Ever looked at those endless shelves of autobiographies and wondered how all those people, in every industry imaginable, had the time and skill to sit down and write a book?
Ever wondered how celebrities in fields that had nothing to do with writing could not only pen their memoirs, but also a series of children’s books.
Ever thought that you’d love to publish a memoir, a book to enhance your business or even to turn those scrappy novel ideas into a great story but realised that you just can’t make the time and, frankly, don’t like writing?
That’s where a ghostwriter comes in.
Collaboration with a ghostwriter
Not every book was physically written by the person whose name graces the cover in the same way that people who live in beautiful homes didn’t necessarily design, build or decorate them. But that home is still theirs. Visitors still compliment their decor and marvel at the beautifully landscaped garden.
You can’t do everything and plenty of people with stories to tell have neither the time nor desire to sit and write books.
A ghostwriter is the builder to your dream home. They’re the stylist to the best haircut you’ve ever had. They’re the writer of your book.
A ghostwriter takes what you know, what you want to convey and the way in which you want to convey it – and they turn it into the book that you want to put your name to.
Who gets the credit for ghostwritten books?
This is something that entirely depends on what you want.
- Some authors are happy to add their ghostwriter’s name to the cover. This is often shown along the lines of, ‘By Author Name with Ghostwriter Name’.
- Some authors choose to add a credit to the ghostwriter on the thanks pages, sometimes identifying them as a collaborator, sometimes not.
- Much of the time though, a ghostwriter is never credited and their name doesn’t appear anywhere on the book.
Whichever avenue you want to choose, it’s something that can be negotiated with the ghostwriter when you first discuss the possibility of the project.
Is it ethical to use a ghostwriter?
Ghostwriters have existed for hundreds of years and there’s no reason why the role shouldn’t continue. At the end of the day, it takes years of practise, study and skill to be able to write a book that keeps the reader engaged. And if only writers were allowed to create books, there would be very few books about any other industry.
For many professionals who wish to have books under their name, it’s simply not possible to take the months out of their career to not just write a book, but to work out how to. Books are a business to varying degrees and almost all businesses have elements of collaboration to a greater or lesser extent.
If you have a story to tell or information to share, using a ghostwriter to write the book is not only ethical, it’s often the best route. After all, you want your readers to enjoy the book and be able to take as much from it as possible. And for that to happen, a professional writer is necessary.
When is it unethical to use a ghostwriter?
While ghostwriters perform a much needed service for many people, there are times when using a ghostwriter is unethical. These tend to fall within situations where the author is attempting to falsify a skill and occurs most often in academia.
After all, having a ghostwriter pen your university dissertation is hardly ethical.
Generally speaking, if it’s the act of writing that someone will be assessing you on, using a ghostwriter is unethical. But if it’s the information and story that you wish to pass on, then having the task of writing outsourced to a ghostwriter is one of the best ways of achieving your goal.
How do ghostwriters work?
It’s a ghostwriter’s job to take your ideas, information and story, and turn it into the book you want. They will adjust their writing style to fit with your voice and create the work so that it’s the right tone for your readers.
Sometimes the author may have the bare bones of the idea, which is common with informational books produced by businesses for their clients. The ghostwriter may conduct their own research to complete the book.
Other times, the author has the entire story in their head and it’s the ghostwriter’s job to not only coax out that story, but also to turn it into a highly enjoyable book that keeps the readers turning those pages.
No matter what type of book you’d like, there are a few basics that the ghostwriter will do;
- Interview – The ghostwriter needs to find out everything that you’d like to go into the book. For business books, this could be straightforward and be acquired through an interview or series of interviews. For memoir, the process is more intense and may take many interviews. With memoir, it’s important that the ghostwriter understands your background, personality and the core of your story. Even if you don’t. Talking about your own life for many hours can be difficult, but the ghostwriter isn’t there to judge you, they’re there to help you tell your story in a way that’s true to you.
- Drafting – The ghostwriter will create an outline and a rough draft so that you can see and agree on the shape the book will take. This might be very straightforward for informational books and more complex for memoir, where the chronology can be played with.
- Review – It’s up to you and your ghostwriter as to how often you want to review chapters and offer feedback. Too frequently, and the project could get bogged down with small changes and too rarely and you might be unhappy with the way it’s written and require major alterations. It’s not too difficult to find the sweet spot though.
- Completion – When you’re happy with the book, the project is complete. Some ghostwriters offer services to help you either self-publish or write query letters to literary agents if you want to try to traditionally publish. When the book is complete and you’ve signed off on it and paid the remaining fee, the book is yours to do with what you wish.
How do ghostwriters get paid?
For much of the time, ghostwriters use a fixed fee structure based on the length and type of book as well as how much independent research they’ll have to do to write it. They may charge hourly rates for interviews or they may include a certain number of interviews in the fixed fee.
Ghostwriters will often charge a certain percentage of the fee upfront and break down the rest at intervals with the final payment due upon completion.
Some ghostwriters may include a bestseller clause within the contract, to account for instances where the book makes considerably more money than expected and allows the ghostwriter to take a percentage of royalties once the book has made a certain amount.
The fee structure will depend on the book, the ghostwriter and the author.
Will a ghostwriter keep my book confidential?
Ghostwriting and confidentiality go hand in hand. In order for you to open yourself up to having your life and knowledge turned into a book, it’s important that you trust your ghostwriter to keep anything discussed confidential.
Of course, whatever you wish to be disclosed in the book will eventually (hopefully) be published, but if there’s anything you share with your ghostwriter that doesn’t make it into the book, you can be safe in the knowledge that it remains between you and the ghostwriter.
Similarly, the fact that the ghostwriter was involved in the book at all can be completely confidential. Most ghostwriting contracts include non-disclosure agreements and confidentiality clauses and it’s a huge part of a ghostwriter’s business to not talk about their clients.