What Is a Ghostwriter (And Should You Hire One?)

Ever wonder what exactly a ghostwriter is and if hiring one is for you? Read on to find out.

8 min read

The title sounds so enigmatic and mysterious; Ghostwriter. Folks in the industry will often even shorten the title and refer to these writers as simply, “ghosts.” But what exactly is a ghostwriter? And better yet, should you hire one?

A ghostwriter is someone who writes for others and receives no credit or rights to the work. There are some exceptions, of course. Famed Ghostwriter Cecil B. Murphy learned early in his career that it didn’t sit right with him for him to not receive any credit for the books he wrote. You’ll often find him listed as the co-author or collaborator.

Apart from the desire of the ghost themselves, sometimes it sits better with the author to list their ghost’s name with their own. James Patterson is one of the most prolific writers today, something he’s accomplished in part by hiring ghostwriters. You’ll find their name printed on the cover right underneath Patterson’s.

For the most part, a ghost is going to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) which prevents them from telling anyone they wrote the work and assigns full legal rights to the listed author. Sometimes the author will provide the NDA, sometimes the ghost will. In my business, I provide an NDA drafted by a bonafide lawyer. Even in the cases where my client doesn’t really care if I sign the NDA or not, I’m still very strict about protecting the privacy of my clients. Call it a hold-over from my time as a licensed massage therapist, but my lips are sealed.

Honoring the NDA is exceptionally important to me, because as a person who naturally holds space for people it often results in folks telling me things they wouldn’t ordinarily tell someone. The book writing process can sometimes engender moments where clients disclose very personal, private things they don’t necessarily want included in the book yet they had to get it off their chest. I need them to feel confident when they walk away from me that those stories are safe.

When it comes to how a ghostwriter works and what you should expect, there are variations on exactly what this looks like.

There is no definitive guide we all follow and listing all of the possibilities right here might get confusing. If you still want to know more when you’re done reading this blog, you can head over to Amazon and check out The Rebel’s Guide to Hiring a Ghostwriter. In it, I go into much greater detail about how the process works and how to find the right one for you.

Every ghostwriter is different when it comes to what kinds of content they’ll write and who they’ll write it for. Some stick with very broad niches and will take just about anyone who asks them to write for them. Others niche down and become known for serving certain industries. You can usually expect the latter to charge more since their knowledge and experience is more honed into that industry, resulting in higher quality work.

Some ghosts will only write books. Others will do web copy, social media posts, articles, emails, or just about anything you can think of. I focus on writing books, because that’s what I love and where my zone of genius is. Specifically, books for female entrepreneurs. But that raises the question- what’s the difference then between a ghostwriter and a copywriter or freelance writer?

The answer? It comes back to that NDA, partially. The other part is simply the title itself.

Copywriters and Freelance Writers do often write without receiving credit publicly for their work. However, there’s nothing to stop them from including that work in their portfolio. It’s less expected, but not rare, for Freelancers and Copywriters to get asked to sign an NDA that removes their name entirely from the project publicly.

These other two titles often do ghost things, at the same time as a ghostwriter can be asked to do copywriting specifically. There’s overlap.

The big difference is often in what the payment looks like.

Both Ghostwriters and Copywriters typically command higher rates than Freelance Writers. It’s not uncommon for Ghosts or Copywriters to be multi-six-figure earners. I’ve heard of Ghosts charging as much as $150,000 to write a book. My mentor has recently begun commanding $75,000 per book project. And a copywriter I recently connected with charges $10,000 to provide web copy that converts website visitors into customers.

There’s a -mostly- unfair bias against Freelance Writers as professionals worthy of higher rates. The word “freelance” seems to conjure mental images of somebody who is a fly-by-night dabbler rather than a dedicated business professional. And certainly some of this stereotype is owing to the fact that entry into freelancing is extraordinarily low, inviting in swarms of dabblers taking a shot at “being a writer.” Despite this, there are many Freelance Writers who are charging well-earned top dollar for their services.

Speaking of money, I know that’s a factor that’s been on your mind.

Before even discussing whether or not you should hire a ghostwriter, we should talk about what that’s going to cost you. It’s just not fair to whip someone into a froth with excitement only to douse them in cold water. So here it goes.

What can you expect to pay a ghostwriter?

I hate to say it but, it depends.

If you pop on over to Fiverr or Upwork, you’ll no doubt find people offering ghostwriting for very, very low rates. That’s a topic all its own, I’ll save it for another post. But the wide range of rates aren’t the only consideration in determining price. It’s also going to depend on HOW they charge those rates, what’s included, and what types of content they write.

There are 4 accepted ways of determining how to charge a client as a ghostwriter:

  1. By the page. This isn’t very common because formatting impacts the page number. Wider margins and larger font mean more pages, as does spacing. So while you might agree on an anticipated page length for a goal, it isn’t often the way to determine the cost because there are too many variables that can be manipulated up or down.

  2. By the hour. This is what you’ll see on the profiles of folks on Upwork, but it doesn’t mean they actually track their time hourly. It’s mainly in place to give prospective clients an idea of the level the service provider is at. A higher listed hourly amount means you can expect that person to be experienced and charging top dollar rates. The reason hourly is not the most common way ghostwriters charge their clients is because once again, this is something that can be manipulated up or down. Even when an online reporting system is used, you still have no way of knowing if it’s accurate. You really just have to trust the person that they’re telling the truth.

  3. By word count. You’ll find this is probably the most common way a ghost will charge for their work. And please, for the love of everything holy do NOT ask if every instance of “and” or “the” counts in the total. Yes, that’s a real debate some clients have raised in order to slash their costs and no, it’s not effective. The nice thing about charging by the word is that it’s measurable by both parties. Run the work through Word or Google Docs and you’ll get the exact word count. The downside to this method is that sometimes a client might want to cut the word count in order to pay less, or the ghost may fluff the book to increase the word count. This is not good for the book in any case because too little information does injustice to the book, whereas fluff bores the reader and causes them to abandon reading. It also doesn’t account for whether there’s a need for additional research to be done, facts to be checked, data to be collected, or additional interviews done. Which is why the second most common way of charging, and the last on our list, is my preferred method of charging for ghostwriting.

  4. By the project. This is a flat fee that takes into consideration all of the needs of the client and the ghost. With this method, there’s the flexibility of being able to write as much or as little as is needed to do justice to the book. When a book is the exact length it needs to be, that’s when it’s able to serve its audience and help grow the author’s business most effectively.

So how much can you expect to pay?

You’re just going to have to ask around. Find a ghost you like or who appeals to you in some way and ask them some questions. Tell them about the project.

I highly advise against shopping for a ghost based off of budget and go based off of how much you like an trust them. How well do you get on? It’s better to have to save up to work with someone than to put your trust in a ghost you don’t feel 100% excited to work with.

All that considered, SHOULD you hire a ghost to help you in your business?

If you answer “yes” to any of the following, it might something you should consider;

  1. You want desperately to see your name on the cover of a book, but you just don’t have enough time to write one

  2. You’ve tried writing a book but you keep getting overwhelmed, distracted, or both. You stop and start but never seem to get anywhere.

  3. You keep trying to write a book, but you can’t tell if it’s any good or not.

  4. Writing your book, blog, articles, social media posts and sales pages is just too much. It feels like too much to keep up with and often makes you shut down and do nothing at all.

  5. You’re overthinking every single decision and it’s exhausting.

  6. You just don’t have any juice left! Running your business takes a lot out of you, maybe you have other responsibilities such as family- who has energy left to write all this content that needs writing?

  7. You know you’d be a powerful presence on the stage, but it just isn’t translating onto the page. You know a book can be the gateway to landing the speaking gigs of your dreams, but that darn blinking cursor on a blank document makes your brain go blank.

  8. You don’t think you have a story to tell. Sure, you’ve got a proprietary method that can transform lives but you don’t think you’re interesting enough for people to pay attention to.

  9. You’ve got hours and hours of podcasts, interviews, trainings, lives, and video on youtube and in your courses just sitting there, waiting to be repurposed but you don’t have the time to repurpose it yourself.

  10. You want to hire a ghost. Seriously, sometimes people just know that’s what they want to do. The idea is there, tickling their brain and they’re looking for a reason to jump on the idea. If you keep thinking about it, just do it!

What do you think, is hiring a ghostwriter for you? Anything about the idea holding you back? I’d love to hear from you! Click on over to the contact page and drop me a line.