This question pretty much tops the questions people have about ghostwriting, so let me give a very complete explanation, which I will break down into three parts.
- Definition of ghostwriter/ghostwriting.
- What a ghostwriter does – and doesn’t do.
- Who needs a ghostwriter – and who does not (in what situations is a ghostwriter your best option?)
Definition of ghostwriter
What is a ghostwriter? Simply put, it is a writer who is not seen. A writer who is not credited or acknowledged. A writer who is invisible – like a ghost. You read a book or an article and you never know who the real writer was, because it was ghostwritten.
You would be surprised at how much is ghostwritten.
Almost any autobiography of famous people is written by a ghostwriter. Think about it; it makes sense. Somebody might be a great statesman, or a great scientist or a successful businessman. But that does not mean he is a good writer and more than a good plumber or a good teacher. For teaching, he sends his kids to school and lets a professional handle the job. For plumbing, he calls a plumber to fix his leaky pipes – a professional who knows what he is doing. For writing, he calls a professional ghostwriter.
Most speeches you hear have been ghostwritten. Busy political and industrial leaders have neither the time nor skill to write their own speeches, so they hire speech writers. For important addresses, very often they will edit and send back for several drafts; but most of the writing is done by a ghost.
What does a ghostwriter do?
A ghostwriter does the writing. The ideas come from the “author” or the speaker – the client. Done properly, the writer picks the words that best express how the client would write or speak if he had the time and ability to pick his own words. This is not always easy and sometimes not completely possible. But it is the ideal goal.
The ghostwriter does not make things up. OK, sometimes a ghostwriter and/or PR department and/or political handlers do make a lot up. When I worked for a politician, there was a fair amount of material that I wrote on my own initiative, guessing what my boss would have said. But in such cases, the ghostwriter has a “regular” client and can make such guesses based on previous experience.
- The ghostwriter might do research.
- The ghostwriter does keep in the shadows.
- The ghostwriter does not reveal her identity.
- The ghostwriter does not take credit.
- The ghostwriter does not (usually) get royalties.
When do you need a ghostwriter?
There are three factors that you need to factor in when deciding whether to hire a ghostwriter or to choose some other alternative (which you can probably guess without even looking at the list):
Skill is the biggest show-stopper. If you can’t write well, you need to outsource, the same as you probably need to do with plumbing and teaching and growing wheat for your bread.
Skill is not a black and white factor. It is pretty complex. There are many people who simply can’t write. I could show you reams of partially legible emails I receive. And there are many people who write quite well. And there are many people who write passably – they can communicate their ideas, but they do not inspire or pull the reader along.
But one’s skill at writing depends also on what one is writing. I write good quality blog posts. I write great how-to and self-help material, and I can write excellent humor. But if I wanted to write a novel, I would outsource the project. Yes, a writer hiring a ghostwriter. I simply do not have the skills required to write convincing fiction.
And then there is speaking. You might be surprised how many people have difficulty with highly personal speeches, such as for accepting an award of some sort or best man or other wedding speeches. They often call on a speech writer.
Time is also a big deal. Many of our clients are hard-pressed business leaders who simply do not have the time to put all other things out of their heads and focus on writing their business book or autobiography. Some have the skill, many do not, but none have the time.
Time is money, so if you don’t have the time to spend, it might even be less costly to spend the money. Better to spend $12,000 in ghostwriting fees than $100,000 in lost time.
Speaking of money, ghostwriting does cost money. Here is a list of some “typical” pricing. In real life, plenty of high end ghostwriters charge more, and plenty of low end writers charge less. But you have to be careful, because you will discover that at the bottom end the quality really suffers. We try to keep our prices below average, at least to the extent that it does not sacrifice quality.
If you can’t afford the cost of writing your book, your screenplay, your letter or your speech, you might have to spend more time and write it yourself. You might have enough money to hire a writer to edit your writing, which costs much, much less.
But a word of caution: if your writing skills are not fairly strong, your manuscript might not be good enough to edit. You won’t save much money if the writer has to rewrite your material from scratch. So, as I said above, skill is the show-stopper.
If you don’t have the money, you might be able to inspire some wealthy relations. Maybe they will hire a ghostwriter for you.