Is this who you thought a ghost-writer is?
Or did you think, “What in the name of monkey business is going on? A ghost who writes? Really? When did ghosts become so advanced?”
I know, I know, it seems weird.
But the term ‘Ghost-writer’ doesn’t mean anything like the above representation or whatever you thought it meant. And it certainly doesn’t involve summoning a ghost in any shape or form either.
To begin with, ‘ghost-writer’ is a legitimate term and one of the most lucrative career fields in the content writing industry. If you are interested to know more, sit tight. In a short while, you will have enough knowledge on this topic.
What Is Ghost-writing & Who Is A Ghost-writer?
Ghost-writing is when you write on behalf of someone, who will be named as the original author when that written material is published.
A ghost-writer is someone who writes articles, books, blogs, speeches, or any other text but doesn’t get any credit for the said written piece. All the credit, name, and fame goes to the client for whom the ghost has worked.
Dictionary meaning of ghost-writer:
Cambridge dictionary defines it as “someone who writes a book or article, etc. for another person to publish under his or her own name.”
As per the Collins dictionary, “a ghost writer is someone who writes a book or other published work instead of the person who is named as the author.”
The ghost-writer and the client enter into a legal contract. This contract will state all the required clauses and guidelines such as:
- the terms and mode of payment,
- the relationship between the client and ghost,
- when, where, and how the ideas and research materials will be provided,
- the deadline of the project,
- action in the event of premature termination of the contract, etc.
Now that you have an understanding of the term, I am sure that either of the below 2 questions must have surfaced in your mind:
- Why would someone not want their name to be published when they work so hard in writing that content? Or simply put, why would someone want to be a ghost-writer?
- Is it ethical?
Let’s address them one by one.
Why Would Someone Want To Be A Ghost-writer?
It is a very sensible and obvious question. Why would you spend days or months slogging over something which you can’t even take credit for?
First- As I have already mentioned above, this is one of the most lucrative career paths in the writing field. It can give you big bucks if you are an experienced writer in this field. According to SalaryExpert, a ghost-writer in India earns an average salary of Rs. 6,20,947 per year! As you keep gaining more experience, you can keep increasing your hourly rate.
Second- Since a ghost-writer happily accepts a contract that says that they’ll not be credited for their work, they are generously compensated for this forfeiture.
Third- If someone is into freelancing, this is one of the mode through which you can expand your business. You get to make contacts with who’s who of the writing fraternity and you’ll learn how to interact with varied clients. Continuous improvement in the writing style is a bonus
Fourth- Often a ghost doesn’t have to spend much time in research. The client has to provide with their research and all they have to do is string that research into beautiful words and sentences.
Fifth- What if you are exceptionally good at writing but not comfortable with the post-publishing work, i.e. the promotion of the work? Well then, your problem is solved. Once the ghost has delivered the assignment, and the client approves it, the work of the ghost-writer is considered complete. You don’t have to play any role in promoting your client’s work.
Now on to the second question,
Is it ethical?
It all depends on how the parties involved in the contract (the ghost and the client) behave.
From the ghost-writer’s point of view
If the ghost, true to the contract, has followed all the instructions and guidelines laid down by their client, then everything is good to go. This legal piece of paper is enough evidence that a ghost-writer:
- is not being forced to write content on someone’s behalf,
- isn’t stealing intellectual property,
- is not being misused of his talent, and amongst other things,
- getting adequately paid for his services.
In any case, ghost-writing is like any other business transaction; I give you my service, you pay me for it. And if a writer has the talent of eloquence and is not bothered by not getting the credit, why not get paid for this talent by helping someone who doesn’t possess it? Or doesn’t have the necessary time to write it, but has too many ideas waiting to be shared with the audience?
From the client’s point of view
The main reason a person employs a ghost-writer is:
- They have the ideas and expertise on a subject matter but lack the talent to write or don’t enjoy it; and/or
- They are too busy with their business that they do not have the time to write
Therefore, after hiring a ghost, the client needs to provide all the research material such as notes, journals, reference research papers, any audio or videotapes, etc, to assist the ghost in completing the assignment. Throughout the writing process, it is expected that the client is involved as much as they would be if he was writing the content themselves. They need to proofread everything written by the ghost to ensure that their ideas are being conveyed in a manner that was intended.
When does it become unethical?
A few instances where it can become unethical:
- If the ghost-writer has written something that was not originally intended or has misrepresented the information. This generally happens when the client hasn’t proofread the content written by the ghost. A misrepresentation of the information (facts, statistics, or financial data) can lead to dire consequences. It may also lead to a lack of trust by the readers or stakeholders.
- When the entire work, from generating the idea, doing research and then writing the content, has been done by the ghost-writer. The client has provided no input and they subsequently take the credit. This can mean that even though the client doesn’t have any mastery in the subject, they still want the readers to be under the illusion, that the content has been researched, verified, and produced solely by them.
- When ghosts are hired by university or Ph.D. students to write their papers for obtaining their degrees. This is heavily frowned upon in the academic writing genre. Students are expected to write their papers to gain an understanding of the subject matter. However, if the educational institution detects any form of ghost-writing being involved, they can be charged with academic fraud.
From the readers’ point of view
There is also another party that is somehow directly involved in this process, which is the audience or the reader. Defining the line between ethical and unethical from the readers’ perspective can very tricky. It all depends on them if they feel deceived by knowing the fact that the content they are reading has been written by someone else.
In this context, the audience should mostly assume that the stuff they are reading has been penned by another person rather than the author. On the other hand, should also acknowledge the author’s intention, which is to put forward their thoughts in a manner that is understandable by the targeted audience. In other words, if the author had the talent or time to write, he wouldn’t have needed a ghost-writer’s services in the first place.
Let me ask you a few questions here-
Do you know the name of the advertisers of Hindustan Unilever or Nestle? Have you ever seen any name in a manual or a pamphlet? What about website content? Who do you think is writing or creating all of the above content?
Now think, do you feel deceived? Or you think that the clients were right in hiring professionals to do a job that is out of their league?
Difference between Ghost-Writer, Freelancer, and Co-Author
Listed below are some of the difference between the 3 forms of writing that can often be confused with ghost –writing:
|1.||The writer writes on behalf of someone, for payment, who will be named as the author once published.||Generally self-employed and take work on a contract basis, for pay.||Two people jointly working as an author to complete a written project.|
|2.||No credit for work.||Is considered the author.||The names of both authors get published.|
|3.||Need to adapt to the client’s voice.||Can keep their voice and style.||Collaboration to generate ideas and write the content.|
|4.||The writer is provided with the idea and research material.||Writers need to come up with their ideas.||Both authors come up with ideas and try to join them in their style.|
Having answered some of the obvious concerns and confusion, let’s move on to the types of ghost-writing.
Types of Ghost-writers
Ghost-writing is not limited to only books or articles but has many other fields where the ghost-writer can provide their services. These types of fields are listed and explained below:
Books ranging from autobiographies to memoirs can be wholly or partly written by ghost-writers. Ghosts, in this genre, are mostly employed due to the time constraints of the original author or because they lack the skill to write.
Famous books or memoirs like I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up For Education And Was Shot By The Taliban, Life (memoirs of Keith Richards, co-founder of Rolling Stone), Sarah Plain’s Going Rouge, Made in America by Sam Walton (founder of Wal-Mart) have been written with the contribution of ghost-writers.
In some instances, you will find the names of the ghosts being acknowledged in the ‘Acknowledgement’ section of the book. However, this doesn’t mean that the ghost is getting any credit. The book is still being promoted by the name published as an author. Often times you’ll find words like “as told to” followed by a name. This generally indicates that the book has been ghost-written to a large extent.
Another field which is known to have employed one or more ghost-writers to keep the continuity of the fame of the book. Many famous authors hire ghosts to help them produce books in a given deadline mostly for mystery, teen-fiction, and detective genre. The reasons fiction authors or their publishing house may hire a ghost-writer are:
a). Meeting the demand
Producing well-written material back to back can be exhausting for the author and this where the role of a ghost-writer comes in. The author has ideas for this next item which he can narrate to the ghost. the ghost-writer will subsequently come up with the draft material, in the voice and style of their client. The intended author will thoroughly review and revise this piece and then send it for publishing.
b). Continue the legacy
Another form of fiction ghost-writing is when you want to continue the legacy of an author who is no longer living. Take the James Bond series, for instance. The author Ian Fleming had written these books till he was alive. After he died in 1964, the publisher hired English novelist Kingsley Amis as a ghost-writer to continue the series.
Do you remember books like Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys, which were the go-to books for teenagers for some detective and mystery fix? You will be surprised to know their authors, Caroline Keene and Franklin W. Dixon do not exist in real life. These names are pseudonyms given to the multiple ghost-writers who have churned out these successful books over the years.
Surprising, isn’t it?
It is well known that many political speeches are not personally written by the speaker. Some professionals do these jobs behind the scenes and craft a speech that will emotionally impact the audience. US presidents like John F. Kennedy, Ronal Reagan, and Barack Obama have famously used professionals to write their speeches.
And it is not just politicians, any public figure, who needs to address a large crowd, but lacks the writing skills, tends to engage a ghost-writer.
4. Academic and medical
This field of ghost-writing is the most frowned upon by the professionals in education and the medical field. There are ‘essay mills’, which refer to the services companies which provide ghost-writing or freelancing services for such purposes. However, as stated above, it is considered an academic fraud if a student is found engaging a ghost-writer to write their papers.
In the medical field, the use of ghosts is a strict no-no as there is a high risk involved concerning public safety. A blunder in stating the facts can cause a huge uproar within the medical fraternity and the public. The author may engage a professional medical writer, who knows the ins and outs of the medical industry. There are many guidelines laid down by recognized institutions to curb the use of ghost-writers by authors and researchers to acknowledge the use of any writing support.
With the increased use of the internet for every type of service, there has also been a rise in the use of ghost-writers for blogs, websites, social media captions, etc. It seems to be a common practice amongst the “influencer” to use people to come up with catchy captions for their pictures or entire posts. This may result in the influencers creating a completely different persona of themselves.
Many websites or blog posts can also be written or created by ghosts as sometimes, the authors are busy expanding their business/brand to give time to articulate their ideas. Also, when a CEO or a well-known expert sets up a website or a blog, they may hire people to write the subject matter based on their inputs. It is also quite known that famous personalities often don’t write their social media posts.
It is also interesting to know that many times these ghost-writers are experienced in the nuances of content marketing techniques such as SEO optimization, which help in expanding the target audience and increase the visibility of the content.
Technical writing covers things such as ‘how-to’ manuals, press releases, reports where there is high level of jargon and concepts involved, and needs to be conveyed to the audience in a simpler manner. This type of writing needs to very straight-forward and crisp in comparison to any other writing field where you can play with your writing style, from flowery romantic to utter horror induced settings.
The ghost-writer needs to make sure that every small detail, from the shape of the screw (‘how-to’ manual) to the percentage of profits (press release), is completely accurate and well documented. Additionally, in a ‘how-to’ manual, the ghost-writer often goes through the process of installation of equipment or changing a part to get a feel of the flow. It also helps in identifying any steps that the expert may have missed to convey. In other words, if the writer can’t understand, the reader’s mind will surely go into chaos!
Ghost-writing can also be provided for writing cookbooks, book proposals (proposal to convince a publishing house to publish the book), wedding vows and speeches, screenplays, movie scripts, and songs (I’m sure you’ve heard of many scandals around this). I believe that if there is anything related to writing, you will find a ghost-writer ready with their pen or laptop.
I’ll let you in on a secret…!
It was shocking for me to learn that the listed author of Nancy Drew, Caroline Keene, doesn’t exist in real life. It is a book that encouraged me to get into the habit of reading. I was once obsessed with it. However, I somehow didn’t feel cheated on the fact that I and many other fans have been deceived by the publishing house. All that mattered to me was the nostalgia that hit once I saw the name, Nancy Drew. Like I said above, in terms of the reader’s point of view, all that matters is the perspective.
There have been speculations that Sir Francis Bacon wrote few of Shakespeare’s works. Similarly, questions about R.L. Stine employing ghost-writer’s to churn out the bestselling series of Goosebumps have also come up. And if there is even 1% of truth in them, then you can guess how prevalent ghost-writing has been in this industry. Did you know that sometimes, even famous authors ghost-write for others?
All things considered-
I feel that there is nothing wrong with the people hiring ghost-writers to do the writing for them. Why should someone suffer just because they cannot produce words like Stephen King or Ian Fleming? Do you not want expert opinions on a subject matter? What if, for instance, that expert is a world-renowned doctor who doesn’t have the time to write? Let’s face it, in today’s world, many people would not think twice before shaming a person for the lack of good writing skills.
And anyway, what’s the harm if a person designates the writing to a talented individual and compensates for their services. It’s a win-win situation for both parties. The client gets a wonderfully written content and the writer gets paid.
I agree that ghost-writing cannot be done by everyone. Some writers may feel let down if they don’t get any credit for the hard work they have put in. Or they may think it as a form of lying. On the contrary, there are some writers out there who enjoy doing this. They take it as a challenge to improve their writing skills and vocabulary. Some are in it for connections while some are to make their bank account numbers large. Moreover, many authors started as ghosts and later went on to publish their own content.
Well, to each their own!
Stay tuned for another article where I will let you know the steps in becoming a successful ghost-writer together with how to get a ghost-writing job.
With this in mind, keep wondering whether this article was ghost-written or not.
Just kidding. It wasn’t.
Or was it…..?