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Hiring a Ghostwriter - to Buy or Not to Buy?

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Cecelia has researched H.P. Lovecraft and fairy tales. Working with kindergartens, Cecelia became interested in speech development.

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Image by ardelfin from

What Is a Ghostwriter?

Traditionally, ghostwriters are people who are paid to write books, articles, stories and even poems, but do not receive credit as the author. They sign away their rights for payment, and the writing gig is more of a job than an art to them. In some ways, they're not unlike a professional copy writer or publicist whose articles are anonymous because the company they work for claims the credit.

A Helping Hand Along the Way

As I spend upwards of five hours a day writing, I know that writing can be hard work. I have also become fascinated with all things writing related, including the subject of ghostwriters.

I did a little research into the legitimate uses of ghostwriting.

  • Political speech writing is generally considered a respectable profession. The speech writer may be called an "aid", "secretary", "assistant" or other respectable name. However, one of their duties is to put acceptable words together for the politician or other public figure, which is basically ghostwriting.
  • Celebrity autobiographies are often ghostwritten. No one expects a sportsperson or actor to also be a professional writer (although there may be some who are quite capable). Some actors direct, so why not write? Some also have university degrees in private life, although they are stars in their public life.
  • Posthumous works are ghostwritten out of necessity. If someone finds a bundle of fascinating historical letters or records in the attic, they may hire a historian or professional writer to put these in order and make the documents into a readable book. The historian or professional writer may or may not claim credit.
  • Television and film scripts are often sub-contracted. The screenwriter may get credit in small letters, however the "creator" is generally credited in large letters up the front, and paid considerably more per show. For example, Star Trek is always credited as "created by Gene Roddenberry" even though a host of other writers have written episode scripts.This isn't true ghostwriting, because the screenwriter is given a small credit. However, you have to be a real film and television enthusiast to go looking for those credits.
  • Comic book companies often go through stables of writers and illustrators, with only the original developer being credited. (And that are often not credited correctly, as in the case of Batman, which was created by Bob Kane with the unacknowledged assistance of Bill Finger.) So taking work as a comic book illustrator or scriptwriter may be very close to ghostwriting, as only comic book historians will know what the squiggle in the corner of the final image means.

The Problem of Dishonesty

As I hung out on professional writer's boards, I became aware of the new and booming industry in ebook ghost writing. Ebooks are cheap and easy to produce, with the major investment being the writing process. Some people are selling their writing skills to others who want marketable ebook material.

Most people know that the pen name on the book may not exactly match the author's legal name. A pen name is often adopted for either promotional reasons or privacy reasons, although it is becoming more acceptable for authors to use their legal name "as is". However, I think most people do believe that the pen name on the book represents the writer in some form.

So when someone who did not write a certain book purchases it from a ghostwriter and markets it under their pen name, the public is being deceived. This may not be illegal—as a legitimate contract for the rights may have been signed—and fair money may have been paid. However, in my mind, there is potential for embarrassment if this ever came out. (For example, R.L. Stine may never escape the rumors that he used ghostwriters during a prolific period.)

What Are the Alternatives?

To my mind there are several more honest and desirable alternatives to the ghostwriting transaction.

  1. Collaboration or co-authorship: This is where two authors team up and both get their name on the cover. It doesn't matter who wrote which page, or whether one was the ideas person and the other the workhorse—both get credit.
  2. Editorship: If a book is written by one person and edited and published by another, the person claiming the rights might call themselves the 'editor' rather than author. This means they have invested time, grammatical and technical skill into the manuscript.The ghostwriter is still the author, although if they are unwilling to put their name to the work, the publisher is left with a problem, because the book only has an editor, not an author.
  3. Series Editorship: Someone has the idea and the ultimate creative control. They may write one or more volumes and then farm the other volumes out to other writers. Ideally, each author would have title credit too, but if the ghostwriter chose not to supply their name, then that volume would go under the banner of the series editor, with the author name blank.
  4. Illustrator: Perhaps an artist purchased a script because they intend to draw all the pictures for the book. Illustrators are often shortchanged, because a book is catalogued according to the author, not the illustrator. Sometimes, even in cases where there are less than 100 words, and more than twenty full colour illustrations!! It might be fair for an artist to ask someone to write the right story for their pictures, rather than the other way around.
  5. Acknowledgement: Perhaps it was one writer's idea and plan, then they paid a ghostwriter to help, then edited and finished it themselves. If the ghostwriter will allow their name (or even just first name) to be cited, the author could place an acknowledgement or "thanks for the assistance" on the inside front page.

My Personal Experience

Now here comes the bit I know you have all been reading along for—my practical research into using a ghost writer. I was considering option three above, series editorship, and dug out a plan I had written years ago for a series of children's stories.

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I found that I could not bear to let the first idea go, so I wrote it out myself. Then I generated another idea. I made sure that my plan was quite unambiguous. It had three sections and assigned word count for each section.

I went to a site full of writers offering their services as ghosts. (I won't say which). I had one writer selected, but when I went to order, a large extra fee showed up, one that had not been in the product description. So I decided to look around more. Many listed erotica under their genres, and I decided I didn't want that in a children's story.

I liked the sound of another one, and was almost going to mail them, when I noticed something about the style of the sample. There was little description and they got the character from point A to point B in brief words. So I browsed further.

Finally, I settled on one that tagged themselves as a children's writer. They were also slightly more expensive. Well, I was having fun, so I placed an order. They were responsive, acknowledging the order immediately and delivering a draft with one day to spare on the deadline.

Now the game had begun!

The Results

Aside from a few issues with plural and singular, it was well polished. However, Ghostie obviously thought they knew better than me because they had gone way off the plan.

  • An introductory section not ordered had been included. I had warned Ghostie this was a series, it obviously didn't occur to them that this meant the book needed to start as I specified.
  • There were a few expressions I was not comfortable with in a children's story. Not swear words—just not age appropriate.
  • My main character, whom I had thought of as a sweetie, had turned into a cheeky brat.
  • I had specified that a journey take 150 words. It took three! These were three words I had put on the plan in the first place.
  • I had ordered an animal fight. I got no animal fight.

Well, I tried to do a double check on my feelings, because someone else touching my stories would be a sensitive matter anyway. However, I wrote compulsively all afternoon, producing over a thousand words of my own and pretty much completing the story.

I thought Ghostie ought to know, so I messaged them. Ghostie was very obliging and willing to do a revision. Next day, I receive an obviously computer generated revision. It is so hilarious that I paid Ghostie and marked the job as completed on the site.

  • On the journey, they still arrive after three words.
  • Instead of seeing trees, flowers, cottages and all the things you realistically see, they see witches, wizards and owls. (That is what I found so amusing).
  • I still have no animal fight. Maybe the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals got to them!

Well I was so amused by all that, I planned a third story immediately. Would I send it to Ghostie? No, I better behave myself. Moral of the story—work with someone you know!

© 2019 Cecelia

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