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Last updated on May 14, 2021

What Is a Ghostwriter? All Your Questions Answered!

A ghostwriter writes projects that are credited to someone else and whose name, like a ghost, doesn’t appear in the byline. Ghostwriters may complete the entire project solo or work collaboratively with the publicly named author.

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.

Or, to put it another way, they're less of a ghost and more of a guardian angel! Read on to learn all about the different ghostwriting services, how much it costs to hire ghostwriters and more.

Why should you hire a ghostwriter?

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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! Here are a few of the most common reasons you might choose to hire a ghostwriter. 

To better tell your life’s story

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

what is a ghostwriter: a collage of celebrity books
Household names are a major market force - but they often require a helping hand to get their stories on the page.

The best-known iteration of this is the celebrity memoir, often commissioned by publishers who understand the appeal of a household name. But a ghostwritten memoir isn’t solely the reserve of celebs — 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 boost your business with a book

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!  Running a successful business doesn't necessarily mean you can articulate how you've done it — and 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.

To get your foot on the traditional publishing ladder

A nonfiction author might be able to write an amazing book, but can they write an equally successful book proposal to sell that book to publishers? If you’re confident in your writing skills but not your proposal-penning skills, you can 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.

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 of popular series often 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 (and occasionally just to keep the gravy train running).

You might not quite 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!

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

To write all the short-form content you don’t have time for

Short-form ghostwriting tends to be for nonfiction — essays, articles, as well as a few more unexpected jobs.

Speeches

One 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!

Blogging and social media 

Another 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.

Now that we’ve covered why someone might want to hire a ghostwriter, let’s discuss the experience of working with one.

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.

What is it like to work with a ghostwriter?

Every ghostwriting collaboration is a little different, but here’s a rundown of some of the finer points of working with a ghostwriter: what it might cost you, the distinction between ghostwriting versus co-authoring, and the ethics of ghostwriting for those who may be concerned. Spoiler alert: you needn’t be!

To learn more about what it’s like to work with a ghostwriter, check out this article by acclaimed ghostwriter Katy Weitz, or read David Wichman’s account of how a Reedsy ghostwriter helped him own his life story

How much do ghostwriters cost?

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

  • The ghostwriter's experience. If they have a long work history or they're in high demand, they will charge more. If they’re 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 will they be shadowing you for a period of time to ghostwrite your memoir?

Also worth noting is that ghostwriters don’t typically receive royalties for the books they write. This will be something you nail down in the contract, and while there are occasionally exceptions, for the most part, ghostwriters are paid a flat sum to write and won’t receive a split of the profits.

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

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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 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!

Ghostwriting vs. co-authoring

A common point of confusion about ghostwriting is the distinction between ghostwriting and co-authoring. It’s actually a pretty simple one.

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, as we mentioned, many popular series have multiple ghostwriters.

Is hiring a ghostwriter ethical?

With all you now know about ghostwriters, you may still be left with one lingering question: how ethical is all this?

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 organize their thoughts and stay on topic. To remedy this problem, they choose 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. 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.

Who shouldn’t hire a ghostwriter?

To give you an example of ghostwriting wading into murky territory: the credited author of a book could use it to claim expertise on something they’re not actually an authority in.

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)

Say someone wants to start a new business that they know next to nothing about and uses a ghostwritten book to establish themselves as an “authority” under false pretenses to attract clients. The “author’s” intent here — to take advantage of readers by feigning expertise — is indeed unethical.

However, if you do 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 to help put them all together!

Do ghostwriters mind not getting credit?

If your ethical concern lies in the feelings of the ghostwriter, rest assured: contracted ghostwriters are perfectly content with their jobs. 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. Ghostwriters often 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.

Ghostwriting collaborations are often as rewarding for the ghostwriter as they are for the person hiring them and have helped a wide array of people fulfill publishing goals they could previously only dream of! 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.

– Originally published on Jun 22, 2020