What Is Ghostwriting? Everything You Need to Know

POSTED ON Feb 16, 2023

P.J McNulty

Written by P.J McNulty

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Of all the types of writing work out there, ghostwriting definitely has the coolest name. 

There’s just something glamorous and slightly mysterious and edgy about the term ghostwriter. 

But beyond the name, what exactly is ghostwriting? It’s something almost everyone has heard of. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have an intricate knowledge of what it entails.

In this introductory guide, we’ll explore exactly what ghostwriting is, the reasons why people use ghostwriters, and the pros and cons to this type of work.

Are you ready? Then let’s get started! Who you gonna call? Ghostwriters!

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Ghostwriting defined – what is ghostwriting?

Ghostwriting is a form of writing where someone writes in the style and voice of another person whose name is attached to the work. The ghostwriter produces the written content for the project but their own author name is never mentioned. Instead, the writing is presented as if it is coming from another person altogether.

Sometimes, people are open about using ghostwriters and mention that they have, often in the acknowledgements page or other section of their book. Other times, there is no mention of a ghostwriter being used and readers are left to assume that the person has produced the writing themselves.

Ghostwriting is more than simply writing under another person’s name. It requires the ghostwriter to adopt their client’s voice and to get inside their head and see things from their perspective.

Now that you know the basic concept of ghostwriting and what it entails, let’s delve deeper and see exactly what this type of writing work is all about.

Why do people use ghostwriters?

There are many reasons why someone might employ the services of a ghostwriter. However, they typically boil down to two major factors:

  1. Lacking sufficient skill to write a particular project
  2. Lacking sufficient time to write on a particular project

Of course, ghostwriting may be needed due to a combination of the above factors, rather than just one or the other.

One prominent reason for using ghostwriters is when experts in their particular field have ideas to share but fear they lack the skills needed to do them justice.

Because there is no one-size-fits-all approach to working with a ghostwriter, the role of the client can be hands-on or hands-off.

In a more hands-on situation, the person whose name will be attached to the work will have a high level of involvement in the creation process. They might supply detailed information for the ghostwriter to work with, such as detailed notes, recordings, interviews, or other source material. They might suggest changes as the writing is being carried out and will be very particular when it comes to revisions.

Ghostwriting can also be a totally hands-off situation from the client’s perspective. In such a situation, they supply minimal levels of instruction at the start of the project, such as ‘write me a book about x’, and the ghostwriter is then left to get on with the work according to their own judgement and discretion. 

What kind of books are ghostwritten?

Almost any type of book can be produced by a ghostwriter, no matter if its fiction or nonfiction. 

However, there are some types of book that are more commonly associated with ghostwriting than others.

One of the most prominent types of ghostwritten book is the memoir or autobiography of a famous person. Often, these celebrities lack the time, skill, and inclination to write their own book but still want to share their story. Some famous examples include Prince Harry’s recent memoir and Donald Trump’s infamous ‘Art of The Deal’.

Although nonfiction books such as those mentioned above are some of the most common candidates to be ghostwritten, there are also instances where fiction is produced by a ghostwriter.

Typically, fiction ghostwriting occurs in one of two scenarios.

The first relates to entrepreneurial self-publishers, also known as authorpreneurs. These are people that identify a profitable niche of fiction that seems to be selling well. In order to release a far greater volume of books than they could on their own, they hire ghostwriters and supply them with material such as outlines and background info as well as a style guide. This allows far more books to be released, resulting in greater revenue for the authorpreneur.

The second common scenario relating to fiction ghostwriting is when a famous writer wishes to capitalize on their brand recognition without having to write an entire book themselves. Some of the most famous examples include James Patterson and Tom Clancy. Overall direction is supplied by the famous author and the ghostwriter’s output is checked to ensure it has the right voice. However, the famous author is not the one actually producing the work. 

Some people frown upon the use of ghostwriters in fiction, but there’s nothing wrong with it in truth. Ultimately, readers care about a high-quality book that satisfies their expectations. The specific fingers that typed out the words is less important.

What are the pros of being a ghostwriter?

Perhaps you find the idea of becoming a ghostwriter appealing and want to try it out for yourself.

While there’s definitely a wide range of ghostwriting work available, it’s important to have a realistic notion of the process and what it entails. This ensures you don’t go into it blind or with an unrealistic notion of what being a ghostwriter entails.

Some of the main pros to being a ghostwriter include:

  • The ability to write without the self-judgment that comes with having your name attached to the work.
  • The chance to write in different styles, voices, and genres that you never otherwise would if you stuck to projects published under your own name. 
  • The wide range of ghostwriting work available, in both the fiction and nonfiction realms.
  • Typically higher rates of pay than if you carried out a similar project under your own name.

There’s no denying there are a wide range of pros associated with being a ghostwriter. However, before you make the decision to give it a go, consider the downsides as well and weigh them up against the advantages to have a balanced perspective. 

Does becoming a ghostwriter have drawbacks?

As mentioned, ghostwriting has its drawbacks. Some of the most common downsides to ghostwriting work include:

  • A loss of creative control.
  • The inability to write in your own voice.
  • No chance to build your career and platform in your own name
  • The necessity of a great relationship with your client. If you’re no on the same page as to the style and tone of the work, you run the risk of a lot of headaches and back and forth.

No type of writing is perfect and ghostwriting is no exception.

Instead of leaning too heavily into the pros and cons, try weigh them all up. Speak to real ghostwriters and get a feel for what their experiences have been.

Finally, nothing beats trying it out for yourself. Why not commit to a small ghostwriting project and get hands-on experience about whether it’s the type of work you enjoy?

Should you use a ghostwriter for your next book?

Let’s end by considering one final question – is it a good idea to employ the services of a ghostwriter for your next book project?

If you’re writing your first book, we highly recommend writing it yourself. There’s nothing like the experience of writing a book for yourself and enjoying the satisfaction of the end product. 

However, if you’re approaching self-publishing more from a business perspective, you could consider working with a ghostwriter. A prime example would be if you’ve identified a fiction niche you believe to be profitable but don’t have any real interest in writing it yourself.

Just make sure to do your homework and hire a ghostwriter with a good reputation. Ideally, they will have a track record of positive results related to projects similar to the one you have in mind. Just because someone has succeeded at ghostwriting in one area doesn’t mean they will in another.

So, there you have it. Hopefully by now you have a thorough understanding of what ghostwriting is and the type of project its suited to.

Whether you want to try your hand at ghostwriting, or hire a ghostwriter for your next project, we wish you every success.

And above all, never forget just how cool the term ‘ghostwriter’ is!

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