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  • Clémence R. Scouten

What is a ghostwriter? What they do and when to use one

Updated: Oct 20, 2021

Have you ever read a celebrity memoir or autobiography and were surprised by how good it was? Chances are, they had a ghostwriter. It’s not just celebrities who choose to work with a ghostwriter. Many writers choose to work with a ghostwriter for both fiction and nonfiction to help make their books as entertaining and value-packed as possible.

But… what exactly is a ghostwriter?

What is a Ghostwriter?

what is a ghostwriter
Ghostwriters can tell the story in your voice and save you an enormous amount of work.

A ghostwriter is someone who writes books or articles for another person, usually in that person’s voice, at cost. For example, celebrities and their publishers often hire ghostwriters to help bring their autobiographies up to a publishable standard. A ghostwriter may be responsible for many, or even all of the ideas behind a book, but they are not the author – they are hired to carry out the vision of their client.

While ghostwriting is a profession that is often associated with celebrity autobiographies and memoirs, there are many other popular types of ghostwriting, including nonfiction, blog posts, speeches, lifestyle books, and even fiction. There are some common misconceptions and commonly asked questions about ghostwriting, so let’s delve deeper and answer some of the most frequently asked questions.

What Does a Ghostwriter Do?

A ghostwriter takes the outline of the piece to be written, as well all of the client’s notes and ideas, and puts it all together in a well-established, cohesive format. The ghostwriter will sometimes work closely with the author and interview them, so that they can gain further context, though sometimes they just work from notes or even just an outline.

Once the ghostwriter has completed the draft (or a few chapters), the author will read through it carefully to ensure that the content is correct and accurate. It also needs to convey the message the author is trying to put out to the world. They may want to make additions or changes. It’s up to the ghostwriter to make sure that these ideas are conveyed in a clear and coherent way, and that the piece reads smoothly.

Why Would Someone Hire a Ghostwriter?

Ghostwriters are very frequently hired by celebrities or experts in a certain field, who might have lots of valuable information or great ideas they want to share, but perhaps are not strong writers. It’s also pretty common for a ghostwriter to be hired by someone who is simply too busy to focus all of their attention on writing their own memoir or book, such as a politician, athlete, or businessperson. They may also hire a ghostwriter if they have a fiction story they really want to tell, but are worried they aren’t a skilled enough writer to do their idea justice.

What’s the Difference Between Ghostwriting and Co-Authoring?

A co-author is someone who jointly writes the book or paper alongside another author. Here, both parties actively write and include their own ideas. Most often, it is an equal partnership where both parties write and have both of their names on the cover of the book.

A ghostwriter, however, is hired to produce a book on the behalf of the client, whose name will appear on the published book, magazine, or blog, and who has full creative control. It is up to the author whether the ghostwriter gets any credit.

What are the Benefits of Having a Ghostwriter?

There are many reasons a ghostwriter may be hired - in some scenarios it is simply more efficient to have ghostwriters complete books, but in some cases it may even be necessary. Here are some of the reasons why having a ghostwriter can be beneficial on the to the publication:

  • They can help those who can’t (or don’t want) to write. This goes for things like disability and age, as well as for skill. A ghostwriter ensures a book gets written.

  • They can help those who just want to write their one book. Many people have just one story they want to tell – either a memoir of their family, or a story they’ve held in their head for years. If that’s the only book (or one of few) they plan to write in their lives, using a ghostwriter can be beneficial.

  • They can help to continue an author’s legacy. It is actually quite common for a ghostwriter to be hired to continue writing under the author’s name. It’s especially common if said author left a number of pieces unfinished when they passed.

  • They can boost a celebrity’s popularity and help them be more articulate on the page. Many celebrities are not trained in the art of writing memoirs, so having a ghostwriter is often essential in making sure a book reads well. A novel is also likely to do well upon debut if it is advertised as having been written by a celebrity.

  • They can assist in keeping up with demand. “Book packaging” is a commonly used method of keeping up with demand for really popular book series. Here, publishers hire multiple ghostwriters to write books under a single author’s name. The ghostwriters receive a package containing a list of prescribed elements, namely the back story, the tone of writing, the idiosyncrasies of each character and their respective beliefs and personalities. The popular Nancy Drew series was written by ghostwriters.

How Do I Hire a Ghostwriter?

Firstly, it’s important to make sure you are indeed looking for a ghostwriter rather than a co-author. Be sure you’re looking for someone to take your ideas and phrase them clearly and professionally, rather than someone with whom you can share the process (and the royalties) equally.

Ideally, you should begin your search for a ghostwriter before you start the process of writing your book – though many people also write a first draft before realizing they need a professional to rewrite it and bring it up to a publishable standard.

If your book is nonfiction or fact-based, like a memoir (read this article on How to Write Your Memoir for more information), you should look for a ghostwriter who is familiar with the theme or topic of your book, and confident working in this way. This will allow for your ghostwriter to really dive into certain chapters with confidence, and add references if necessary.

You should also ask any potential ghostwriter how they prefer to work with you – do they want to interview you or just work from your notes? Think about how you would prefer to work; do you want to be an active part of the process or be delivered an almost ready-to-go manuscript?

There are many places online you can search for ghostwriters to suit all budgets. The best way to know if someone is right for you is to ask any questions you have upfront and ask to read some of their work. If you like their style, you’ll usually like their work!

If you’re looking to write your memoir, we’re here to help. Memoirs & More Family History Services specializes in family memoirs, and we love helping people just like you bring their family history to life on the printed page. From having a family tree made, to recording oral histories, to creating a full scale family history book project, we have services to suit all family stories.

Call 215-645-7766 or email clemence @ for a free consultation to determine exactly what you have in mind and to discuss the various options available.

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