Ghostwriting – What it is, and how it works

What, Exactly, is a Ghostwriter?

(Note, this is pretty much an excerpt of the no-cost ebook, Almost Everything You Wanted to Know About Ghostwriting and Didn’t Know Who To Ask. This link will let you order it.)

Ask Google for a definition of ghostwriter and you get this:

…a person whose job it is to write material for someone else who is the named author

That works. As a ghostwriter I write books for the person listed on the cover. They are the ‘official’ author of the book. I may or may not receive an acknowledgement in the book.

Yes, I’m talking about ghostwriting books. With the recognition that Google will rank a website with ‘content’ higher than one without it’s become quite common for individuals and companies to hire ghostwriters to write those articles and blog posts for their websites. Although I sometimes do that kind of ghostwriting, this booklet is about ghostwriting book

What Kinds of Books are Ghostwritten?

Any kind of book can be ghostwritten from speculative science fiction, through biographies and memoirs and family histories, and on to political exposes and the newest selling techniques, through how to make money and lose weight. Ghostwritten books can be long or short or in between.

These days they are written for trade publishers and self-publishers. Briefly, trade publishers are the traditional publishers like Random House, Harper’s, etc. Authors who publish through a trade publisher must be involved in the marketing if the book is to be successful. Self-publishing is when an author or a business undertakes all aspects of publishing, from writing, design, printing, distribution and marketing.

Regardless of how a book reaches readers, if you’ve got an idea for a book there’s a ghostwriter out there who can write it for you.

What About Transparency?

While ghostwriting is considered legitimate by most, a more interesting question might be about transparency. What started as a controversy in the pharmaceutical industries about ghostwritten articles[2] has spilled over to ghostwriting in general. For example, consider Is Ghostwriting Ethical? by Cheryl Conner in Forbes magazine written in March of 2009.[3] It’s a pretty even-handed discussion of ethics and ghostwriting.

I certainly recognize that my approach to ghosting a book could also be called collaboration, and I might consider a collaboration that would include my name on the cover, I’m comfortable being anonymous.

Should you be transparent admit that you’ve hired a ghost? That’s not my decision to make. I tend to lean toward transparency in my life, yet I’m totally comfortable ghostwriting books in complete anonymity.

I do think transparency is worth considering.

Are There Any Alternatives to Using a Ghostwriter?

There at least three alternatives to using a ghostwriter, collaboration, coaching, and not writing a book at all.


Perhaps the most obvious alternative to hiring a ghost is working with a collaborator. In some ways, the difference between a collaborator and a ghostwriter seems insignificant in terms of getting the book written. Generally, however, the collaborator is usually named, albeit in smaller type, on the book’s cover. You and your collaborator are seen as joint authors.

Where a ghostwriter is writing your book, a collaborator is working with you to write a book that really belongs to both. The collaborator has more ‘say’ in the book, although how much is determined by your contract with the collaborator.

A writing coach

You can hire a writing coach to help you get the book written. Generally this means you’re doing the bulk of the writer. The coach provides guidance, maybe some rewriting, and accountability. A writing coach can make book writing much easier. Again the nature of the relationship is reflected in your contract with them.

My experiences coaching people to write their book tells me this can be an excellent approach.

Maybe you don’t want a book after all

Of course, you can skip writing or having a book written altogether. Most people don’t write books; although with self-publishing more seem to enter the book writing arena every day.

The reasons for writing a book or having one written are myriad.  You’re the only one who knows if you really want to devote time and resources into getting a book written or not. Consider carefully.