably Teigen, right? Or Gwyneth Paltrow, or Antoni Porowski, or whomever is your celebrity of choice.

Publishers understand the easy marketability of a well-known author, even when the book they write isn't about the author themselves! So when looking to publish on a specific topic, publishers may bring a celebrity on board to work with a ghostwriter.

But while celebrity memoirs are often entirely ghostwritten, celebrity cookbooks and lifestyle books typically involve more collaboration — not least because, in cases like Teigen, the celeb in question may have a decent amount of knowledge on the subject at hand. (Just something good to know for the next time you pick out a lifestyle book to gift a friend!)

Fiction books

It might seem strange to hire a ghostwriter for a novel, since pretty much anyone can become a novelist — in theory, at least. In practice, there are many logical reasons why authors and publishers turn to ghostwriters for their novels! Here are the three main ones.

1. To keep up with audience demand

Apparently, readers have never heard the saying “too much of a good thing.” This is why, to keep up with demand, publishers often hire multiple ghostwriters to churn out books under a single author’s name.

Each ghost will receive a package containing a doctrine of the story’s elements — from characters to voice and setting — and ghostwrite based on that package's materials (hence why this strategy is called “book packaging”). Book packaging 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!

2. To carry on an author’s legacy

Here's a conundrum: how has Robert Ludlum, author of the original Bourne Trilogy, managed to write 32 books since his death in 2001? 🤔

Rather than a case of a literal phantom scribbler, what we have here is a ghostwriter, hired by the publisher to continue writing under the author’s name. Publishers frequently do this when a deceased author leaves behind piles of unpublished work (and occasionally just to continue capitalizing on that author's success).

3. To drive sales with a celebrity name

Once again, publishers are very aware of the power of instant recognition. They know a novel penned by a celebrity is likely to result in droves of sales from fans, so they will commission a ghostwriter to get the novel out ASAP.

This is often done with “viral” celebrities, to make sure the book gets to market before their relevance fades. One notorious example is A Shore Thing by Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi, which flopped despite how quickly it went to press. (And let that be a lesson to publishers — trying to distract readers from a poorly-planned story with a flashy byline is the publishing equivalent of putting lipstick on a pig.)

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

Short-form content

Now let's talk about ghostwriters who work on short-form content rather than books. As you'd expect, short-form ghostwriting tends to be for nonfiction — essays, articles, etc. Here are the three of the most common short-form projects that people hire ghostwriters to complete.

1. Book proposals

An author might be able to write an amazing book, but can they write an equally successful proposal to sell that book? If they're confident in their book writing skills, but not their proposal-penning skills, they might turn to 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.

2. Speeches

Great speakers and performers are not always naturally good writers (and vice versa). Even if they are, they're probably too busy to be writing their own speeches, anyway; hence the value of a ghostwriter.

These days, it’s a given that something like a presidential speech will be heavily doctored by another person. 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!)

3. Blog posts and articles

Have you ever browsed a public figure’s blog and wondered if they actually wrote all the content themselves? If they're quite prominent — and especially if they seem to have a fairly full schedule of engagements already — 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 will appeal to that figure's audience.

For those curious, 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 outsource their posts to freelancer writers, but may think of it more as uncredited guest blogging than bona fide ghostwriting.

Now that we’ve covered the myriad reasons why someone might want to hire a ghostwriter, let’s see how much it costs to work with one.

How much do ghostwriters cost?

There’s no standard “going rate” for ghostwriters. Depending on the type of project you’re doing, there are several variables that can affect the cost:

  • The ghostwriter's experience. If they have a long work history they're in high demand, they will charge more. If they are still in the early stages of their career, their fees will be lower.
  • The length of the project. Pretty straightforward: a ghostwriter will charge much more for writing a book than for a single blog post.
  • The level of involvement required. Are they simply beefing up sparse chapters of a business book, or are will they be shadowing you for a period of time to ghostwrite your memoir?

If you're curious about how much of a bite all of this will take out of your wallet, we recommend taking this quick 10-second quiz below that will help break down the costs for your specific genre.


What will it cost you to hire a ghostwriter?

Find out here! Takes 10 seconds.

If you’re considering working with a ghostwriter, you must determine your own budget, consider these questions, and prepare to ask further questions and negotiate.

You can learn 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!

Now, whether you want to hire a ghost or you stumbled upon this page wondering “what is a ghostwriter?”,  you might have a lingering question: how ethical is all of this? Well, let's discuss.

Is ghostwriting ethical?

If someone bought your book and believed you wrote the whole thing, not knowing a ghost penned it, then 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 string coherent sentences together. To remedy this problem, they choose an experienced ghostwriter to help them produce their book.

In this case, the author’s intent is to share their years of acquired wisdom with others. And if readers receive well-researched and useful knowledge, then they get what they paid for, and nobody can complain and the ghostwriter can walk away with an easy conscience.

Now here’s an example of when ghostwriting wades into murky territory: a person wants to start a new business that they know next to nothing about. They use a ghostwritten book to establish themselves as an “authority” under false pretenses in order to attract clients. The “author’s” intent here — to take advantage of readers — is indeed unethical.

To employ a coy extended metaphor, if you already have the ingredients and just need a chef to prepare them, that's absolutely fine. But if you're asking someone else to provide the ingredients, the kitchen, and the chef? You might be going too far.

Should you become a ghostwriter?

As you've probably surmised, becoming a professional ghostwriter takes a great deal of writing experience, dedication, and strong communication skills. Ghostwriting certainly isn't for everyone, but it can be a very exciting and rewarding career if you have the time to invest in it — and if you don't mind not getting public credit for your work, so long as you still get paid!

In any case, if you're more interested in becoming a ghostwriter than hiring one, we hope you still got plenty of useful info from this article. But if you'd like to learn more about what it takes to be a ghostwriter, make sure to check out this post on how to become a ghostwriter in 8 steps!

If you’re already a ghostwriter, but still have a bit of trouble finding suitable gigs, we recommend reading our blog post on how to find ghostwriting jobs instead.