Learn About Ghostwriting

Get Insight from the Professional Scribes at Gotham Ghostwriters

ghostly shadow hands near old typewriter
••• When authors aren't writers, ghostwriters help. John Foxx / Getty Images

A ghostwriter is a writer who is paid to write for someone else, under that person's name. It is most commonly associated with publishing a book, but today it is also widely used in public relations, corporate communications, social media, and many other industries and fields that are producing greater and greater amounts of written content.

In this article, professionals from Gotham Ghostwriters, New York City’s only full-service writing firm, explains what kinds of projects ghostwriters work on and how the process works and describes what to look for when "shopping" for a ghostwriter for your own project.

The Type of Projects That Ghostwriters Work On

  • Ghostwriters for Books: Throughout the history of publishing, politicians, business leaders, and other busy public figures have relied on ghostwriters to help them turn their ideas and stories into polished works. More recently, thanks to the self-publishing revolution, an even wider assortment of authors are using "ghosts" to share their expertise and experiences in business how-tos, self-help books, memoirs, and even cookbooks and novels.
  • Ghostwriters for Speeches: In addition to books, ghostwriters are also hired for speechwriting. Presidents, members of Congress, and CEOs have long used professional speechwriters to help them find the right words to win votes and build brands. Now with the growing popularity of TED-style conferences and the media platform they provide, more and more executives and advocates who want to be seen as thought leaders are turning to wordsmiths to craft their remarks and presentations so they can break through and stand out.
  • Ghostwriting Communications for Corporations: In this era of specialization, large companies often turn to experienced writers to craft their corporate communications. Ghostwriters are hired for annual reports, white papers and other thought-leadership pieces, newsletters, website content, and corporate histories.
  • Ghostwriting Social and Digital Media Content: Social media and a rich online presence have become musts for the leaders of major corporations and organizations, as well as celebrities — including book authors. The people behind these brands most often don’t have the time to constantly update their TwitterFacebook, and website blog feeds, so they will typically employ a digitally savvy ghostwriter to curate accounts and provide content.

Attribution of Ghostwriters

When it comes to books, most ghostwriters don’t receive any recognition beyond a thank you in the acknowledgments section. In many cases, they are asked to sign nondisclosure and/or confidentially agreements, especially for high-profile projects. Some ghosts, though, are publicly credited on the cover as a co-writer (either with an “and” or “with”). When it comes to speeches and other kinds of content, ghostwriters are truly invisible and are never acknowledged.

The Costs of Hiring a Ghostwriter

The cost of hiring a ghostwriter varies greatly depending on the stakes of the project, the caliber of the writer, the complexity of the subject matter, and more. When you hire a writer, you’re paying for their skill, experience, and time.

 Someone who has won a Pulitzer Prize or worked as a White House speechwriter is going to command a higher rate than a recent college graduate who’s new to the field. Writing a full book-length manuscript from scratch will involve more of the writer’s time, and therefore cost more, than fleshing out a short e-book that has been partially written. A client who’s looking to have a full book written can expect to pay anywhere from $20,000 to $200,000 — and up.

Deadlines and Timeframe Expectations

Again, every project is different. The timeframe will depend on how much source material has been compiled, how much additional research has to be done, and how many drafts are needed to capture the author’s voice. Some projects, like speech writing and corporate communications, are driven by firm deadlines and often have quick turnarounds.

On the other hand, book projects, especially serious, idea-driven works, can take months and sometimes years to complete.

Finding a Ghostwriter

Corporations, organizations, and well-connected public figures will often go through a literary agent or a PR firm to find an elite ghostwriter. But for most others, the Internet is the best place to start. Some popular online resources for finding professional freelancers include Mediabistro, Elance, and Craiglist. Or you can connect with a firm (like Gotham Ghostwriters) that can source their network of freelancers and serve as a “matchmaker” for your project. The advantage to going through a firm vs. hiring a writer directly is that the firm can identify proven, quality options suited for your project, handle contract and fee negotiations, and act as an arbitrator if conflicts or other issues arise.

Choosing the Right Ghostwriter

There are many things to consider when choosing a ghostwriter to assist you.

  • Budget: One of the most important considerations is your budget, which will likely determine the level of expertise you can expect. (Read more about what you can expect to pay for editorial freelancers.)
  • Experience and Credentials: You will also want to consider the work a writer has previously done; ideally, you’ll be able to find someone who has worked on similar projects before, which should make yours go more smoothly. Request resumes and writing samples from writers, so you can see their credentials and work product; also be sure to ask for, and contact, some references.
  • Interview: Once you’ve got a short list based on skills and experience, spend some time talking with the writers to get a sense of whom you connect with—after all, you’ll be spending quite a lot of time with this person, and you may be sharing intimate details of your life and your thoughts. And if everything goes well, you might want to continue collaborating and write more books together.

The Working Relationship Between a Ghostwriter and the Client

Generally speaking, the ghostwriting relationship should be a highly collaborative one. The most effective ghostwriters are the ones who can help you produce the best version of your vision. To do so, they will often conduct extensive recorded interviews to get a sense of your voice, style, and personality. As with all relationships, open communication, clear boundaries, and manageable expectations are key to avoiding conflicts and keeping the work flowing.

Gotham Ghostwriters (GG) is New York City's only world-class, full-service writing firm, specializing in sophisticated, long-form writing. It's Gotham Bookwriters division is a one-stop solution for anyone who needs help telling and selling their stories. In addition, GG handles speeches, articles/op-eds, white papers, and corporate reports for clients in the thought leadership arena. Their client list includes leaders in business, politics, trade groups, foundations, and advocacy organizations.