The Ins and Outs of Ghostwriting

When books or other pieces of writing are done for another person and the full credit goes to the ‘author’ with the real writer only receiving a byline, it is called ghostwriting. In most cases, the ‘author’ is a celebrity or some eminent figure, with the ability to sell books on the strength of his name, but is not able to write it.

To put it in a nutshell, a ghostwriter is one who writes books, stories, articles or any report and the credit goes to some other person, who could be a politician, such as a politician, an actor, a successful businessman and so on. He is someone who is essentially behind the scenes and is an unknown writer. Celebrities hire ghost writers, as they don’t have the time to do it themselves or they don’t have the necessary talent or the tenacity to do a professional job.

A ghostwriter can also do a rewrite job, research an idea, prepare the content, and edit it and so on. The ghostwriter puts his work first and his ego second. It is a behind the scenes type of writing job. The writer can unleash all his creativity and talent in this field but cannot look for credit.

A Brief History of Ghostwriting

Ghostwriting has been around for quite some time now and has been a longstanding practice in the publishing industry. The earliest semblance to ghostwriting could be seen in as far back as the 3rd millennium BC, when a calamus or stone tablet was used to record characters, in place of a book. Kings would dictate to their ‘ghost’ writers and copyists and the copies would be preserved for posterity. Wax tablets were used later on and then parchment in Egypt. All such work was copied by hand, as there was no publishing equipment and un-credited writers would do this work of copying again and again.

The first book, the Bible, was then brought out with contributions from several anonymous ghost writers. In fact, even today, there is no single agreed upon author for the Bible. The first novel, as the term is used today was the Tale of the Genji. This novel was released sometime in the 11th century. Murasaki Shikibu, a Japanese noblewoman, was supposed to be the author. However, her daughter was said to be the ghostwriter who completed the book.

Even William Shakespeare’s plays are still a debated issue, with many claiming that such a person might not even have existed. It is said that the plays were written by a group of anonymous writers who created a celebrity character to promote their works. Thus, we see how ghostwriting has always been an integral part of all published literature. Today, we find ghostwriting even in the daily newspaper and in several bestsellers and in even in our television shows. All our greatest leaders rely on ghostwriters for their speeches, right from Julius Caesar to Barrack Obama.

Five Types of Ghostwriting

There is absolutely no dearth of opportunities for the freelancer looking for ghostwriting jobs, as there are several types of writing available in this field, provided you have good writing skills. The range of ghostwriting assignments consists of books, articles or other creative works. There are also opportunities in the entertainment field.

1. Fiction

There are people who cannot finish or even start writing a novel but have great ideas for the content. They make use of ghost writers to put in the words in the novel. They, however, need to spend time with them to go through the content they want and can finally claim to be the proud writer of the novel or the short story published in their name.

2. Biographies and eBooks

There are many celebrities who are interested in writing their biographies but do not have the time or the talent. Even immigrants who do not have a good command over the local language can look to ghostwriting for their biographies. Apart from celebrities, even others who wish to gift a biography to their family and loved ones can ask a ghostwriter to do the task, by giving him all the information regarding the family tree, old letters and diaries and photographs and so on. Such biographies can be for personal distribution or for commercial purposes.

eBooks have specific formats and ghostwriters are familiar with these formats and can help the author arrange the content and format the title, heading and so on.

3. Speech Writing

A public speaker may not always have the talent to use the right words, or he might not have the time to devote in preparing a perfect speech covering all the important points. The speech needs to be humorous and witty as well as comprehensive and mature. Ghostwriting can be immensely useful to public speakers. The speaker has to provide the content, the tone and other details about the information to be delivered.

4. Screenplays and Scripts

You might have excellent story ideas for a movie or a television serial, but may not be able to present it in the best script or format to produce a successful screenplay. Ghostwriting can help in this issue. If your screenplay is just partially completed, you can seek services of a ghostwriter to complete it for you or to work on it from scratch.

5. Academic Writing

There are many researchers who want to publish articles in the computer, medical or other academic fields. They have the perfect content and the proper research to back up their ideas. However, they may need the skills of a professional writer to communicate their ideas coherently. The research gets a better presentation in this kind of ghostwriting.

Payment and Crediting Issues in Ghostwriting

It is important to address payment and credit issues in the beginning. The ghostwriter should consider issues of compensation, such as the mode of payment along with the credit. Generally, the client is listed as the author and the ghostwriter can, in some cases, be listed as a co-author or in the dedication and sometimes, not credited at all. Some clients make additional payments to writers in order to compensate for this lack of accreditation. Payment can be made by the hour or according to the number of pages of the size of the project. Whatever the case may be, it is suggested that a payment schedule is set up based on some key factors, such as an amount for signing the contract, another amount for the outline, another installment on submission of the first draft submission, the final draft and so on. The ghostwriter can also negotiate to receive a royalty and some percentage of the revenue, an advance and so on.

Copyright ownership is typically given to the ‘author’ and not to the ghostwriter. However, if this issue is not addressed in a written form, the copyright ownership can be shared by the ‘author’ or client and the ghostwriter by default. This could later cause some problems in case of cancellation of the contract and if the client wants to continue the work with some other ghostwriter or collaborators. There are no given rights in this case, and it all depends on who wants who more.

There are several legal and other business issues to be resolved while negotiating the agreement. The credit may or may not be given to the ghostwriter. The terms of credit and payment depend on the bargaining power of the client and the ghostwriter. If the ghostwriter is already a successful writer, he can get better credits and payment when compared to a fresh writer. The credit can range from no credit given at all to the ghostwriter with complete credit going to the client or it can appear as an ‘as told to’ kind of credit. Again, this depends on the relative bargaining power of the parties involved.

Top Paying Ghostwriting Jobs – Some Examples

  1. The Pulitzer Prize winner Profiles in Courage ‘written’ by John F. Kennedy is an awesome example of a top paying ghostwriting job. It was ghostwritten by Theodore Sorenson, whose was Kennedy’s speech writer. The fact was denied for several years, but finally Sorenson admitted that he had written the greater portions of the book in his own autobiography the Counselor in the year 2009.
  2. Tennis As I Play It was ghostwritten by Sinclair Lewis for ‘author’ Maurice McLoughlin. Sinclair Lewis had written this book several years before he won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Qualities in a Ghostwriter

Apart from celebrities, many companies are outsourcing their blogging and other internet activities to independent ghostwriters. However, they look for certain qualities in the writer before assigning them such jobs. The ghostwriter must be able to take on a wide range of tasks, such as editing the article and doing the required research. The ghostwriter may not be an expert in the specific subject and will need excellent research skills in order to learn about the particular niche or industry, its products, the market and so on in order to be able to effectively communicate the content to the reader or the viewer. A ghostwriter should be able to quickly grasp the basics of the job for effective communication of the content.

Adaptability is another trait that is considered important, as he will be required to write in different styles for different projects and subjects. He should also have good storytelling capabilities, especially in case of biographies, blogs and so on. A background in journalism can prove very beneficial. He should know to ask the right questions in order to cover all the pertinent facts properly and produce quality content. Another important factor that prospective clients look for is timeliness. The industry is a fast paced one and the content needs to be delivered in time. All up to date news must also be obtained in order to deliver it quickly and professionally. The ghostwriter must also possess an eye for detail to communicate the content accurately.

Nine Benefits of Working as a Ghostwriter

Many people wonder whether it is worthwhile to writer without even getting a credit for your writing. There are several benefits to ghostwriting:

  1. A good salary. Since there are very few people who have such excellent writing skills, many people and companies are ready to pay a handsome amount to ghostwriters.
  2. The writer can select his niche and take on assignments that interest him. If you are more skilled, you can pick on several areas of expertise while writing.
  3. You are allowed a platform to express your knowledge without the pressure of searching for the platform yourself. You might have the knowledge but may not possess the necessary fame to catch the limelight or to catch the attention of a publisher in a top magazine. You don’t need to search for someone to fund your efforts.
  4. It can provide a steady and reliable form of work that can be done from the comfort of your home.
  5. Apart from money, the ghostwriter can also have the opportunity to experience different forms of writing and subjects with different groups of people.
  6. The hours of writing are quite flexible and many people can adopt it as a sideline career, which they can do in their spare time. It helps to supplement their main income.
  7. They can work anywhere, such as sitting in a park or in a café or even at the airport and just start pouring their hearts out. In fact, such natural settings are more conducive to bring about the best kind of writing.
  8. Fast payment is another attraction in ghostwriting. Many of the payments are done online and the transactions can be conducted on a very quick basis, depending on how fast you are able to finish the project.
  9. You get to spend more time with your family and don’t need to commute long distances to your workplace.

LinkedIn Profile for Ghostwriters

A professionally written profile for LinkedIn can open up several opportunities, as it can help you connect with clients. You can create an online marketing profile and start networking. You can list your achievements and projects and other skills along with putting up a picture of yourself to create the best first impression. In addition, you can be found more easily.

  1. You can build your reputation faster with a LinkedIn Profile and can get more clients.
  2. You can present your profile in the most attractive and impressive way on LinkedIn. LinkedIn comes in at the top five of search results in case of using the first and last name of a person. It is easy to search for your name through your LinkedIn profile.
  3. Ghostwriters can connect not only with those whom they know but to the millions of members on LinkedIn. It can be a live networking event, where you can introduce yourself to others and make more connections.
  4. You can increase opportunities by accepting invitations from others who have added you, as it will provide you with more opportunities.
  5. You can add an interesting story or a video recommendation appear as a popup in order to let more people know about your writing niche when they come to your profile. You can also become a part of niche related groups through LinkedIn.

Ghostwriters – Having a Website

Having a website can prove very advantageous for ghostwriters in more ways than one.

  1. It is a great way of marketing your talents and your service.
  2. You can provide all details of your credentials, some samples of your writing, and the kind of service you provide, your area of expertise, the turnaround time, and your fees and so on through your website.
  3. A website can provide you with a professional aura resulting in an increase in payment as well as assignments.
  4. There is a lot of demand for ghostwriters and a website can help put you in front of potential clients. You can put your name by commenting in blogs, joining forums and setting up back links to your website. Traffic will surely start trickling in to your website.
  5. You can even offer some free work to some members in the beginning, in order to build up your reputation. Word of mouth can become pretty effective through the website. You just need to add your website to your signature.


A ghostwriter is a professional writer who uses his skills for various projects but does not take the credit for the job. The work gets legally credited to the client paying you. The work could range from draft addition to writing fiction or non fictional work. Projects could also involve writing a script for a television serial or a movie or an autobiography. A ghostwriter can be the perfect option to give the ‘author’ a helping hand in dishing out the perfect writing project in the most professional manner.

There are several ways of becoming a successful ghostwriter. You can increase your network by having your website, joining networking sites, such as LinkedIn and creating the perfect resume. Try to reach out to people actively and take part in events in your niche sector. Increase your contacts with other fellow writers as well as potential clients. The social media can be a great channel of communication and can keep you in touch with others and promote your business.

You can be proud of your writing – from a distance. In fact, many ghostwriters are quite happy to leave it this way.


Image CreditsGhostly Lap Top via BigStock

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One Comment

  1. Thanks a lot for your informative post…I think Ghostwriting is not good for people like mw,since most of them like their name on the book then the money.

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