What is a Ghostwriter?
Working Behind-the-Scenes to Bring Authors' Ideas to Life
Contrary to what the name suggests, there’s nothing spooky about ghostwriters. Politicians, celebrities, executives and even well-known writers use ghostwriters as collaborators when authoring their books. Important and newsworthy individuals with something to say may lack the time or ability to put it in writing. They call on ghostwriters, who put their talents to work without getting a byline. As with all freelancers, ghostwriters are employed on a contract basis instead of full-time. Most ghostwriters enjoy a flexible schedule that enables them to balance their work with their family life.
What Does a Ghostwriter Do?
Ghostwriters most often work anonymously with clients to write a book. In some cases, a publisher hires a ghostwriter to produce a work in the style of a famous novelist to release more titles that are certain to sell. In other cases, subject-matter experts in fields as diverse as finance or nutrition hire ghostwriters to pen their books if they don’t have the time or writing talent to do it themselves. Some clients want to do their own writing but hire ghostwriters to assist with research and organization. Ghostwriters usually take extensive notes on meetings with clients and may be required to interview others, fact check or travel. A few ghostwriters are well-known in their own right, and they even receive credit with a byline below the celebrity author that reads “as told to.” Most ghostwriters, however, do not get to see their name in print, except on their paychecks.
No formal education is required to become a writer, although your credentials could be important if you’re just starting out in the business. For example, a Wall Street executive looking for a ghostwriter would likely seek someone with a financial background, perhaps an MBA, in addition to strong writing ability. A physician writing a book with a ghostwriter would probably want someone with a degree in science. Many ghostwriters have degrees in journalism, English or creative writing. To prepare for a ghostwriting career, it’s helpful to take college-level classes or work with a writing coach.
About the Industry
Getting started as a ghostwriter can be challenging. It helps if you’re already published in your own name and have established yourself as a writer. Ghostwriters sometimes advertise in professional and trade journals, and they often find work through literary agents. Some ghostwriters are on staff full-time with agencies or publishers, but most work on a freelance basis.
Ghostwriters may collaborate with clients in person or by phone, email and video chat. It’s not unusual to have to sign a nondisclosure agreement, which guarantees that you’ll stay anonymous, and only the client’s name will appear on the published book.
Years of Experience
Pay varies widely, depending on a number of factors. Ghostwriters working with famous politicians and A-list celebrities can easily earn six figures upfront for a project and may be able to negotiate for royalties. More commonly, though, ghostwriters are paid by the word or a flat fee for the project. Writers are seldom paid hourly. Annual salaries range from $27,500 to $73,000. Although years of experience have only a moderate effect on pay, averages based on full-time employment include:
- Less than one year of experience: $43,033
- 4 to 6 years of experience: $51,067
- 10‒14 years of experience: $62,537
- 15+ years of experience: $68,583
Job Growth Trend
Although the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not have a specific category for ghostwriters, job growth for writers as a whole is expected to be about 8 percent in the next decade, which is average compared to all other occupations. Competition for writing jobs is strong, as many people are attracted to the profession because of the variety and flexibility the work offers.
Denise Dayton, M.Ed., M.S. teaches career readiness and workplace success, along with other business courses, at a small college in New England.