If you’re up late browsing the internet wondering “What is a ghostwriter anyway?” you aren’t alone. I’ve learned my chosen profession is a rather unusual concept for many people. Let’s start with a basic definition:
Ghostwriters are professional writers for hire who are paid upfront to write for other people. The client is the author and receives all the rights to their book. Their name is on the cover while the ghostwriter remains a ghost. We are writers who work in the background helping authors turn their ideas into sellable books and we rarely receive credit.
Ghostwriters write all kinds of materials. Some write any kind of book, while others specialize in a genre. For instance, I recently connected with the Association of Ghostwriters and have been chatting with many professional writers from around the world. Quite a few specialize in business books, while others specialize in memoirs. I even met one who loves to write cozy romance novels and another who specializes in mysteries. It’s also worth noting that some ghostwriters prefer to stick to website content and blog articles, while others have found their niche to be ghosting screenplays.
To sum it up, we are behind the scenes everywhere!
This particular ghost
Personally, I love to dive into writing longer pieces. It usually takes me a year to complete a 200-300 page book. I enjoy delving into my client’s life or learning the expertise of a brilliant entrepreneur who has a burning desire to help others. Over the last twenty years, I’ve worked with authors to write over forty books. Most of them have been memoirs and many were fictional pieces hitting various genres. I’ve also penned several business how-to books.
I love helping authors share meaningful messages and truly enjoy stepping into their shoes to walk a few miles with them. It’s a rewarding vocation, one that I would never want to give up. Although I also enjoy authoring books, it is fulfilling for me to help others accomplish a lifelong goal.
Over the years at backyard barbeques, networking meetings, or general get-togethers, I’d been asked dozens of questions about my chosen vocation. Here is a compilation of a few of the most popular questions:
Who hires a ghostwriter?
Most of my clients are time-strapped businessmen and women who can’t even begin to write a first draft of a book themselves. However, they have something to say and are subject matter experts in their niche market fields.
Some of my clients have been very well educated. Some even have a background in literature. However, none had any experience finishing a full-length book. Many are mid a book project and have been for years (sometimes decades). Other CEOs would call themselves poor writers or communicators. They know their strengths and have built their corporations based on those. When they want to write a book, who do they call? Why, their friendly ghostwriter. That’s who.
One thing all my past clients had in common was that they each had a burning desire to share their ideas with others so that their readers could improve their lives in some way. Quite a few established professionals ached to share their personal life stories because they had overcome some gnarly situations to achieve success.
“Laura, if I could do it, so could others. I want people to be inspired to improve their lot in life,” one client said to me in our introductory interview. I told her that she was my ideal kind of client. My purpose in life is to help others and I could tell we had that in common.
Business book ghostwriting
Quite a few successful CEOs wish to share their successes through a business book format because they wish to teach others what they know. When you have made it and are prospering, it’s natural to want others to achieve the same position. A good how-to book provides a roadmap for others to follow. Yes, the reader will need to roll up his sleeves and work hard, but at least they can avoid some of the common errors most people hit.
I have a special place in my heart for entrepreneurs and artists (who are one and the same). Anything I can do to help an entrepreneur or artist share their success stories with the public fills me with a strong sense of purpose. In my opinion, these are the folks that inspire the next generation to greater heights.
Fiction ghostwriting services
Another popular request I receive is to help folks write a novel. No matter what the genre of the book, each story must follow certain rules to become popular with readers. Typically authors come to me with some kind of manuscript in hand. They have 200 pages written but need help. I take their ideas, sometimes adding in a few of my own, and help them produce a polished manuscript.
One secret I will share with you is that most manuscripts that aren’t working have a fundamental problem with the structure. A story follows a distinct path, which hits various beats (or milestones) to be successful. While a lot of writers will cringe at the idea of rewriting their first draft, anyone who truly wants to author a good book (one that others will want to read) will embrace learning what’s required.
Part of my services always includes an education about story structure as well as the fundamentals of writing. Not everyone wants to learn and I’m fine with just producing a final manuscript, but most enjoy understanding a bit about the writing process. As a ghostwriter, I enter into a partnership with my client (the author) and truly enjoy sharing the experience with them.
It’s worth noting that many books “written” by a celebrity are actually completed by a ghostwriter. If you want to do a little detective work, check out the acknowledgment section of a book. If a writer is given credit there, they are likely a ghostwriter who helped the author write his or her book. Of course, if the cover bears the name of two authors where one received a “with” or “as told to” credit, you know that a ghostwriter was involved with the project.
What do ghostwriters write?
As discussed earlier, ghostwriters can write anything the client requires. Over the last twenty years, clients have hired me to write twenty memoirs, over a dozen fictional stories, and nearly a dozen business books. I’ve also worked on a few children’s books, a couple of screenplays, and a dozen short stories.
In addition, I’ve also worked for Yahoo! Small Business where I was a “small business advisor.” I wrote many articles for them. I also penned about a hundred articles on real estate and mortgages when I was first starting out. Having had a background in that area, I was sought after to share my knowledge with readers eager to learn about this hot topic.
It might surprise you the varied requests I receive. One client hired me to write a letter to an older gentleman who was on his deathbed, while another asked me to pen a letter to the editor regarding a highly controversial subject. I’ve been asked to write periodicals, magazine articles, and other interesting works. Although I prefer to ghostwrite books, I can sometimes be talked into these creative shorter pieces.
Authors most often ask ghostwriters to write books, because books require hundreds of hours to complete as well as a good amount of experience. Some writers specialize in a particular genre, while others write books in many different genres. I am rather picky about the clients I take on, but I love writing about a variety of subjects. As long as the client’s heart is in the right place, and they want to help others, I usually am eager to help out.
Is ghostwriting ethical?
Well, my answer shouldn’t be a surprise. I obviously feel strongly that ghostwriting other people’s books is ethical or I wouldn’t have devoted half my life to helping people complete their book projects.
The way I see it, authors wouldn’t finish their books without me. They need my help to share their important messages with their public. It would be sad if their knowledge died with them and no one could make use of their important educational material.
My clients and I always have a contract, where we spell out the details of the relationship. Each party understands and agrees to the terms stated. It’s always very clear that the book goes to the author, the person hiring the ghostwriter. They receive all the credit and no one ever knows that I was a part of the writing process. That’s true even if I wrote the whole book from scratch and was just given a basic concept. Yes, that happens.
A few exceptions
There is one area of ghostwriting that is highly unethical. Ghostwriters have no business writing academic papers for students. That concept is appalling to me and most people in this industry. Students go to college to get a degree, so they can be experts in their field. If someone approaches me to ghost for them, I would not only flatly refuse, but I’d seek to report that student to their university. It is hard to believe, but a few Ph.D. students have written me over the years.
Another important distinction to make is that stealing someone else’s work and claiming it as yours is not the same as ghostwriting. That’s plagiarism and is a crime. Technically, it’s a misdemeanor and is punishable by a stiff fine and sometimes jail time.
Bottom line, the author is the creator of the work. Without you, there would be no book. So, yes, ghostwriting is ethical, but plagiarism isn’t.
Okay, now for a pop quiz…
What is a ghostwriter?
A. A writer who writes scary stories.
B. A recently deceased writer who completes a book postmortem.
C. A person who writes for someone else.
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