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What is a Ghostwriter?

By K T Solis
Updated May 23, 2024
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A ghostwriter is a professional writer who writes stories, books, articles, web content, political speeches, or any other type of written material. The ghostwriter writes without receiving credit for the work. Famous people such as politicians, sports figures, and celebrities often hire ghostwriters to pen speeches, autobiographies, or other kinds of books. Some people work full-time as ghostwriters, making their living creating material that will never have their byline.

Ghostwriters can write about countless topics, whether they need to write a cookbook, a thriller, a biography, or an article. A ghostwriter may even serve as a book doctor, polishing the work of another author until it is publishable. This job may not be glamorous but can often pay well, depending on the client.

Some writers work for book packagers. Book packagers hire writers to write books from an outline or basic idea. Other writers may work for a web content company, writing keyword articles that will appear on a variety of web sites.

No matter what type of ghostwriting a writer completes, she rarely has her name on the finished product. Neither does she receive royalties from her work. Instead, a ghostwriter receives a flat fee for any work completed for either a company or individual.

If a writer wishes to become a ghostwriter, she often is required to "audition" for a company. This usually involves sending a writing sample to the company seeking new ghostwriters. If the company likes the writing sample, it will add the writer to its list of ghostwriters. Immediate work may be available for ghostwriters of web content. A writer who works for a book packager may need to wait until the packager has an opportunity that fits the writer's expertise or experience.

Well-known ghostwritten books include the Nancy Drew mysteries and books by V.C. Andrews. The "author" of the Nancy Drew books was Carolyn Keene, a pen name for a stable of writers who wrote the famous mysteries about the girl sleuth. When V.C. Andrews, the author of well-known Gothic novels died, her estate hired a ghostwriter to continue creating books under her name.

Ghostwriters must be excellent writers and have the ability to write quickly. They must be willing to remain hidden from the public eye, allowing celebrities or famous authors to take credit for the written work. Whether they are provided with a detailed outline, interview a person about his life, or write a book based on a general idea, ghostwriters are required to write quality material while staying out of the public eye.

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Discussion Comments

By mrwormy — On Dec 16, 2014

I know a lot of celebrities, or sudden "celebrities", like to hire ghostwriters to create their own tell-all book or autobiography. I used to belong to a ghostwriting service, and I saw plenty of solicitations for discreet ghostwriters who would be interested in working with a well-known public figure. A friend of mine actually agreed to ghostwrite a TV personality's autobiography and he told me the compensation was amazingly good. He did have to sign a confidentialiy agreement, though, and he doesn't get any additional royalties, even if the book gets made into a movie.

Personally, I wouldn't want to ghostwrite a book of that magnitude and not receive any writing credit at all. I've seen some books that include the phrase "as told to (real author's name)", or will credit the real author as "co-written by". Unless I was paid a substantial amount of money for my ghostwriter services, I wouldn't be too interested in remaining anonymous for the rest of my life.

By AnswerMan — On Dec 15, 2014

I have been hired as a ghostwriter for several blogsites, mostly because the owners of those sites don't really have the time to create their own content on a regular basis. They'll send me an email with all the details of a proposed blog entry, and then I'll do my own research to flesh out those ideas. Once the owner reads and approves my article, he or she will post it under their own name and pay me a fee.

I don't really mind the idea of other people getting credit for my work, since the articles aren't written in my usual style and they don't really have much commercial appeal anyway. I get compensated fairly for my work, and the website/blogsite owner gets interesting updates that should attract more viewers.

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