Ghostwriter: What Is a Ghostwriter (And Should You Really Hire One?)

POSTED ON Apr 17, 2020

P.J McNulty

Written by P.J McNulty

Home > Blog > Writing, Learning > Ghostwriter: What Is a Ghostwriter (And Should You Really Hire One?)

Ghostwriters are growing in-demand in today’s digital space and gig economy. 

Especially with the rise of self-publishing and the importance of publishing a book to grow authority, many entrepreneurs, thought leaders, celebrities, and the like have turned to ghostwriting services. 

While the idea of having a ghostwriter write your book might sound appealing, especially if you’re pressed for time or not particularly great at writing, you should ask yourself if the long-term results are right for you.

If you’ve got a book idea, but lack the time or ability to write it yourself, they just might be the solution to your woes.

Here’s what we’ll cover in this article on ghostwriters: 

  1. What is a ghostwriter?
  2. Is ghostwriting ethical?
  3. The pros of ghostwriting
  4. The cons of ghostwriting
  5. Should you hire a ghostwriter?
  6. How to hire a ghostwriter
  7. Final thoughts on using a ghostwriter

#1 – What is a ghostwriter?

A ghostwriter is simply someone who produces written content without having their name attached to the work. The attributed author is the person who has hired the ghostwriter. A ghostwriter is essentially the behind-the-scenes writer of a work that doesn't attach their name to the work.

Ghostwriters produce many different types of written content. Anything from a single blog post through to an entire series of books can be ghostwritten.

A ghostwriter is not the same as a co-author. A co-author will have their name attached to their written work (a byline), while a ghostwriter never will.

Many different writers choose to ghostwrite. Some will carry out this type of writing exclusively, while others will also write under their name.

A good ghostwriter understands what a client is looking for, writes in their voice, and is willing to produce their best work even when they won't receive public recognition for it. 

Now that you know exactly what a ghostwriter is, let’s delve deeper into what ghostwriters do and how to find them.

#2 – Is ghostwriting ethical?

Perhaps you have ethical questions about ghostwriting.

That’s entirely understandable. At first glance, the idea of someone writing under someone else’s name might seem deceptive or underhanded.

In truth, you’d be surprised how many well-known names hire a ghostwriter to publish a book. 

Is it deceiving to readers? Potentially. It really depends on the reader’s perspective. 

For example, if you’re expecting to read the next great American novel from your favorite author, and discover it was actually ghostwritten – then based on your expectations, you might be deceived. A writer is essentially an artist – especially when it comes to fiction. Would you be okay finding out your favorite artist didn’t actually create their own art? 

It really just depends on the context. Are readers having the wool pulled over their eyes?

In my opinion, not at all. As much as our author egos might beg to differ, it's not the person who penned the work that matters. It's the work itself. 

But ghostwriting is more accepted by readers of nonfiction works, especially from authors that are big-name celebrities or thought leaders. These authors usually have a solid reason for hiring a ghostwriter – lack of time, or lack of writing skill – so readers are more forgiving. 

Generally speaking, many would agree that there’s nothing unethical about ghostwriting or hiring a ghostwriter.

From the perspective of the person being hired as a ghostwriter, there’s no exploitation taking place whatsoever. Ghostwriters are carrying out work they want to do for a price they have freely agreed.

If you feel a ghostwriter will write a better book than you would, it's unethical not to hire one.

#3 – The pros of ghostwriting

To fully weigh the advantages and benefits that ghostwriters offer, it’s important to break it down. 

Ghostwriting can be advantageous in many different situations – again, it’s just a matter of context. 

Here are some common pros to hiring a ghostwriter: 

  • Less time. Many authors rely on ghostwriting services because they just don’t have the time it takes to write high-quality content. So, they hire a ghostwriter that is able to provide quick-turnaround times, which in turn means less time it takes to publish. 
  • Minimal effort. Ideally, ghostwriters relieve you of the effort it takes to research and write your book. They compile all the essential information, and do the heavy-lifting when it comes to writing the content. However, this is only the case if the ghostwriter is a professional – there are horror stories of people hiring ghostwriters and it ended up requiring a ton more work than they expected.
  • Potentially higher quality. If you know your topic, but are lacking in writing skills, you might opt for a professional writer to help you produce a high quality book. Of course, this is assuming the ghostwriter is actually a skilled writer.
  • Tap into expertise of professionals. Ghostwriters write books for a living. This is their area of expertise, which means they probably know a whole lot more about the process than you do. Or, maybe the ghostwriter you hire is an expert in a specific topic you’ll be covering in your book!
  • Accommodations for those with disabilities. For those with impairments, chronic illness, or disabilities that prevent them from writing a book, a ghostwriter is a huge helping hand. 
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#4 – The cons of ghostwriting

Alright, now that we have a solid idea of the benefits that come with using a ghostwriter, let’s take a look at some of the potential disadvantages. 

Here are some common cons to hiring a ghostwriter: 

  • Your voice. Your book is a reflection of your experience, knowledge, and story. Your writing tone and passion will likely not shine through if someone else is writing for you. Although ghostwriters are professional writers and many can capture part of your essence, they will never be able to fully express your original thoughts. 
  • Personal accomplishment. There’s something gratifying about writing your own words on paper, and seeing your words turned into a book – it doesn't matter if you're self-publishing or traditional publishing. Your personal gratification may not feel that strong if you have someone else write your story. 
  • Potentially misleading. As we mentioned earlier, readers may or may not feel misled if they ever discover you used a ghostwriter for your book. Ideally, people won’t ever know your book is ghostwritten, but you should be prepared for all situations. 
  • Expertise. Through the book research and writing process, you come to discover so much about your subject (even if you’re already an expert). Ghostwriters will do this process for you, which means you are missing out on some potentially insightful learning experience. Additionally, readers may not see you as a true authority in your field if they discover that your book is ghostwritten. 
  • Expensive. Of course, hiring a ghostwriter to write your entire book is going to be a pretty penny, especially if you’re working with a true professional (which you should be). It’s an investment and it should be budgeted for. 

#5 – Should you hire a ghostwriter? 

Now that you understand what ghostwriting is, and the benefits and downsides that come with it, it’s time to assess your personal situation and determine if a ghostwriter is something you truly need to get your book written. 

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If any of the following situations sound like yours, a ghostwriter might be the best route to take.

Reasons to hire a ghostwriter: 

  • You’re confident in your book idea, but not your ability to write it.
  • You're an experienced author who wants to publish books at scale but can't write them all. 

Ultimately, whatever reason you have for wanting to hire a ghostwriter is good enough. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Let’s check out the process of hiring a ghostwriter.

#6 – How to hire a ghostwriter

Chances are, if you’re ready to get help writing a book, you’re a busy person. 

To save you time, we’ve distilled the process of hiring a ghostwriter down into five simple steps.

Step 1: Prepare your project for a ghostwriter

The quality of a ghostwriter’s work doesn’t just depend on their writing skill, although that’s undeniably important.

They also need clear guidance from you on the type of project you are producing and the exact way they will help you.

Some things to think about before hiring a ghostwriter include:

  • Purpose. What is the reason for your work? Are you looking to entertain or inform? Who is your intended reader, and how do you meet their needs?
  • Expectation. Do people already expect something from your written content? If so, how will you convey these expectations to your ghostwriter? Preparing samples of any past work released under your name might be helpful.
  • Involvement. How much involvement do you want to have in the project? Knowing this ahead of time will help you find a suitable ghostwriter.
  • Material. Gather together the material your ghostwriter will need to do their job. If you’re hiring someone to write your memoir, this might include photos and diaries from your life. In the case of a nonfiction book, it might include source material the ghostwriter will reference. 

Although you can always work in conjunction with your ghostwriter further down the line, taking the time for initial preparation will not only make everyone's life easier but will show that you're serious about your project. A good first impression is invaluable.

After you’ve prepared as much as possible, it’s time to seek out the right ghostwriter for your work. 

Step #2 – Find people to ghostwrite your work

So how exactly do you find someone to ghostwrite your project?

If you have the time, it’s a good idea to cast a wide net initially. Look in as many places as possible and consider a range of different ghostwriters. This will allow you to find the right person for your project, rather than settling on whoever you happen to stumble across.

To start your search, seek out ghostwriters in the following places:

  1. Search engines. Use sites like Google to find ghostwriting candidates. Try and be as specific as possible. Instead of searching for ‘ghostwriter’, try searching for the specific type of ghostwriter you want, such as ‘nonfiction ghostwriter’ or ‘memoir ghostwriter’. 
  2. Freelancing websites. Sites such as Upwork have sections just for finding ghostwriters, as do specialist platforms like Reedsy
  3. Self-publishing companies. Why not hire a ghostwriter recommended by a specialist self-publishing company? You might find it easier working with someone with experience in self-publishing.
  4. Social media. Search social media platforms such as Facebook for ghostwriters to find relevant groups and individuals. Services such as LinkedIn are also good places to look, and you might even want to try relevant hashtags on Twitter or Instagram. 
  5. Word of mouth. Often, a word of mouth recommendation is worth its weight in gold. Don’t be shy to ask around and seek out recommendations for good ghostwriters.
  6. Writer forums. Forums, job boards, and other places where writers hang out are worth your attention. 

After you’ve looked for ghostwriters in as many places as possible, it’s time to settle on someone in particular. 

Step #3 – How to choose the right ghostwriter

Knowing where to look for ghostwriters isn’t enough. You also need to know how to choose between the writers you find. 

If you’re evaluating someone to write your work, you should consider all of the following points:

  • Voice. Will a potential ghostwriter be able to capture your voice? This is less of a concern if you don't have a reputation and aren't looking for your voice to come across. However, if you want the writing to sound like it could have come from you, find someone who can understand and convey your personal style.
  • Experience. Does your ghostwriter candidate have experience in producing your type of project? What’s their writing background like in general?
  • Portfolio. Ask to see some samples of a ghostwriter’s work. Be clear about the type of writing you would most like to see.
  • References. If you’re looking at ghostwriters on a freelance site, be sure to check out their reviews. If you’re looking elsewhere, ask for some testimonials and references, and make sure you like what you hear before proceeding.

Aside from the tangible aspect of your evaluation, you also want to consider your rapport with a potential ghostwriter and whether you seem to click with one another. 

Whether or not you’ll be working closely with this person, you’re entrusting them with a big responsibility. Everything will be a lot easier if you both get on well and communicate compatibly. 

Step #4 – How much does it cost to hire a ghostwriter?

Cost shouldn’t be the only thing you consider when hiring a ghostwriter, but it’s something you can’t ignore.

Before weighing up the costs of various ghostwriters against their other qualities, it’s useful to think about the end goal of your project.

If you're looking to generate revenue by selling copies of your book, what will the retail price be? How many copies do you intend to sell? How much profit are you hoping to make?

If you’re more interested in boosting your profile and authority by releasing a book, how much is this worth to you? For example, you might hope to generate business referrals through your book. What’s the value of these? What are you willing to pay to make them happen?

After considering the above, seek out real ghostwriters. Try and find as many as possible who meet the criteria you identified in step 3. Find out their rates and try and establish an average rate for what you’re looking for. 

If you’re looking for some rough ballpark numbers, here are average rates for various types of ghostwriter:

  1. Top tier ghostwriters. There is an elite tier of ghostwriters who work on projects for celebrities and other elite individuals. They can charge between $100,000 and $500,000 for a book project.
  2. High-level ghostwriters. For professional ghostwriters operating below the elite tier, expect to pay around $20,000 to $80,000 for an average length book.
  3. More affordable ghostwriters. On sites like Upwork, you can hire their top ghostwriters for between $60 – $100 an hour, or agree on a project fee separately. 

It’s important to see the money spent on a ghostwriter as an investment rather than a cost. 

You should always anticipate a worthwhile return on your investment, regardless of if that return is in the form of money, exposure, or both.

Step #5 – Agreeing terms for your ghostwritten project

After evaluating different ghostwriter candidates, and finding someone who fits your budget, it’s time to drill down and agree terms. 

Taking the time to agree on specific terms for your ghostwritten project at the very start is essential. You help to avoid any misunderstandings or hassles further down the line and ensure you and your writer are on the same page. 

So what are some things you should agree on before the project begins?

  • Project plan. Find a schedule that is mutually suitable for you and your ghostwriter. Be clear about milestones, deadlines, and the extent to which they are flexible. Make sure anything discussed is put in writing so there’s no room for misunderstanding.
  • Communication. How often will you and your ghostwriter communicate? Which communication tools will be used? Reaching an understanding about communication at the start will ensure neither party feels either harassed or ignored. 
  • Payment amount. How much will you pay your ghostwriter? Will this be a flat rate for the project or paid on an hourly basis?
  • Payment structure. Will you pay an advance upfront? Will their fee be paid according to the completion of project milestones? If your ghostwriter charges by the hour, how often will they bill you?
  • Contract or escrow. How will the deal you’ve reached with your ghostwriter be formalized? Platforms like Upwork have a built-in platform for this, or you might want to sign a contract and use an escrow service. 
  • Confidentiality. Consider asking your ghostwriter to sign a nondisclosure agreement to avoid any issues cropping up further down the line. 

It’s better to be thorough about every detail before getting started. It gives you a much better chance of having your expectations met, and gives your ghostwriter the clarity and confidence they need to produce their best work. 

#7 – Final thoughts on using a ghostwriter

We’re in the business of helping authors write and publish books, and we’ve developed a step-by-step framework that helps authors do it for less time than they think it takes. 

It doesn’t have to take years to write your book. You can write and publish a book in 90 days without using a ghostwriter – all while saving half the cost.

Want to learn the process? 

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If you’re sold on hiring a ghostwriter and ready to get started, we get it! For those of you in this boat, we’re including some action steps for you to take. 

To begin making your ghostwritten project a reality, answer the following points before closing this article:

  • What are the main benefits I will experience by hiring a ghostwriter?
  • What are the three main qualities I will look for in my future ghostwriter?
  • What is my deadline for finding at least five suitable ghostwriter candidates?

Taking a few moments to answer these questions will give you some initial momentum to build upon in your hunt for the ideal ghostwriter.

What questions or experiences do you have working with ghostwriters? 

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