There are different professions connected to writing, from novels, academic texts and speeches, to copywriting, scriptwriting, and technical guides, among many others more. One particular profession is very interesting, not least because of the debates that are generally presented around it: ghostwriting.

Ghostwriters are those who write a text (or rewrite it) but credit of the production goes to someone else. This may happen due to various reasons, such as a celebrity or expert not having the time, skills, or resources to write themselves, a publishing house looking to publish more books or texts that tie in to a series, or an author’s estate hiring a ghostwriter to continue a story. In terms of academic purposes, these are usually frowned upon a whole lot more than when it comes to literary productions, and I’ll be focusing on the latter.

There are various aspects that have to be considered when it comes to the role, such as whether the writer is named or remains anonymous—or anything in between. Some ghostwriters may be credited on the cover or they may be included in the acknowledgments section as a researcher (or a similar role).

In some cases, multiple writers may follow certain style guidelines to publish under one name that has already been established in the market. Sometimes ghostwriters may be behind a writer’s blog posts or social media content, as the different platforms require different processes and skills, and writers may simply lack the time if they have looming headlines for their manuscripts.

There are different sides to the conversation. Is it okay for someone to take credit for something they didn’t write, when the actual writer agrees to it? (And is usually paid quite well.) Is it a way of lying to readers, or is it acceptable as long as they get the content they’re looking for? In some instances, it’s confirmed that ghostwriters are included in the process and the main author is credited as the one having the plot idea and character creation, and thus is credited with main authorship. And, ghostwriters may argue, considering how tough it can be to get a stable or well-paying job, such a role allows one to write, have an income, and not worry about all the other aspects of publishing, such as finding an agent, getting a publisher, etc., etc., etc.

And a ghostwriter has a whole lot of skills: first, there’s versatility. Ghostwriters may pen various different kinds of projects, from memoirs to short stories, blog posts to mystery novels. They need to be able to adapt to the particular characteristics, content, tone, and target audience, and create a text that’s specific to the aim.

If they’re working on someone’s biography or memoir, ghostwriters need to be good at shadowing and excellent at asking questions and gathering as much information as possible. This also involves doing research. Sounds simple enough, right? But a ghostwriter should know what credibility different sources possess, the relevance of the information sought and gathered, and when to go deeper in a particular direction (and when not to).

Ghostwriters need to be careful and prudent. While non-disclosure agreements or confidentiality clauses may be included in contracts, ghostwriters who shout from the rooftops examples of their work may face legal and/or professional issues. Part of the appeal of hiring a ghostwriter for many people is the privacy and anonymity.

And the last skill I’ll bring up—even if there are plenty more—is organizational capacity. There are many different parts to ghostwriting a project, and there has to be an awareness on how much time can be dedicated to each part—especially as deadlines are very real and ghostwriters don’t want to be known for not meeting them.

Did you know about ghostwriting? Do you know texts that have been written by ghostwriters? What’s your take on the profession?

Moira Daly

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