15 min read

What is Ghost Writing?

Tiffany Ellis
November 20, 2022

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This article will cover what ghostwriting is, its history, the pros and cons of being one, and more. 

Ghostwriting is the practice of writing a piece of content on behalf of another person using their name instead of your own. It’s a great way to make money if you’re already an established freelance writer or it’s an efficient way to have a piece of content written if you simply don’t have time to do it yourself. 

The history of ghostwriting

The history of ghostwriting is long and varied; most people aren’t aware of this, but some of the most famous historical figures have used ghostwriters for famous works. 

A few historical figures who have used ghostwriters to pen works in their name include:

  • William Shakespeare
  • John F Kennedy
  • Malcolm X
  • Hillary Clinton

Almost any industry today uses ghostwriters when they need content produced but don’t want to give the author a credit on the final work. 

Here is a list of a few different types of ghostwriting that a freelance writer may want to look into getting started with:

  • Nonfiction
  • Fiction
  • Academic
  • Blog posts
  • Medical
  • Song lyrics

Who uses ghostwriters?

Ghostwriters are used by almost any profession that may need content written at some point, but they are most often used by people who don’t have time to write the content themselves. This could be because they’re a busy politician, a scientist with too many projects going, or even an author that just wants to increase their book production volume to make more money. 

Many of the most famous book series in multiple genres have had ghostwriters working on them, including:

  • Warrior Cats
  • Goosebumps
  • The Babysitter’s Club
  • The Hardy Boys
  • Jason Bourne
  • Nancy Drew

Is ghostwriting legal?

Ghostwriting is legal because it it a voluntary contract between two parties where one person writes content on behalf of another after being given a set of criteria and expectations of the finished work. The person who contracts the work agrees to pay the ghostwriter for the content and typically the full rights to the end result, including characters, settings, etc. 

When you decide to do ghostwriting, you should expect that you won’t have any rights to the end product. This is true whether what you have written is fiction or non-fiction. 

Legalities associated with ghostwriting:

  • Compensation. How much does the ghostwriter get paid? Is it a flat rate or are there royalties involved?
  • Intellectual property rights. The contractor typically gets all of the rights to the finished product, while the ghostwriter gets no rights once the piece is delivered and the contract has been officially completed.
  • Non-disclosure agreements. A ghostwriting contract typically includes a non-disclosure agreement where the ghostwriter is legally bound to keep the fact that they wrote the content for the contractor. 
  • Author credit. In some ghostwriting contracts, some credit is given to the ghostwriter as a co-author. 
  • Contract termination. If the contractor and ghostwriter part company mid-project, who gets what rights to the work that has been done so far? If no payments have been made, the ghostwriter should retain the right to their work. 

Is ghostwriting ethical?

Whether ghostwriting is ethical or not depends on the situation content will be ghostwritten. If someone is a fiction author and simply wants to increase the number of books they can put out and earn income from, then of course, there’s nothing unethical about this. 

But if you’re a professional in a field that requires a degree, such as medicine or psychology, it may be unethical to hire someone to ghostwrite a work for you if they don’t also have a degree in the subject matter. 

Another situation ghostwriting would be considered unethical is in school when you’re trying to pass off a ghostwritten work as your own to get a good grade. This can be considered academic fraud and get you expelled from your school if it’s discovered that you did not write the work. However, the ghostwriter faces no potential consequences. 

Benefits of using a ghostwriter

If you’re interested in using a ghostwriter, here are a few benefits that may apply to your situation. 

Ghostwriters can save you time

If you’re short on time for any reason, hiring a ghostwriter to write the bulk of your content for you can be advantageous. This can be something as long as a book or as short as an email. Regarding day-to-day operations, secretaries and personal assistants may do small amounts of ghostwriting for someone regularly along with other tasks instead of just being a dedicated ghostwriter. 

When you have more important things to do than write a post for the company blog, use a ghostwriter. 

Ghostwriters create your content faster

Continuing on with our last statement, your ghostwriter can be publishing content in your name on your website. This doesn’t just save you time; it also garners more traffic for your blog. Content is king in 2022, and if you want to be considered an authority in your industry, your website needs to have top-quality content on it. 

But content writing often gets pushed to the back of the line when important things like meetings and last-minute phone calls come up. Let a dedicated ghostwriter handle it. 

A professional ghostwriter is often better for the task

Suppose you need to promote your product or service via various advertising methods. In that case, whether it’s email blasts or landing pages for ads, a professional writer is often a better choice than trying to do it on your own. This isn’t just for the purposes of time; a professional writer can give a perspective that you cannot. 

Writing is what ghostwriters do all day, every day. If you’re not well versed in writing in general, why task yourself with something you know someone else would be better at?

Ghostwritten content is still real content

Maybe you feel that getting a ghostwriter to write the content for you is “cheating” or that it somehow makes you an impostor for having it done. 

Rest assured, it doesn’t as long as you’re working closely with your ghostwriter to keep a consistent voice in the written work and the information in the work is accurate. A ghostwriter should be interviewing you and taking notes on the primary points that you want to get across in the finished work. From there, it’s their job to take what you want to say and communicate it effectively to the reader. 

Cons of using a ghostwriter

There are a few downsides to using a ghostwriter, however. If you’re considering using one for a project, there are some negatives to consider before you make that decision. 

Here are a few of them below.

Ghostwriters aren’t cheap

Hiring a professional ghostwriter that is familiar with the process isn’t going to be cheap. You could end up paying as much as 15 to 20% (or more) on top of a writer’s normal rate. This is because the writer retains no rights to the work after publication. If you expect to make substantial money from their work long term, such as with fiction or non-fiction books, you should expect a hefty fee attached to the contract, especially if they won’t be allowed to use it in their portfolio. 

Ghostwriters aren’t hands off

You may think that using a ghostwriter takes you completely out of the writing process, but it usually doesn’t. This is especially true when producing longer works, whether they’re fiction or non-fiction. If you want a quality end product to put your name on, you’ll still need to collaborate with your ghostwriter to make that happen. Writing it yourself may or may not be faster, but it likely won’t feel like it’s happening as fast as you want it. Be aware of this before you start the process. 

You’re the one holding all the risk

When the work is done, and the ghostwriter has been paid, they’re out of the process. All of the praise (or criticism) will fall on your name, not theirs. For this reason, you should choose your ghostwriter carefully and collaborate with them closely to produce an end product you can be proud of. 

Benefits of being a ghostwriter

If you’re considering performing ghostwriting, there are definite benefits to this that you should consider. Here are a few great things about being a ghostwriter. 

Ghostwriters can charge premium prices

As mentioned earlier, ghostwriting isn’t a cheap service. This is great for the person doing the ghostwriting, as you can charge a substantial amount of money over your normal writing fee because you will lose the rights to the work you deliver. You can charge by word, hour, or by the project, but the end result is the same: more money in your pocket. 

Reasons to not be a ghostwriter

Maybe ghostwriting isn’t for you, and that’s okay. If you’re unsure whether ghostwriting is something you want to add to your skill set, consider the following negative aspects of the practice below. 

You don’t like writing in someone else’s voice

If you have a hard time writing like someone else, ghostwriting may not be something you would be proficient at. Your client will likely want you to write the way they do and this could be easy or difficult depending on your skill level. But if writing in someone else’s voice is something you’re simply not interested in doing, you probably shouldn’t try ghostwriting. 

You have less freedom when ghostwriting

In addition to the voice issue, you’re not going to have as much freedom ghostwriting for someone as you will writing content for your own purposes or content that you can put your own name on. When collaborating with a client, they’re liable to be picky about the content you produce and it can be easy to get frustrated with constant changes being made. You may think you worded that paragraph perfectly, but it’s the client’s name going on the work, not yours. 

How much do ghostwriters make?

In 2021, ghostwriters earned on average around $56,000 per year. Of course, this is only an average amount, as there are ghostwriters that can make six figures a year depending on how many projects they do and who their clients are. 

You can charge for ghostwriting the following ways.

Per word

You likely want to charge by word when you’re working on short pieces of content that don’t require a ton of research or other preparatory time, because that’s technically time you won’t be getting paid for. 

Ghostwriters have been known to charge anywhere from $0.15 to $4 per word. 

Per hour

Hourly isn’t a common billing method in the freelance writing industry in general. It’s more common when performing editing work or as a consultant. Clients may not want to work with you on a per hour basis because they’re afraid that it will take too long. Freelancers working slower so they can bill for more hours isn’t unheard of, so per hour isn’t the best option for ghostwriting. 

Per project

In the world of ghostwriting, billing per project is extremely common, especially with long pieces of content such as novels or biographies. You can bill at a flat rate for shorter projects like long blog posts, however. 

How to become a ghostwriter

Becoming a ghostwriter is easy depending on what level of ghostwriting you want to get to. It’s one thing to ghostwrite blog posts for a website, while it’s quite another to ghostwrite a novel that’s going to be published by a major company under a well known name. 

If you want to get started with ghostwriting, here are some tips on how to do that. 

Be versatile in voice and style of writing

The first thing you want to ensure that you can do is write in various styles and voices. There are 4 basic writing styles: expository, persuasive, descriptive, and narrative. If you can master writing in all of these, you’re well on your way to being able to ghostwrite content professionally. 

But, voice still has a lot to do with whether you will be proficient at ghostwriting. An author who wants you to write a book for them will likely have samples of the “voice” they want used. If you can’t emulate that voice, you won’t be able to complete the project successfully. 

If you want to practice writing in different voices, read various types of fiction and non-fiction books and attempt to copy the tone they are written in. There are also a variety of books on writing skills that you can pick up to become a better writer.

Create your writing portfolio

Before you start contacting individuals and companies to ghostwrite for them, you have to have a solid writing portfolio that displays the type of work you’re capable of doing for them. If possible, you can have a portfolio for each type of writing you will do. 

Separate fiction from non-fiction first, then you can separate further from there into academic, blog posts, etc. How you want to structure your portfolios is up to you and what type of work you have available to showcase. 

You may be a great writer, but if you can’t convince your potential clients that you can emulate their voice and get their message across by using a portfolio relevant to them, they won’t hire you. 

Build your network

Building a network takes time and effort. You may spend as much time networking in the beginning as you do writing, but don’t get discouraged. You’ll have to market yourself on social media platforms and job websites to build a clientele that may end up using you for years. 

How to ghostwrite for someone

Now that we’ve covered how to become a ghostwriter, we can start discussing how to start the process of ghostwriting for your first client. 

Interview them first

Before you begin the writing process, you want to interview your client about their project and discuss the main ideas that you will be expected to communicate to the reader throughout it. This is their project that you will write using their voice and opinions, not your own, so you must remember this at all times. This is particularly important if you’re writing a non-fiction work for them that is based on their experience and expertise. 

To interview them, you should either have an audio recording of the conversation or if that’s not possible, a text record of the conversation on whatever messenger you will use to communicate with each other. Get as much recorded or written down as possible, so you can refer back to it without having to bother them if you forget a crucial point.

Not only will this help speed up your writing process, but it will also provide you with a record of exactly what the client expects of you and can protect you later on. 

Understand the scope of the project

What exactly are you being expected to do? Will you be writing blog posts for them regularly or will this be a one time project of 50,000 words? A large project is more likely to require a thorough interview than many small projects, like 2,000-4,000 word blog posts. 

You should find out exactly what the scope of the project is when you interview them. 

Understand the themes they want to write about within the project

When you interview your client, you want to ensure you cover everything they want you to include in your written work. Your client may even provide you with a general outline of the themes and ideas they want you to work with, but if they don’t, it’s your job to create that outline based on what they’ve communicated to you. 

If you don’t feel that any portion of the project has been explained clearly enough, ask for clarification before you get started writing. 

Use their signature words, phrases, and voice

If your client is known for using specific words and phrases or even just for talking in a specific way, you want to be familiar with it before you begin writing. Remember, the end product has to sound like they wrote it, and it’s your job to make that believable. Read some things they’ve published on their website or social media, and this will give you an idea of what they should sound like. 

Use your own voice in specific locations

While you want the finished work to sound like your client wrote it, perhaps your client isn’t the best communicator of their own ideas. If your client can sound a bit scattered when explaining their ideas to you, it’s up to you to make those ideas understandable to the reader. This is particularly important when you’re moving from one topic of discussion to another within the work. Feel free to use your own voice here if your client isn’t as graceful in transitioning from one topic to another as the written work needs them to be. 

Don’t be afraid to edit

Does your client ramble on and on about a particular theme or topic and you know there’s no way to be able to fit everything into what you’re working on? Maybe it’s just that some details aren’t that important to the end product and they need to be edited or removed completely. 

Don’t be afraid to edit out details that don’t need to be there to make the writing flow as it should. As we’ll discuss next, collaboration with your client will let you know if you’re off the mark. 

Collaborate with your client often

Whether you’re working on a single long project or many short ones, you should be collaborating with your client often. This is to ensure you’re on the right track, from the themes they want to be covered to the voice you’re writing in. You don’t want to get too far along in a project and discover halfway through that they don’t like how you’re representing their arguments on the page. 


Ghostwriting is a specialized type of writing in some ways and it can be quite lucrative, particularly if you end up working for a celebrity. But, did you know that Copy.ai has an outline tool that can help you jump start your ghostwriting projects? Sign up with us today to access various tools you can use in your writing career to help speed up your process.

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