The Truth About Ghostwriting Around the World

04 May 2021


Imagine this scenario.

A CEO of an up-and-coming winery wants to get the word out about a new technique her company is using to fertilize grapes in their vineyard, creating new and amazing flavors in otherwise standard grapes. She knows the process inside and out. What she doesn’t know is how to craft an interesting and reader-friendly article that could get into some of the industry’s premier publications.

What does she do? She hires a professional writer. A wonderful article is crafted and makes it into the leading magazine in the wine industry. Despite not writing a single word, the CEO is given the byline and credit for the article and boosts her reputation in the vino community.

Wait. What? How can that be? Isn’t that lying? That poor writer! 

Slow down. It’s called ghostwriting and it’s a real thing. The writer knew the deal and accepted it. Ghostwriting is a practice that’s extremely common in the United States. Is it a purely U.S. anomaly or is the rest of the world onboard? Let’s take a look. 

What is Ghostwriting?

The Merriam-Webster definition of ghostwriting is “to write for and in the name of another.”

That’s the gist of it. You do the writing, and maybe even the research, and someone else gets the byline.

So, why would a writer do it? Believe it or not, not every writer is obsessed with getting credit for her work. For those who have the personality and right skill set, it can be a great way to make a living as a writer.

What skills do you need? Here are a few:

  • Ability to work with someone who is an expert in their field, use their ideas, and craft an article or book that reads like its coming directly from them.
  • Research skills to fill in the blanks.
  • Willingness to concede credit for the work.
  • Discretion to maintain that anonymity.

Ghostwriting projects can come in the form of professional articles, memoirs or autobiographies, and even novels.

Remember V.C. Andrews, author of Flowers in the Attic? Even though she passed away in 1986, she’s still churning out books to this day. How? A ghostwriter named Andrew Neiderman has taken over the writing. He does his best to stay in her style and it’s her name on the books, though from cover to cover they are really his stories.

There’s even debate that Alexandre Dumas didn’t do all of his own work but took credit for the work of Auguste Maquet.

If you really want to dig into the realities of ghostwriting, check out “The Truth About Ghostwriting.”

The Dark Side of Ghostwriting

While hiring a ghostwriter as I defined it above is a perfectly legitimate practice, there are some who link the idea to cheating.

For example, students in high school or college may hire someone to write their papers and essays for them. In fact, China has a significant issue with students who are looking to get into schools overseas. They hire writers to do their papers to give the impression that their language skills are more advanced than they really are.

Although this practice is considered cheating in the U.S. — and can result in harsh disciplinary penalties from schools — it’s so common in China that this type of ghostwriting has become an estimated $1.5 billion industry.

Another way that ghostwriting has become controversial is in the medical field. In one scenario, pharmaceutical companies hire writers to draft papers on a new drug. Then, they give authorship credit to a well-known academic in the medical field, thus adding credibility to their product and luring doctors into false confidence in the drug. The medical field, and even the U.S. Congress, have taken measures to try to eliminate ghostwriting for scientific papers.

No one should be hurt by the use of a ghostwriter.

Whether or not ghostwriting is legitimate or shady can be judged by this: Does authorship matter in the work? If the CEO of a tech company is sharing his insight on new tech developments in a magazine, but uses a ghostwriter to craft the article, you’re still getting the CEO’s thoughts.

Ghostwriting in Other Countries

While ghostwriting seems to be legal pretty much across the globe, its reputation suffers in some locations. China, obviously, as it battles the academic cheating scandal, sees it as a form of dishonesty. However, a simple Google search for ghostwriting in China will pop up a large number of companies ready to help you out. The same goes for India, England, and much of Europe.

In France, interestingly, the term for a ghostwriter is negre, which in any other context is considered a deplorably racist term. This association with ghostwriting came about in the 1700s with the rise of colonialism and slavery.

According to Jack Lamar, who wrote an article for NPR on the topic, “The idea was that writing under someone else’s name, erasing your own identity, was thankless servitude on a par with the labor of colonialism’s black subjects and victims.” While that attitude towards ghostwriters may not be as prevalent today, the term still exists.

Ghostwriting is as Legitimate as Construction Work

In nearly any other industry, an agreement that works similar to ghostwriting wouldn’t be given a second thought.

In fact, many famous singers don’t even write their own material. Take country music legend George Strait, for example. Strait has 60 number one hits, but he only wrote a handful of them himself. Instead, other songwriters, like Dean Dillon and Sanger D. “Whitey” Shafer and others, penned the songs and let Strait work his magic with them.

An architect designs a beautiful building, but he doesn’t actually pour the concrete and hammer the nails to build it, right? It’s all about making the best use of your skills.

There are a lot of people out there who, for one reason or another, want to publish a book or an article with their thoughts and ideas. They want their own name on it, too. It just takes a ghostwriter with the right knack for that kind of writing and the willingness to forego receiving credit.

Writers who can accept that kind of an arrangement can build very nice careers for themselves, even if we don’t know their names.

Tyler Omoth  
Tyler grew up knowing he wanted to be a writer. In 2005 he landed his first professional writing role as a radio advertising copywriter. Since then he has penned over 70 books for children as well as blog posts, white papers, press releases, greeting cards and articles. He's even managed to get a few short stories and poems published. He's written for just about every kind of business out there and loves the challenge of finding the right voice to fit each client, even if it means matching their existing voice. He believes that the best writing strikes an emotional chord, even if it's just a 30-second advertisement. He is Hubspot certified for content marketing and knows how to create content that is SEO friendly. A Minnesota transplant living in Tampa, FL, when he's not writing Tyler is probably watching baseball or embracing the chaos of life with his wife, Mary, and twin toddlers, Gavin and Rachel.

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