Should You Be Transparent About Using a Ghostwriter to Write Your Book?

in Ghostwriting

In book writing and publishing circles there’s a lot of talk about the ethics of hiring a ghostwriter. As I understand the discussion, a major part of it circles around the advantages and disadvantages of the author being transparent about how their book got written.

For example, the Fulcrum, the highly eclectic “independent English-language student newspaper at the University of Ottawa” in Canada has a marvelous article called Ghostwriting is a matter of transparency.  Kyle Darbyson, the article’s author, refers to the fiery discussion that occurred when it was revealed that Zoe Sugg was not the sole author of her best-selling Girl OnlineOpinions mostly divided along the lines that Zoe Sugg and her co-author Siobhan Curham were either totally justified in not making their relationship obvious or totally wrong in so doing.

Darbyson commented “I like to think that the answer to this ethical dilemma lies somewhere in the middle.” That’s my wish too.

No matter what, successful books are collaborations

What the reading public doesn’t understand and, I suspect, rarely thinks about, is that by the time a book reaches their hand, many people have been involved. Even if the author was able to write a polished manuscript that needed no editing (a virtual impossibility because the writer is too close to the material to see it clearly), there is the whole manufacturing of the book, from copy editing to typesetting, through cover design, back of the book advertising copy, and book storage and distribution, etc. each step involving often several or more individuals. The acknowledgements you read in books are real.

While true, this begs the question a bit. The real issue is how transparent an author should be.

Pros and cons of hiring a ghostwriter

Hundreds and probably hundreds of thousands of reasons to hire a ghostwriter have been written, and in the last decade or so almost as many have been written about why you shouldn’t hire one. I find the pros and cons break out into two fairly simply propositions:

  1. The most important reason to hire a with a ghostwriter your book will get done. Not always, but more often than if when non-writers attempt the project by themselves.
  2. The reason working with a ghostwriter may be a mistake is that if you’re not careful the book may turn out not to be your book.

So much has to do with intent

Forbes has an article titled Is Ghostwriting Ethical? There Cheryl Conner, lists what she calls “5 transparentEthical Guidelines for Ghostwriting.” Number 4, “To what extent do the communicators actively participate in the writing of their own messages?” and number 5, “Does the communicator accept responsibility for the message he or she presents?” sum it all up. As long as the author (communicator in Conner’s article) participates to a high degree and is willing to take responsibility for what is written, the author, the ghost and the publisher are in the clear. They’ve met the letter of the question.

But what about transparency?

How transparent should an author be?

When I ask, “how transparent should an author be?” I’m asking what I call a ‘how long is a piece of string’ question because there is no single answer. It truly depends.

Here are some things to keep in mind when making this decision:

  • In this internet age we live in it is quite likely that if your book becomes a best seller the fact that you used a ghostwriter will probably eventually be discovered. And chances are it won’t be your ghost that blows your cover – as a group we’re pretty good at honoring our agreements.
  • A better reason to be more transparent is it lets your readers know exactly what’s going on with your book.
  • On the other hand, it may be nobody’s business that you hired a ghost.

Check your motives, ask your potential ghost to check theirs. It really is your decision.

What’s your thinking on transparency and ghostwriting? Share it in comments.

Anne Wayman, Ghostwriter and Writing Coach



If you haven’t yet gotten your no-cost ebook, Almost Everything You Wanted to Know About Ghostwriting But Didn’t Know Who to Ask just click here.

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