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How to Ghostwrite a Book

How I Ghostwrite Other Authors’ Books

By Joe Bunting

Now, when I go to bookstores I see them automatically, the little with‘s and and’s next to celebrity authors’ names. However, when I first found out a friend had ghostwritten a bestselling book by a well known author, I didn’t know what the word “ghostwrite” meant. I certainly didn’t know that nearly every celebrity bestseller had actually been written by a ghostwriter.

How to Ghostwrite a Book
Photo by hobvias sudoneighm (creative commons)

What is a Ghostwriter?

According to, the definition of a ghostwriter is:
a person who writes one or numerous speeches, books, articles, etc. for another person who is named or presumed to be the author.
Okay, but what does that really mean?
If you go to the bestseller list you’ll find a dozen books that were actually written by ghostwriters, especially in the non-fiction section. Tom Clancy? He works with ghostwriters. James Patterson? Yep. How else do you think he’s able to release six books a year? When Sheryl Sandburg, the COO of Facebook, published her bestselling book Lean In, she used a ghostwriter, too.
How about President Obama, Hilary Clinton, Mariano Rivera, and Snooki? Yes, they used ghostwriters to write their books, too. Those people don’t have time to write a book! (Especially, Snooki. That makeup doesn’t do itself!)
(Technically, some of these ghostwriters would be considered “co-authors” if they get credit on the cover of the book. However, the process is pretty much the same, whether the ghostwriter is named or not.)
Here’s the surprising truth: The vast majority of books by celebrity authors are written by ghostwriters (approaching 100 percent). The question is, is it ethical? (share that on Twitter?)

Is Ghostwriting Ethical?

For the last three years, ghostwriting has been my primary job. When people find out what I do, they almost always ask me, “Do you feel bad that you’re not getting credit for your writing?”
My answer: no, I don’t feel bad about being a ghostwriter at all, for two reasons:
First, it’s not my idea. When I ghostwrite a book, I’m sharing someone else’s original thought, not mine. They came up with the content. Also, most of my clients are fantastic public speakers, people who have been talking about their ideas for ten years or more. My job is just to take their life message and put it into book form. Honestly, it’s a great job, because for each book I write, I feel like I get to sit at the feet of a world class expert and soak up their knowledge.
Second, ghostwriting allows me to get paid for my writing. Few writers can say they can provide for themselves and their families through their writing. Would I prefer to live off my own books? Sure, which is why I still do my own writing at the same time. However, ghostwriting has been a great way to apprentice myself to the craft, not to mention learn from some pretty amazing people.

When Ghostwriting Gets Sketchy

Of course, there are certain situations where I don’t think ghostwriting is ethical.
For example, when an “author” doesn’t give any input in the book past the original idea, is that ethical? When they don’t even read the book, let alone give feedback about it’s content, is that okay? In my opinion, that’s not an ethical way to approach ghostwriting.
Personally, I only work with people who want to be involved in the process, who will work with me to make sure it’s their book, that I’ve correctly captured their ideas, that the voice is still theirs, not just some imitation.

How to Become a Ghostwriter

How do you become a ghostwriter?
That’s a tricky question. All the ghostwriters I know got into it accidentally, and my story is no different. I was helping a mentor edit his book. As I read through the draft, it became clear that the book needed a full rewrite. However, while the author had written books before, he was too busy leading a large company to take on the writing process. And so I offered to do it for him.
How can you become a ghostwriter, though?
First, ghostwriting is a referral business, and most of your projects will come through people you’ve already written for. The real question is how do you get your first job. Here are a few ideas:
  • Network. Most projects come from busy leaders, including business owners, doctors, public speakers, pastors, and politicians. If you tell enough of these sorts of people you’re a writer, a few of them may tell you they’re working on a book. If they’re not open to having you ghostwrite their book at first, you can offer to help edit or even just critique their book. Who knows? It might turn into your first project.
  • Write in multiple different genres. If you just write fiction, write a few good non-fiction pieces. Reach out to your local newspaper and ask if there’s a chance you could work on some freelance project on spec (meaning you’d only get paid if they printed the piece).
  • Start a blog.  Showcase your best writing in public. Your blog is your resume.
  • Don’t write for free, but don’t overcharge either. You can research how much ghostwriters charge online. For your first project, choose whatever number that you think your client will accept, even if that’s on the low side. Remember, you’ll be able to charge much more for your second book.
  • Consider charging hourly. Most ghostwriters charge on a per project basis, but for your first book, if your client is open to it, consider charging hourly. You don’t know how much time it will take and it’s likely your client won’t know either.
  • Ask agents. Agents are often approached by people looking for ghostwriters. If you know any agents, why not ask them if they have any advice about how to get into ghostwriting. Perhaps they’ll give you an assignment, or even a chance to write a proposal for a new book, which, if accepted, you could be hired to write.

How Do You Ghostwrite a Book?

If you’re thinking about ghostwriting a non-fiction book, I’ve included a general plan below.
Note that this plan is best when you’re working with an author who already has a message, especially with authors who do public speaking. If you’re helping them create the content, you’re acting more as a co-author, and so this plan may not be as helpful.

1. What is the Book About?

Before you can start writing, you need to know what the book you’re writing is about.
The first step, then, is to collaborate with the author to create an outline of his or her book. You should also ask the author to recommend several similar titles which you can read as research. (And if they say there are no books like the one they want to write, they probably aren’t reading enough. In this case, find similar titles on your own.)

2. Collect Written and Recorded Materials

Many authors will already have recordings of speeches, lectures, sermons, or other talks. Collect as many of these recordings as you can, especially recordings that apply to your topic.
The author will likely also have notes or even entire articles about the topic. Make sure to collect these as well.

3. Record Interviews

Interviewing your author is a ghostwriter’s most important task. An hourlong interview can make up an entire chapter in a non-fiction book. The better your questions and the more you can draw out of your client about the content of their book during the interview process, the easier the actual writing will be.
Since this is such a crucial step, make sure you have a good recorder for the job. And don’t forget to have a backup recorder as well. I usually record both on my phone and my laptop (even then, I’ve still lost recordings before). If you’re interviewing your client over phone, you can call them using skype and record it using Call Recorder.

 4. Transcribe your Interviews

Next, transcribe the recorded interviews from audio to text. Transcribing is a time consuming process. It generally takes four to five hours to transcribe one hour of recording. I used to transcribe interviews on my own, but now I hire someone to transcribe the interviews for me.

5. Rewrite and Edit

The transcriptions of your interviews will become the backbone of your book, which is why it’s so important to get a good interview. You will likely have to do a lot of re-writing and editing to make it fit into a book format, but as you rewrite, make sure to maintain the author’s voice.
Your job isn’t to write a perfect book. Your job is to write your client’s book.

6. Author Review

Once the initial draft is written, give it to the author for feedback. Work with the author to make sure the book sounds like them. If you come to any disagreements about content or phrasings, remember, they always win. It’s their book, not yours.

7. Copyediting, Proofreading, and Beta Reading

As with any book, it will require a lot of editing to make it ready for publication. Here’s a good guide on how to edit until your book is finished.

Ghostwriting Can be Art

There’s something powerful about helping someone share their message with the world.
Ghostwriting is a bit like being a surrogate mother. You have to do the hard work of bearing the message and bringing the book into the world. Then, when it’s finally finished, you have to say goodbye. Still, even then, there’s this lingering feeling that it’s your baby.
Ghostwriting requires sacrifice. You may have to sacrifice your creative freedom and right to credit.  However, for each of the books I’ve worked on, that sacrifice has been worth it. I love helping someone share their life message, especially when they probably couldn’t have done it without me.
Besides, when people ask me what I do for work at parties, I never get tired of explaining the strange, secret world of ghostwriting!

More Ghostwriting Resources:


Ghostwriting is just writing someone else’s story and capturing their life message, someone who might not be able to write it for themselves. But you don’t need to be a ghostwriter to do that.
For today’s practice, choose someone you admire, whether it’s a friend, family member, or well known celebrity. Then, write a short story about their life from their perspective. Afterward, you may even want to share it with them!
Write for fifteen minutes.When you’re finished, post your practice in thecomments section. And if you share, be sure to leave feedback for your fellow writers.

About Joe Bunting

Joe Bunting is a writer and entrepreneur. He is the author of the #1 Amazon Bestseller Let's Write a Short Story! and the co-founder of Story Cartel. You can follow him on Twitter (@joebunting).



Academic ghostwriting publishers

Academic ghostwriting publisher: If CEOs, celebrities do it when why can't you?

May 5, 2016

academic ghostwriting publishers

There can be many words to describe the Internet world. But there is one word that continues to pop up from time to time: fake. That's right. If you had a word cloud for common descriptors of the online landscape then "fake" would be the biggest in the graph. Or, at least, it should be.

It seems nearly everything on the Internet can be deemed fake nowadays. You can purchase hundreds of fake Amazon reviews. You can buy fake views for your website. You can acquire promotional content disguised as journalism placed on popular websites. You can order ghostwritten content that is then advertised as being written by a CEO or government official.

Heck, even Her Majesty doesn't write her own letters.

How the Essay Mill Writing System Works

Some may believe that essay mill writing is a product of the Internet. However, the concept of essay mills actually dates back to the mid-19th century. During this period, there were various "paper reservoirs" where there had been "fraternity files" so students could share and submit work by other students. In the 1950s, there were advertisements scattered across American college campuses that offered ghostwriting services for dissertations, term papers and theses.

Times have changed.

Since the early days of the Internet, one of the most successful businesses has been essay mills, otherwise known as term paper mill. This is when a company enables customers to purchase an original composition on a specific topic. The customer provides detailed information, such as the page length, time frame and general topic. The customer is then charged a fixed price per page.

Essay mill firms hire university students, graduates and professional writers to ensure the quality is top-notch.

Colleges, universities and other post-secondary institutions have implemented various measures to combat supposed academic fraud. Some professionals conduct oral examinations, while other schools maintain stellar plagiarism software that is far more advanced than Copyscape.

Critics say this is academic fraud committed by both the business and the student. It's gotten so severe that some jurisdictions have laws in place that prohibit this type of transaction from happening. Proponents, however, ask a key question: how is it any different from ghostwriting?

Is Plagiarism a Real-World Reality?

Recently, Bogdan Lytvyn, an essay writing advisory website publisher at, penned a controversial op-ed that questioned the moral aspect of academic ghostwriting from the industry's point of view. He argued that some of the world's biggest CEOs, celebrities and politicians have their own writers and social content managers to ghostwrite articles and op-eds.

In the academic world, says Lvtvyn, plagiarism is a moral transgression and hurts your academic reputation. However, once you enter the real world, then that charge of plagiarism enhances your professional reputation and can then propel you to blogging and maintaining a role of social personality.

"I believe settings define rules. Likewise, if real world virtue is an ability to survive and expand, and ordering ghostwriters fits that goal, then it is treated as normal," wrote Lvtvyn.

"On the other hand, what is the modern academic virtue? It is still an ability to do quality and independent research, think independently? If so, who comes there are some many expat students in the Ivy League colleges who barely speak English? Do we actually believe that business student from abroad would not import the 'business-like set of mind' into the education settings?"

He added: "The question of academia resistance to real life challenges is a question of a possible fracture in our universities. And it has nothing to do with morality. At least, universities must not use morality as a shield to weather off the urges for change."

Lvtvyn also outlined the two reasons why academic ghostwriting is becoming even more popular for both the businesses that offer these services and the customers who order these services: it's a matter of supply and demand and tuition costs go up every single year.

Final Thoughts

Businesses and CEOs, celebrities and politicians, it seems everyone is hiring a ghostwriter these days. If a politician releases a book in time for election season, or publishes a memoir, then you can be certain that he used a ghostwriter.

Is this intellectually dishonest? Is this committing academic crimes? Is there a question of morality in this regard?

Indeed, plagiarism is never justified. Blatantly stealing someone else's work and calling it your own is wrong. Ideas and thoughts are infinite, not finite as some would have you believe.

With that being said, students shouldn't necessarily be condemned for using an essay mill - or essay writing advisory panels as some now call it - especially when their professors, political leaders and inspirational celebrities have been found to partake in this practice, too. You can't ignore ghostwriting or plagiarism from a CEO or a politician, but then chastize desperate students, who either want a good grade or who need the extra dough.