Even the title, ghost writer, makes the profession sound mysterious and covert; a ghost-like presence swoops in unseen, does the business and is soundlessly away. In reality, ghosts are an important part of the publishing industry, widely used by agents, publishers and individuals with an idea for a book and no one to write it. I would guess that our prevalence is greater than you imagined, and I’m sure that you will have read a ghost-written book without knowing it.
So, specifically, who employs the services of ghost writers, like me, and why are they doing it?
Let’s start with the obvious: celebrities. It is an accepted fact that the rich and famous will work with a ghost writer to produce an autobiography. In fact, autobiographies and memoirs are perhaps the most fertile ground for the ghost writer. Many people have lived incredible lives; this may be because of extraordinary talents that have led to the limelight, terrible endurance and suffering, criminal activity, anything that elevates a life above the ordinary and forms a story that others will want to read.
Often, living an extraordinary life doesn’t mean that writing about it is easy or even possible, so authors and ghost writers make incredible bedfellows to produce life stories. The former brings the story, and the later brings the writing ability and experience.
The challenge of writing a book is not the only reason that a ghost may be employed. Time is often a factor. A ghost will be able to write quickly and effectively; it is our profession. Not everyone has the luxury of time, and writing a book is a time-consuming undertaking for the uninitiated to fit around a busy life. This is often the case with private clients who have employed me to write their life story or family history, which they then share only with their nearest and dearest.
The desirability of the English Language is also often a factor. I have worked with authors where English is not their first language and they have no choice other than to employ a ghost.
So, it is accepted – expected even – that ghost writers are used in the production of autobiographies and memoirs, where the time and experience of the ghost writer are valuable assets, balanced with the stories of clients who are essentially non-writers. From here, it isn’t too much of a stretch to explain why ghosts are used across other non-fiction genres, where there is a strong idea, perhaps mountains of research, but writing ability is lacking, or time and lack of experience are holding the project back.
The waters become a little muddied when we move onto fiction writing. Fiction writing is a creative pursuit performed by creative people – writers. So why would one writer employ a second to write his or her book and then put their own name on it?
At the very top of the literary tree we have incredibly successful authors, beloved by readers, who are essentially brands. These are the authors whose books fly off the shelves, but would it surprise you to find out that the books aren’t always produced by the author whose name is on the cover? It’s easier to believe when you explore the sheer volume of books produced by these mega-authors. Reader loyalty makes an author’s name a valuable asset; ghost writers sometimes offer publishers a way to capitalise on this.
Generally, however, a fiction writer will use a ghost writer for the same reasons as a non-fiction author. Quite often the idea is there, but the challenges of writing the book are too great in terms of time or experience. I have worked with fiction writers who have drafted and redrafted their manuscript and just can’t make it work, or they have frozen on the first chapter, although the completed book is fizzing in their brain day and night. This is the book that they so desperately want to produce, and they are not prepared to give up on it.
I have also worked with experienced writers who now commit so much of their time to promoting their books that finding the time to write more has become a challenge. They still maintain complete control over every aspect of the book, but they employ someone like me to make the book a reality.
Those using ghost writers are sometimes criticised, but the simple fact is that ghost writing raises the standard of a project that might be otherwise unreadable and, in many cases, important books wouldn’t have existed without this essential support. Additionally, ghost writers are able to offer advice and support to writers with no experience of the publishing industry, creating submission packs and utilising contacts to move an author forward in a way that might not be possible when flying solo.