What is a Ghostwriter? An Insider’s Guide to Secret Co-Authors (2023)

A ghostwriter is a professional hired to write something credited to someone else. From celebrity memoirs and speeches to query letters and blog posts, a ghostwriter can either complete an entire project solo or work collaboratively with the text's credited author. And, much like ghosts, these writers will avoid being discovered.

In this post, we'll dust off our Ouija board to learn more about ghostwriters — what they do and how they can help you.

What is a ghostwriter, and what can they do? All your questions are answered right here! 👻 Click to tweet!

They work on projects credited to other people

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Ghostwriters are not to be confused with authors who choose to publish their work anonymously, authors who use pen names, or co-writer teams where both authors are credited. As the name implies, ghostwriters work away from the spotlight to bring other people's ideas to life.

If you've been struggling to write a book, a blog post, or anything else involving words, your solution might be to hire a ghostwriter — someone who has the writing chops to turn your book ideas into reality but who prefers to work in the shadows.

(Video) An Insider’s Guide to Ghostwriting - with Cara Thurlbourn (The Self Publishing Show, episode 353)

Typically, readers don't know a ghostwriter's involvement in a writing project. This may sound suspicious, but it's actually a pretty transparent business once you bust the myth:

  • Party A brings the ideas and the knowledge; and
  • Party B transforms it all on the page without taking credit for the final product.

Curious about a ghostwriting career?💡Check out our guide to becoming a ghostwriter, complete with insights from professionals.

There’s nothing shady about ghostwriters

It might seem strange that ghostwriters don’t take any credit for their work and you might worry that they’ll resent you, but rest assured: contracted ghostwriters are perfectly content with their jobs. Ghostwriting collaborations are as rewarding for the ghostwriter as they are for the person hiring them, and they've helped countless people fulfill publishing goals they could previously only dream of.

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Ghostwriters complete clients' assignments and are compensated fairly for their work — just like any other freelance writer. The fact that they don't receive public credit does not mean they are financially exploited.

In fact, they often make more money than other types of freelancers, and they get to work with all sorts of exciting clients, learning a lot of new things along the way. Many ghostwriters also publish under their own names, so ghostwriting doesn't deprive them of a credited writing career.

Want more insight into how ghostwriters feel about their career? Check out Barry Napier’s account of ghostwriting for a living.

Hiring a ghostwriter is a perfectly reasonable choice if you have insights to share with the world but not the skills to translate them into words. As long as you're bringing the ingredients to the table, there's no harm in having someone else assemble them into an appetizing experience.

What is a Ghostwriter? An Insider’s Guide to Secret Co-Authors (4)

(Video) How to Find a Ghostwriter? 3 Tips for Book Authors


Find a ghost you can trust

Browse portfolios, request quotes, and find a writer to finish your story.

They bring other people’s stories to life

Ghostwriters bring other people's stories to the page in both fiction and nonfiction. They are versatile, the chameleons of the writing world, and can effortlessly switch between styles and genres.

Ghostwriters are perhaps best known for writing memoirs and other autobiographical texts. No one knows your life story better than you, but you may lack the know-how to tie it all together in a way that is easy to follow and that the average reader will appreciate. Enter the ghostwriter, who can synthesize all your memories and anecdotes into a moving autobiography or entertaining memoirwith a little distance from the topic!

The best-known iteration of this is the celebrity memoir, often commissioned by publishers who understand the appeal of a household name. For example, not-so-anonymous ghost J.R. Moehringer helped Phil Knight tell his story about how he founded Nike in Shoe Dog, and he's the pen behind Prince Harry’s memoir, Spare.

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But a ghostwritten memoir isn't solely the reserve of celebs — anyone who's lived a full and interesting life can benefit from a nonfiction ghostwriter, especially if you've always wanted to write a memoir but have never had the time.

What is a Ghostwriter? An Insider’s Guide to Secret Co-Authors (8)

Ghostwriters can help your business

Being seen as an expert in one's field is a significant asset, and perhaps the best way to achieve this is by publishing a relevant book. But running a successful business doesn't necessarily mean you can articulate how you've done it — that's where the ghostwriter comes in.

(Video) Book Writing Tips and Publishing Journey | Ghost Writer Shirley Jump | Elite Expert Insider Podcast

This type of nonfiction is often self-published and used as a point of authority for entrepreneurs. In addition to creating content for a book, the ghostwriter may also help shape the branding and tone of the client's other marketing materials (website, social media, etc.) to ensure consistency across all platforms.


What will it cost you to hire a ghostwriter?

You can learn even more about ghostwriting fees in this post on how much it costs to hire a ghostwriter by Andrew Crofts — a ghost and author with more than eighty books under his belt!

Or synthesize your ideas into a book proposal

Ghostwriters are also invaluable partners for putting together a book proposal.

Proposal writing is an art form all of its own and can be tricky, especially if you're a debut author submitting for the first time. So if you're confident in your writing skills but not your proposal-penning, you can hire a ghostwriter with a history of working with publishers — someone who knows precisely what acquiring editors want to see.

Does this sound like you? If so, here’s an article on how a ghostwriter can help you nail your book proposal.

Ghostwriters can contribute to book series

To keep up with demand, publishers of popular series can hire multiple ghostwriters to churn out books under a single author's name. This is especially common with well-known children's series such as Nancy Drew, Animorphs, and The Baby-Sitters Club, probably because young readers devour them so fast!

(Video) How to Make $1800 to $20K Per Month as a Linkedin Ghostwriter

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Similarly, publishers also hire ghostwriters to continue an established author's legacy. For example, have you ever wondered how Robert Ludlum, author of the original Bourne Trilogy, has managed to write 32 books since his death in 2001? 🤔 Publishers frequently do this when a deceased author leaves behind piles of unpublished work.

You might not be at that level of publishing success yet, but if you just want to keep up a high rate of writing output while publishing a series, you too can consider bringing in reinforcements in the form of a ghostwriter. Any ghostwriter worth their salt will know how to meet you where you are in style and voice, ensuring that your work stays consistent over time.

If you want to find out more, check out our list of popular novels you never knew were ghostwritten!

BONUS TIP: if you're a blogger looking to turn your blog into a book, a ghostwriter will ensure you don't lose that voice your readers fell in love with. They will adapt to your brand like a chameleon.

They can write short-form content for you, too

Besides turning your blog into a long-form book, ghostwriters can also help you pen the content for your blog or any other short-form content that you may be too busy to write yourself or want to make sure to get just right.

Blog writers

One growing source of work for ghostwriters is the blogosphere. Have you ever browsed a public figure's blog and wondered if they wrote all the content themselves? If they're prominent, there's a good chance they didn't. Instead, they'll have a few dedicated ghostwriters who write content on their behalf. These ghostwriters will research, plan, and churn out numerous posts on subjects that appeal to that figure's audience, a model used by many businesses to run corporate blogs.

This is probably the most common type of short-form ghostwriting because people don't always label it as such! Many bloggers and business owners outsource their posts to freelance writers but may think of it more as uncredited guest blogging than bona fide ghostwriting.


Another arena where ghostwriters excel is in speech writing. Ghostwriters are a godsend for anyone lacking the time or skill to craft a memorable speech. Nowadays, it's a given that something like a presidential speech will be mostly another person's work. But you don't have to be the POTUS to turn to a ghost for your next public speaking opportunity: some people even hire them to ghostwrite their wedding speeches!

If you're sold on what ghostwriters can do for you, check out the next part of this guide, which will show you how to find a ghost that suits you and your story.

(Video) INSIDER SECRET REVEALED: How to Get a GREAT Ghostwriter For Your Book | Interview w/ Linda Allen 2/7


What is a Ghostwriter? An Insider’s Guide to Secret Co-Authors? ›

A ghostwriter is a professional hired to write something credited to someone else. From celebrity memoirs and speeches to query letters

query letters
A query letter is a formal letter sent to magazine editors, literary agents and sometimes publishing houses or companies. Writers write query letters to propose writing ideas.
https://en.wikipedia.org › wiki › Query_letter
and blog posts, a ghostwriter can either complete an entire project solo or work collaboratively with the text's credited author.

What exactly does a ghostwriter do? ›

A ghostwriter is someone hired to author a book that someone else will be credited for. Quite simply, you're paying someone to write your book for you. Shockingly, there is no comprehensive online resource that answers all the common questions about ghostwriting and explains the different options for authors.

How much do you get paid to ghostwrite a book? ›

On average, a ghostwriter can make between $10,000 – $50,000+ for a nonfiction book or memoir. For blog posts or articles, ghostwriters can easily earn between $150 – $500+. Rates vary based on word count, the writer's ability, the client's goals, and budget.

What is the difference between co author and ghost writer? ›

A coauthor can help you write and publish a book, but that book will be based partly on your vision and partly on hers or his. A coauthor is not just a writer—she or he is also an author. On the other hand, a ghostwriter is the writer but not the author of your book.

How can you tell if a book is ghostwritten? ›

The most obvious sign is when there are two authors named on the cover or title page. As in: by Very Famous Person with Joe Bloggs. More likely than not, Joe is our ghost. However, if Very Famous Person is alone on the cover, take a look at the acknowledgements inside.

Do authors hire ghostwriters? ›

Even fiction writers use ghostwriters for their books. Once a series is created and the characters are well developed, it's easy to bring in a ghostwriter to help create new books.

What rights does a ghost writer have? ›

Under Section 101, only the author or those deriving rights from the author can rightfully claim copyrights to a particular work. So if an article – such as a ghostwritten article – is not written by you, then the ghostwriter may own the rights to the article.

How many hours does it take a ghost writer to write a book? ›

If you can afford a ghostwriter, that means your time is very valuable. It takes a normal author 1,000 to 2,000 hours to write a nonfiction book by himself or herself. Ghostwriters can reduce that time drastically, taking your time commitment down to 10 hours (or even less).

How long does it take a ghostwriter to write a book? ›

How long does it take to ghostwrite a book? I've ghostwritten 16 books and, in my experience, you can expect the ghostwriting process to take about eight months from idea to ready-to-publish manuscript. Our final timeline will vary based on your availability to schedule calls and provide editing feedback.

Do ghost writers get royalties? ›

In most cases, ghostwriters do not receive royalties for the books that they are hired to write. Similar to copyright, this will all be set out and agreed upon in a good contract, before any writing begins.

Do ghost writers write the whole book? ›

Ghostwriters Are Responsible For All Of the Written Content

Although most ghostwriters will outsource an editor for the final draft, they create the written work in its entirety, from outline to last revision.

Do ghost writers get recognition? ›

Ghostwriting lets them put their other expertise to work without impacting their author name. They don't want any recognition. Some writers are exceptionally shy. Others have personal reasons they don't want their name splashed across the internet.

Do ghostwriters get their name on a book? ›

A ghostwriter is someone who writes a work for the author, as the author without credit. In other words, the ghostwriter writes the author's story. But the author's name is the only one on the cover of the book.

Can a ghostwriter steal your story? ›

Mostly likely no one will steal your story (it's your life, after all), but sometimes it's nice to know that the ghostwriter isn't going to blab about your story to everyone they meet. There are many writing “companies” that have a large staff of full-time or freelance writers.

Can a ghostwriter steal your book? ›

The rights of a ghostwritten book belong to the client. The ghostwriter, by definition, holds no claim over the content. As such, ghostwriting works like any other kind of business transaction. For example, an individual goes to a tailor to get a suit made.

Is it cheating if you use a ghostwriter? ›

Ghostwriting Is Cheating

The article condemns ghostwriting because, at the core, the practice is associated with taking credit for someone else's work. The definition given at the outset makes the subject clear: “ghostwriting is writing a piece and letting someone else sign their name to it.”

Which famous writers use ghost writers? ›

Here are some of the more famous business authors who wrote their books with ghostwriters:
  • Stephen Covey in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People with Ken Shelton.
  • Jack Welch in Jack: Straight From the Gut, “with John Byrne”
  • Lee Iaccoca in Iaccoca, “with William Novak”
Nov 8, 2017

What percentage of royalties do ghostwriters get? ›

A book ghostwriter with revenue share receives a percentage of profits or royalties, which can range anywhere from 5 percent to 20 percent. In such cases, the upfront fee is typically lower, by as much as 20 percent.

How much should a beginner ghostwriter charge? ›

Ghostwriting fees in the range of $12,000 – $15,000 are usually the low end for a book of 200-300 pages and may be a competitive place to start if you do not have other projects under your belt and want to get the experience. For a much shorter book or e-book (let's say 80-100 pages) you might charge $8,000 – $12,000.

Who is the highest paid ghost writer? ›

J.R. Moehringer, 57, is the highest paid ghostwriter in the business. A Pulitzer prize winner, he began his journalism career at the New York Times and later wrote for the Los Angeles Times. He is said to have earned seven figures for writing Prince Harry's memoir due to be published late this year.

How long does it realistically take to write a book? ›

The average time to write a book for most authors is 180 days, or 6 months, more or less. Usually, it takes authors anywhere from 4-8 months to complete a book. However, you can definitely write a book faster than that!

What is the longest time to write a book? ›

Sphere by Michael Crichton (20 Years)

However, it is his novel Sphere that took the longest to complete. According to Crichton, after he started the novel and wrote a part of it, he couldn't come up with a good ending, so he stopped writing. Twenty years later he resumed his writing and completed it in only two months.

Should I copyright my book before sending it to a publisher? ›

When writing the copyright page for our book, most of us assume that registering a book copyright is a given. The surprising news is that getting a book copyright is not required when publishing a book, as current law already protects our written work.

What percentage of authors use ghostwriters? ›

People are often amazed when I tell them that more than 50% of the non fiction books on the bestseller lists have been written with the help of a ghostwriter service. I've actually been quoted various figures from 50% to as much as 90%. These numbers come from book industry people who should know too.

Do best selling authors use ghostwriters? ›

Some famous authors do use ghostwriters, yet many don't. Still, this typically isn't public knowledge unless the author shares it. Often, ghostwriters are legally required not to take credit for publications, and well-known authors are unwilling to admit they hire ghostwriters for help.

What are standard ghostwriting fees? ›

Ghostwriting fees for a book could be charged hourly ($30 to $200), per word ($1 to $3) or per project ($5,000 to $100,000 and even more, depending on the writer's accomplishments and genre). More experienced ghostwriters tend to charge per project, with additional hourly fees if the project scope expands.

How do ghost writers get clients? ›

Seven Secrets To Getting Great Ghostwriting Gigs
  1. Make connections. ...
  2. Use your expertise to conquer a niche. ...
  3. Use current clients, editors and referrals. ...
  4. Use Guru.com, elance.com, craigslist and other online sources. ...
  5. Locate and market to busy corporate executives and CEOs. ...
  6. Take advantage of online marketing.

What is the average writers royalties? ›

Generally, the standard royalty rates for authors is under 10% for traditional publishing and up to 70% with self-publishing.

Who is the most famous ghost writer? ›

The 10 Most Famous Ghostwriters in History.
  1. 1 – Alan Dean Foster. ...
  2. 2 – Peter Lerangis. ...
  3. 3 – H.P. Lovecraft. ...
  4. 4 – Raymond Benson. ...
  5. 5 – Andrew Neiderman. ...
  6. 6 – Ryan Nerz/Daniel Ehrenhaft. ...
  7. 7 – Mark Twain. ...
  8. 8 – Aleister Crowley.
Feb 3, 2022

Is Ghost writing a crime? ›

Although unusual, ghostwritten content is considered legally allowed for the same reason as having any other service delegated to an expert. Lawyers agree that when proper disclosures are made, hiring a ghostwriter is in many ways similar to hiring any other service.

Did Prince Harry have a ghost writer? ›

Who is Prince Harry's ghostwriter? Mr Moehringer, born in 1964 in New York City, started work as a journalist at the New York Times. In 2000 he won a Pulitzer Prize for feature writing at the Los Angeles Times, for a portrait of an isolated river community in Alabama populated by the descendants of slaves.

What are 5 negatives about hiring a ghostwriter? ›

8 Reasons Not to Hire a Ghostwriter
  • Hiring a ghostwriter is like hiring a hitman. ...
  • Hiring a ghostwriter may be a waste of time and money. ...
  • A ghostwriter may not capture your voice. ...
  • Start With Your Personal Purpose. ...
  • You will need to closely manage a ghostwriter.

Why do people hire ghost writers? ›

Ghostwriters help companies and personalities build brand awareness faster. It's simple. Rather than an executive allocating time to publish quality stories once a quarter – or month, if they're lucky – hiring a reputable ghostwriter can speed up the process of getting your brand's story out there.

Should I hire a ghost writer? ›

The main reason I'd consider engaging a ghost writer is if you're in the position where you've been wanting to write a book for years and just aren't getting it done. If you've realized that it's just not going to happen if you're on your own, then a ghost writer can turn your idea into a publishable draft.

Why is ghostwriting bad? ›

Ghostwriting is deceptive: the author lies to the reader by taking credit for someone else's work. Ghostwriting is lazy: the author bypasses the authentic labor and intellectual sweat equity that is an integral part of creating art.

What is the disadvantage of hiring a ghostwriter? ›

One disadvantage is the cost. Hiring a ghostwriter can be quite expensive, and many people may not have the budget to afford one or know where to hire affordable ghostwriters. Additionally, there is the question of authorship, as the person credited as the author may not have written the work.

Can I sue if someone wrote a book about me? ›

As with defamation, only living people can sue for invasion of privacy. In a case against Girl, Interrupted author Susanna Kaysen and her publisher, Random House, a court said that details revealed in a memoir fell under First Amendment protection as long as they furthered the public interest.

Can someone write a book about me without my permission? ›

Q: Do I need permission to write about somebody, living or dead? A: Permission is technically not required if the biography subject is/was a public figure, unless their estate has created a kind of legal fortress. There are rare cases in which permission must be obtained before sharing any likeness or representation.

What are the consequences of ghost writing? ›

How does ghostwriting impact academic integrity? When authors collaborate with industry and do not reveal this collaboration in clear ways, research loses integrity and thus erodes trust. Advertisements carry the name of the manufacturer whereas ghost-written articles do not reveal affiliation.

Is ghostwriting morally wrong? ›

As long as you're upfront about the arrangement with your ghostwriter and you aren't using hostwritten content to mislead people, there's nothing wrong with it. There's no reason why ghostwriting can't be an ethical way to get your ideas in good shape for a wider audience.

Is ghostwriting ethical or unethical? ›

Ghostwriting can constitute serious unethical behavior and could also be a form of plagiarism. It may come as a surprise that ghostwriting can be thought of as a form of plagiarism, but this is how it is defined in dictionaries. People and institutions also have the same opinion when referring to the matter.

Why is ghostwriting illegal? ›

Although unusual, ghostwritten content is considered legally allowed for the same reason as having any other service delegated to an expert. Lawyers agree that when proper disclosures are made, hiring a ghostwriter is in many ways similar to hiring any other service.

Do ghostwriters get royalties? ›

There are some cases of ghostwriting contracts being arranged in a way that reduces the upfront costs of hiring the writer in exchange for a percentage of the royalties. This can be set for a fixed amount of time until they reach a fixed return, or indefinitely.

Do you have to disclose a ghostwriter? ›

Q: If I try to get my ghostwritten book published, do I have to disclose this to my publisher? A: If you're self-publishing your project, like a nonfiction book or novel, no one ever needs to know that you hired a ghostwriter to write it.

Does Taylor Swift use ghost writers? ›

Taylor “spread em” Swift does NOT write her material. She has ghost writers and pays them for full ownership of publishing/writing credit. This is well known in LA and Nashville and she's not the only one.


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