What is Ghostwriting and How Does it Work?

Ghostwriting is a mysterious occupation. There is no real way to estimate how many ghostwriters are in operation at any one time. But if you’ve ever read a celebrity memoir and thought, ‘Surely they didn’t write this on their own’, you’re probably right. Ghostwriters feature in many sections of your local bookshop, even beyond celebrity books. 

Curious about ghostwriting? Let’s check it out.

What is Ghostwriting?

Ghostwriting is the act of writing work to be published under someone else’s name. Ghostwritten books have their official author - let’s say Katie Price, for example - and their actual writer - in this example, that’s Rebecca Farnworth. Ghostwriters specialising in novels must find a way to tell someone else’s story in a compelling, well-written way.

Ghostwriting goes far beyond novels, however. Ghostwriters also work in the copywriting industry, creating content for blogs and other formats. It’s easy to misunderstand ghostwriting as a way for someone else to take credit for your work, but it’s a collaboration. Great ghostwriters work with the author to create a cohesive narrative, representing the author’s objective.

Here’s a closer look at how ghostwriting really works.

What Does a Ghostwriter Actually Do?

The first thing a ghostwriter might do is interview their subject. Whether it’s a blog post for a company’s senior manager or a memoir for a public figure, ghostwriters ensure they know their subject. Writers must understand what the client wants and how to capture their unique voice and style.

If a client is unavailable for interviewing, ghostwriters will look to any previous work to establish their writing style and tone of voice. For copy-based ghostwriters, this is usually simple; clients have previously published work available to view. Ghostwriters focusing on memoirs and autobiographies typically need plenty of face-to-face time with their subjects.

Once the interview stage is complete, ghostwriters can begin working on the writing. Here’s where excellent ghostwriters strike a balance between themselves and their subject perfectly. Here’s a little breakdown of when to use your voice and when to use your subject’s voice when ghostwriting.

The Ghostwriter’s Voice

The ghostwriter leads these areas of a text - be it a book, blog, or even an email campaign.

The Structure

Typically, people who use ghostwriters have exciting stories to tell or arguments to make. They don’t always have a great idea of how to order their thoughts. Often, they’ll recite stories in a random order as the memories occur to them. As a writer, ghostwriters must take their subjects’ words and anecdotes and find a way to structure them that’s logical and compelling.

Transitional Moments

Just as your subject might bounce from one topic to another, they might also give little connection between their stories. Ghostwriting means finding eloquent ways to connect the subject’s points to create a cohesive narrative. Emulating the subject’s style when writing transitions can lead to complicated and confusing descriptions; ghostwriters usually use their own style.

Defining Terms

Ghostwriters should act as a conduit between the subject and the reader. When subjects use specialist terms or talk about concepts that require expertise, ghostwriters must communicate the definitions to the reader. Using simple terms to explain complex concepts doesn’t always come naturally to professionals, so ghostwriters must fill this role.

For most of the writing, ghostwriters must embrace the subject’s tone of voice for the piece.

The Subject’s Voice

The main body of a text should represent the subject’s voice, particularly in these sections.

Core Aspects

The focus of the article, its central themes and arguments, and all individual opinions should be those of the subject. The ghostwriter’s name won’t feature on the finished piece, so their views shouldn’t feature either. Instead, ghostwriters channel their subject’s personality and viewpoints to help them express themselves in the written word.

Idiolect Features

Some subjects have very unique ways of speaking. An excellent ghostwriter captures the specific features of their subject’s voice. Perhaps they frequently use a few catchphrases, or maybe the words they don’t use make them unique. Usually, ghostwriters find the common phrases and terms that make it easy to embody their subject’s voice in the interview stage.

Facts and Figures

Professionals who hire ghostwriters are usually well-informed in their areas of expertise. They might mention statistics or studies they want the ghostwriter to include in their writing. When ghostwriters conduct their initial research and interviews with their subjects, they must ask for sources for this data to double-check its accuracy and adequately incorporate it into their writing.

Keep reading if ghostwriting interests you.

How to Become a Ghostwriter

If you’ve made it this far and think ghostwriting might be the next step in your career path, here are a few things that might help you break into the industry.

Creating a Portfolio

Most writers use portfolios to advertise themselves to their clients; ghostwriters are no different. Writing under your own name, whether on a blog, a podcast, or a self-published book, allows you to showcase your talents. Send your portfolio to publishing agencies and let them know you’re available as a ghostwriter. At the very least, it helps get your name out there.

Asking Around for Work

You can’t underestimate the power of word-of-mouth in the writing world. Let your friends and connections in writing and publishing know you’re interested in ghostwriting work. You want your name to begin circulating as an option to anyone looking for a ghostwriter. Ask your friends to recommend you to anyone they know in the industry, and be open to recommending others - you can help each other reach your dream roles.

Exercising Your Social Skills

Writers are sometimes stereotyped as shut-ins who prefer their keyboards’ company to real, live humans. While this can sometimes ring true (especially in a post-pandemic world), ghostwriting requires excellent social skills. Most ghostwriting contracts begin with a lengthy interview or series of interviews between the writer and the client. You want to make a good impression; be open and actively listen to your counterpart to ensure you understand each other well.

Networking

Networking is essential in an industry that’s about knowing the right people. Find literary events in your area, join social media groups, and generally reach out to like-minded people to start building connections. Networking helps you establish your reputation as a ghostwriter, making it easier for potential clients to find you.

You can cement your ghostwriting career between this advice and some hard graft of your own. If you want to learn more about writing - whether as a ghostwriter or a copywriter - check out the other posts on The Author’s Pad blog; we’re a community of writers helping each other grow.

FAQs

Here are our responses to a few frequently asked questions about ghostwriting.

Is Ghostwriting Legal?

In the proper context, ghostwriting is legal and ethical. Ghostwriting represents an agreement between the writer and the credited author, meaning the writer can’t claim the work under their own name, and the credited author will pay the writer accordingly. Academic ghostwriting, whilst not strictly illegal, can get you into a lot of trouble and is not recommended.

Can You Make Money Ghostwriting?

You can make money from ghostwriting. Many writers create entire careers around ghostwriting. Clients typically pay ghostwriters a lump sum to produce their work, and the client receives royalties. How much a ghostwriter gets paid depends on their negotiations with clients before they draft a contract to begin the project.

Is it a Good Idea to be a Ghostwriter?

If you have the right personality to be able to talk to anyone, combined with the writing skills necessary to turn someone else’s story into a compelling narrative, you might love ghostwriting. Ghostwriting often pays more than typical freelance writing work, but the jobs are harder to find at the beginning of your career.

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