Ghostwriting: An Overview

3 01 2013

ghostwriter is a writer who writes books, articles, stories, reports, or other texts that are officially credited to another person. Celebrities, executives, and political leaders often hire ghostwriters to draft or edit autobiographies, magazine articles, or other written material. In music, ghostwriters are often used for writing songs and lyrics for popular music genres.

Ghostwriters may have varying degrees of involvement in the production of a finished work. While some ghostwriters are hired to edit and clean up a rough draft, others are hired to do most of the writing based on an outline provided by the credited author. For some projects, ghostwriters will do a substantial amount of research, as in the case of a ghostwriter who is hired to write an autobiography for a well-known person. Ghostwriters are also hired to write fiction in the style of an existing author, often as a way of increasing the number of books that can be published by a popular author (e.g., Tom Clancy, James Patterson). Ghostwriters will often spend a period from several months to a full year researching, writing, and editing nonfiction works for a client, and they are paid either per page, with a flat fee, or a percentage of the royalties of the sales, or some combination thereof. The ghostwriter is sometimes acknowledged by the author or publisher for his or her writing services.

A consultant or career-switcher may pay a ghostwriter to write a book on a topic in their professional area, to establish or enhance their credibility as an ‘expert’ in their field. Public officials andpoliticians employ ‘correspondence officers’ to respond to the large volume of correspondence. A number of papal encyclicals have been written by ghostwriters. With medical ghostwriting, pharmaceutical companies pay both professional writers to produce papers and then pay other scientists or physicians to attach their names to these papers before they are published in medical or scientific journals. In the 2000s (decade), a new type of ghostwriting developed as blogs became popular: the blog ghostwriter. Companies or organizations hoping to generate interest in their blog site sometimes hire ghostwriters to post comments to their blog, while posing as different people and using pseudonyms. Some university and college students hire ghostwriters from essay mills to write entrance essays, term papers, theses, and dissertations.

Ghostwriting (or simply “ghosting”) also occurs in other creative fields. Composers have long hired ghostwriters to help them to write musical pieces and songs; Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is an example of a well-known composer who was paid to ghostwrite music for wealthy patrons. Ghosting also occurs in popular music. A pop music ghostwriter writes lyrics and a melody in the style of the credited musician. In hip hop music, the increasing use of ghostwriters by high-profile hip-hop stars[who?] has led to controversy. In the visual arts, it is not uncommon in either fine art or commercial art such as comics for a number of assistants to do work on a piece that is credited to a single artist.

The division of work between the ghostwriter and the credited author varies a great deal. In some cases, the ghostwriter is hired to edit a rough draft of a mostly completed manuscript. In this case, the outline, ideas and much of the language in the finished book or article are those of the credited author. In other cases, a ghostwriter handles most of the writing, using concepts and stories provided by the credited author. In this case, a ghostwriter will do extensive research on the credited author or their subject area of expertise. It is rare for a ghostwriter to prepare a book or article with no input from the credited author; at a minimum, the credited author usually jots down a basic framework of ideas at the outset or provides comments on the ghostwriter’s final draft.

For an autobiography, a ghostwriter will interview the credited author, their colleagues, and family members, and find interviews, articles, and video footage about the credited author or their work. For other types of nonfiction books or articles, a ghostwriter will interview the credited author and review previous speeches, articles, and interviews with the credited author, to assimilate his or her arguments and points of view.

Ghostwriters are hired for numerous reasons. In many cases, celebrities or public figures do not have the time, discipline, or writing skills to write and research a several-hundred page autobiography or “how-to” book. Even if a celebrity or public figure has the writing skills to pen a short article, they may not know how to structure and edit a several-hundred page book so that it is captivating and well-paced. In other cases, publishers use ghostwriters to increase the number of books that can be published each year under the name of well-known, highly marketable authors. Usually, there is a confidentiality clause in the contract between the ghostwriter and the credited author that obligates the former to remain anonymous.

The ghostwriter for Hillary Clinton’s memoirs received a $500,000 fee for collaborating with her.

Ghostwriters will often spend from several months to a full year researching, writing, and editing nonfiction works for a client, and they are paid either per page, with a flat fee, or a percentage of the royalties of the sales, or some combination thereof. Some ghostwriters charge for articles “$4 per word and more depending on the complexity” of the article.Literary agent Madeleine Morel states that the average ghostwriter’s advance for work for major publishers is “between $30,000 and $100,000”. In 2001, the New York Times stated that the fee that the ghostwriter for Hillary Clinton’s memoirs will receive is probably about $500,000″ of her book’s $8 million advance, which “is near the top of flat fees paid to collaborators.”

According to Ghostwriters Ink, a professional ghostwriting service, this flat fee is usually closer to an average of $12,000 to $28,000 per book. By hiring the ghostwriter for this negotiated price, the clients ultimately keep all advances and post-publishing royalties and profits for themselves.

However, certain other websites suggest that this could be considered on the low side and that $16,000 to $50,000 is a more precise range. Manhattan Literary, a ghost writing service specializing in book writing, concurs with these higher prices and also gives a specific reason for the wide range: that these fees per book are determined in part by whether or not the client provides a draft of the text. If so, a 250 page book would start at $18,000. With no draft or no previous attempt at writing the text (extensive sketches), $28,000 is a more likely starting price.

Similarly, there are some ghostwriting services that charge per page for the entire project so the prospective client can know the final cost upfront. This option can be helpful for clients that have a specific page count to achieve for their book.

Some ghostwriters charge 40-50c per word (i.e. a 200 page book would cost $24,000 to $30,000). In Canada, The Writers’ Union has established a minimum fee schedule for ghostwriting. The total minimum fee for a 200-300 page book is $40,000, paid at various stages of the drafting of the book. Research fees are an extra charge on top of this minimum fee.In Germany the average fee for a confidential ghostwriting service is about $100.00 per page.

There is a recent trend of outsourcing ghostwriting jobs to offshore locations like India and the Philippines, to save up to 80%. Outsourced ghostwriters whose quality levels vary widely, complete 200-page books for fees ranging between $3000 and $5000, or $12–$18 per page. This sharp price cut in ghostwriters’ fees is encouraging more outsourcing. However, the premium typically paid for such outsourcing is that a book that is not likely to be published. Also, reasonable questions emerge. At what very low price level does the responsibility the writer feels to the client diminish? What recourse does a client have with a problem in India or abroad? The bottom line is it comes down to the individual being hired.

Sometimes the ghostwriter will receive partial credit on a book, signified by the phrase “with…” or “as told to…” on the cover. Credit for the ghostwriter may also be provided as a “thanks” in a forewordor introduction. For nonfiction books, the ghostwriter may be credited as a “contributor” or a “research assistant”. In other cases, the ghostwriter receives no official credit for writing a book or article; in cases where the credited author or the publisher or both wish to conceal the ghostwriter’s role, the ghostwriter may be asked to sign a nondisclosure contract that forbids him or her from revealing his or her ghostwriting role.

Nonfiction

Ghostwriters are widely used by celebrities and public figures who wish to publish their autobiographies or memoirs. The degree of involvement of the ghostwriter in nonfiction writing projects ranges from minor to substantial. Various sources explain the role of the ghostwriter and how competent writers can get this kind of work. In some cases, a ghostwriter may be called in just to clean up, edit, and polish a rough draft of an autobiography or a “how-to” book. In other cases, the ghostwriter will write an entire book or article based on information, stories, notes, and an outline, interview sessions with the celebrity or public figure. The credited author also indicates to the ghostwriter what type of style, tone, or “voice” they want in the book.

In some cases, such as with some “how-to” books, diet guides, or cookbooks, a book will be entirely written by a ghostwriter, and the celebrity (e.g., a well-known musician or sports star) will be credited as author. Publishing companies use this strategy to increase the marketability of a book by associating it with a celebrity or well-known figure. In several countries before elections, candidates commission ghostwriters to produce autobiographies for them so as to gain visibility and exposure. Two of John F. Kennedy‘s books are almost entirely credited to ghostwriters. Former President Ronald Reagan also released a ghostwritten autobiography.

A consultant or career-switcher may pay to have a book ghostwritten on a topic in their professional area, to establish or enhance their credibility as an ‘expert’ in their field. For example, a successful salesperson hoping to become a motivational speaker on selling may pay a ghostwriter to write a book on sales techniques. Often this type of book is published by a self-publishing press (or “vanity press“), which means that the author is paying to have the book published. This type of book is typically given away to prospective clients as a promotional tool, rather than being sold in bookstores.

Fiction

Ghostwriters are employed by fiction publishers for several reasons. In some cases, publishers use ghostwriters to increase the number of books that can be published each year by a well-known, highly marketable author. Ghostwriters are mostly used to pen fiction works for well-known, “name” authors in genres such as detective fiction, mysteries, and teen fiction.

Additionally, publishers use ghostwriters to write new books for established series where the ‘author’ is a pseudonym. For example, the purported author of the Nancy Drew mystery series, “Carolyn Keene“, is actually a pseudonym for a series of ghostwriters who write books in the same style using a template of basic information about the book’s characters and their fictional universe (names, dates, speech patterns), and about the tone and style that are expected in the book. (For more information, see the articles on pseudonyms or pen names.) In addition, ghostwriters are often given copies of several of the previous books in the series to help them match the style.

The known web publicist Keith Acton rose to underground notoriety and disdain when it was discovered he had paid a ghostwriter to write most of his work. Moreover, the estate of romance novelist V. C. Andrews hired a ghostwriter to continue writing novels after her death, under her name and in a similar style to her original works. Many of action writer Tom Clancy‘s books from the 2000s (decade) bear the names of two people on their covers, with Clancy’s name in larger print and the other author’s name in smaller print. Various books bearing Clancy’s name were written by different authors under the same pseudonym. The first two books in the Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell franchise were written by Raymond Benson under the pseudonym David Michaels.

Sometimes famous authors will ghostwrite for other celebrities as well, such as when H. P. Lovecraft ghostwrote science fiction stories for Harry Houdini in science fiction magazines in the 1920s

Political
However, if the response is being sent to a high-ranking official or member of society, a draft of the letter may be given to the head of state or their top advisers for approval—particularly if the letter deals with a politically sensitive issue. This is sometimes also done for “Dear Colleague” letters, which are intended as policy papers rather than personal correspondence. Public officials at lower levels, such as middle managers and department heads will often review, request changes in, and hand sign all outgoing correspondence, even though the initial drafts are composed by a correspondence officer or policy analyst.Public officials and politicians employ ‘correspondence officers’ to respond to the large volume of correspondence that they receive. The degree of involvement of the public official in the drafting of response letters varies, depending on the nature of the letter, its contents, the importance of the official and the sender, and personal preference. At the highest level, public officials such as heads of state and regional governors typically have their officials approve the content of routine correspondence and autopen their signature with a signature machine.

Since members of the public are widely aware that politicians are not themselves writing routine response letters, it can be argued that these correspondence officers are not ghostwriters in the strictest sense of the term. Public officials may also have a speechwriter, who writes public remarks and speeches, or both jobs may be done by a single person.

Religious

A number of papal encyclicals have been written by ghostwriters. Pascendi, for instance, was written by Joseph Lemius (1860–1923), the procurator in Rome of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. In June 1938, Pious XI summoned American Jesuit John La Farge, who began to prepare a draft of Humani Generis Unitas, which LaFarge and two other Jesuits—Gustav Gundlach and Gustave Desbuquois on in Paris; the draft was approximately 100 pages long. Another Jesuit translated the draft encyclical into Latin, presenting it to Wlodimir Ledóchowski, then the General of the Society of Jesus who had chosen Gundlach and Desbuquois for the project. The draft encyclical was delivered to the Vatican in September 1938. Sebastian Tromp, a Dutch Jesuit, a solid Thomist theologian and close to Pope Pious XII, is considered to be the main ghostwriter of Mystici Corporis.

Academic

Some university and college students hire ghostwriters from essay mills to write entrance essays, term papers, and theses and dissertations. In the 2000s (decade), many essay mills began offering online services. The most basic ‘essay mill’ service is the sale of a previously written essay. However, since submitting a previously written essay is risky, a ‘customized’ essay-writing service is available for a higher price, often reaching $10 to $50 per page.

Universities have developed several strategies to combat this type of academic fraud. Some professors require students to submit electronic versions of their term papers, so that the text of the essay can be compared against databases of essays that are known to have been written by essay mills. Other universities allow professors to give students oral examinations on papers which a professor believes to be ‘ghostwritten’; if the student is unfamiliar with the content of an essay that they have submitted, then the student can be charged with academic fraud. However, ghost writing services in the academic field have become a strong source of income for many with an acumen for writing especially in the ‘customised’ category. Irrespective of the ethical questions, the ghostwriter is not involved in anything illegal.

In the case of a ghostwritten doctoral dissertation, the client falsely presenting the work of another as his/her own is defrauding both the institution awarding the degree and future employers for whom the Ph.D. degree is a pre-requisite for the job.

Ghost writers are also employed by established academicians and researchers, who hire unemployed, underemployed or just junior researchers to write papers and books without sharing authorship. This practice is not limited to medical researchers (see next section).

Medical

With medical ghostwriting, pharmaceutical companies pay both professional writers to produce papers and then pay other scientists or physicians to attach their names to these papers before they are published in medical or scientific journals. Medical ghostwriting has been criticized by a variety of professional organizations representing the drug industry, publishers, and medical societies, and it may violate American laws prohibiting off-label promotion by drug manufacturers as well as anti-kickback provisions within the statutes governing Medicare. Recently, it has attracted scrutiny from the lay press and from lawmakers, as well. It is permitted at some institutions, including the University of Washington School of Medicine, while it is prohibited and considered a particularly pernicious form of plagiarism at others, such as Tufts University School of Medicine.

Professional medical writers can write papers without being listed as authors of the paper and without being considered ghostwriters, provided their role is acknowledged. The European Medical Writers Association have published guidelines which aim to ensure professional medical writers carry out this role in an ethical and responsible manner. The use of properly acknowledged medical writers is accepted as legitimate by organisations such as the World Association of Medical Editors and the British Medical Journal. Moreover, professional medical writers’ expertise in presenting scientific data may be of benefit in producing better quality papers.


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