Ghostwriting Outside the Box

10 Aug 2021


The explosion in popularity of memoirs over the last 20 years has been accompanied by a greater acceptance of hiring ghostwriters to help individuals write their memoirs.

Michelle Obama’s 2018 memoir, “Becoming,” has reportedly sold over 10 million copies, and is one of the most popular memoirs ever written. According to some reports, her husband, the former president, has said Michelle hired a ghostwriter to help with her book. (In a playful dig at his wife, President Obama claimed that he was doing all of his own writing).

But while most people are aware ghostwriters are involved in the writing of many books, especially famous memoirs, these behind-the-scenes writers are also helping compose the words for a wide range of content beyond books.

We went on a hunt to uncover some of the more “out-of-the-box” examples of writing projects that ghostwriters have helped compose.

Out of the Box Ghostwriting Projects

Photo by Kindel Media from Pexels

Celebrity Ghostwriters

Along with celebrity memoirs and autobiographies, famous people are also hiring wordsmiths for other content as well. In an earlier The Writers for Hire post, Ghostwriting: Much More Than Meets the Eye, we shared some of these examples of celebrity projects.

Often swamped by their duties outside the kitchen, many celebrity chefs hire ghostwriters to help them put together their cookbooks.

Illustrating the need to be skilled in many ways, these collaborations aren’t necessarily limited to writing the words. Some ghostwriters also help vet the recipes for the home cook.

Song lyrics is another area of ghostwriting that is quite common. While musical artists collaborate with one another on writing songs, things can sometimes get a little gray as to who gets credit for the final product. In 2015, Meek Mill accused fellow rapper Drake of using a ghostwriter on the song “R.I.C.O.” Drake denied the accusation, saying in an interview, “music can be a collaborative process.”

But the practice of musicians, even those with their own hits, providing lyrics for other artists is well-known.

Katy Perry wrote a song made famous by Kelly Clarkson. Harry Styles wrote a song for Arianna Grande. Even Drake has been behind songs performed by other artists, such as Jamie Foxx, Jay-Z, and Beyoncé.

It doesn’t stop with music, either.

Public figures are also known to hire ghostwriters to help them with social media posts. Some acknowledge they have help (or it is common knowledge, such as with President Donald Trump’s social media manager Dan Scavino). In other cases, ghostwriters are hired under strict instructions to stay anonymous.

But one hardly needs to be a celebrity to use the skills of a ghostwriter. Here are some other examples of ghostwriters being willing to step in and compose content without being credited for their work. 

Ghostwriters For Kids’ Books

Chances are, you have heard of the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys book series. First published over 90 years ago, no one is fooled into thinking authors Carolyn Keane and Franklin W. Dixon are still penning these books.

But in an interesting plot twist, the authors Keane and Dixon are pseudonyms--they never existed. Instead, the books have always been written by a stable of ghostwriters.

There are other long-running children’s book series that are kept going through the work of ghostwriters, too.

The Boxcar Children series was originally written by Gertrude Chandler Warner in 1924. She continued writing them until her death in 1979, completing a total of 19 books.

The books have proven to be so popular that publisher Albert Whitman continues to release them with the attribution “created by Gertrude Chandler Warner.”

Today, there are over 160 books. And all except the first 19 were written by ghostwriters.

But ghostwriters are not only writing for established children’s books. It is common practice for publishers to hire ghostwriters for new books, especially books in a series.

Anyone who has an idea for a children’s book but cannot find the time or inclination to get their words on paper, can turn to a ghostwriter for help. There are many individuals and agencies that provide ghostwriting services to get someone’s idea for a children’s book written for them.

English Translation Ghostwriters

Ghostwriters are often called upon to help compose English language content for those whose first language is not English.

One ghostwriter we spoke with helped the Japan Tourism Agency with English language signs for the Imperial Palace Gardens in Kyoto. The task was not as simple as providing clear descriptions of historic buildings and gardens, though.

In this case, the writer was given translations from the Japanese, and his job was to polish them up. But the person in charge was also a poet and wanted the descriptions to be both accurate and “aesthetically elegant.”

It took several rounds of back and forth to get the end results just right.

Another ghostwriter was tasked with re-writing descriptions for parts originally written by engineers in Asia.

The descriptions were highly technical and needed to be easily understood by American consumers. The task was made even more difficult by being limited to 200 words while also including keywords.

And more than one ghostwriter reported encountering projects asking for help with a college-entrance essay or assignment by a student not proficient in English. Most reputable ghostwriters look askance at such jobs when they are asked to provide the bulk of the work, though. It is a category subject to fierce debates within the ghostwriting community.

The Broader Ghostwriting Umbrella

At times, the term ghostwriting is applied rather loosely.

In the broadest sense, it refers to cases where words are composed on behalf of someone (or in some cases, an entity) without giving credit to the actual writer.

Common examples include blog posts, speeches, and articles.

Internal company communications, such as letters to the entire staff from the head of the company, are also often written by a ghostwriter.

Hiring a ghostwriter to help with video scripts is also a fairly common practice. Some examples of video script projects written by ghostwriters included an entrepreneur’s online course, the leader of a political group giving speeches to the group’s members, and a career services specialist who needed to create a series of webinars.

A particular challenge for ghostwriters creating video scripts is the need to match the speaking style of the client. Not only is it necessary to capture their personality, but the writing must also flow in a way that sounds natural when spoken.

While those are all fairly common projects that ghostwriters are hired for, we did find some

examples of ghostwriting assignments that are less common or even outright unusual.

Strange and Unusual Ghostwriting Projects

In our search for unusual ghostwriting assignments, we interviewed a series of professional ghostwriters to see what kinds of interesting projects they have worked on. And some of their responses were even stranger than we imagined!

Note: No names can be shared–these are ghostwriters, after all!

One writer we spoke with regularly filled in for a columnist at a national newspaper in the United Kingdom. She didn’t write every column, but it was a frequent occurrence.

The newspaper also turned to the ghostwriter every time they needed an expert quote from the columnist.

Another writer was hired by a suicide prevention group to help researchers and educators produce written materials in support of their mission.

A third writer noted that she had an unusual ghostwriting assignment that included helping a pastor diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease write his last sermons, careful to match his particular style of delivery.

In another instance, this ghostwriter helped a son write posts for a blog featuring his mother’s ceramic garden squirrel he had secretly borrowed and took along on his study-abroad trip to Spain.

This same ghostwriter even helped a television journalist, new to the job, by writing her interview questions. The purpose was to give the new journalist some practice with questions until she felt confident enough to write them on her own.

Don’t Hesitate to Ask For Help

Photo by Anna Tarazevich from Pexels

Not everyone is skilled in the art of writing. But almost everyone needs to do it at some point, for both personal and professional situations.

Fortunately, there is no need to struggle with the task alone. Hiring a ghostwriter is a great way to get those writing projects completed in a voice that matches your own or your company’s style.

Carol Kim 
Carol Kim is a versatile freelance copywriter who specializes in content marketing, blog posts, website content, and email marketing for business clients. She especially enjoys diving into research and discovering what makes every company unique. Carol holds a bachelor’s degree from Pomona College and a Master’s in Public Affairs from the LBJ School at the University of Texas at Austin.

Carol is also a children’s book author, having written several fiction and nonfiction books for the educational market. She especially loves helping kids learn about the environment and social sciences. Her first nonfiction picture book from a trade publisher is due to be released in fall 2021.

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