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Could You Be a Ghostwriter?

GhostwriterDid you know that the long-time best-seller, 90 Minutes in Heaven, was not written by Don Piper? At least it was not written by Piper alone. If you look at the credits, you’ll see that he wrote it “with” Cecil Murphey. Remember Heaven Is for Real? The author is “Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent.” Vincent is a ghostwriter. Piper and Burpo are pastors. They had a great story to tell, but they didn’t have the time or the expertise to write a book. Their solution was to find a ghostwriter.

Defining Ghostwriting

Merriam-Webster says ghostwriting is “to write for and in the name of another.” At Kentucky Christian Writers Conference  last June, Michelle Medlock Adams taught a class on the subject. Some of the class members continued discussing ghostwriting at the dinner table. Some said it’s dishonest to credit anyone other than the actual writer of the book. Others said it’s a matter of being fair to the ghostwriter. He or she deserves recognition if the book is published. Both Piper and Burpo acknowledged their ghostwriters, but many “authors” do not. Michelle said it’s hard to get statistics, but that some industry experts estimate that 50% on nonfiction books are ghostwritten. Our discussion group came to the conclusion that ghostwriting is ethical, but that the presence of a collaborator/ghostwriter should be disclosed.

Who Needs a Ghostwriter?

Franklin Graham needed one when he published his autobiography, Rebel with a Cause. Graham had name recognition and a great story but he had no training as a writer. Cecil Murphey ghostwrote it for him. The same is true for Dr. Ben Carson, the Johns Hopkins brain surgeon with a heartwarming American success story. He was much too busy doing the job that made him famous to write Gifted Hands himself. The ghostwriter provides the expertise and takes time to craft the story for the person who has a ready-made platform and a story to tell.

What exactly does the ghostwriter do?

Duties and expectations are usually be spelled out in a written legal contract. Everything from remuneration to hours spent to specified tasks can be included. Some authors ask the ghostwriter to write the book proposal. If the proposal sells, the deal is made for writing the book. Many ghostwriters choose to be paid a flat fee rather than collecting royalties on the book. Some ask for a small royalty in addition to the fee. All the details of the contract are subject to negotiation between the client and the writer.

Do you want to know more about ghostwriting?

Browse these additional resources for more details:

  • How to Be a Successful Ghostwriter on Writer’s Digest site.
  • The International Association of Professional Ghost Writers, (site was down for more than 17 hours on July 30, 2014).
  • Association of Ghostwriters
  • Lynn Vincent’ s books page
  • Cecil Murphey recently completed a series of blog posts on ghostwriting. He might compile them into a book, but, for now, you can glean from the mind of a master by browsing the blog. Start on this page  and scroll down to the May 10, 2013, post. Work your way back to the top. Then, go to the next page,  and go down to Friday, June 21 post, working your way to the top again.

Readers, do you have experience with ghostwriting? Share by commenting on this post under Leave a Reply.

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4 Responses to Could You Be a Ghostwriter?

  1. Jennifer Turner September 24, 2013 at 8:52 am #

    I ghostwrite blogs for a living. Some of my friends agree that it’s unethical — when they read a blog by a recognized name, they expect that the person wrote the blog alone. However, outsourcing multiplies a person’s time and energy.

    I appreciate the opportunity to work with many different clients and to help them grow their business, despite the fact that I receive no public credit. It’s a lucrative business for those who want to work, and it is the perfect way for me to support my family while working from home.

  2. Emily Akin September 24, 2013 at 9:04 am #

    Thanks for your input, Jennifer. We probably would not hear much from those big-name people if they had to write all their material themselves. So many of them just don’t have the time. I’m reminded of the story of Moses and Aaron. Moses was not confident with public speaking, so God gave him Aaron to do the oratory.

  3. Tracy Crump September 24, 2013 at 12:59 pm #

    Great post, Emily. And I like your Moses/Aaron analogy.

    As for it being ethical or not, I think it’s a business deal between the ghostwriter and the author. The ghostwriter is only putting the author’s thoughts into written prose. If the ghostwriter agrees to remain anonymous, that’s up to him. After all, who believes that the President—any president—writes his own speeches? Do we know who actually writes them? Yet the President gets the credit. That’s the way it works.

  4. Emily Akin September 24, 2013 at 3:14 pm #

    Thanks, Tracy. You’re right about the Presidents. They tell their writers what they want to say, and they approve the final version. So what’s unethical about that? It’s like building a house. I know what kind of house I want, but I have to get an architect to make the plan. Then I have to hire someone to build it. It’s my house, beginning to end.

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