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A Ghoul's Guide to Ghostwriting

Updated: Dec 28, 2020

It’s spooky season, and in honor of Halloween, I am writing this blog post on ghostwriting to summon the literary spirits.

Beyond just writing, a ghostwriter must embody their subject. They need to think and express themselves like their subject would, and possess the ability to jump in and out of personas.

Celebrities, executives, political leaders and other public figures hire ghostwriters to draft memoirs, articles, books, speeches and more. Even composers and musical artists hire ghostwriters. Essentially, these phantom authors absorb their client’s knowledge—their industry, perspective, tone—and channel it into a written piece that looks and sounds like their client.

The works that ghostwriters produce exclusively belong to the person who hires them; hence why they are called “ghosts.” And although the ghostwriter does not receive credit, their willingness to disappear after the fact signals their craftsmanship (albeit an uncanny craft to some).

Ghostwriting is a collaborative and time intensive process, and specialists can spend days, weeks or months researching, drafting, and editing a project. They are typically paid per word, per page, with a flat fee, a percentage of royalties, or some combination thereof.

But ghostwriting is not just a modern day phenomenon. The writing method has a long and storied history. In fact, here are a few famous novels that were either entirely ghostwritten or written with the help of a ghostwriter:

  • Alexandre Dumas: The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo

  • R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps series

  • K.A. Applegate’s Animorphs series

  • Hillary Clinton: Living History

  • Donald Trump: The Art of the Deal

  • Nancy Drew’s author Carolyn Keene is actually multiple ghostwriters

Some even speculate that Homer and Shakespeare used ghostwriters; but would speculating about Shakespeare’s ghostwriter be much ado about nothing?

Regardless, as a ghostwriter myself, I find the craft’s history fascinating. At times it can be challenging—if you think developing your own voice is tricky, try developing someone else’s—but there's just something I love about getting into character and producing a fantastically phantasmic piece for my clients.

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