14 Top FAQs About Ghostwriting and Hiring A Ghostwriter

26 Apr 2019


Some people might not know this, but many famous books were actually written by ghostwriters and not by the authors listed on the book.

The French classics of Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers, are said to be collaborative works done with ghostwriters. After the death of author V.C. Andrews, ghostwriters were hired to continue her work.

And certainly, many busy celebrities and politicians with published autobiographies probably didn’t have the skills and time to write them without a little (or a lot) of behind-the-scenes help.

Whatever the reason to use a ghostwriter, ghostwriting has been a common practice for centuries, and you don’t have to be someone famous to use one. Here’s a look at some of the most frequent questions we receive about ghostwriting.

Q:  What is a ghostwriter, and how do I know if I need one?

A:  A professional writer who gets paid to write anonymously for another person or company is known as a ghostwriter. The person or company hiring the ghostwriter receives all the credit for the book or project, and the ghostwriter works behind the scenes. In most cases, the ghostwriter will also be the interviewer, researcher, writer, and editor all rolled into one.

There are many reasons someone would want to hire a ghostwriter.

If you are looking to establish yourself as an expert, build a business or professional brand, or sell your book to a traditional publisher or even self-publish but don’t have the knowledge or skills to do it yourself, a ghostwriter is a great option.

Maybe you don’t know how to write a book or do effective research. Maybe you have too many projects on the table right now and don’t have the time to write everything. Or maybe you just don’t know how to get your ideas and words out onto paper. If any – or all – of these reasons apply, a ghostwriter can be a big asset for you.

Q:  What kinds of projects do ghostwriters get hired for?

A:  If you need writing of any type done, there is a ghostwriter out there who will do it. Some call themselves ghostwriters while others may just use the term professional writer, freelance writer, or even copywriter. Regardless of the label, you can find a ghostwriter for all types of writing projects. Some ghostwriters have a strict focus on nonfiction book writing, like biographies and autobiographies, while others write in many different genres.

Ghostwriters will write how-to or other nonfiction books, novels, screenplays for movies and the theater, music and lyrics, speeches, comedy acts, TV scripts, blogs, articles for both online outlets and print magazines…the list goes on and on. Ghostwriters can also write all types of business materials (like web pages, white papers, and brochures). Some even do academic papers.

Q:  Where do I find a ghostwriter to hire?

A:  Through a simple internet search, you will find more writers for hire than you could ever consider in a lifetime. You could narrow this list to writers local to you, then contact and interview them for your ghostwriting needs. There is nothing wrong with starting this way. However, not all ghostwriters are equal, and finding and hiring one can be a time-consuming process. If you are on a deadline, you probably don’t have the time to properly vet a writer that will fit your needs.

Upwork and other freelance bidding sites are another way to find ghostwriters. Hubstaff and Fiverr are similar and can be a good starting point to see what is available. Thousands upon thousands of freelance writers list their talents on these types of websites, all vying for writing work. While the writing fees may seem amazing, be aware. Many of the writers submitting bids to you won’t have the qualifications or skills to actually write your project. Writers on these sites live all across the world and may have no knowledge of your topic. They might not even speak your language.

Another option is to hire a company that has a whole team of ghostwriters at their disposal, where they have already done the vetting process on the writers’ skills and expertise and can match you up with the best ghostwriter for your project. Many of these companies also offer extra services in line with your writing project needs, such as editing and proofreading, and even layout, cover design, printing, and distribution services. While there are hundreds of companies, good places to start are The Writers For Hire, Ghostwriters Central, Ghostwriter Inside, or Scribe (formerly Book In A Box).

Q:  How does the process of hiring a ghostwriter work?   

A:  Whether you use an independent ghostwriter or a ghostwriting company, the process to hiring a ghostwriter is fairly standard.  

First, interview potential ghostwriters to find one that fits your project and you will feel comfortable working with. While some projects are shorter and don’t take very long, if you’re writing a 250-page book, it could easily take at least nine months to complete. You want to be sure you can have a long-term relationship that fits both of your personalities. During the interview, ask as many questions as you need to get a good sense of the ghost’s qualifications, skill set, and work style. Also try to provide as much information as possible on your project so the writer will know if they can complete the work to your requirements.

Once you select a ghostwriter to work with, lay out the terms of the contract, payment, full scope of work, and timelines. Also provide all the hardcopy information you may have on your project to help the writer get started. The ghostwriter will start to compile the information provided, detail the research and interviews that need to be done, and they will create an outline of the project as well as a synopsis to show their understanding of the project. Throughout this initial process, you’ll most likely have several meetings with your ghostwriter so you are both clear on the goals, tone, and content.

You’ll then approve the outline and synopsis and the ghost will conduct the necessary research and interviews and start to write the draft. Depending on your agreement, most ghostwriters will provide updates by sending drafted chapters for your review, giving you the chance to make changes, edits, comments, or suggestions.

Once the draft is completed, the ghostwriter will go through the manuscript and do a full edit before submitting it to you for your review. Many ghostwriters will also do a final edit and proofread once more before getting final approval of the project completion.

Q:  Who owns the copyright and gets credit for the work once the project is complete?

A:  Since the ghostwriter is paid to write anonymously for the person or company who hired them, the writing and project is owned by the person doing the hiring, which means the copyright is owned by them as well. Copyright law states that as soon as the work is created it is a protected work; however, most writers will have verbiage in their contract stating that the copyright reverts to the owner only after the agreed-upon fee has been paid in full. Once the project has been approved and the scope of work satisfied, the copyright can be disputed until full payment is made.

Q:  Is hiring a ghostwriter and claiming the work as mine ethical or legal?

A:  As a point of law, ghostwriting is legal and has been a widely accepted practice throughout history. When you hire a ghostwriter, they are performing a service and getting paid for it. They agree to write anonymously, trading credit for their work for pay. Famous celebrities, presidents, sports figures, and people from all walks of life, and even businesses, use ghostwriting services more often than you probably realize.

However, is it ethical? Many might consider ghostwriting unethical or even plagiarism, but it is a huge grey area that can’t be pinned down with a yes or no answer. If full consent was given from the ghostwriter to relinquish their rights and credit to the work, or if the person claiming the work is theirs wasn’t the writer, but was heavily involved in bringing the project to completion, is it unethical? A ghostwritten project is a fully collaborative effort between the ghostwriter and the person commissioning the work. One brings the ideas and input, the other uses those ideas and input to create the final product. Ghostwriting is common practice and an honest service where ultimately each person must decide for themselves if they feel it is ethical or not to claim ghostwritten work as their own.

Q:  What types of terms should be involved in the contract?

A:  Once you have interviewed and picked an independent ghostwriter or a ghostwriting company to work with, everything you and your ghostwriter have agreed upon should be documented in a contract or letter of agreement signed by both parties. An independent ghostwriter might use a simple contract, laying out the terms of the work, payment, and timelines. As long as it covers all the necessities, it doesn’t have to be a long, formal document. A ghostwriting company will already have a standard contract in place that will be tailored to your particular project, if needed.

Regardless of how you obtain your ghostwriting services, some normal terms to put within a contact include:

  • An outline of the scope of work to be done by the ghostwriter, including things like interviews, research, outlines, drafting, editing, rewrites, estimated word, page, and/or chapter counts, etc. It should also include information on any required rewrites or extra services such as layout, cover design, printing, and/or distribution services.
  • Timing and milestones for each step of the process should be listed out, including how often you want to see drafts of the writing, and due dates for final draft, edits and rewrites, and the final project.
  • Fee amount and fee schedules, including any upfront retainer or deposit amount, payments during the project, and final payment at the end of the approved project.
  • Transfer of copyright once the project fee has been paid in full should be noted.
  • A statement of nondisclosure, or an actual nondisclosure agreement, explaining the full transfer of the work to the hirer of the project, and that the ghostwriter cannot disclose anything about the project or their work on the project–if that is what was agreed upon.
  • Include any other pertinent information that is relevant to your project, and address terms in the case of default on either side, including recourses.

Always be sure to have a signed and dated contract when starting a project with a ghostwriter. This protects you as the owner of the project as well as the ghostwriter for their services. Check here for sample contracts, letters of agreement, or nondisclosure agreement.

Q:  What can I expect to pay a professional ghostwriter and when?

A:  While money is certainly a large factor in whether or not you can hire a ghostwriter, it definitely shouldn’t be a deciding factor. The fee you are paying when it comes to the writing services you need goes well beyond the written words. You are paying not only for the writer’s time, but their experience, skills, expertise, and knowledge. When a ghostwriter has more experience and understanding of the ghostwriting process, they can better align with your project versus someone with little experience or knowledge about your topic or genre. This experience and knowledge does often come with a difference in price.

Ghostwriting fees vary on any number of factors. These include their experience and skills, the length and complexity of the topic and project, the estimated page or word count, the turnaround required, and the scope of work needed. While you certainly can get some great prices and “deals” on a job bidding site like Upwork or Fiverr, or even with a new ghostwriter, is it really a good deal? If you work with someone who does not fit your needs and then are forced to hire a second ghostwriter because the first one missed the mark, then you haven’t saved any time, effort, or money. You want the best writer for your project, and the fee should be reasonable for your needs.

When you need to make payment will also depend on who you hire. High-end ghostwriters will often require full upfront payment. But most ghostwriters will only require an upfront payment of one-third to one-half of the fee, with the balance due when the final project has been approved by you. Most reputable and specialized ghostwriters will charge an hourly, per-word, or project-based rate, rather than agreeing to work on a percentage of book sales (royalties), unless the project is sure to be a bestseller. Even then, you can expect to pay a project fee, hourly rate, or per-word rate along with a percentage of revenue.

Q:  What about confidentiality issues with the ghostwriter?

A:  When you hire a ghostwriter and have them sign a ghostwriting contract and/or nondisclosure agreement, the ghostwriter is bound to these agreements and cannot discuss or claim any part of the project. They cannot claim credit for writing the project, and they cannot tell anyone they wrote the project. However, sometimes there is a reason you may want to negotiate with the ghostwriter to have them receive some of the credit for the work and have their name on the project. If you have hired a ghostwriter who is an expert in your project’s topic or they have some fame to their name, then it could be beneficial to transfer some of the credit and copyright to the writer. This can be done through co-author notation or with a brief statement on an acknowledgment page.

Q:  Will I have issues with the ghostwriter stealing my idea or the writing?

A:  Copyright law indicates that the written work is protected as soon as it is created and doesn’t have to be registered to be protected.

Since you have a contract in place with your ghostwriter stating the scope of work, the fee amount, and all the terms and conditions, both the contract and copyright law will protect you in the event that the ghostwriter steals your idea or the final project.

The contract will be a legal and binding document that you can take to court; however, the chances of the ghostwriter stealing your work are very slim if you have those protections in place. The ghostwriter will more likely be concerned with their reputation as an ethical ghostwriter and in building their business and clientele for future profit.

Q:  If I try to get my ghostwritten book published, do I have to disclose this to my publisher?

A:  If you’re self-publishing your project, like a nonfiction book or novel, no one ever needs to know that you hired a ghostwriter to write it. But what about if you are trying to get it published by a traditional publisher? The same applies.

Through your hiring of, payment to, and contract with a ghostwriter, all rights and credit pertaining to your project are yours and yours alone. The contract ensures the work is yours, just as if you wrote the project yourself. Only you and the ghostwriter (or ghostwriting company) know otherwise. You are protected through any confidentiality and/or nondisclosure agreements made and don’t have to disclose the agreement to anyone unless you choose to.

Q:  Will I get to review the ghostwriter’s work throughout the project?

A:  As you are the person hiring the ghostwriter, you can decide if you want them to write the project all at once or if you want to review each new chapter draft. It is up to you and the writer and what you agree on. But it is highly recommended that you do periodic reviews of the work so you can make sure the ghostwriter is not only on task but understands the scope of work as they do the writing.  You need to let the writer know if they are on or off target with tone and voice, research, and the direction of your project. It’s much easier for the ghostwriter to make changes to a single chapter than to rewrite an entire project from the beginning.

Q:  What if I’m not satisfied with the ghostwriter’s work once they finish the project?

A:  This is a rare occurrence, especially if you took the time to review the draft periodically throughout the length of the project and made sure the ghostwriter was on target as they worked. But being unhappy with the work once it is complete can happen. Assess why you don’t like the end result, discuss this with the ghostwriter, and give them the opportunity to fix the issues. Addressing rewrites within the contract is important, and should detail solutions to potential problems. But if you determine that the project just didn’t work out, the writer is entitled to keep the upfront fee, to cover their invested time, unless otherwise stated in the signed contract. The writer’s fee might also be reverted to an hourly rate for the work completed.

Q:  Will the ghostwriter help me publish and market my book or project?

A:  Independent ghostwriters will help you with the interviewing, research, writing, and editing as a part of the project scope. It will be up to you to have any layout and design, printing, and marketing and distribution done if you are self-publishing a book project. Some may have contacts with agents or editors within traditional publishing fields which they may share with you, but this portion of the project is really up to you. This applies to books, business materials, blogs, articles, and other types of ghostwritten material.

If you get your ghostwriting services through a ghostwriting company, then these run the gamut in the services they provide. Many will provide only the ghostwriting and all the elements to get the manuscript completed while others offer a whole project or book-in-a-box sort of experience. If you need the full line of services, including turning a manuscript into a hardcopy book or printed document, then you will want to check out Scribe’s book publishing services, The Ghost Publishing, or Premium Ghostwriters.

Writing, regardless of the type of project, can be a daunting task. Not everyone has the skills and ability to take raw ideas, put them into written form, and make it successful. For anyone wanting to become an author of a book, novel, screenplay, article, or other types of content, hiring a ghostwriter can be the key to turning your ideas and knowledge into a published reality.

Shelly Spencer 
Shelly Spencer has been a professional writer for the past 25 years with a specialized focus on grant and RFP proposal writing. She has written for small start-up and mid-sized businesses as well as numerous non-profit organizations and also worked at a daily newspaper editing and proofreading display advertisements and real estate articles. Shelly has experience in writing for a variety of industries in all types of copy, including articles, blog posts, e-books, websites, proposals, brochures, press releases, newsletters, and more. Choosing not to go the traditional route, Shelly gained her skills through hands-on experience and by studying direct mail, B2B, and SEO copywriting through various American Writers and Artists Inc. (AWAI) programs. She is an AWAI verified direct response copywriter having completed their Accelerated Program for Six-Figure Copywriting and the Master's Program for Six-Figure Copywriting. She has also completed the Secrets to Writing High Performance B2B Copy by Steve Slaunwhite and Dan Kennedy's Writing for Info Marketers, both through AWAI, and The Ultimate Travel Writer’s Program by Great Escape Publishing. Shelly is a member of the Professional Writer’s Association (PWA) and the International Travel Writers and Photographers Association (ITWPA).

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5 thoughts on “14 Top FAQs About Ghostwriting and Hiring A Ghostwriter

      1. Haha! We also have a love/hate relationship with auto correct.
        We’re glad that you enjoyed our article!

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