October 20th, 2020

What is Ghostwriting?

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Written by Rebecca van Laer

You wake up in the morning, and you see a message scrawled across the mirror in ruby-red lipstick.

Your in trouble!!

Reading this message, it’s natural to have questions. Is this a warning from the great beyond? A missive written by a friendly ghost, or a hostile spirit? Do you really have something to fear for?

And is the lipstick-wielding fiend ...a ghostwriter?

The short answer is no. A ghost who writes is not a ghostwriter. However, based on their grammatical error, that ghost may need a ghostwriter to really help hone their threats.

A ghostwriter is someone who produces writing that a client plans to use or publish under their own name. Ghostwriters write everything from articles to books, yet they receive no credit for the finished product.

What does ghostwriting look like in practice? Where does the ghostwriter get ideas, and how do they turn them into text? In this short guide, we’ll cover the vast array of ghostwriting services and discuss who might need them.

Ghostwriting, Defined

Wait a second. Why would someone agree to write something and take absolutely zero credit?

Let’s take a closer look at the relationship between a ghostwriter and an author.

While we typically think of an “author” as someone who wrote their own work, that’s not always the case.

  • An author is the person receiving credit for a work
  • The writer is the person who actually wrote the work

If the writer is not credited, they’re a nameless, vague entity—the ghostly presence behind the work’s success, if you will. However, ghostwriters who collaborate closely with their authors may receive some type of credit, being listed:

  • As a Co-author, i.e., You’re in Trouble by Ghost and Ghostwriter
  • “With,” i.e., You’re in Trouble by Ghost with Ghostwriter
  • As an editor, i.e., You’re in Trouble by Ghost (edited by Ghostwriter)
  • In the acknowledgments

People from bloggers to celebrities use ghostwriters to help them produce materials, including:

  • Blog posts
  • Social media captions
  • Essays
  • Pamphlets
  • Articles
  • Books

There are two main reasons why ghostwriters are happy to do their jobs and get little-to-no credit:

  • The author usually has a bigger platform than the ghostwriter. The ghostwriter’s work will get plenty of exposure when published under the author’s name. 

  • Ghostwriting isn’t exactly altruistic. Most ghostwriters are in it because it’s one of the most highly compensated forms of freelance writing.

So how does the ghostwriter get it done? Let’s take a closer look.

Kinds of Ghostwriting

Have you ever heard a celebrity or songwriter be accused of using a ghostwriter? You may have wondered what, exactly, that meant.

Does Drake straight-up rap about someone else’s life experience? Does Donald Trump even know what The Art of the Deal says?

It all depends on how the ghostwriting was done. While some authors publish ghostwriting that they’ve barely read, others work closely with their ghostwriters to assure that the voice and story are 100% accurate to their personal truths.

Ghostwriting can be highly collaborative—or it can be subcontracted to a writer typing away alone in some basement until the piece is finished.

Next, we’ll go over some common ways ghostwriting gets done.

Ghostwriting From Interviews

Ever wonder how it is that every ballerina, soccer player, and pop star seems to have a real talent for writing in addition to the skills that pay the bills?

We don’t mean to kill your idols, but most of them hire ghostwriters.

Even politicians and business leaders with high-level degrees hire ghostwriters, since they may struggle to make time for writing in their busy schedules—and may not have the exact writing skills that make for a bestselling autobiography.

But how does it work? A ghostwriter can work from interviews as follows:

The ghostwriter will interview the author about their life, or even shadow them for a few days or weeks. They’ll usually record all interviews.

The next step is transcribing the interviews so that the ghostwriter has a great record of the author’s authentic voice and experiences.

From the interviews, the ghostwriter will create an outline for the piece of writing. Depending on how closely they’re collaborating with the author, they may workshop or revise this outline.

The ghostwriter will begin to write the book according to the outline, filling in details from the recorded interviews and doing research to fact-check claims and provide background. They may conduct further interviews to fill in gaps.

As you can see, being a ghostwriter is a little bit like being a journalist!

Once the ghostwriter has completed the contracted piece of writing, they’ll send it to the author to review and rubber stamp. Some authors might ask for revisions or add in some details themselves before putting their name on the final piece.

Ghostwriting From Notes

Sometimes, an author has a pretty clear idea of what they want written. An entrepreneur trying to raise their profile and establish thought leadership might have the bullet points for an article, or an aspiring YA author might have the plot points for their next novel all mapped out.

If they don’t want to delve into the nitty-gritty of writing and revising, they can hire a ghostwriter to create a finished product from their notes.

How common is this type of ghostwriting? If you search a website like Upwork for freelance writing jobs, you’ll find dozens of ghostwriting jobs looking for writers to complete short pamphlets, articles, essays, and even full-length books. 

Similar to interviewing, a ghostwriter in this situation would:

  • Expand notes into a first draft
  • Conduct research to flesh out the material where needed
  • Add imaginative details throughout
  • Conduct interviews with the author or other individuals to incorporate detail
  • Show the first draft to the author
  • Make any requested changes

This process is typically less collaborative, and is more common for shorter essays and blog posts, promotional pamphlets, or self-published books.

Ghostwriting From a First Draft

Some authors generate first drafts of their articles or books, only to get the feedback that their writing needs a lot of work.

In this case, you may think an editor is the first person they call.

However, in some cases, “editing” may not be enough. 

Editing usually refers to sentence-level revision and light reorganization. Ghostwriters often substantially rewrite manuscripts, making the following kinds of changes:

  • Re-ordering entire chapters, paragraphs, and sentences within paragraphs
  • Cutting material to quicken the pace or improve the flow of paragraphs
  • Rewriting many or most sentences
  • Creating new material to help transition between parts and ideas
  • Conducting research to fact-check or add new material

Editors are paid substantially less than ghostwriters, and usually don’t make these kinds of high-level intervention in texts.

A good ghostwriter keeps the original author’s tone and message intact, while elevating the overall style and flow of the piece.

Other Kinds of Ghostwriting

So far, we’ve mostly discussed ghostwriting that features some degree of collaboration between the ghostwriter and the stated author.

However, in some cases, an author might hire a ghostwriter to write something, leave them to their own devices, and then put their name on the finished work.

Why would someone do this?

Usually, they’re the author of a series, and are hiring ghostwriters to publish sequels, spinoffs, or prequels to generate revenue.

They might be famous and a little money-hungry. They know they can use someone else’s talent to make a buck, whether it’s writing their next hit song or a best-selling thriller.

Ghostwriting vs. Copywriting

What’s the difference between a ghostwriter and a copywriter?

As you know from our previous blog posts, copywriters also create content from scratch for their clients. Their names generally don’t appear on the writing, so they’re in a similar position to ghostwriters.

However, there are some differences.

  • Copy is usually written for the purpose of sales and marketing.

  • Ghostwriting is not necessarily a form of promotional writing, although some authors will use ghostwritten articles, pamphlets, and books to promote their personal brand.

  • Copywriting is more often done for a business entity, while ghostwriting is more often done for a private individual.

However, it wouldn’t be wrong to consider copywriting a form of ghostwriting. 

If you’re an individual entrepreneur looking to promote your brand through copy and thought leadership, look for a copywriting services company that also specializes in ghostwriting. 

Copycat Copywriters

Are you looking for a writer to help elevate your brand’s voice? Or are you interested in writing a piece that can strengthen your profile as a business leader?

Whether your needs are ghostwriting, copywriting, or all of the above, Copycat Copywriters’ team of curious cats can fit themselves into any niche. Our writers have a range of technical and creative backgrounds, so we can always pair you with a writer who has the experience and expertise to match your voice and tell your story in a way that feels authentic and informed.

Request a free piece of copy today and see what we can do!

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