WHAT IS A GHOSTWRITER
by Gary McLaren
Do you believe in ghosts?
They are mostly unseen. Unnoticeable. And believe it or not they
are moving behind the scenes in the publishing industry. If
you're lucky you might catch a fleeting glimpse. They are
officially called 'ghostwriters'.
A ghostwriter is a writer who writes on an assigned topic under
someone else's name, with their consent. They often write books
completely from scratch but sometimes their work involves
rewriting or polishing an existing work.
Most books by famous personalities are actually written by
ghostwriters. When you see an autobiography or memoir from a
politician, businessperson, or celebrity, chances are that it has
been written by a ghostwriter.
Here are a few examples. The autobiography "Ronald Reagan: An
American Life" was ghosted by Robert Lindsey. "Learning to Sing",
the autobiography of American Idol star Clay Aiken, was written
with ghostwriter Allison Glock. The autobiographies of Doris Day
and Sophie Loren were written by A.E. Hotchner.
So how popular is ghostwriting? Statistics are hard to come by
since many people don't want to reveal that their book is
ghosted. Some industry estimates suggest that up to fifty percent
of all non-fiction books are ghostwritten.
A client may decide to hire a ghostwriter because the client does
not have any writing talent or because they are too busy.
Ghostwriters, for their part, are usually well-established
writers already, and are selected on that basis.
WHAT DO GHOSTWRITERS WRITE?
Ghostwriters are hired to write many types of documents, from
autobiographies for famous personalities to e-books for internet
marketing gurus, and even letters for politicians.
They also write fiction. Sometimes it is for a series of books
written by several ghostwriters under one name, as with the
stories of Nancy Drew or The Hardy Boys. Ghostwriters also
continue to write novels under the name of popular authors who
have died, as in the case of Robert Ludlum.
IS GHOSTWRITING ETHICAL?
Although ghostwriting is a widely accepted practice within the
publishing industry, some people outside of the industry complain
that ghostwriting is deceptive. But that is not necessarily true.
Consider for a moment the ghostwriting process. The client is the
author of the work in that they are the person who is really
behind the content. It is the client's ideas, the client's
stories and experiences. It is the client's words recorded on
hours of interview tapes. The ghostwriter is a professional
consultant providing expertise in the area of bringing together
all the information, organizing it, and writing it up in a way
that will produce a marketable and readable masterpiece.
WHAT SKILLS DOES A GHOSTWRITER NEED?
A ghostwriter must be a good writer.
He or she should also have good interviewing skills, since they
will spend many hours and days interviewing clients. They should
have the ability to ask good questions that will draw out the
best aspects of a story.
Another skill - which may need to be developed - is the ability
to maintain the client's voice so that the book reads like the
client, not the ghostwriter.
HOW IS A GHOSTWRITER PAID?
Ghostwriters usually charge a flat fee for their work.
Sometimes they will reduce their ghostwriting fee in return for a
percentage (perhaps 25-50%) of the royalties, or in rare cases
they may waive their fee in return for a percentage of
The advantage of a flat fee is that a ghostwriter knows exactly
how much he or she will be paid. The risk of relying on royalties
is that even if the book is well-written, the ghostwriter has no
control over the book's marketing and promotion.
DOES A GHOSTWRITER GET ANY CREDIT?
More often than not, the public never knows that a book was
ghostwritten. Sometimes ghostwriters are even legally bound to
not reveal that they have ghosted a particular book.
Occasionally ghostwriters will receive some credit. The writer's
name may appear on the cover as a co-author or it might read "as
told to Jenny Ghost." Another way to thank the ghostwriter is
under the acknowledgements, for example "...and thanks to Joe Ghoul
without whom this book would never have been completed".
ARE YOU THINKING OF BECOMING A GHOSTWRITER?
It could be an excellent career move. You've probably heard it
said that everyone has a book inside them. Well, the fact of the
matter is that not everyone has the time or the skill to write
As long as there is a story to be told, ghostwriters will
continue to be in demand.
© Copyright 2010 Gary McLaren
About the Author
Gary McLaren is the editor of Worldwide Freelance Writer, one of the leading resources for freelance writers around the world. You can get a free copy of his weekly newsletter from http://www.worldwidefreelance.com