As a writer, it’s nice to get credit for your work, but as a Ghostwriter, you don’t get the credit. However, you do get paid for the work you do as a Ghostwriter – so that makes it all OK… right?
Today I want to explore what ghostwriting is, and whether having a book published with your name on the cover is all it’s cracked up to be…
Ghostwriting – What the Heck is it?
“Ghostwriters are writers for hire who are paid but receive none of the credit for the work produced.” (Freelance Writing)
This is the upshot of it, but there are particular intricacies that are useful to know, should you wish to get involved with ghostwriting.
There are two individuals involved in ghostwriting:
- the ‘ghost’ is the freelance writer who is hired by the client
- the ‘author’ is the client who pays the Ghostwriter for the quality content.
Ultimately, the Ghostwriter will not take credit for the work, they just get paid. Unless the author specifies in the agreement that they give credit, this may be through the acknowledgement page, on the cover or copyright page or in the About the Author section.
Reedsy have created a fantastic blog post about ghostwriting, all the details one needs to know from researching what ghostwriting is and what type of work you can do as a Ghostwriter. I would highly recommend those who are interested in this topic, to do some research, and get educated about what it takes to become a successful Ghostwriter.
The relationship between the author and the Ghostwriter should be professional and should have good communication as well as outlining everything the author needs in the agreement. As soon as the Ghostwriter agrees to the contract, they must sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement, which is a legal document that both parties are beholden to. The NDA details don’t just specify what the Ghostwriter shouldn’t do, but what they’re hired to do as well.
Part of the NDA that needs to be discussed are the milestones: which is what percentage of the work will be done and when it’ll be done by, and then of course the matter of payment. For e.g. in the NDA one could specify: 50% of the book to be completed by [DATE] and the payment of [£X/$X] will be settled by [DATE]. This is just a rough example, and is by no means an excerpt from an agreement. Sherman has written a fantastic blog on milestones, and what is needed in a Non-Disclosure Agreement.
Sometimes authors like to outline what exactly the contents of the book will need, with a thorough outline attached to the legal document naming everything the Ghostwriter will need to write about in the work. To make this NDA legit, a solicitor will need to check it over to ensure that all legalities are included and the correct language is used. This is due to the possibility that there may issues which could accidentally be left out that might be vital for both parties involved. (Tamlyn, 2019)
Which Famous Writers Have a Ghostwriter?
Most authors do not like to admit that they have a Ghostwriter doing their work for them, even though it is a legitimate role. So here are a few ghostwriters that you may not have been aware of before:
- Peter Lerangis wrote the 36th book in the children’s series The Babysitter’s Club, by Ann. M. Mallory.
- H.P. Lovecraft wrote Harry Houdini’s novel Imprisoned with Pharaoh’s.
- The young adult book series, Animorph’s, was mostly written by K.A. Applegate, however the last few books of the series is made clear by Applegate being transparent about it, that she used a group of ghostwriters. Personally, I loved this series growing up, so even knowing this now, it doesn’t detract from the series at all.
- Eric Van Lustbader ghostwrote for some of Robert Ludlum’s work. The author died in 2001, but his books still kept on being published until 2017… so that was fairly obvious! However, plenty of people love these books because they are well written and should be celebrated for what they are – a good read.
- It is suspected, but unclear, that R.L. Stine has a Ghostwriter as Los Angeles Times (2003) confirms that through the NDA that there may have been a group of ghostwriters on board with Stine’s work. Again, this does not detract from the work as the books were brilliant and fun!
Sometimes, authors who publish a large amount of books each year might be using a Ghostwriter, as well as celebrities or political individuals who author memoirs, autobiographies and biographies (Farhi, 2014). I have only outlined the above books that have been written or co-authored by a Ghostwriter because it’s inspirational. For e.g. some independent authors may feel they’re not doing well if their own published work doesn’t sell as they dreamed it might. They may feel they would like to explore other avenues of writing, in which ghostwriting is perfectly valid.
What’s the Pay like?
This is a question that I, and other Ghostwriters get asked a lot, and it does differ depending where you find the work and also may differ based on the specificity of the NDA.
Some Ghostwriters work as a freelancer or in a larger organisation, which they feel may provide them more work and security. Some ghostwriting organisation’s will take a cut of the pay and the price can vary from $200/£300 per day or from $500/£1000 per project and can go up to $20,000/£20,000 depending on the length, or even if the work is a series (Ghostwriting Company).
Independent Ghostwriters will be working from one project to multiple projects at one time, and can pen a book from as little as $5000/£5000 or less, depending on experience (Professional Ghost).
There are platforms available to Ghostwriters for them to gain more writing experience or just extra work on the side. These platforms are UpWork and Fiverr, being just a couple, where writers and Ghostwriters can gain more work or expand their portfolio. These platforms do enable clients to search for Ghostwriters with the idea that they can pay as little as possible for the work they need. A common saying goes here: you get what you pay for.
Ghostwriters are writing to earn a living, they may work depending on what you’re willing to put into the contract. Should you want a 50K word novel for £50/$100 – you may not get something that’s of the best quality. Raven Tools confirm that:
“Ghostwriting for SEO is rarely worth it because most people willing to hire a Ghostwriter aren’t willing to pay the rate needed to do a future proof job. With Google constantly updating (improving) their algorithms, only the highest quality content will work. Otherwise, you’re climbing a mountain of sand” (Farnworth, 2013).
Look after your Ghostwriter, and your Ghostwriter will look after you.
Isn’t it just… Plagiarism?
“To steal and pass off [the ideas or words of another] as one’s own. To use [another’s production] without crediting the source. To commit literary theft. To present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source”. (P.Org, 2017).
In short, plagiarism is a type of fraud, and you can be sued over it because it is stealing! Universities have very high standards with regards to plagiarism (Oxford), because their credibility is at stake and they want to be seen in the best light possible. Plagiarism can affect your credibility, should you be found out to be claiming work as your own, that is ultimately owned by someone else.
This is the reason why you’ll find all my blogs have a reference section, because I want to show readers my credibility, that I do my research and I’m not just ‘blowing smoke’.
Regarding the ethics surrounding authorship in being a Ghost, ghostwriting is different to plagiarism because the Ghost sells their right to own the work, there is a clear transaction (Robbins, 2015). The Ghost and author engage in a deliberate transaction where the author will buy the rights to the Ghost’s work. Whereas plagiarism presents itself when an individual does not have this communication, and uses the ideas and theories of others without collaboration or permission.
There is plenty of debate surrounding this topic though, about whether ghostwriting is a type of plagiarism take this example: a student from a university can’t go to an assignment mill (Bailey, 2015) because this is plagiarism – but a writer is contracted to ghostwrite it, so it’s surely not plagiarism… right?
In my professional opinion, when a research or academic paper is written by someone other than the student, that is essentially plagiarism not ghostwriting, because that student isn’t learning everything they need to know about the subject. Some universities are very protective over their reputation, and if it were found that Warwick University or Harvard University had thousands of students who got someone else to do their work for them, then they should know. Individuals who do this can take a step up on the career ladder simply due to where they went to University, but they did no work if they got someone to write their work for them. Some university’s have high standards of learning and teaching. Should it be found out later in life, that those people haven’t earned that qualification, then the University and its reputation will be affected.
When you look at the bigger picture, it does all come back to one thing: credibility. If one is honest about being a Ghostwriter, then this gives them credibility, by showing that they’re honest and ‘up front’.
Being a Ghostwriter really is a personal journey, that only you can decide whether it’s right for you. There are clients out there who want to have the maximum for very little cost, but this is not realistic and they might get something that is very bad quality. However, there are some authors who want a Ghostwriter and will offer them the moon and stars, to be able to have something that’s of exceptional quality.
The good parts to ghostwriting are amazing: the feel of completing a contract, obtaining a client who turns out to be a long-term colleague, who comes to you regularly for work and of course, getting the cheque or paycheck through for your work. It does feel amazing, and if you’ve got a good agreement that looks after both parties, then you won’t mind not getting credit.
At the end of the day, credit isn’t all-important, depending on what you want. If you want to get published – then get published! Should you want to work on something that can be turned around quickly, and get paid quickly, then ghostwriting may be a good route for you!
There are pros and cons in everything, ghostwriting is no exception. But if you do it right, it can be super rewarding and you can meet lots of interesting people, learning new skills along the way. I have just completed a ghostwriting Diploma, learning about the specific copyright laws and what skills I will need, as well as lots of other really interesting topics. My opinion is: one should be as well-educated in something as possible, to be able to speak on the subject. I am always looking to improve my own knowledge, so I will be looking for the next step on educating myself in this topic so I can advise others on ghostwriting.
I do object to people demonising ghostwriting, in them assuming that it’s not a legitimate method to writing a book. The way in which a Ghostwriter has to write a novel is dependent on whether they can match the author’s language, tone and voice: 3 key things needed to be a successful Ghostwriter. There are lots of Ghostwriters who are bestsellers and who also have many skills in editing, publishing and provide these as skills for their clients as well as writing.
Ghostwriting is a skill, as is impersonating celebrities, both are incredibly similar. They are a form of creativity, both are paid to use the same voice and tone as the ‘original’ person and both have to be able to adapt to most situations or projects given to them. In regards to the author, they are not in the wrong either. Imagine having to trust someone with something that is precious to you, and they make your dream project come to life. That’s not a bad thing: to be proud of that and wanting to put your name to it is appreciation of the Ghostwriter and their skill in writing.
To conclude, I have provided a short list below of some amazing Ghostwriters, who are published authors, all their experiences are refreshing and will bring you lots of different perspectives to enable you to find out what you need to know about ghostwriting.
Andrew Crofts – He is an international bestseller as well as being a guide to clients through the world of publishing.
Derek Lewis – is a fantastic Ghostwriter who has provided a lot of support to his clients, definitley check out his work via the website given!
Andrew Crofts Website – http://andrewcrofts.com/
Applegate, K. Website – https://katherineapplegate.com/
Bailey, J. (2015) ‘Why is Ghostwriting not Always Considered Plagiarism?’ Plagiarism Today Blog. 2 March.
Derek Lewis Website – https://dereklewis.com/httpdereklewis-com/
Farhi, P. (2014) ‘Ghostwriters left on the shelf after bringing political memoirs to book’. Washington Post. Cited: The Guardian. 28 June.
Farnworth, D. (2013) ‘The Brutally Honest Truth About Ghostwriting’. Blog. June
Freelance Writing – https://www.freelancewriting.com/ghostwriting/what-is-a-ghostwriter/
Ghostwriting Company Website – http://ghostwritingcompany.co.uk/ghostwriterfees/
Houdini, H., Lovecraft. H. P. (1924) ‘Weird Tales: Imprisoned with Pharaoh’s’. The Unique Magazine. May.
Hutson, K. (2021) ‘The Secret Coin: Accessory to Magic Book Three’. On Amazon
Imprisoned with Pharaohs Wiki – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imprisoned_with_the_Pharaohs
Kathrin Hutson Website – https://www.kathrinhutsonfiction.com/
Los Angeles Time. (2003) ‘Scholastic Settles Goosebumps Suit’. 18 January.
Martin, A. M. (1988) ‘Hello Mallory -The Babysitter Club #14’. Scholastic Incorporated. ISBN: 0590411284
Oxford University. ‘Plagiarism‘. Blog.
P.Org. (2017) ‘What is Plaigarism?’ Blog. 18 May.
Reading Rockets – Transcript from an Interview with Katherine Applegate –
Robbins, J. (2015) ‘The Ethics of Authorship: Is Ghostwriting Plagiarism?’ Inside Higher Ed Blog. 23 February.
Sandomir, R. (2007) ‘The Ludlum Conundrum: A Dead Novelist Provides New Thrills’. New York Times. 30 July.
Sherman, L. (2014) Friendly Ghostwriter. Blog
Tamlyn, S. (2019) ‘11 Things your Ghostwriter doesn’t want you to know’. Blog.