A ghostwriter is a person hired to write literary or journalistic works, speeches, or other texts that are credited to another person as the author.

Understanding the job description well is the first step. This may be an entire book or just parts of it, but either way, the “ghost” generally won’t receive public credit, unlike a listed co-author.

The ideas, the story and knowledge contained in the text come from the publicly named author — it’s the ghost’s job to put those ideas into words. As such, being a ghostwriter means you’ll have to work very closely with each author, noting down their detailed thoughts and overall style so that you can convey them seamlessly in the finished product.

Ghostwriters are excellent listeners.

Ideally, clients and ghostwriters will spend a few days recording before the ghost goes away to write the first draft. And when they meet up again, the client will tell the ghost if they are going wrong and put right anything that they have misunderstood, or that you forgot to tell them at the first meetings. The ghost will then produce a final version which may or may not need to be edited by someone else.

Is ghostwriting legal?

Ghostwriting is very much legal, so long as the idea behind the book is the author’s. You’re essentially offering a service, like an editor of sorts, to realize that vision. Here are 5 Bestselling Books Written by Ghostwriters:

  1. I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai
    • Malala employed foreign correspondent Christina Lamb to collaborate on the memoir; they spent a year developing the project, with Lamb meeting Malala’s family frequently and even traveling to Swat, Pakistan to visit Malala’s old school.
  2. Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg
    • TV and magazine writer Nell Scovell, known for creating Sabrina the Teenage Witch, co-wrote the book with Sandberg. Scovell also reported on gender inequality in comedy; her cultural experience of gender bias in the office definitely complemented the self-hailed “feminist manifesto” of Lean In.
  3. If I Did It: Confessions of the Killer by O.J. Simpson
    • Simpson was aided by ghostwriter Pablo Fenjves; the opportunity to examine an avowed murderer is difficult to turn down. Fenjves later admitted that he believed in Simpson’s guilt during an interview with The Early Show.
  4. Becoming by Michelle Obama
  5. It Takes a Village: And Other Lessons Children Teach Us by Hillary Rodham Clinton
    • Clinton did not directly thank the “village” that helped her produce It Takes a Village, but credited all namelessly. It was supposedly reporter Bob Woodward who revealed that ghostwriter Barbara Feinman Todd actually wrote the memoir.


In some cases, like The Autobiography of Malcolm X, the ghost may even be credited on the cover. If the author agrees to share the credit, your name will often follow the phrase “as told to” on the cover or front matter. Otherwise, the author might also name you in the acknowledgements. The Autobiography of Malcolm X was intended to be a true autobiography, with the name of Alex Haley appearing not at all or as a ghost writer or as a mere contributor or assistant. However, with the assassination of Malcolm X having occurred in Harlem in New York City on February 21, 1965 just before this book could be published, it became necessary to reveal the important role of Alex Haley in creating this book.

H.P. Lovecraft

The genius of horror and the weird may be known for creating Cthulhu Mythos, but there’s more to this American writer than most people realize. While writing for the pulp magazine, “Weird Tales,” Lovecraft was asked by J.C. Henneberger (founder of the magazine) if he could ghostwrite for a renowned escape artist.

As it turned out, the man he was referring to was none other than Harry Houdini. Lovecraft eventually wrote “Imprisoned with the Pharaohs,” which was one of Houdini’s escape acts. Houdini was blown away, and the two proceeded to work on other stories.

Mark Twain

You’re not the only one surprised to see this name on this list, but America’s greatest humorist once helped President Ulysses S. Grant write the latter’s autobiography. As a close friend, Twain convinced the president to write his memoirs, with the book eventually becoming a bestseller.

How much does a ghostwriter make?

Ghosts allow the author bypasses the authentic labor and intellectual sweat equity that is an integral part of creating art and for they need to be aptly compensated. From the data gathered on Reedsy (the most affordable site I could find), a ghostwriting project can earn you anywhere from $2,000 to $60,000. And if you’re writing for a celebrity or a high-profile author, you can expect a six-figure payment.

Other sites seem to have business books starting $5.000 per book. If a ghostwriter charges hourly, the cost of e-books may be anywhere from $30 to $200 per hour, depending on the scope of the project. Per-word rates for this type of work typically range from $1 to $3.

A number of factors contribute to how much ghostwriters make, but the general rule is: the more experience you have, the better your income will be. If you’re just starting out, you might want to prioritize experience over money, if you have the opportunity to do so.

Clients look for ghosts who understand their vision, regardless of the field they specialize in. That means every successful ghost needs to be familiar with a variety of tones and styles, have a strong grasp of the components of good storytelling, and know the structural requirements of different types of text. 

Why Do Famous People Use Ghostwriters?

For the same reason kings used to pay poets to write epics, because that’s how a person becomes a legend.

John F. Kennedy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book “Profiles in Courage” helped him win the presidency. But it wasn’t several years after his death that it was revealed that pretty much of it was ghostwritten by Ted Sorenson. That revelation eventually made Sorensen, Kennedy’s speechwriter, a highly sought ghostwriter.

Kennedy wasn’t the only one who commissioned a “ghostwriter” to craft his public image and promote his legacy. Although some people find it odd or inappropriate, ghostwriting is a staple for public figures who write an autobiography, memoir, or even a novel.

Churchill wrote every word of his many speeches — he said he spent an hour working on every minute of a speech he made. At the Morgan Library are several drafts of a single speech from February 1941, when England stood alone against the Nazi onslaught and Churchill appealed to President Roosevelt for aid. For his many books, however, Winston Churchill always had a team of ghostwriters, which he and they referred to as “the syndicate.” Each of three or four writers was paid around 300 pounds a year to learn Churchill’s style, and they produced first drafts which he then edited, often through multiple versions.

Public Image

Some famous personalities also hire ghostwriters to write speeches and social media posts. The amiable George Takei, known for his role in Star Trek, creates Facebook and Twitter posts that tickle the movie franchise’s cult following. Yet, he’s proud to admit that someone else writes these things for him.

Political figures are “frequent flyers” in ghostwriting. This is epitomized by Barack Obama’s relationship with Jonathan Favreau, his former speechwriter. Favreau wrote speeches for the U.S. president until 2013. Hillary Clinton also relied on ghostwriters to pen her speeches. This time, it was Lissa Muscatine, who used to work for Clinton during Bill’s White House tenure. Clinton and Muscatine developed a strong bond as the latter served as the Chief Speechwriter to the First Lady.

The ultra-wealthy don’t just settle for a profile on social media – they either create or buy their own.

Elon Musk, and Donald Trump own Twitter, and Truth Social respectively.

Due diligence

Like all of the professionals on the marketplace, clients need to be careful when picking ghostwriters. I recommend doing all the background checks to ensure the ghostwriters are veteran professionals with an established reputation. (A lot of platforms do their own background check)

What clauses should I check for in a ghostwriting contract?

Confidentiality: All standard ghostwriting contracts contain a non-disclosure agreement, preventing the ghostwriter from revealing any information about the book and contract to any third party.

Copyright: The contract should attribute all intellectual property of the ghostwritten book to you (usually pending full payment), unless you intend to make the ghostwriter a “co-author” of the book.

Payment and royalties: When commissioned by publishers or agents, ghostwriters are often remunerated through a fixed fee and a percentage of future royalties from book sales. If you’re an independent author however, it will be nearly impossible to convince a professional ghostwriter to work with you on a royalty-share model (unless you’re a celebrity of course).

Termination clause: Ghostwriting projects can be complex, and don’t always go exactly according to plan. A ghostwriting contract will usually include a provision for more work, as well as a termination clause with a “kill fee” should you decide to part ways.


%d bloggers like this: