What is a Ghostwriter?

“What is a ghostwriter?” At a recent writer’s breakfast workshop on book writing and publishing, a writer asked me this. The topic came up as I was giving examples of alternative publishing options to.

What is a Ghostwriter

My example, in this case: ghostwriting.

“What is a ghostwriter?” The workshop attendee asked. “Is it when you change names in your memoir to avoid disclosing someone’s identity?”

This was a new concept to the workshop attendees. As I thought about the term I realized how weird it is. I mean, it kind of sounds like some sort of niche mystery writer. The answer is much less sexy, sorry.

What is a Ghostwriter?

When people outside the industry think of writing I think they imagine a standard person-writes-book-and-puts-name-on-it. But when you enter the wonderful world of professional writing you realize there are SO MANY MORE OPTIONS.

Sure, writing a book and putting your name on it is a thing. A big thing. And the easiest way to explain ghostwriting to someone who things of the writing life as limited to authoring a book is this: a ghostwriter is someone who writes a book for someone else. They provide the service of writing a book and then release the rights to that book to the person who hired them to do it.

What does this mean?

When you write a book for someone else it means you get paid once and they sell the book as their own. They put their name on it. They take all the credit. And they get all future money for it.

And it’s totally above board, don’t worry. Sure there are other arrangements ghostwriters make with their clients. Sometimes the book will say “so and so with so and so,” which indicates the it’s the first person’s story but the second person put it together and did the writing. And sometimes the writer does receive royalties. Quite often these are collaborations with an editor and done for people who are celebrities, politicians or CEOs.

Other Types of Ghostwriting

I look at ghostwriting as any writing you aren’t credited for. And there are so many times where this makes sense. Some examples: website copy, product descriptions, social media posts, podcast show notes. It doesn’t really make sense to have a byline on things like this. And you maybe you don’t think about this type of writing as professional writing but it is.

The label for this type of ghostwriting is something like business-to-business writing or even professional writing. In essence, you’re hired to write for a company and once your contract is completed they own the copy and you get paid.

Makes sense, right? Do you still wonder what is a ghostwriter?

Another type of ghostwriting is taking one form of media and transcribing it into written form. You aren’t coming up with the ideas or doing the research, you’re just repurposing it. It doesn’t make sense to have author credit because, well, you didn’t write it. Not really.

I could keep going but I think you get the idea. The great news about ghostwriting is often it is better paying than writing for credit because people understand what you’re giving up and compensate you for it.

A writer asked me what is a ghostwriter. It came up because I suggested it as an alternative to traditional publishing and it was a new idea for attendees.

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