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What Is a Ghostwriter?

“Ghostwriting is the ultimate act of selflessness in the literary world.
It is putting someone else’s story and vision above your own ego.”
~ Steven Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Printed on the covers of works of fiction, autobiography, and non-fiction, you will find the name of an author – the person who wrote the book, who created it and who decided what it would say.

An author is the person responsible for an original piece of writing, the person uniquely placed to write a particular story, to use particular words and to express particular ideas. We understand what this person does, and we appreciate their individual contribution to the worlds of literature, thought and ideation. An author is more than – and distinct from – a writer. A writer writes, though their writing is not necessarily published; authors, however, produce writing of sufficient consequence to be published, and they are recognised as the creators.

There is, however, a figure that bridges the categories of ‘author’ and ‘writer,’ an invisible entity who writes as if they were an author but whose name does not appear on the final work of literature. This figure is the ghostwriter, a skilled artisan who crafts masterpieces behind closed doors. But who exactly is this invisible architect of prose? What part do they play in creating written work that is published under the name of another?

The role of the ghostwriter, though often misunderstood and overlooked, is integral to the literary world. You might not be aware of ghostwriters – indeed, that’s the general idea – but they are almost everywhere. From The New York Times best seller list to the impassioned speeches of political firebrands and from social media to science writing, ghostwriters are quietly at work.

Despite such ubiquity, ghostwriting, sometimes maligned as ‘inauthentic,’ remains a very quiet and shadowy occupation. So, in this article, we unravel the enigma of ghostwriting, shedding light on its historical origins, its modern manifestations and the ethical dilemmas that surround it. We also consider the artistry and significance of the ghostwriter’s craft.

What do ghostwriters do?

Simply put, ghostwriters are professionals who write on behalf of other people who are typically credited as the author(s). They work behind the scenes to produce, for example,

  • Books,
  • Articles,
  • Memoirs,
  • Speeches,
  • Blog posts,
  • Literary prose,
  • Correspondence,
  • Social media content and
  • Corporate communications.

Ghostwriters have even been the creative force behind song lyrics and screenplays.

Whatever ghostwriters are called upon to produce, their involvement and responsibility depends on the preferences of the credited author. On some projects, the ghostwriter might fully realise an entire manuscript from the briefest of briefs; on others, their role might be limited to improving or refining an existing manuscript. Either way, the ghostwriter allows the credited author to maintain ownership and to take recognition for the work.

The ability to write on behalf of someone else demands a unique blend of skills and talents, ranging from exceptional writing ability to empathy and adaptability. Successful ghostwriters possess not only the technical prowess to craft polished prose but also the emotional intelligence to understand and articulate their authors’ visions. They know how to structure a narrative, how to use dialogue and how to create the right amount of tension to engage readers.

With each project presenting its own set of challenges, ghostwriters must be adept at transitioning between voices, tones and writing styles. They must also possess exceptional organisational skills. From capturing different clients’ voices to managing the demands of tight deadlines and diverse subjects, there is more to ghostwriting than meets the eye.

Is ghostwriting ethical?

The art of ghostwriting is deeply rooted in literary history. From ancient scribes penning texts for public figures and royalty to Renaissance scholars composing treatises on behalf of wealthy patrons, the concept of one individual writing for another is an ancient one.

Ghostwriting as a defined practice emerged in the eighteenth century. With the rise of the novel and the expansion of literacy, writers found themselves unable to keep up with public demand, so they employed other writers to help them. A Dictionary of the English Language […] by Samuel Johnson was, famously, by no means written by Samuel Johnson alone.

Nowadays, the work of ghostwriters can be seen on most people’s bookshelves. Books by Tom Clancy, James Patterson, Donald Trump and H.P. Lovecraft, most of the Jason Bourne series and even The Count of Monte Cristo have been the full or partial work of a ghostwriter.

Ghostwriters have a well-established presence in the literary world, then, but their involvement often raises questions of authorship, transparency and honesty. At the heart of the discussion lies a fundamental question: who deserves recognition as the author of a written work?

The idea that ghostwriters resent their lack of recognition is largely a myth. Not everybody seeks the limelight, after all, and even those who do sometimes choose to avoid it. Even acclaimed authors like Ian Fleming and Margaret Atwood have been known to occasionally duck behind the curtain to dabble in ‘ghosting.’ The truth is that most ghostwriters are content to work in the background, and most have actively sought the role they perform.

There are circumstances in which ghostwriting is felt to be inappropriate. In academia, for example, it is considered unethical for both researchers and students to put their names to work they have not written themselves. However, there are many areas in which ghostwriting is not just accepted but celebrated as an effective way of helping people to convey stories, memories and ideas.

Ghostwriters take pride in their ability to help others fulfil their ambitions. In fact, the extent to which they are ‘invisible’ in writing credited to somebody else is a sign of their success. Their anonymity can be as welcome and rewarding for them as it is for the author.

The integrity of ghostwritten works, however, is a common concern. Authors sometimes fear that ‘claiming someone else’s words as their own’ is dishonest and worry that the writing will lack authenticity – a widespread anxiety since the rise of artificial intelligence.

Such a fear can safely be put to bed. Ghostwriting is, typically, a collaborative process. Ghostwriters physically write the material, true, but they collaborate closely with their credited author to understand their vision, voice and objectives. They are co-creators, each of them engaged in crafting the manuscript. The author is the driving force, serving up the vision, the story and the originality. The ghostwriter simply helps to bring it all to life, taking on the author’s voice and customising tone and word choices to capture their character, crafting the prose and creating a manuscript that reads as if the author had written it.

Why work with a ghostwriter?

Even if we understand what ghostwriters do and the ways in which they offer a credible, authentic method of working, there is still the question of when and why most of us might want to employ them.

People commission ghostwriters when they need someone to help articulate their ideas or stories or to present them in a polished and compelling manner. Collaborating with a skilled writer enables clearer communication and engagement with a target audience than might otherwise have been achieved.

For many, this is reason enough to engage the expertise of a ghostwriter. Writing, after all, demands reserves of time, energy and discipline that many of us lack. It also requires a set of expressive and creative skills that only a lucky few can claim to possess. There should never be embarrassment in admitting this. We each have strengths and limitations, and acknowledging that a ghostwriter could help you to create an elegant or exciting manuscript will open the door to amplifying your voice and helping you reach your audience without compromising on quality or authenticity.

Another, sometimes overlooked, reason to work with a ghostwriter is the crucial role they play in preserving and sharing personal and social history. Ghostwriters help give voice to the narratives of people who might otherwise be marginalised or forgotten, and they provide the means for those unable or unwilling to write their life story themselves to preserve a legacy that they can share with their family and friends.

Ghostwriting at LifeBook Memoirs

People often associate ghostwriting with memoirs and autobiographies. The autobiographies and memoirs of the famous, naturally, grab the headlines, and that ghostwriters might be behind them rarely comes as a surprise. Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom, Prince Harry’s Spare and Life by Keith Richards are just three well-known examples of autobiographies that ghostwriters helped bring to fruition.

Ghostwriting is not, however, the preserve of the rich and the famous. It is a tool that any of us can use to tell the story of our life. At LifeBook Memoirs, we believe that everyone has a unique and valuable story to share, and our ghostwriters are here to help you tell yours.

If you want to write your life story but are unsure whether a ghostwriter could help you, asking yourself a few questions might clear away your lingering doubts:

  • Have you often said “I should write a book about my life” or been told by friends that you should do so?
    If this sounds familiar, or if you’ve made a start but struggled to make headway, working with a ghostwriter could be your way forward.

  • Do I have a story that might interest/entertain/help/inspire/inform others?
    Everybody who has lived a full life has a story worth telling, including you.

  • Do I like writing? Do I know how to write a book?
    If you like the idea of writing a book yourself and you have the know-how to tie it all together, chances are you’ll enjoy the challenge. If you don’t, perhaps the ghostwriting route is for you.

  • How much time can I spare?
    If keeping your head above water is a constant struggle, don’t add writing a book to your burden. It will take more time than you think.

  • What level of involvement in the writing process do I want?
    If asking others to take the strain is a perennial struggle for you, working with a ghostwriter may not sit easily. If, on the other hand, the thought of sitting down and telling others about your life appeals, you will enjoy what they can do for you.

  • What is my budget for hiring a ghostwriter, and am I willing to invest?
    Ghostwriting can be surprisingly affordable, but much depends on who you commission. Make a bad call and disappointment will result, but with a good ghostwriter, the returns – the pride and satisfaction, and the legacy you leave – will be worth many times your investment.

Finding people willing to write your life story is easy because there are many writers out there, but you might have to kiss a few frogs before you find your ghostwriting prince or princess. There are many great professional writers, but there are also scammers, people who can write but not terribly well and well-meaning amateurs who don’t have the skills you need.

Sifting through thousands of potential ghostwriters is likely to be time-consuming and something of a lottery. A great way to avoid these pitfalls is to use a specialist company such as LifeBook Memoirs – the world’s leading producer of private memoirs and autobiographies.

Our process is straightforward. We begin by asking you to think about the story you want to tell. Articulating your vision – what you want your book to say, the way you want to say it and whether you want to entertain, to inform, to move or to inspire – will help your ghostwriter to deliver what you want.

One of our skilled interviewers then meets with you, in the comfort of your own home, to listen to you telling your stories. (In these articles, Joanna, Alise and Stephen talk about their experiences of interviewing.) Your ghostwriter takes the recording of your conversation and, with human rather than artificial intelligence, crafts your stories and recollections into beautiful prose. (LifeBook ghostwriters Amy, FayAlwyn and Barry describe here how they have helped authors to create their autobiographies.)

As writing progresses, an editor refines the ghostwriter’s work, and manuscript drafts are sent to you regularly for review. In this way, your ghostwriter learns how to deliver the autobiography or memoir that you want not just from your interviews but from your feedback.

When you are happy with the manuscript, your words are typeset, proofread and reviewed by you again. When you give us the green light to proceed from there, your book is printed, bound and delivered approximately six months after you began your project.

Ghostwriter Andrew Crofts

World-renowned ghostwriter Andrew Crofts visits LifeBook Memoirs. He and Roy Moëd, LifeBook Memoirs’ co-founder, discuss the art of ghostwriting.

Key points

Ghostwriters are professional writers who produce content on behalf of other individuals who then take credit for the work. Typically, they collaborate closely with clients to understand their vision, voice and desired outcome.

Ghostwriting can offer practical benefits, especially with regard to autobiographies and memoirs. It allows individuals to share their stories authentically and effectively, leveraging the writing expertise of a skilled professional. With a ghostwriter’s guidance, writing can be crafted expertly in a way that ensures clarity, coherence and emotional resonance and ultimately preserves the essence of the author’s story.


Written by Steve Edwards, LifeBook Memoirs editor