Ghostwriting: get a spook to write you a book

What is a ghostwriter? Is it some swirling blur of ectoplasm that carries a laptop around with it tapping out messages on behalf of the rich and famous? Sadly not.

A ghostwriter is merely a writer who writes in the guise of A N Other, because A N Other doesn’t have the time / skill / ability to do it for themselves. People often ask me if I ghostwrite (referring to books) and I say no, I haven’t yet because I would be too costly … but of course I have been a ghostwriter for most of my career considering I work as a copywriter, speech writer and PR writer, turning out words ostensibly written by a huge variety of brands and individuals.

Using a ghostwriter to help you produce advertising, speeches, scripts, PR releases and so-on is fairly well documented in terms of how you go about it – simply hire them to work for you. Where the whole picture gets a little more complex is when you decide you want to write, or “write,” a book or other major text exercise.

Ghostwriting a book: where push comes to shove

Good ghostwriters charge a lot of money for doing the job, and quite rightly – it usually represents weeks or months of extremely hard work.

If you find someone willing to ghostwrite a book for you cheaply, be careful because they may not be very good. A bad ghostwriter still costs money but in the end you have to do most of it yourself or hand over an inferior manuscript to be edited by your publisher. If you’re self-publishing you may need to hire a freelance editor to sort out the mess or worse still, not be aware that the text is awful and publish it unedited.

Some ghostwriters will charge a little less if their name appears on the book (e.g. here in this book by Kriss Akabusi.) Variants of this concept are:

by (Your Name) and (Ghostwriter’s Name)

by (Your Name) with (Ghostwriter’s Name)

Sometimes the ghostwriter will accept a combination consisting, perhaps, of a lower fee and a percentage of your royalties or sales, assuming the project is one to be sold commercially. Also the ghostwriter may want a credit on the book as “edited by…” It’s all down to negotiation, really.

Are these book and major document ghostwriters easy to find?

No. Because people who use ghostwriters don’t normally want anyone else to know they’ve used one, ghostwriters’ wares do not tend to get advertised widely. For a book, probably the best way to find one is to ask your publishers, if you have gone that route, or if you’re self-publishing contact a self-publishing or author services company and ask them.  For other, shorter writing projects you should ask around in your local business community for personal recommendations.

You can also run a search on the web, of course, but check the person’s credentials before you contact them. Then invest some quality time in getting to know them. Good chemistry is very important if you’re going to work this closely with someone.

Should you feel ashamed that you need to use a ghostwriter?

The people who use ghostwriters are not necessarily bad at writing. Many are very good at writing but because they have other more important tasks to deal with (e.g. running major corporations, whole countries, etc) they simply don’t have time to write their own stuff. In these cases it makes economical sense to pay someone else to do it, even if they do charge a lot of money.

How you work with a ghostwriter, again, varies enormously according to their methods and your availability. What is true universally, though, is that you will need to allocate quite a lot of time to work with the ghostwriter, even though that is far less than you would need to write the book or document yourself.

Often ghostwriters are journalists and because of their training they can do a lot of research and background assembly of material for you. But usually what makes a book interesting is the “author’s” own spin on the subject matter. And no matter how good the ghostwriter is s/he is not psychic and cannot become you. You need to provide them with the raw material they need to craft your book or other text, and be generous with it.

Could you ghostwrite for someone else?

Hmmm – tricky question. To be a good ghostwriter you need to be able to write not in your own style, but in that which the ostensible “author” writes and/or would use in practice. A ghostwriter has to climb out of his or her own writing style and into that of his/her client.

Training/experience as an advertising copywriter is an excellent background for ghostwriting purely because it gets you to write in the “voice” of a client, for that client’s defined audience. Many journalists think they can do this too and to an extent they’re right, but their audiences tend to fall into much larger categories than those of copywriters. A journalist’s audience is the entire readership/viewership of the medium concerned, whereas that of a copywriter tends to be a much more profiled audience of consumers, B-2-Bers, etc.

Would you use a ghostwriter to help you write a major work? And / or, would you be prepared to work as a ghostwriter for someone else? Please share your views here!

And if you’re writing it yourself, here’s how to do it right:

“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”…over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English

“How To Write Winning Non-fiction”…all you need to know to write a good non-fiction book and get it published




  1. What is the main difference in skills needed for business ghost writing – with the aim of promoting a product, and biographical?
    It must be interesting helping people with fascinating life stories, but who are not necessarily writers. I enjoyed ‘Sold’ by Zana Muhsen a girl from the UK who found herself in an arranged marriage in Yemen, and Andrew Crofts.

    • Business ghostwriting is something that copywriters do all the time – writing in the “voice” of the client company. When it comes to books, many of the same techniques apply, especially in terms of understanding and conveying the personality of the “author” so that the book’s text “sounds” like him or her. Copywriters are very well placed to do this because that’s a fundamental tool for them … however not all copywriters can keep it up for 100,000 words or so!


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