Book collaboration and ghostwriting
How (and how much) to charge
Credits--Who gets them, with what wording
Secrets of ghostwriters and collaborators
Finding and working with a ghostwriter or collaborator
Fiction ghostwriting, ghostwriters, and collaboration
James Patterson's fiction factory
Organizations of or for ghostwriters
Sarah Wernick's FAQ on collaboration
SEE ALSO (blog posts):
The Art and Economics of Ghostwriting Books
Medical ghostwriting and ethical issues in medical publishing
The American Society for Journalists and Authors (ASJA) and Gotham Ghostwriters will co-host the first-ever national convention of professional ghostwriters on January 22, 2024 in New York City. The Gathering of the Ghosts will highlight and promote the ghostwriting profession and elevate it as a viable career path for writers, bringing them together for a one-day, in-person event with education, awards, and networking.
To get to where you can sign up, click on the bright pink header.
and CHECK OUT:
Biographers, memoirists, personal historians, and other life story writers organizations
Editors, proofreaders, and indexers organizations
Fiction writers organizations
Local and regional writers organizations and events (mostly U.S. based, by state)
Major U.S. writers organizations
Media pros and other allied professionals
Medical, health, and science writers organizations
Organizations for fiction writers and fans
Organizations for screenwriters, playwrights, documentary filmmakers, and critics
Organizations freelancers may find useful
Publishing and bookseller organizations
Resources for critics and book reviewers
Specialized and niche writing
Writers conferences, workshops, and other learning places
"[T]he author of a book is the person who supplies the ideas, plan, theory, stories, etc. The person who helps the author arrange everything on paper in a marketable form is the writer. (Usually the author is also the writer.) The person who makes sure the manuscript conforms to commercial standards is the editor. Individuals who bring material, research and/or story ideas to the project are co-authors or collaborators."~ from an excellent article on the art, craft, and business, The Good Life of Ghostwriting (by Claudia Suzanne, WritersWeekly, 10-3-01).
When I am hired to help people write their memoirs, I typically call the memoirist (or chief contributor of stories and memories) the “author” and myself the “writer,” “writer-editor,” “editor,” or “co-author,” depending on the nature of the project, how great a contribution I make, and how important it is for the author to appear to have done the project solo. Sometimes I don't get a credit at all, but I think most people realize that if they pretend to have written the book themselves without help and people learn otherwise later, it doesn't make them look good. And collaborators deserve more money upfront if they don't get credit and particularly if they don't share in royalties.
How the credit reads on a standard collaboration. When the writer is credited as co-author, the credit line takes various forms: “Author A and Writer W” (the most generous credit), “Author A with Writer W” (more common--substitute those placeholders with real names), or “Author A, as told to Writer W.” Sometimes the credit gets switched, because the writer’s name is more widely recognized and thus will attract more readers and book buyers. Generally, it’s the author’s name that is most valuable for marketing, but sometimes authors' career are extended beyond the grave or at least beyond when they wrote the books themselves (see especially Ghostwriting, and ghostwriters of, fiction).
• Give Photo Credit Where Credit Is Due (Tracy Thomason, 15 Minute Mondays, 3-10-14) Variations on what format and wording to use, where to place, etc.
• I Was a Cookbook Ghostwriter (Julia Moskin, NY Times Dining, 3-13-12). The working muse behind celebrity cookbooks. Among food ghostwriters, the "rank beginners might be thanked in the acknowledgments of a book; the next step is being credited on the title page; at the very top of the profession, their names appear on the book's cover. But getting up that pole can be a slippery business." After Gwenyth Paltrow denied working with a ghostwriter, food ghostwriter Sari Botton wrote this follow-up story, explaining how denial works: Ghosts Are Real, At Least In Publishing (Sari Botton, The Rumpus, 3-26-12, on why some celebrities may deny they use a ghostwriter--maybe, as she says, she's more of a "memoir midwife.")
• Can A Presidential Memoir Really Give An Honest Picture? (Steve Inskeep, Morning Edition, NPR, 2-11-2020) Inskeep interviews historian Craig Fehrman, author of Author in Chief: The Untold Story of Our Presidents and the Books They Wrote, about a few of the books presidents or their ghostwriters wrote. Of the book: “Craig Fehrman takes us from Thomas Jefferson—a president who happened also to be the best prose stylist around—to the age of the obligatory campaign biography, on to the modern blockbuster. Along the way we meet revisionists, ghost writers (Truman went through four), runaway bestsellers (it seems there was a sport at which Calvin Coolidge excelled), surprising flops. We learn that the Civil War turned the occasional authorial impulse into a flood of literature; that Nathaniel Hawthorne quietly wrote a campaign biography; that the most literate presidents can meet with the worst reviews. Shapely, original, and brimming in anecdote, Author in Chief expertly illuminates, amid much else, how history finds its way into the books.” —Stacy Schiff, author of The Witches
• Sharing the Credit by Meg Schneider and Barbara Doyen (NetPlaces.com). Will it be by Jane Jones and John Smith; John Smith with Jane Jones; John Smith as told to Jane Jones; or John Smith?
• Fascinating Story, but Who Wrote It? (Joanne Kaufman, Wall Street Journal, 12-1-09, about celebrity memoirists and their ghostwriters). When and why ghostwriters get credit, or not, who gets what credit on a co-authored book, in what order, what size type, and with what connecting words. And who cares? "Cover billing is a function of the publisher's wishes, the 'name' author's wishes, the collaborator's wishes, prior experience, fee, prominence (big names in the field include 'Iacocca' co-writer William Novak, and David Ritz, the go-to guy for musicians with a tale to tell), and level of involvement in the project. Is this helper writing every word, simply doing research and fact-checking, or perhaps organizing a pre-existing manuscript into tidy form?"
• Did John F. Kennedy really write "Profiles in Courage"? (Cecil Adams, The Straight Dope, 11-7-03). Ted Sorenson is said to have had a big hand in writing it but arguments about who should get credit have persisted. See especially An Old Letter Backs a Claim of Helping Kennedy Write 'Profiles' (Patricia Cohen, NY times, 10-18-1997)
• Who wrote that political memoir? No, who actually wrote it? (Paul Farhi, Washington Post, 6-9-14). Hillary, JFK, Timothy F. Geithner, Laura Bush, Malcolm X -- they vary in when and how much they give credit.
A few other types of credit hierarchies:
• The Ultimate Guide to Film Credits Order Hierarchy (Aaron Shorr, Studio Binder, 2016)
• WGA screenwriting credit system (Wikipedia)
• Author Sequence and Credit for Contributions in Multiauthored Publications (Teja Tscharntke, Michael E Hochberg, Tatyana A Rand, Vincent H Resh, and Jochen Krauss, PLoS Biol. Jan 2007)
• Batman's Co-Creator Bill Finger Finally Receives Recognition (Rob Salkowitz, Forbes, 9-19-15) "Bill Finger, the writer who worked with artist Bob Kane to create Batman in 1939, is finally receiving official credit from DC Entertainment for his contributions to the character, the culmination of a long battle by his family and other creators on behalf of Finger and his legacy.....Kane was able to retain the copyright in the 1940s by claiming that he was under age 18 when he signed the contract with DC, scoring a rare victory for creator’s rights in the early years of comics. Never an especially energetic or inspired cartoonist, Kane hired a stable of artists and writers, including Finger, to produce Batman stories for DC into the 1960s, when he was finally given a cash settlement to give DC clear title to the character.... Over the past two decades, comic scholars including Batman movie producer Michael Uslan, cartoonist and fellow Batman artist Jerry Robinson, author Mark Tyler Nobleman, writer Mark Evanier and comics historian Arlen Schumer produced convincing historical evidence documenting Finger’s significant role in Batman’s creation and lobbying for his formal recognition as co-creator."
• Who Designed That Book Cover? (Mallory Rock, on Kate Tilton's website, 9-18-14)
• Credit Where Credit Is Due...Or Not (Smitri Siegel, Design Observer, AIGA, 5-19-08) "The AIGA's stance speaks to what has traditionally been the major issue in graphic design attribution — in such collaborative work why does a single designer end up getting the credit?...Other professions have much more highly developed languages of attribution. In films, for example, credit is acknowledged once and for all and in detail at the end of a film. There is a great deal of horse-trading, arguing, and appeasement regarding the credits for any film project, but by opening night everything’s printed on film, the modern equivalent of being set in stone. In contrast, a piece of design can reach the widest audience and still remain anonymous. There is generally a lag between the completion of a design project and the need to write the attribution for a contest or reproduction....The lack of a consistent professional standard for attribution is rooted in the fact that Graphic Design has traditionally been an anonymous pursuit. In fact, the vast majority of graphic design is still done by unknown designers for unknown clients."
• Just What Production Designers Do (Annette Insdorft, NY Times Magazine, 1984) What, then, is the difference between a production designer and an art director? And who gets credit for what, and in what ways do various jobs overlap?
• Hip-Hop's Ghostwriters (Adam Conner-Simons, Gelf Magazine, 8-14-07). Is it fair for big-shot rappers to pay up-and-comers for their lyrics, but then give them no songwriting credit?
• Film &TV Music Knowledgebase glossary . "Film Music definition of a film music ghostwriter: "A person who composes music for another composer but is not credited on the cue sheet or in the final product in any way. In a ghostwriting situation, the person hiring the ghostwriter takes credit for writing the music and the ghostwriter is usually not allowed to reveal to anyone that he/she wrote the music or worked on the project in any way. Ghostwriting is one of the dirty little secrets of the film and television music business and is considered by most professional composers to be unethical." And on the same theme:
• Hidden Live, Hidden Wives by Karen Christensen (The Auth0r, Autumn 2019) "It began with a Twitter hashtag: #thanksfortyping. For most of the twentieth century, even authors who composed on the typewriter needed a typist to prepare a clean final manuscript. Wives often did this work. A US historian at the University of Virginia, Bruce Holsinger, noticed that these wives were often not even given names when they were mentioned in a book’s acknowledgements. He began posting examples on Twitter, and people responded with examples of their own, of wives who not only typed but translated from ancient languages and did archival research. The Twitter conversation caught the attention of three Oxford scholars, who then found funding for a conference called Thanks For Typing: Wives, Daughters, Mothers, and Other Women Behind Famous Men, held at the University of Oxford in March 2019." Read this report on that discussion.
do ghostwriters charge
"It all depends..."
Most of the ghostwriters and collaborators I know go for more upfront money and charge more for no byline. Some of them charge an hourly fee for the research and interviews, which can eat up a great deal of time, and then a flat fee for the writing. You can charge an hourly fee, a per word fee, a per page fee, or a per project fee, but it all depends on how much content there is (or may be), how easy it will be gather it (through research and/or interviews), and how long it will take to write the book. Some mentally include a "hassle factor," if the expert or celebrity appears to be difficult to work with or unlikely to contribute much to the project.
Authors (the ones with content, sometimes a life story, to be turned into a book) often think the writers (the ones who will actually get the book written) will be willing to write a whole book for their share of royalties. Professional writers generally know that there are rarely many royalties beyond the publisher's advance and many authors are willing to pay a writer's fee higher than the publisher's advance--because for many authors, the income from the book itself is not their most important goal. (This is particularly true in this era of falling advances.) Indeed, for many "authors" of nonfiction books, in particular, the book is a credential and the ghostwriter is a business expense--the real money will be made from the business (or speaking fees, especially for motivational speakers) that come because of the book.
For a book that is self-published (an increasingly common practice), of course, there is no standard and trustable way to share "royalties" and ghosting a book may be part of a bigger package: both writing the book and handling production (particularly with memoirs and family histories--or the increasingly common personal history).
• Ghostwriter (Wikipedia--see section on Remuneration and Credits, credits being a factor in pricing on collaborations).
• Ghostwriter Contracts & Fees (Lisa Tener, Book Writing Coach) She spells out fee ranges for various stages: Book proposal, research, rewriting, writing a children's book for hire, ghostwriting. For example, "Writing a book proposal may be charged at an hourly rate ($40 to $250/hr.) or as a flat-fee per project ($7,000 to $18,000 or more, depending on the division of labor and the particular expertise of the writer)."
• How to Be a Successful Ghostwriter by Kelly James-Enger (Writer's Digest, 2011). See also her book: Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks: Make Money Ghostwriting Books, Articles, Blogs, and More by Kelly James-Enger
• Secrets of a Ghostwriter: The Only Step-by-Step Guide to Mastering Ghostwriting Theory, Skills, and Politics (2012) Claudia Suzanne's textbook
Suggested fee range in 2012 edition:
Manuscript from interviews: $30,000 to $150,000 (depending on professional expertise and track record)
Manuscript edit/rewrite: $15,000 to $65,000
Analysis & Recommendations (A&R): $350 to $1,500
Book proposals: $3,500 to $10,000
Among other fees
She also offers occasional workshops on ghostwriting.
• Expensive, Affordable, and Cheap Ghostwriters (Author Bridge Media)
• Ghostwriting Prices (Writers for Hire, with fee range on the low side--the ghostwriters of bestsellers are paid more than that)
• Four Ways to Compensate a Book Ghostwriter (ghostwriter for hire, byline discount, revenue share, or business partner -- Helen Kaiao Chang, Ghostwriter Needed)
• How to Be a Successful Ghostwriter (Kelly James-Enger, Writer's Digest, 6-7-11). Covers typical ghosting fees and terms to cover in your collaboration agreement.
• A ghostwriter who offers all-day workshops on ghostwriting in Southern California (and I'm not talking about Claudia Suzanne) says in his promotional material that the typical ghostwriting fee for a short business book starts at $25,000 to $45,000; for a memoir begins at $45,000 and runs to well over $100,000; and for a ghostwritten novel is from $65,000 to $100,000.
• The highest hourly fee I've heard quoted for a ghostwriter is $350 an hour. I can well imagine that, especially if you are given a verbose and boring piece of promotional material and boil it down to a short, snappy, attention-getting piece of copy. You can really make money rewriting bad marketing copy. See, for example, Picasso's napkin story (for professional photographers)
• The 5 Attributes of a Successful Ghostwriter (Kelly James-Enger, Writer's Digest, 9-12-14) Number 5: Publishing knowledge.
• What Should I Charge to Ghostwrite a Book? (Brian A. Klems, Writer's Digest, 6-10-08). Klems writes: “As-told-to” ghostwriting often nets you less money per hour because you get other benefits—such as a byline, an advance and a split of the royalties (up to 50 percent). But if you’re willing to skip the byline and future earnings, you can act as a work-for-hire ghostwriter and charge more on the front end." (Correction about work-for-hire: Under copyright law, not all types of work by independent contractors will qualify. The work must be "specially ordered or commissioned" as
• a contribution to a collective work,
• a part of a motion picture or other audiovisual work,
• a translation,
• a supplementary work [to another author’s work, such as a foreword, chart, or table],
• a compilation,
• an instructional text,
• a test,
• answer material for a test, or
• an atlas.
(A tenth category, "a sound recording," was briefly added and then quickly removed from the statute after intensive lobbying by recording artists.)
I've deleted some organizations that were listed before, because they seemed no longer to be functioning (and a couple of them looked like individual writers posing as an organization). Ghostwriters, how do people find you?
***The Andy Awards (The Andies) to be presented at the first ever Gathering of the Ghosts, the first awards program specifically for book collaborations. Taking its name from the “and” that underpins creative cooperation, “the Andies” winners will be announced at the first-ever national convention of professional ghostwriters on January 22, 2024 in New York City--a joint production of Gotham Ghostwriters and the American Society of Journalists and Authors. Read the Submission Guidelines. Submissions for the Andy Awards are accepted between July 12-October 20, 2023. The Andies will recognize the quality of the work and the collaborative process in three categories of book collaboration:
Business and Thought Leadership
Memoir and Narrative Nonfiction
• American Society of Journalists & Authors . ASJA is a society of freelance professional nonfiction writers, several of whom take on collaborative or ghostwriting projects.
• Association of Personal Historians (APH). An organization(now defunct) of people who help others (not just celebrities) write their life or family story. (But many of the members are still practicing.) Personal historians tend to be collaborators (as told to) more than ghost writers. Some are more professionally experienced than others. Many personal histories are printed life stories (usually with many photos), some are oral histories (audio or video, with transcripts), some are video--as tributes, video biographies, documentaries, etc.), with an emphasis on storytelling and images. Most members do print, a few do audio interviews only, and a sizable percentage do video or multimedia. These may be helpful:
---21 frequently asked questions about personal histories and personal historians
---A short history of the Association of Personal Historians
---Is it still a great time to become a personal historian?
• Gotham Ghostwriters (a national ghostwriting agency). Have a brilliant idea for a book to grow your platform, but don’t know where to start? Need to give a high-stakes speech at a major conference, but don’t have a speechwriting pro on your team? Want to publish a delicately worded op-ed to explain a controversial argument, but can’t find a writer you trust? "With more than 3,200 editorial specialists in our network — and connections to a larger universe of 20,000 freelance pros — we have the unparalleled ability to find the right writing partner for your priorities."
• Ghostwriters Unite, the first conference of its type, held in Long Beach, CA, May 3-5, 2013, was organized by Claudia Suzanne (author of the expensive, and probably-worth-it (because packed with practical insights and information) tome Secrets of a Ghostwriter: The Only Step-by-Step Guide to Mastering Ghostwriting Theory, Skills, and Politics). Originally envisioned as a chance for alumni of Susanne's ghostwriting classes, but "so many people got excited about the idea of getting together and talking about 'professionalizing' our field" (talking about setting fee standards and ethical boundaries and bylines and problem clients and working with agencies and publishing options) that it grew into a full-blown conference, held in May 2013, and unlike other writers conferences asked attendees to sign confidentiality agreements.
[Back to Top]
• When the Writing Demands Talent and Discretion, Call the Ghostwriter (Elizabeth A. Harris, NY Times, 1-5-23) Ghostwriters write books in someone else’s voice — without leaving fingerprints. Doing it well requires great technical skill and a flexible ego. ("At its heart, it is a service profession.") A superior piece about ghostwriting.
• Stephanie Golden on what working with a collaborator entails, Should I hire a writer?, Is a collaboration like a marriage?, a key contract clause (the scope of work), and Why collaborations fail.
• 3 reasons you should hire a ghostwriter (Simon Owens, 11-29-18) Why waste time performing a task when you can outsource it to someone who can do a much better job?
• Working with Ghostwriters 101 (Hannah Gordon, Deborah Herman, and Lindy Ryan, ibpa PubSpot, 1-1-21) How an author, publisher, and a ghostwriter can collaborate so true success can happen. Relationship Management/Match, Subject Interest or Experience With Subject Matter, Strong Editorial Sense.
• What is a Ghostwriter? An Insider’s Guide to Secret Co-Authors (Reedsy, 2-2023) They work on projects credited to other people. They bring other people’s stories to life. There’s nothing shady about ghostwriters. Ghostwriters can help your business. Or synthesize your ideas into a book proposal. Ghostwriters can contribute to book series. They can write short-form content for you, too (blogs, speeches, etc.)
---How to Find a Ghostwriter You Can Trust With Your Story (Reedsy, 3-1-23) 1. How to identify trustworthy ghostwriter candidates. How to assess their experience with smart investigation. How to make first contact with potential collaborators.
• How Much Does a Ghostwriter Cost to Hire? (Reedsy, 3-1-23) Who pays for a ghostwriter? How much does a ghostwriter cost? Will ghosts accept a share of royalties instead? (No.) "Nonfiction will tend to land on the higher end of this spectrum, due to its demand for research and factual accuracy — all of which will eat into a ghostwriter's day." "You almost always get what you pay for." [Those figures are on the low side.]
• The Good Life of Ghostwriting (Claudia Suzanne, Writers Weekly, 10-3-2001) "Book industry insiders estimate that 50% or more of all traditionally published books in today’s market are worked on by one or more ghost/book doctor/line editors. In the self-publishing world, the percentage is probably even higher – and all indications point to the situation just becoming more and more favorable for the ghost....Writers who want to get into the ghostwriting business need to acquire two new craft skills to complement their knowledge about structure and grammar: the ability to analyze material for the positive, and the ability to maintain someone else’s voice." Suzanne's specialties "include "manuscript and political assessment, 3rd-party voice preservation, over-all structure, story development and tight editing."
• Ghostwriting Confidential series, An excellent series, partly with United Ghostwriters.
---One writers doesn't fit all (part 2 of 2) (Q&A on how to begin your search for a perfect ghost match).
---Ghostwriting webinar Gotham CEO Dan Gerstein leads a thought-provoking discussion with Toni Robino, Shannon Kyle, and Ginny Carter
---How Can a Ghostwriter Help Me Get Published?
---How Do You Work With a Ghostwriter? Understanding the Process (United Ghostwriters)
---How to Hire a Ghostwriter
---How To Find and Choose a Ghostwriter for Your Project
---Ghostwriter, Book Coach, Or Editor: Which Is for Me?
---What Is Ghostwriting—And What Does It Mean Today?
• Unlearning How to Write a Book (Barry O'Reilly, 1-22-19) With a perfect record of solid D+’s in English and a book idea he couldn't get going, O'Reilly found a collaborator who helped him realize that talking his chapters to a professional writer who could turn them into good copy was the way to go for him. Along the way he learned about how to write--and provided a look at what it's like to work with a collaborator from the "expert's" viewpoint. By the author of Unlearn: Let Go of Past Success to Achieve Extraordinary Results
• When the author isn't a writer: bringing in a ghost (Alan Rinzler, The Book Deal blog, 8-3-08)
• Working with a Ghost (Theodore Kinni, Chief Executive.net, 8-16-06). The view from the "author's chair," about working with a ghostwriter.
• The Entrepreneur's Complete Guide to Ghostwriting (Tucker Max, Entrepreneur, 9-9-16) Save time -- but spend lots of cash -- getting someone to write your book for you.
• Answers to FAQ's (Wambtac Communications). Answers to key questions: What is ghostwriting? What's the difference between writing and ghostwriting? How does ghostwriting work? How long does it take to ghostwrite a book, and how much does it cost? If a ghostwriter writes my book for me, doesn't that mean it's not my book anymore? How do I know you’re not going to steal my material?
See also Medical ghostwriting, below.
• Notes from Prince Harry’s Ghostwriter (J. R. Moehringer, New Yorker, 5-15-23) Collaborating on his memoir, “Spare,” meant spending hours together on Zoom, meeting his inner circle, and gaining a new perspective on the tabloids. This long article reads like a memoir, from and about the life and work of a terrific ghostwriter, who explained to Prince Harry: '[S]trange as it may seem, memoir isn’t about you. It’s not even the story of your life. It’s a story carved from your life, a particular series of events chosen because they have the greatest resonance for the widest range of people..."
And to readers wondering what it's like to write the life of someone else: "That’s the mystic paradox of ghostwriting: you’re inherent and nowhere; vital and invisible. To borrow an image from William Gass, you’re the air in someone else’s trumpet." [Emphasis added.]
• Inside the career of a successful ghostwriter (Simon Owens's Media Newsletter, 2-18-21) What goes into ghostwriting an op-ed. Jonathan Rick’s writing appears in hundreds of mainstream publications, but it rarely includes his byline. He pens articles and other content on behalf of executives, academics, non-profit leaders, and virtually anyone else who wants to engage in any sort of thought leadership....Over time, the term “ghostwriting” began to apply to many things other than simply penning op-eds."
Op eds, Wikipedia articles, It's Rick's pitching success that often sets him apart from most other ghostwriters with whom he competes. Over time "he began to see how bad his clients were at pitching their own stuff. 'They don't follow basic guidelines. They don't make it clear that the op-ed is exclusive and hasn't been submitted elsewhere. They don't know how long to wait before it's permissible to follow up. These are all part of the art, rather than the science, of pitching."
• Prince Harry’s book 'Spare': The secrets of celebrity memoirs and the ghostwriters behind them (Anna Bonet, i/UK, 1-6-23) NDAs and private jets, tears and 2AM Whatsapps – professional ghostwriters tell what it is like to write books for big names. On average, a ghostwriter expects around 20 to 25 hours’ worth of talking, and the whole process can take anything from three to 18 months "The Duke of Sussex’s book would have been a particularly tricky project from start to finish." See also What I Would Have Done Differently as Prince Harry’s Ghostwriter (Devorah Blachor and Wendi Aarons, New Yorker, Daily Shouts, 1-27-23) They would have provided a better epigraph, more likeability (let someone 'save a cat'), "show, don't tell" (more storytelling instead of explanations), better scenes.
• How Two Authors Collaborated on a Biography (Isidra Mencos on Jane Friedman's blog, 3-29-23) 'To collaborate can be hard. When it’s going well, it’s great, because you’re sharing the excitement and discoveries with someone else, but it can be problematic when you start thinking, “Who’s doing more work than the other?”
• Mystery Attracts Mystery: The Forgotten Partnership of H. P. Lovecraft and Harry Houdini (Spencer J. Weinreich, Journal of the History of Ideas blog, 7-24-17) 'In 1924, readers of the fantasy and horror pulp Weird Tales found a more familiar figure alongside the usual crowd of ghouls, corpses, and scantily clad women. The cover story of the May–June–July issue was “Imprisoned with the Pharaohs,” by none other than Harry Houdini....
'Fans of horror fiction know this bizarre story under a different name and authorship: H. P. Lovecraft’s “Under the Pyramids.” Each in their own way icons of early twentieth-century America, Lovecraft and Houdini led strikingly different lives. The magician was an international celebrity, drawing rapturous crowds wherever he went....
'By contrast, Lovecraft’s biographer S. T. Joshi holds that the writer “as he lay dying […] was envisioning the ultimate oblivion that would overtake his work.” All but one of his stories were unpublished or moldering away in back issues of pulp magazines. It was only posthumously that his writings found their audience, eventually attaining the cult status they enjoy today....The original idea for “Imprisoned with the Pharaohs” came from Houdini...“Lovecraft quickly discovered that the account was entirely fictitious, so he persuaded Henneberger to let him have as much imaginative leeway as he could in writing up the story” (Joshi, A Dreamer and a Visionary, 191).
• Donald Trump’s Ghostwriter Tells All (Jane Mayer, The New Yorker, 7-18-16) “The Art of the Deal” made America see Trump as a charmer with an unfailing knack for business. Tony Schwartz helped create that myth—and regrets it. Over the decades, Trump appeared to have convinced himself that he had written the book. Schwartz recalls thinking, “If he could lie about that on Day One—when it was so easily refuted—he is likely to lie about anything.”
“He has no attention span.” “. . .it’s impossible to keep him focussed on any topic, other than his own self-aggrandizement, for more than a few minutes, and even then . . . ” Trump’s short attention span has left him with “a stunning level of superficial knowledge and plain ignorance.” He said, “That’s why he so prefers TV as his first news source—information comes in easily digestible sound bites.” Edward Kosner, the former editor and publisher of New York, where Schwartz worked as a writer at the time, says, “Tony created Trump. He’s Dr. Frankenstein.”
• Who wrote that political memoir? No, who actually wrote it? (Paul Farhi, Washington Post, 6-9-14). Mark "Sullivan charges his clients — businesspeople promoting investment strategies and doctors with thoughts about the health-care system, among others — fees starting at $15,000 per book. But the price can rise quickly depending on how long and complex a project is, he says. Top ghostwriters, those contracted by publishing houses to produce, say, a celebrity bestseller, can earn as much as $500,000 for their work, says Kevin Anderson, who runs a self-named ghostwriting firm in New York. “I wish I was in that league,” says Anderson, who works with professional athletes, business executives and “people with incredible life stories but weak writing skills.”
• Inside the career of a successful ghostwriter (Simon Owens's Media Newsletter, 2-18-21)
• Ghostwriters Come Out of the Shadows (Rachel Deahl, Publishers Weekly, 11-12-21) Growing demand for celebrity books has brought greater need for high-level ghostwriters. A handful of authors with well-established literary pedigrees occasionally moonlight as ghostwriters. Increasingly, they're called collaborators and many demand seven-figure advances.
• Lives of the Saints (Ariel Levy, New Yorker 10-15-12) Dishy profile of Lynn Vincent, the religious right’s leading ghostwriter.
During one workshop, a student had asked about the various kinds of credit an author can receive. “There’s ‘by,’ there’s ‘with,’ ” Vincent explained, smirking. “Or, with Sarah Palin, it was, like, ‘Thanks, Lynn Vincent, for taking out the trash.’ ” Vincent’s name appears only once in “Going Rogue,” on the second page of the acknowledgments, where Palin thanks her for “her indispensable help in getting words on paper.”
'Even when a ghostwriter sells millions of books, she gets little glory, and comparatively little money. “I always worry that people will think, Oh, she’s sold ten million books, so she’s a ten-millionaire,” Vincent said. “But that’s not the way the formula works out, especially as a collaborator, when you may just work for hire, so how it sells doesn’t affect your paycheck.” A collaborator is also denied one of a writer’s principal satisfactions: creative control.'
• Did John F. Kennedy really write “Profiles in Courage?” (Cecil Adams, The Straight Dope, 11-7-03)
'In December 1957 syndicated columnist Drew Pearson, interviewed on TV by Mike Wallace, said, “Jack Kennedy is … the only man in history that I know who won a Pulitzer prize on a book which was ghostwritten for him.”
'The most thorough analysis of who did what has come from historian Herbert Parmet in Jack: The Struggles of John F. Kennedy (1980)....While “the choices, message, and tone of the volume are unmistakably Kennedy’s,” the actual work was “left to committee labor.” The “literary craftsmanship [was] clearly [Ted] Sorensen’s, and he gave the book both the drama and flow that made for readability.” Parmet, like everyone else, shrinks from saying Sorensen was the book’s ghostwriter, but clearly he was.
• The secret ghostwriters of Hip Hop (Sarah Thompson, BBC News, 8-6-14) The practice of ghostwriting is one of rap's biggest taboos, and yet many of its greatest hits were ghostwritten. So who are Hip Hop's ghostwriters and what place do they have in a style of music built on speaking from the heart?
'One of the biggest hits of all time, I'll Be Missing You - Sean "Diddy" Combs's Grammy-award-winning ode to his friend Biggie Smalls - was the work of the ghostwriter Sauce Money. In his 2001 song Bad Boy For Life, the Hip Hop mogul Sean "Diddy" Combs boasts "Don't worry if I write rhymes, I write cheques" - thereby celebrating his money-making over his skills as a rapper.
• What Is Ghostwriting—And What Does It Mean Today? (Gotham Ghostwriters) "The common definition of ghostwriting is the act of one person writing in the name of another person, group, company, or institution without receiving a byline or public credit. But more often than not, ghostwriting is a customized form of collaboration, covering a range of relationships and services tied to the authors’ needs, objectives, and work style." Ghostwriters undertake "creative collaborations on many types of projects, including books, speeches, white papers, articles, websites, blogs, podcasts—essentially any type of written content our clients want to co-create with us."
An interesting overview of how the industry lost its aura of "hackery" and became geared toward productive collaborations. "The fact is, leaders, influencers, and those inspired to tell their stories or share new thoughts and discoveries tend to be busy people who work long hours to accomplish big goals. They have extensive expertise in their fields, but rarely have the time or the writing skills to, for example, produce on their own a series of thought-leadership articles or a deep-dive book."
• How to Become a Ghostwriter: 5 Steps for Finding Ghostwriting Work (MasterClass, 11-19-21) "Ghostwriters can write a number of works on behalf of a client, including nonfiction books, public speeches, online content, and book proposals. Ghostwritten fiction, on the other hand, is frowned upon and has little traction in the world of traditional publishing."
"The archetypal ghostwriting project is a memoir for a famous public figure. Such public figures may include politicians, business owners, athletes, musicians, and actors. They hire ghostwriters because they either lack the time to draft a full book alone or because they do not feel confident in their own writing skills." Good overview and good on how to find the work.
• Once the ‘intellectual blood banks’ of the rich and powerful, can speechwriters be replaced with ChatGPT? (David Murray, Fortune, 2-2-23) "If the Coursera CEO has ever employed a fine speechwriter, he didn’t make good use of that person. Such leaders don’t provide the facetime and candor a speechwriter would need to authentically and meaningfully connect the CEO’s life story and personal outlook with their professional drive and the corporate mission... Speechwriter or not: Any good communicator understands that good writing demands good thinking. And everything that’s worth reading has evolved from an unformed interstellar cloud that was in the writer’s mind into something else altogether."
• ‘Mank’: Read the Screenplay for David Fincher’s Movie about the Writing of ‘Citizen Kane’ Penned by His Father (Patrick Hipes, Deadline, 2-21) A good Hollywood story.
• Ghosting: A Double Life by Jennie Erdal. Jennie Erdal worked for nearly fifteen years for the flamboyant, extravagant, larger-than-life "Tiger," a London publisher, entrepreneur, and media personality. Officially, she was his personal editor. In fact, she was his ghostwriter and alter ego.
• The Julie & Julia Formula: How to Turn Writing Envy Into Writing Success (Catherine Baab-Muguira on Jane Friedman's blog, 5-24-22) Your audience may flow either from your own platform or, far more handily, from your subject. It’s far easier to tap into a large existing audience for a subject than it is to try to build a platform of equal size. And if your subject or collaborator is popular enough? Your own platform just became a lot less important. The secret is fandom: dedicated and even obsessive engagement with another writer’s work.
• What You Should Know About Writing a Co-Authored Book (Allison Kelley on Jane Friedman's blog, 10-25-22) "When people hear about my feminist humor book Jokes to Offend Men, first they ask: Do you actually hate men? And then they say: Wait. There’s four authors? How does that work?
• How to ghostwrite or co-author a book with experts (Barbara Mantel, Covering Health, Association of Health Care Journalists, 4-8-22) Subscribe to Publishers Marketplace for a month at a time and search its deals database to see which agents have just closed deals. "Once you find the people you want to collaborate with, be sure you get a collaboration agreement in writing before looking for literary representation.... If you have signed a collaboration agreement with the experts first, any agent is going to be taking you as a team; that gives you more security."
• Behind the scenes, beneath the pages (Murad Hemmadi, The Varsity, 1-27-13) True ghostwriting, as David Hayes explains, is working “from scratch, with somebody who can’t write at all.” "Discretion is a significant part of the job description... Ghosting an autobiography means writing it the way the subject would have written it, if they had been able to write it themselves...in the voice of the subject....the nature of many ghostwriting projects means that a fee up front is often better than a cut of royalties....they’re not selling them, they’re giving them to clients and prospective clients, and to employees as a Christmas present." One firm that does custom publishing often gets paid $150,000 to $250,000, but hires a staff of custom publishing specialists.
• So Much More Than Ghostwriting: Spotlight on Kevin Anderson & Associates (sponsored post, PW, 8-10-20) A ghostwriting, editing, and publishing services company takes a white-glove, comprehensive approach to supporting clients.
• How to Spot a Ghostwriting Scam (Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware, 1-24-22) The. Number. One. Sign. Of. A. Writing. Scam. Is. Solicitation. "Just like reputable literary agents and publishers, who only very rarely reach out to writers they don't already represent, reputable ghostwriters and editors will not email or phone you out of the blue to try and convince you to buy their services."
• What journalists must consider before jumping into ghostwriting (David Nicholson, Journalism.co.uk, 3-22-21)American ghostwriter Steve Eggleston "now employs a dozen writers working on 27 books, covering – among other things - food, cyber technology, family histories and crime...."I develop wonderful relationships with the subject authors," he says from his home in Shepton Mallet. Alongside his team, Eggleston guides clients through the industry maze, whether into self-publishing, hiring a publishing house, or (rarely) approaching traditional publishers. Just like any good entrepreneur, he has a sharp eye for marketing opportunities, whether through Google, Upwork, LinkedIn or word of mouth....He reckons the number of ghostwriters for hire has tripled in the past couple of years, as more individuals and corporates have switched on to the possibilities." One senses that the writers get only a portion of the income from these ghostwriting farms.
• Joni Rodgers. Check out the books of a woman who's made a success of ghostwriting celebrity memoirs and other books. "Obviously, baseline writing talent and solid knowledge of the craft are required for this job, but a good ghostwriter is also a good listener, meticulous researcher and all-purpose book nanny, with the ability to keep the client's secrets, build a bridge between the client and publisher, and completely set ego aside. Ghostwriting is a personality type as much as it is a skill set. Natural nurturers are in like Flynn; control freaks need not apply."
• Who wrote that political memoir? No, who actually wrote it? (Paul Farhi,Washington Post, 6-9-14) "Since most ghostwriters sign nondisclosure agreements that prohibit them from revealing the extent of their involvement or their remuneration, it’s hard to know whether the putative author had assistance or even did any work. Given such secrecy, the author credits on many books are rarely a guide to who did the actual work." An excellent overview, with examples.
• Ghost Stories (Lynn Andriani, Publishers Weekly, 5-26-06) 'By the early 2000s, it had become increasingly evident to Morel that "platform had become the sine qua non of selling nonfiction." Morel's "aha" moment came when realized she knew plenty of people who could write books, and that people with "platforms" but inadequate writing skills were getting book deals. So, calling on the many writers, editors and former publishing folk she'd worked with over the years, Morel started exclusively brokering ghostwriting book deals. She now represents 75 writers, each one specializing in a nonfiction area.
'The inner workings of Morel's agency, she says, more closely parallel those of a modeling or talent agency, rather than a typical literary agency. Instead of Morel pitching people at publishing houses, those publishers come to her, seeking a writer who can ghostwrite a book they've acquired. Morel then sends the publisher four or five biographies of writers who have expertise in the particular area. An elimination process comes next, wherein Morel, the editor, the agent and the "client" (i.e., the book's author) make a final selection as to who will ghostwrite the book.'
• Ghostwriter (Wikipedia) An entry filled with surprises.
• Successful Ghostwriting Demands Collaboration, Not Magic (Ann Gynn, Content Marketing Institute, 3-12-20) Prosperous #ghostwriting demands a true collaboration between the writer and credited author.
• Ghostwriting 101 (Linda Kulman, Publishers Weekly, 3-3-23) "I started out in journalism. One frustration in that field is that you never have enough time to break through the surface because you have to move on to the next article. Working with someone for a year, seeing the elementary school playground where they got into a fight, visiting the ice cream shop they worked in as a teenager—it all allows me to go deeper, to truly grasp who my client is and to capture the mark they’ve made on the world. "But a good ghostwriter has to be ready for the unpredictable. Taking on a book project is like buying a house without an inspection: you know you’ll later discover a faulty wire, a leaky pipe, or a damp patch in the basement—you just don’t know which it will be, or at what point."
• Ghostwriting 101: Tips from Bloggers Who've Done It (Emma Brudner, Hubspot, 12-6-21) Make sure you capture the voice of the person you're writing for. Meet with the person you're writing for to get a sense of their voice and identify themes, strong phrases, and potential narratives for when you approach producing the piece later on--write like they talk (but not incorrectly). Steer clear of adding or subtracting ideas. Understand which voice to use and also when not use any voice -- "in other words, recognize what should be cut." "The writer should act as a proxy for the audience, and if they think a point could use some clarification, they should circle back to the subject. If the subject fails to deliver an adequate explanation, ghostwriters should then take it upon themselves to provide succinct supporting information -- but it should be done in no more than a few sentences."
• 5 Famous Authors Who Were Also Ghostwriters (Gotham Ghostwriters) Did you know that Harry Houdini "hired H.P. Lovecraft and C.M. Eddy Jr. to ghostwrite The Cancer of Superstition, an analysis of superstition throughout the ages. The 31-page manuscript was auctioned in 2016 and sold for $28,000."
• Authors Guild Model Book Contract and Commentary. See also Books about rights, contracts, copyright, clearance, and other issues of importance to writers and contract terms.
• Tips for Finding Clients for Life Story Writers (Derek Lewis, Podcast 12, The Life Story Coach) People who wanted a ghostwriter were finding Derek’s website and reaching out to him. It took a long time for Derek to realize he’d been asking the wrong question. Instead of, “Where do I find clients?” what he needed to ask was, “How can I help clients find me?”
• Book in a Box. Someone who used to write for this "start-up" specialist got paid $3,000 to ghostwrite a book, drawing on 12 hours of interviews done by someone else (a pitiful sum to pay a writer). Entrepreneurs seem to be their chief clients: The 4 Steps a Startup Used to 'Book' $200K in 2 Months (Andrew Medal, Entrepreneur, 7-28-15) "What if I told you that you can spend about 12 hours talking to me, and I can turn that into a completely finished, professional book for sale on Amazon and everywhere else," he told her. Who are their customers? People who need to brand themselves but don't have time to write a book.
•My Interview with The Founder of Book in a Box (Jake Newfield, HuffPost, 6-9-17). 'Tucker Max, founder of Book in a Box, knows how to get publicity. "As Tucker explains, authoring a book can brand you as a subject expert. It 'Shows you know what you’re talking about, [and] shows the world what you know.' This is vitally important for people whose careers depend largely on their ability to market themselves and gain the trust of their customers. Authoring a book can give you a leg-up on the competition when customers are selecting the brand they trust the most and has the most presence."' The trick is to write to a strict formula.
• Book-in-a-Box Revealed: Behind the Scenes Using Tucker Max’s Book-in-a-Box to Write a Book (Lucas Carlson, Craftsman Founder, 2016?) Note the outline. Book in the box explains how their process works. and what it costs.
• The Courts’ Views on Ghostwriting Ethics (Jona Goldschmidt, Judicature, 2018) Highlights from long article about unbundled ghostwriting in the legal world:
"Since the mid-1990s, advocates for increased access to justice have touted unbundled (or limited-scope, or discrete-task) legal services as a means of distributing legal services to those unable to afford full legal representation. A growing number of states are adopting court rules permitting lawyers to make limited appearances for particular stages of the litigation, without requiring a motion for leave to withdraw from the case after the service is rendered.
One form — possibly the most common — of discrete-task representation is ghostwriting. Attorney Forrest Mosten, the “father” of unbundling, includes in his examples of the practice: “Lawyers can ghostwrite letters or court pleadings for the client to transmit or review and comment on documents the client has prepared, or be engaged only to send a letter on behalf of the client on law-firm letterhead.”
Despite the laudable motives of ghostwriters, ghostwriting has historically been considered an illegitimate form of unbundling because of the spate of federal court opinions opposing the practice on ethical and Rule 11-violation grounds.
Conflicting federal and state positions point to the need for clarification and uniformity regarding ghostwriting and the disclosure of the ghostwriter’s identity. It is time for the federal and state judiciaries and the legal profession to adopt uniform rules governing ghostwriting. [Scroll to end of long article for suggested basic proposed uniform rules.]
• Ghosting (Andrew O'Hagan, London Review of Books, 3-6-14) On ghosting the aborted memoir of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. In case you can't get access to that article, read what Esther Addley writes about it in The Guardian (2-2-14).
• The Brutally Honest Truth about Ghostwriting ( Demian Farnworth, Content Marketing, Raven, 6-7-13) Here are four common varieties:
Anonymous sales letters: Someone hires you to sell their product.
Their ideas and words.
Their ideas, your words.
Your ideas and words. This would include social ghostwriters (celebrities who hire someone to run their Twitter accounts, for instance).
• What is ghostwriting in content marketing? (Jennifer Goforth Gregory, 10-10-22) There's “Slap a name on the story” writing (content marketing) and then there's Real ghostwriting, when you write from a specific person’s point of view, and you write in their voice–not your own or the company’s. You (almost) always interview the person before writing and typically review many pieces of their writing to get a feel for their writing style and voice. And the person always reviews it.
• When Teen YA Authors Hire Ghostwriters (Dr. Jennifer Banash on Jane Friedman's blog, 7-8-19) A ghostwriter discusses the novels she's written for teens from wealthy families who pay up to six figures to bring their kids' dreams to life.
• Confessions of a Ghost (Inc.com). Anonymously, a bestselling ghostwriter explains the making of business books, and what you don't want to know about it.
• Five Ways to Successfully Capture Your Author’s Voice (Jake Johnson, GhostwritePro 5-17-10)
• Ghosting: A Double Life by Jennie Erdal, her memoir of 15+ years ghosting and serving as an alter ego for an eccentric, egotistical, flamboyant, charming London publisher, Naim Attallah (Quartet Books). From the New Yorker review: "...she is discerning about her motives for ghosting—money, a compulsion to please, and a cloistered Scottish Presbyterian childhood that made the 'irony and absurdity' of her job seem not just tolerable but glamorous." Blake Morrison offers another perspective in his Guardian review.
• A Ghost's Memoir: The Making of Alfred P. Sloan's My Years with General Motors by John McDonald (foreword by Dan Seligman). Library Journal: "Between 1954 and 1959, McDonald, an editor and writer at Fortune magazine, helped Alfred P. Sloan write his groundbreaking classic on business management, My Years with General Motors. After the book was completed and a deal was made for Doubleday to publish, the lawyers at General Motors took over and forced Sloan to suppress the book. On the surface, this is the riveting story of the process by which the book was written, the ruthlessness of the lawyers who blocked its publication, the lawsuit by McDonald, and the compromise that paved the way for its publication in 1964. At a deeper level, it gives the reader a basic understanding of what it takes to write a book, the need for independence in such projects, and the chilling effect that fear of governmental intervention can have on such endeavors..."
• The Ghost of Polanski’s “The Ghost Writer” (part 1 of Joey's take on the shooting script for the movie, “The Ghost Writer," GhostWritePro, 5-28-10). Here's part 1. Partly it's about the movie script and partly it's about why people want books so much they hire a ghostwriter. Part II is full of thoughtful advice and realities for writers helping people write their memoirs, played off scenes from the film "The Ghost Writer." (Joey)
• Ghostwriters: They're Not Just for the Rich and Famous (Kerry Zukus, Publishing Basics 6-2-11)
• A Ghostwriter Who Struggled to Accept Life in the Shadows. Stephen Miller (WSJ, 7-29-09) on Sanford Dody, ghostwriter of many celebrity memoirs. Dody's own memoir was Giving Up the Ghost (1980), out of print and available at Abe Books but not Amazon!
• Ghostwriting, Part I: The Ballad of Michael Gruber (who has long been the ghostwriter for Robert Tanenbaum, the trial lawyer turned NY Times Bestselling writer). See also Part II: Motivations and Agendas, and Part III: Why do it in the first place?. Posted on Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind (Crime fiction, and more--on hiatus, but old posts are still there and check out the great links, bottom left).
• Ghostwriting: Equal Parts Priest-Confessor, Therapist, Con-Artist, Artist (Victoria Costello, ASJA Monthly)
• Ghostwriting - Who is that "difficult" client, how to manage situation (Jane Genova, Speechwriter-Ghostwriter). See also her account of losing everything at 60, and starting over as a freelance writer-entrepreneur (download a free PDF eBook): Geezerguts: making a buck, no matter what (Oy vey - All those [middle-aged] unemployed writers--her story of loss and comeback)
• Ghosts Are Real, At Least In Publishing (Sari Botton, The Rumpus, 3-26-12). on why some celebrities may deny they use a ghostwriter. It's partly a question of semantics: "In my work I never simply interview a person and then write their book using a whole different collection of words than they did. Typically, I use many of the same words that came out of their mouths, although likely in a different order, and surrounded by other words. I also move whole pieces of their narratives around for purposes of better storytelling. I remove boring expository chunks, and try to draw more interesting anecdotes from my clients to replace those – anecdotes they wouldn’t have thought to include until I prompted them; anecdotes I still have to seriously rework and bring to life." Maybe, as she says, she's more of a "memoir midwife."
• Ghost Stories (Lynn Andriani, Publishers Weekly, 5-26-06). Story about literary agent Madeleine Morel, who represents only ghostwriters, including several who write bestsellers, unacknowledged but paid.
• Ghostwrite Pro (quips, tips and laments for ghosts...by ghosts Jake Johnson, Joey Robert Parks, and Ed Sweet).
• How Baseball Players Became Celebrities (Louis Menand, New Yorker, 5-25-2020) Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth, idols of the Golden Age of sports, brought stardom to America’s pastime. The rise of sports as big business and the handling of athletes as human capital may have started with a man named Christy Walsh—who had worked a sports cartoonist and a ghostwriter—who brought his background in advertising and publicity for automobile companies to his role as the first sports agent in the modern mold. A lot of ghostwriting goes on in this interesting social (and baseball) history.
• How to Impress a Potential Client Before First Contact (Part I) and (Part II) (Joey)
• The Perks and Perils of Being a Ghostwriter (Cathy Yardley, Writer Unboxed, 5-4-18) "The idea behind ghostwriting is being a ghost, vanishing into the work.... It’s a good thing for everyone to try, because you’ll never look at the process the same way again." The pros and the cons, from a novelist.
• Sometimes the Best Question Isn't a Sentence (Joey on using photos and pictures to draw out a memoir client)
• So You Need A Celebrity Book. Who Ya Gonna Call? Ghostwriters (Gabrielle Emanuel, Weekend Edition, NPR, 4-12-14). Listen or read the transcript of this excellent story.
• 6 Lessons from a New York Ghost (Nancy Shulins)
• Why the Future is Now for Ghostwriters and Freelance Writers (Jake)
• Ghostwriting Fiction (Kerry Zukus)
• Famous Ghostwritten Books and Their Ghostwriters (Derek Lewis Ink)
• The Mystery of the Hardy Boys and the Invisible Authors (Daniel A. Gross, The Atlantic, 5-27-15) Along with the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys series, almost all of the thrillers in the popular teenage franchise were produced by ghostwriters, thanks to a business model that proved to be prescient.
"Book packagers develop new story ideas, recruit and manage freelance writers, and edit the first drafts of series books. Then they deliver manuscripts to the publisher, who rewrite and polish them to produce the final book....The problem—for writers, and for writing itself—is that it's easier to be a ghost than to be a writer....by ceding ownership of what you do write, you're relieved of the need to fight for it. This is what book packagers taught writers, long before the Internet came along."
"The secret behind the longevity of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys is simple. They’re still here because their creators found a way to minimize cost, maximize output, and standardize creativity. The solution was an assembly line that made millions by turning writers into anonymous freelancers—a business model that is central to the Internet age.
“Hiring a book packager is a way of hiring staff without putting them on your payroll,” explains Anne Greenberg, who worked for Simon & Schuster from 1986 to 2002, when Lampton was writing. Greenberg edited hundreds of Nancy Drew mysteries after they came in from book packagers, and suspects she worked on more books in the series (approximately 300) than anyone else. “You have to keep feeding the machine,” she says....
"The Stratemeyer Syndicate helped prove that book packaging with ghostwriters could be incredibly profitable—for managers and owners, at least. Writers signed away their rights to royalties and bylines in exchange for a flat fee. (Early on, it was around $100 per book.) The syndicate launched dozens of series, guessing that only a few would be hits. It debuted Tom Swift in 1910, followed by The Hardy Boys in 1927, and Nancy Drew in 1930.
"Alice Leonhardt, who wrote Nancy Drew books for Megabooks, never even met the intermediaries who passed on her manuscripts to the publisher. 'I have no idea where they were,' she says."
• Plagiarism (in section on copyright). See in particular four items about the plagiarism rampant in genre writing and how massive an operaton it is. Ghostwriters, don't take these gigs! See also Plagiarism, self-plagiarism, recycling, patchwriting, and sloppy research (under Ethics).
• In Their Own Words? Maybe (Julie Bosman, NY Times, 6-1-11) Celebrity books and ghostwriters.
• Has John Grisham used ghost writers or co-writers for some of his novels? (Brian Palmer, Quora, 7-19-16) "Ghostwriting is something of an open secret in the publishing world. Lots and lots of authors employ ghostwriters once they get to a certain ‘critical mass’ and it begins to make good business sense to release more books more quickly—both for the author and for the publisher.... In the case of Grisham and Patterson, who are both still alive as far as I know, they are probably very involved in the process and Patterson even often shares credit with the writer on the cover, which is like handing someone a gold mine, so good on him....If it makes you feel better, chances are he doesn’t hire the ghostwriter himself and it wasn’t his idea—publishers get hungry for those bestsellers once they get a taste for it."
• An Interview with Erik Axl Sund (Susan Storer Clark, Washington Independent Review of Books, 7-12-16) A conversation with the two-man team behind one of Sweden’s most popular new works of crime fiction, The Crow Girl.
• Ghostwriting Fiction (Joey Parks, GhostwritePro)
• Donald Bain, Widely Read Author (but Not by That Name), Dies at 82 (Sam Roberts, NY Times obit, 10-26-17) "Donald Bain, the pseudonymous author of the “Murder, She Wrote” novels, Margaret Truman’s “Capital Crimes” mysteries and “Coffee, Tea or Me?,” the supposed memoir of two saucy airline stewardesses, died on Saturday in White Plains. Over five decades as a ghostwriter he published novels, biographies, westerns and historical romances, mostly under fictitious names or credited to more marketable bylines; vanity memoirs attributed to corporate executives; and even long articles disguised as excerpts from nonexistent books....
"Mr. Bain served in the Air Force while working as a disc jockey and announcer for radio and television stations in Texas. He then moved to New York, where he struggled to support his new family by selling children’s shoes at a department store and peddling typewriters. His fortunes changed when a cousin, a freelance writer who was overloaded with assignments, referred a writing project to him and connected him with a book editor."
• Whodunit? Your favorite author may be just a brand name (Kerry Lengel, Arizona Republic 4-13-07). Some brand-name novelists (e.g., Clive Cussler, Tom Clancy, James Patterson) franchise out their fiction; some novels are ghostwritten after the primary novelists' death (e.g., V.C. Andrew, Robert Ludlum, Lawrence Sanders, Ian Fleming, and Carolyn Keene, author of the Nancy Drew novels)
• A Novel Based on the True Story of a Con Man and His Ghostwriter (Olen Steinhauer, NY Times, 6-1-18) The novel: First Person by Richard Flanagan. "Richard Flanagan’s new novel approaches this shift in the zeitgeist by taking us back to the early ’90s and focusing on a time when out-and-out liars could still surprise us, when arguments were about interpretation rather than facts themselves; a time when the denial of objective reality could still frighten. It’s a time Flanagan knows well, because the story he tells is his."
• Who was Carolyn Keene? (Amy Benfer, Salon, 10-8-1999) An interview Q&A with Mildred Wirt Benson, the original ghostwriter for the Nancy Drew mystery novels.
• In Their Own Words? Maybe (Julie Bosman, NY Times, 6-1-11). There is an understanding among publishers, editors and agents that ghostwriters are behind many novels by celebrities. Says Bob Gottlieb, “It’s a way to extend the footprint of the celebrity.”
• Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain: 7 fiction authors whose careers were extended by ghostwriters ( Kevin McFarland , Phil Dyess-Nugent , Noah Cruickshank & Mike Vago, A.V. Club, 8-14-13). The seven: Robert Ludlum, H.P. Lovecraft, K.A. Applegate, V.C. Andrews, Mickey Spillane, Tom Clancy, Isaac Asimov.
• Your Favorite Authors Are Frauds: 6 Famous Ghostwriters (Stacy Conradt, Mental Floss, 10-3-12)
• My dirty secret writing life (Anna Davies, Salon, 7-7-13) For years, I penned a mega-popular series of teen books under another name. I made money -- but I lost my voice
• The Ghost of Miss Truman, (Jon L. Breen The Weekly Standard) Did Margaret Truman write her own mystery novels or were they ghosted by Donald Bain? An interesting look at celebrity mystery authors who worked with ghostwriters, only occasionally (Peter Duchin, for example) sharing writing credits. Breen names names.
• Your Favorite Authors Are Frauds: 6 Famous Ghostwriters (Stacy Conradt, Mental Floss). Peter Lerangis, Andrew Neiderman, H.P. Lovecraft, Raymond Benson, Daniel Ehrenhaft and Ryan Nerz. Can you guess which novels "by other authors" they wrote?
Ghostwriters, Creators, Cheats (Anuradha Swaminathan, WIPO). Novelist Alexandre Dumas (The Three Musketeers, The Count of Monte Cristo) used many "collaborators," one of whom, Auguste Maquet, took him to court for unpaid fees and to "recover his literary property as a co-author." An interesting piece.
How To Break Into Ghostwriting (Roz Morris, guest-blogging on Courage 2 Create, 6-29-11). "I brought out eleven novels, eight of them bestsellers–and not one of them had my name on."
---The Henry Ford of Books Todd S. Purdum (Vanity Fair, January 2015) Purdum explores the contradictions of James Patterson, the one-man fiction factory and publishing conglomerate. He's master of the red herring, says Roslyn Reid.
---What I Learned from James Patterson (Mark Sullivan, Publishers Weekly, 12-14-12) A coauthor shares some advice he gleaned from working with the global bestseller. "We are in the business of entertainment, not edification or enlightenment,” Patterson told me very early in our working relationship. “We are interested in giving the reader an intelligent thrill ride populated by outsized people we feel for.”
---The James Patterson Book Farm Must Be Stopped (Jay Sizemore, From the Library, 2-20-21) The monopolization of literature as content is ruining opportunities for creative writers
---How James Patterson Became the World’s Best-Selling Author (Laura Miller, New YOrker, 6-20-22) Critics complain about his generic characters, his workmanlike, plot-driven prose, and, above all, his practice of churning out multiple titles per year with the aid of co-writers. Patterson’s thrillers may be formulaic, but if anybody could write them everybody would.
---James Patterson Inc. (Jonathan Mahler, NY Times Magazine, 1-20-10) “To maintain his frenetic pace of production, Patterson now uses co-authors for nearly all of his books. He is part executive producer, part head writer, setting out the vision for each book or series and then ensuring that his writers stay the course."
---How James Patterson Works With His Co-Authors (Karen Woodward) "Famously, Patterson works with co-authors, at least six, to keep up his prolific output....Does the co-author do it all? Does Patterson write the outline, hand it off to the co-author, then stand back? Or perhaps Patterson is more hands-on, even going so far as to re-write passages in the novel?"
---An Accomplished Writer Takes a ‘MasterClass’ From a Gargantuan Selling Writer (Joyce Maynard, Observer, 8/4/15). What James Patterson had to teach me about writing—and selling—books
and 7 Tips From James Patterson For Writing Suspenseful Prose (both on Karen Woodward's blog)
--- World’s Best-Selling Author James Patterson On How To Write An Unputdownable Story (Joe Berkowitz, Fast Company, 4-16-14) James Patterson’s books account for one out of every 17 hardcover novels purchased in the United States. The wildly prolific author talks to Co.Create about how to tell a story that will hook people in.
Ghostwriting, Part I: The Ballad of Michael Gruber (who has long been the ghostwriter for Robert Tanenbaum, the trial lawyer turned NY Times Bestselling writer). See also Part II: Motivations and Agendas, and Part III: Why do it in the first place?. On Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind (Crime fiction, and more).
• My next book is a mess (Dan Blank, WeGrowMedia, 7-13-18) A nonwriter with content to share explains how collaborating with a book coach and getting feedback from writers and artists in his mastermind group helped him write better and take creative risk others might back away from ("to experiment with ideas when you don't have a roadmap").
Ghost Writing by Barbara Feinman Todd ( The Writer's Chronicle, AWP, 9-02). A fascinating reflection on the role and dilemmas of the ghostwriter, by a woman who became a successful ghostwriter by accident, on a long (and $ tempting) detour from the path she meant to follow. A collaborator not given credit is a ghostwriter. Feinman Todd was ghostwriter on Hillary Clinton's It Takes a Village.
Ghostwriting--The Publishing Industry’s Best-Kept Secret! (transcript of Derek Daniels' long interview with ghostwriter Bob Olson for OfSpirit.com). A plug for his services but a good description of the process.
Goodbye Byline: Hello Big Bucks--The Writer's Guide to Making Money Ghostwriting and Coauthoring Books by Kelly James-Enger. Kelly self-published this book, print-on-demand, and reports on the experience in More Straight Talk (and Real Numbers) about POD Sales (on her Dollars and Deadlines blog). She comes to interesting conclusions.
The Good Life of Ghostwriting (Claudia Suzanne, WritersWeekly, 10-3-01). "Book industry insiders estimate that 50% or more of all traditionally published books in today's market are worked on by one or more ghost/book doctor/line editor. In the self-publishing world, the percentage is probably even higher - and all indications point to the situation just becoming more and more favorable for the ghost."
"[T]he author of a book is the person who supplies the ideas, plan, theory, stories, etc. The person who helps the author arrange everything on paper in a marketable form is the writer. (Usually the author is also the writer.) The person who makes sure the manuscript conforms to commercial standards is the editor. Individuals who bring material, research and/or story ideas to the project are co-authors or collaborators."~ from her excellent article on the art, craft, and business, The Good Life of Ghostwriting (by Claudia Suzanne, WritersWeekly, 10-3-01).
You can listen to J.S. Najarian's interview with her (for On Purpose Magazine, 1-24-12), or listen to her one-hour lecture "Ghostwriters and Money" (on Vimeo), or buy her frank textbook Secrets of a Ghostwriter: The Only Step-by-Step Guide to Mastering Ghostwriting Theory, Skills, and Politics. She has long offered Ghostwriter Training online: a free introduction, a six-week basics course ($575), and a Ghostwriter Professional Designation Program (GPDP, $5395). Though I think she said she's finally doing her last such round. Take the course for the information, not to get the certificate; that piece of paper is not going to convey to a publisher or potential client that you have experience and can do a good job.
Google Docs (one way of collaborating in the Cloud):
• Why Google Docs is a writer’s best friend: writing on the go, instant back-ups, advanced organization & tons of space
• Writing a book using Google Docs (Steven Daviss on how he and two co-authors collaborated on Shrink Rap: Three Psychiatrists Explain Their Work
• Don't Lose Your Google Docs Data (Tony Bradley, PCWorld, 5-25-11, writing about what happens if Google crashes and my data disappears?)
• Microsoft Office vs.Google Docs: A Web Apps Showdown (Ian Paul, PCWorld 7-13-09)
• Publish Google Docs To WordPress To Twitter & Facebook ETC
• Google Docs tour and demo
Michael Gruber, talking at Mysterious Galaxy bookstore (Brianstorms, 3-19-03). Gruber ghostwrote many thrillers for others before writing one under his own name.
Helmut Kohl's Secrets: Former Chancellor's Ghostwriter Plans New Book (Spiegel, 9-26-12) Journalist and ghostwriter Heribert Schwan spent years working with Helmut Kohl on his memoirs. He was able to amass a vast archive of material on the conservative politician and statesman before the former chancellor ended their collaboration, a move Schwan believes was engineered by Kohl's new wife. SPIEGEL spoke with Schwan about his plans to publish his research.
How Much Should I Charge? (Writers and Editors, Pricing Strategies, How to Set Rates and Fees, and Other Survival Basics)
How to Be a Successful Ghostwriter (Kelly James-Enger, Writer's Digest, 6-7-11) When you collaborate with an expert, your work is done when the book is published. They do the marketing, which takes (unpaid) time! Kelly covers typical ghosting fees and terms to cover in your collaboration agreement.
How to Un-Bury the Book You’ve Got in You. Ghostwriter Kerry Zukus guest blogs on Sharisax Is Out There (a site about social media). “We ghosts often refer to ourselves as underpaid shrinks. We hear it all,” writes Zukus. And "While most ghosts come from the worlds of journalism or advertising, the single best calling card for a potential ghost is the proven ability to write a full-length book."
In Their Own Words? Maybe (Julie Bosman, NY Times, 6-1-11). There is an understanding among publishers, editors and agents that ghostwriters are behind many novels by celebrities. Says Bob Gottlieb, “It’s a way to extend the footprint of the celebrity.”
Is Ghostwriting Ethical? (Cheryl Conner, Forbes, 3-13-14) Includes Ethical Guidelines for Ghostwriting (from from Ethics in Human Communications by Richard L. Johannesen, Kathleen S. Valde, and Karen E. Whedbee). See also Ghostwriting isn’t unethical (most of the time) (Steve Farnsworth, Ragan, 6-20-12) Some CEOs need a little extra writing help. Here’s how to offer it without raising any ethical questions.
I Was a Cookbook Ghostwriter (Julia Moskin, NY Times, Dining, 3-13-12). "In most cases, the job of a ghostwriter is to produce a credible book from the thin air of a chef’s mind and menu — to cajole and probe, to elicit ideas and anecdotes by any means necessary. J. J. Goode, who wrote the just-released 'A Girl and Her Pig' with April Bloomfield, describes the process as '25 percent writing and 75 percent dating.' And although each project begins as a love affair, it rarely ends that way; disillusion is part of the job." Among food ghostwriters, the "rank beginners might be thanked in the acknowledgments of a book; the next step is being credited on the title page; at the very top of the profession, their names appear on the book’s cover. But getting up that pole can be a slippery business." After Gwenyth Paltrow denied working with a ghostwriter, food ghostwriter Sari Botton wrote this enlightening follow-up story: Ghosts Are Real, At Least In Publishing (The Rumpus, 3-26-12). "Maybe 'ghostwriting' is the wrong name for Turshen’s role. Maybe it’s the wrong label for this work, altogether, although I’m at a loss for a replacement that accurately describes taking raw verbal matter and transforming it first into rough jigsaw pieces, then smoothing and arranging those into a patchwork, and finally weaving it all into a seamless tapestry."
The Joys of Ghostwriting (Jessa Gamble, The Last Word on Nothing, or LWON, 5-24-18) "If my colleagues are being generous, they put my ghostwriting into the same general sell-out category as communications work—the place where journalists go to die, lemming-like, throwing ourselves onto Print Media’s funeral pyre. But here’s the thing: I love it. Actually, you know what? I prefer it to writing under my own name."
Keys to Writing Successful Cover Letters that Get Ghostwriting Gigs (Marcia Layton Turner, Association of Ghostwriters, 11-29-18)
Lawsuits are two for the books (Alex Beam, Boston.com). What happens when a ghostwriting firm and a ghostwriter disagree on terms.
Like Mother, Like Child (Robin and Sam Henig, New York Times Magazine, 11-21-12, write about the pleasures and problems of parent-child collaboration, which in their case was mostly pleasure, on Twentysomething: Why Do Young Adults Seem Stuck?. Love this excerpt: “How does it feel to be in your mother’s shadow?” one interviewer asked Anna Lappé during the book tour for “Hope’s Edge.” To which she replied: “I’m not in my mother’s shadow. I’m in my mother’s light.”
Marketing Yourself via Ghostwriting (R.A. Burnham, Certification Magazine, about getting publicity through ghostwritten articles).
Medical ghostwriting (as collaboration)
Medical ghostwriting and ethical issues in medical publishing
My Shrink Is My Co-Author (Susan Shapiro, Townies, NY Times, 10-19-11). Amusing piece about how the shrink-patient relationship changed when the financial-collaboration relationship impinged on the shrink's income--the writer-patient got demoted as a patient.
Nailing the Voice in Ghostwriting and Collaboration (Doug Wagner, The Editorial Department). Apparently no longer available.
Nancy Peske on common ghostwriting concerns (Sandra Gurvis, ASJA Confidential, 12-5-17) "How do you handle clients who are constantly contacting you with minor revisions that can be easily managed during routine manuscript flow? How do you avoid project creep? How do you structure your deals and keep clients on track and on schedule?” While some of these issues may occur with all writers they are of particular concern to ghostwriters. Book packagers particularly need ghostwriters and pay well." And I quote again: “A testimonials page is a huge selling point,” Nancy observes. Her page, for example, has not only blurbs from an impressive array of satisfied customers but also photos of the book covers. “A visual element is very important” when drawing traffic to your website. Another important consideration was “that it not just about a big advance, sometimes it’s more about exposure.” Clients who can parlay great book concepts into sequels, blogs, speeches and even movies “can be a constant and reliable source of income, especially if you are very familiar with their voice and platform.”
New authors produce sequels to famous books written by others (Neely Tucker, Washington Post, 10-22-09) Would A.A. Milne pooh-pooh a sequel?
The Online Entrepreneur’s Complete Guide to Ghostwriting (Part 1) (in which ghostwriter Marcy Sheiner offers five reasons to hire a ghostwriter, and one good reason not to: It's not cheap!). In Part II she writes about who to hire and where to find someone who is qualified, and she briefly outlines the four main steps in the collaboration process. Her main point: "To Publish and Sell (or Give Away) This Book, You Do Not Have to Be The One To Write It!" (in other words: hire a ghostwriter). Another point with which I heartily agree: "You don’t make money on a book – you make opportunities to make money."
A Peek Inside the Mother-Daughter Collaboration That Brought Us the Little House Series (Rebecca Onion, The Vault, Slate's history blog, 4-21-14). See also Wilder Women The mother and daughter behind the Little House stories (Judith Thurman New Yorker, 8-10-09)
Polar Opposites Find Common Ground in Music. (Neda Ulaby, All Things Considered, 12-29-10, 5.5 minutes) For years, musical duos with a shared sensibility and strong opposing personalities have made hit after hit. Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, Dave Stewart and Annie Lennox, Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards — all of these teams have found a middle ground together. ""When chaos meets order, when anarchy meets discipline, it's always the yin and yang," says memoir collaborator David Ritz. "I think tension is the key."
Q&A with ghostwriting expert Claudia Suzanne, author of Secrets of a Ghostwriter: The Only Step-by-Step Guide to Mastering Ghostwriting Theory, Skills, and Politics (interviewed by Michelle V. Rafter, WordCount, 1-8-13).
The Secret World of Ghost Writing (audio of David Kohn's frank interview on ABC Australia's TheBookShow)
The Shadow Scholar ("Ed Dante," The Chronicle of Higher Education, 11-12-10). The man who writes your students' papers tells his story. Ghostwriter of academic papers and homework tells how he makes a living ($66,000 his best year) writing papers for a custom-essay company and describes the extent of student cheating he has observed. Long, fascinating, and disheartening article. The "paper mill" was covered more lightheartedly in The Term Paper Artist by Nick Mamatas (The Smart Set, Drexel University, 10-10=08). Nick was also interviewed by NPR (The Paper Market, On the Media, 11-28-10).
Academic ghostwriting: to what extent is it haunting higher education? (Julia Molinari, The Guardian, 4-3-14) Students are paying agencies to write their essays. Julia Molinari asks whether it can ever be considered ethical – and what universities can do to detect and stop it. See Gaddafi's son paid LSE tutor £4,000 per month for help with his homework (Holly Watt, Telegraph UK, 12-1-11) The son of the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2002 paid Dr Philipp Dorstewitz up to £150 an hour for tutoring and, according to one invoice, a further £600 for “essays and working papers”....
• Should You Co-Author a Novel? Advice from Bestselling Writer Duos (Marie, on Goodreads blog, 10-24-18) Interviews with Neil deGrasse Tyson and Avis Lang (nonfiction), Christina Lauren (Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings, romance), Krista Ritchie and Becca Ritchie (YA), Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen (mysteries)
Six important lessons from a New York Ghost (New York writer Nancy Shulins ghostblogs on GhostWritePro, 4-9-10)
**Strange Bedfellows: The Rewards and Pitfalls of Collaboration (Authors Guild symposium, 2004, How collaborative projects are born, with Nick Taylor, Lawrence Malkin, Laura Morton, Peter Petre, Sarah Wernick).
Taking the “Spookiness” Out of Ghostwriting (Michael J. Dowling, on Friedlander's The Book Designer website, 7-13-11) "I believe outstanding ghostwriters possess six key traits: proficiency, efficiency, versatility, compatibility, creativity, and reliability." And he offers some questions to consider when interviewing ghostwriting candidates.
Top 40 ghostwriter blogs (sez Feedspot.com)
Top 10 Ghostwritten Books (Scott Larning, AbeBooks.com)
Top 3 Reasons I Ghostwrite for a Living (Joey Robert Parks, GhostwritePro, 5-20-10)
• Who wrote that political memoir? No, who actually wrote it? (Paul Farhi, Washington Post, 6-9-14). Mark "Sullivan charges his clients — businesspeople promoting investment strategies and doctors with thoughts about the health-care system, among others — fees starting at $15,000 per book. But the price can rise quickly depending on how long and complex a project is, he says. Top ghostwriters, those contracted by publishing houses to produce, say, a celebrity bestseller, can earn as much as $500,000 for their work, says Kevin Anderson, who runs a self-named ghostwriting firm in New York. “I wish I was in that league,” says Anderson, who works with professional athletes, business executives and “people with incredible life stories but weak writing skills.”
When the author isn't a writer: bringing in a ghost (Alan Rinzler, The Book Deal blog, 8-3-08)
Working with a Ghost (Theodore Kinni, Chief Executive.net, 8-16-06). The view from the "author's chair," about working with a ghostwriter.
How Andre Agassi and J. R. Moehringer Collaborated
Charles McGrath, in A Team, but Watch How You Put It (NY Times, 11-11-09) offers glimpses into the famous collaboration of famous tennis bad boy Andre Agassi and J.R. Moehringer in an "uncommonly well-written sports memoir." Moehringer, who worked from more than 1100 pages of transcripts, from 250 hours of interviews, describes a process that sounds partly like psychoanalysis and partly like Gilbert and Sullivan. He and Agassi dug through those many pages together to find themes.
Toward the end of a long interview with Terry Gross about his novel about Willie Sutton, the infamous bank robber, Moehringer talks at some length about his collaboration with Agassi on Open. For example: It "wasn't very different from writing my own memoir. When you're writing a memoir the trick, I think, is to treat yourself as a character — to distance yourself from yourself. You write about yourself in the first person, but you think about yourself in the third person. That's the only way you can gain any perspective, any clarity, and keep the dogs of narcissism at bay. And then when you're writing someone else's memoir, you do just the opposite. You try and inhabit their skin, and even though you're thinking third person, you're writing first person, so the processes are mirror images of each other, but they seem very simpatico."
The "first thing that we did," says Moehringer, "was we started a long really wonderful conversation about his life. It worked like therapy. I did - I sat in a straight back chair and Andre sat on a couch and I had a pad in my lap and he really, he dug deep, and together we found patterns and themes in his life. But it did get to the point where I was really worried that I might make some suggestion or render some analysis that would leave him, you know, helpless to Steph and the kids.
"So I started reading, like, Freud and Jung and giving myself this crash course in psychology. And - but he thought that was hysterical, but I was really worried that, I mean, he was digging so deep that I wouldn't be able to get him, you know, back to surface."
Janet Maslin, in her review of Open, writes that Agassi "uses his writing partner in the same way he uses his tennis support staff: as talented individuals in a universe where he, Mr. Agassi, is the one and only sun. (He said that he offered to put Mr. Moehringer’s name on the book, and that Mr. Moehringer declined.)" (Agassi Basks in His Own Spotlight , NY Times, 11-8-09) Moehringer established his life-writing credentials in 2005 with his own fine memoir, The Tender Bar, about growing up fatherless in pub-heavy Manhasset, New York, and finding eccentric role models at a pub, in a "dysfunctional but tightly knit community."
Medical ghostwriting is another kettle of fish altogether. Writers and editors who collaborate with scientists are often viewed as ghostwriters--which they are, if their role is not disclosed publicly, as it should be. If their role is disclosed, they are collaborators. Medical ghostwriters may be medical writers (or editors) who collaborate with scientists as unacknowledged collaborators or creators.
"The biggest distinction, in my view," says one medical writer "is who pays for the work as well as the purpose of the editing--does the scientist or research organization pay for it or a pharmaceutical company? Is the purpose to make the data clear or to make the data look better than it really is?"
The ethics and practical realities of medical writing
• FAQs about Medical Ghostwriting (Project on Government Oversight, or POGO, 8-10-11).
• Ghostwriting and the Medical Writer (Cynthia Haggard, American Medical Writers Association, 12-05)
• Ethical Editing – Ghostwriting is an unhealthy practice (Ernesto Spinak, SciELO blog, 1-16-14)
• American Medical Writers Association code of ethics
• Recommendations for the Conduct, Reporting, Editing, and Publication of Scholarly Work in Medical Journals. Here's a list of Journals Following the ICMJE Recommendations.
• Being the Ghost in the Machine: A Medical Ghostwriter's Personal View (Linda Logdberg, PLoS Medicine, 8-9-11). What she did, why she did it, and why she stopped doing it.
• Medical writers rail against Sunshine Act (CenterWatch, News-Online, 9-8-15) Citing insufficient professional guidance on how to interpret certain elements of the Physician Payments Sunshine Act, a group of seven medical writers and editors has concluded that difficulty could have a “chilling effect” on physicians’ ability to participate in clinical trials and publish results.
• Ghostwriting: The Dirty Little Secret of Medical Publishing That Just Got Bigger (The PLoS Medicine Editors, 9-8-09) "How did we get to the point that falsifying the medical literature is acceptable? How did an industry whose products have contributed to astounding advances in global health over the past several decades come to accept such practices as the norm? Whatever the reasons, as the pipeline for new drugs dries up and companies increasingly scramble for an ever-diminishing proportion of the market in “me-too” drugs, the medical publishing and pharmaceutical industries and the medical academic community have become locked into a cycle of mutual dependency, in which truth and a lack of bias have come to be seen as optional extras. Medical journal editors need to decide whether they want to roll over and just join the marketing departments of pharmaceutical companies."
• Ghostwriters in the Medical Literature (Susan Gaidos, Science, 11-12-10) The ugly truth about the role that "ghostwriters, and the medical-education companies (MECs) that employ them, have played -- and continue to play -- in shaping the medical-science literature....The cynical injection of marketing messages into the scientific literature sounds outrageous, but abuses common in academic publishing set the stage."
• Ghostwriting, RICO and Fraud on the Court? (Ed Silverman, Pharmalot blot 8-3-11). Two Toronto academics suggest pursuing class action lawsuits based on the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, and filing claims of ‘fraud on the court’ against a drugmaker that uses ghostwritten articles in litigation. they base their argument on article published in PLoS Medicine: Legal Remedies for Medical Ghostwriting: Imposing Fraud Liability on Guest Authors of Ghostwritten Articles (by Simon Stern and Trudo Lemmens).
• Professor files complaint of scientific misconduct over allegation of ghostwriting by Bob Roehr (BMJ 2011; 343:d4458), filed 7-13-11.
• The murky world of academic ghostwriting (Julia Beluz, McLeans 5-6-11). Lawsuits are shedding light on the dubious relationship between medical researchers and pharmaceutical companies
• Answers to FAQs about Medical Ghostwriting (Project on Government Oversight, or POGO, 8-10-11).
• Only full access to trial data will show signs of ghostwriting, meeting hears BMJ 2011;342:doi:10.1136/bmj.d2925 (5-10-11--subscription required). These articles are about an important meeting on medical ghostwriting held in Toronto, Spring 2011: The Ethics of Ghost Authorship in Biomedical Research: Concerns and Remedies
• How Scientific Literature Has Become Part of Big Pharma's Marketing Machine and How Being Nice Hurts Canada: 5 Questions with Ghostwriting Expert Trudo Lemmens (Paul Thacker, Project on Government Oversight (POGO), 6-22-11)
• Ghost Writing and Scientific Misconduct: What does this reflect? (Solomon R. Benatar, JCB Voice, also about the Toronto conference).
• Ghostwriters in the Fray: The Implications for Science, Industry, Medical Journals, and Our Patients (Richard Salcido, Advances in Skin & Wound Care: The Journal for Prevention and Healing, Nov. 2009).
• How drug companies' PR tactics skew the presentation of medical research. Elliot Ross reveals the secret 'army of hidden scribes' paid by the drug companies to influence doctors (5-20-11)
• Give up the ghosts. "Funding agencies should make researchers reveal industry links." Nature 468. 732. (09 December 2010) doi:10.1038/468732a
• What Should Be Done To Tackle Ghostwriting in the Medical Literature?. A debate about medical ghostwriting on PLoS Medicine, with Peter C. Gøtzsche, Jerome P. Kassirer, Karen L. Woolley, Elizabeth Wager, Adam Jacobs, Art Gertel, Cindy Hamilton. (2009) PLoS Med 6(2): e1000023. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000023)
• Publishing: A helping hand (Karen Kaplan, NatureJobs.com, orig. pub'd in Nature 12-1-10). Can the growing number of manuscript-editing services turn a mediocre paper into a publishable one? A plug for the legitimate editing of scientific papers, with sidebars on Opportunities in editing and How to choose a manuscript-editing service. You can also get the PDF version of the article.
• The Haunting of Medical Journals: How Ghostwriting Sold “HRT” (Adriane J. Fugh-Berman, PLoS Med 7(9): e1000335, 9-7-10). (Fugh-Berman examines documents unsealed in recent litigation to see how pharmaceutical companies promoted hormone therapy drugs, which included using medical writing companies to produce ghostwritten manuscripts and place them in medical journals). Read the response by Adam Jacobs of the European Medical Writers Association.
• How to handle authorship disputes: a guide for new researchers (Tim Albert and Elizabeth Wager), one of several guidelines published by the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE)
• Medical Papers by Ghostwriters Pushed Therapy (Natasha Singer, NY Times, 8-4-2009). See also Medical ghostwriting and the role of the 'author' who acts as the sheet (Janet D. Stemwedel, Adventures in Ethics and Science blog, 8-21-09)
• New strategies to tackle medical ghostwriting are debated (Science News)
• Medical Journal Ghostwriting: Time to Do Something? (Shirley S. Wang, WSJ 9-18-09)
• "Ghosting Matilda", humorous verse, on the Health Care Renewal blog (9-25-09)
• Ghostwriting(Derek Lowe, In the Pipeline, a short entry followed by an intelligent discussion with readers)
• Ghost Management: How Much of the Medical Literature Is Shaped Behind the Scenes by the Pharmaceutical Industry? (Sergio Sismondo, PLoS Med 4(9): e286, 9-25-07)
• Good Publication Practice for Pharmaceutical Companies Guidelines (Envision Pharma, 2006)
• Evidence in Vioxx Suits Shows Intervention by Merck Officials (Alex Berenson, NY Times, 4-24-05)
• Revealed: how drug firms 'hoodwink' medical journals (Antony Barnett, The Observer, 12-7-03). Pharmaceutical giants hire ghostwriters to produce articles - then put doctors' names on them
See also (with some repetition of what you find here) Medical ghostwriting and ethical issues in medical publishing
• When Stars Twitter, a Ghost May Be Lurking (Noam Cohen, NY Times 3-9-06)."A need for constant updates has created a cottage industry that fans may not be aware of: Twitter ghostwriters."
• Stars Gain Control of Online Images (Jeremy Beiler, NY Times 5-8-11)
• Should Nonprofit Leaders Have Ghostwriters? (Peter Panepento, The Chronicle of Philanthropy 2-11-10)
• Guy Kawasaki Discloses Ghost Writers, Defuses Issue (Dave Fleet, 3-23-09, one of several blogs on this topic)
• The Specter Behind the Tweet – Ghost Writing, Authenticity, and Social Media (Tom Woolf, the PRagmatist, 10-31-10)
The single most important thing you need when you set out to collaborate with someone is a written contract. Some of the points such an agreement should cover:
1) Whether or not you will share copyright jointly;
2) Credits: Will both names appear on the cover, and if so, in what order and in what wording and relative size? Generally the publisher will want the name of the more prominent author to appear first, but will it be A and B, A with B, A as told to B, or what? Or will second writer's name appear only on title page, or in acknowledgments, or not at all (as in some but not all ghostwriting arrangements)? Will one name be larger and more prominent than the other? For the publisher what's important is which name will sell more books.
3) Will one party be paid only a fee for services? (a fee for writing book proposal? a fee for proposal and a share of revenue?) Whether parties will share income from the publisher, and in what proportion (50/50 or ?), etc.
4) Who will have control over the work and, if there is disagreement, whose decision will be final. (Maybe one partner will have final word on content (information) and one on wording.
5) Termination: What to do if the partnership doesn't work out. What to do should they arrive at a point where they can't agree on the direction of the work.
6) Expenses: Who covers what?
7) What does each person contribute? Who provides content in which areas? Who does interviews? Who does what proportion of the writing? Who clears permissions? Who pays permission fees? How much time can each be expected to devote each week? What will their schedule be, and what deadlines do they agree to meet?
8) Maximum, minimum. Is a party who is a "contributor" guaranteed a minimum but, in exchange, also a maximum--a cutoff on share of proceeds?
9) Share of ancillary rights: For example, does a contributor have a right to income from exploitation of other rights, such as foreign language sales?
One ghostwriter (meaning she doesn't claim co-authorship on the book itself) reports including additional clauses:
I offer pricing tiers. "The first tier gets one guaranteed round of revision, the second allows up to three, and the third allows unlimited rounds of revision. The more revisions the client wants to guarantee (whether used or not), the more expensive the rate."
"In my contract I specify that I retain the right to claim the project on my résumé and in my portfolio with links to the published book(s)."
"Make sure your contract specifies that your obligation concludes when the client accepts/approves the content."
• Book Collaboration Basics by Stephanie Golden. Be sure to read Key Contract Clause: Scope of Work and Why Collaborations Fail.
•"[T]he author of a book is the person who supplies the ideas, plan, theory, stories, etc. The person who helps the author arrange everything on paper in a marketable form is the writer. The person who makes sure the manuscript conforms to commercial standards is the editor. Individuals who bring material, research and/or story ideas to the project are co-authors or collaborators. ~ from an excellent article on the art, craft, and business, The Good Life of Ghostwriting (by Claudia Suzanne, WritersWeekly, 10-3-01).
• Writers Collaborating: Sometimes It Gets Complicated (YouTube video, Authors Guild webinar, 11-6-17, 52 minutes) Even the greatest teams can fall apart. Both personal and professional conflicts can arise, often unforeseen, and sometimes unsolvable. With that in mind, this webinar discusses various co-writer arrangements and the salient terms to address contractually.
• A Report: Family, Love, and Dying Twice (Ann Busch, Discretionary Love, 6-30-22) A cautionary tale about the pitfalls of writing about family. Ann and her sister agreed to collaborate, to merge their two memoirs in one: “How Will We Know if She Is Dead?” Her sister died, without documenting her wishes about the collaboration in an estate plan. The family blocked publication. Get that collaboration agreement signed.
• Collaboration and Ghost Writer Agreements (Lloyd J. Jassin, Copylaw) A good overview of the essential elements of a collaboration agreement, explaining what common options might be.
• The Ultimate Guide to Author Collaboration in Writing and Publishing (Sacha Black, Alliance of Independent Writers, 5-18-20) A guide for indie writers, with tips for making the relationship work.
•, Independent Book Publishers Association, formerly PMA, from publisher's viewpoint)
• Good Fences: When and Why Co-Writers Should Have Collaboration Agreements (Mark Fowler, Rights of Writers, 1-29-11) Outlines what seven questions should be addressed in the agreement, including "3. How will the work be credited? Whose name will be first? Will it be styled: "you and me," "you with me," "by you as told to me," or will I be a completely invisible ghost?" and "7. What happens if you can't sell the work or one of you doesn't uphold your end of the bargain because of illness, death, competing obligations, laziness, incompetence? How will you terminate the relationship? What rights, if any, will each of you own in the work?"
• 7 Things to Consider (and Discuss) if You’re Collaborating – including a Sample Letter of Agreement (Greg Miller, The Other Network Writer's Room, 5-31-14) Another potential clause: Are reps (agents, managers) and prospective partners (producers, financiers) to be mutually agreed? See also Miller's Sample Writer’s Collaboration Agreement (New & Improved) (3-4-15)
• Collaborative fiction A helpful, interesting, broadly sweeping Wikipedia page about various forms of collaboration on fiction, including practical and legal tips and links to further resources. (E.g.,'The Association of Authors' Representatives recommends that "a collaboration agreement must deal with termination of the collaboration: How the collaborators can part ways, who keeps the money, who keeps the rights to the material".)
• Ghostwriting – 8 Elements Of My Contracts or Letters of Agreement by literary agent Anne Wayman. See also her Renegotiating A Writing Contract.
• Legalities 28: Copyright Ownership for Collaborative Projects Linda Joy explains the difference between joint works and derivative works, the role of art directors, and the various copyright implications when more than one person is involved in a project. "In most cases, potential licensees for your work will want exclusive rights to market the work. Your product design will be much less valuable if your joint author could also sell it to your client’s competitors. So it would be prudent for you and your friend to explicitly agree on how you will share the copyright and how you will make marketing and licensing decisions. These terms are separate from your agreement to share profits 50-50, and they can vary depending on how you want to take care of the marketing decisions."
• Author Collaboration: How it Works, and Does it Work? (Angela Ackerman on Emma Lombard's historical romance blog, 8-15-20)
• Collaboration agreement forms for authors and screenwriters (James A. Conrad)
• SFWA Model Author Collaboration Agreement, Version 1.0 (James A. Conrad and members of Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America)
• Good Fences: When and Why Co-Writers Should Have Collaboration Agreements (Mark Fowler, Rights of Writers, 1-29-11)
• Collaboration Agreements in the Publishing Industry (Lloyd J. Jassin, Absolute Write). Do you need a collaboration agreement? Double the trouble or half the work? A good overview of elements of a collaboration agreement.
• Writers Guild collaboration agreement (PDF, Writers Guild of America West)
• Writers Collaboration Agreement (PDF, Writers Guild of America East) The two contracts seem to be the same, but I don't guarantee it.
• Devised Theatre: Collaboration Agreement Between Writers and Non-Writers (Dramatists Guild) The Devised Theater Committee and Business Affairs Department are proud to announce the availability of four contract models designed specifically for devised theater, a Collaboration Agreement Solely Between Writers, a Preliminary Agreement to Participate, a Collaboration Agreement Between Writers and Non-Writers and a Devised Theatre Production Agreement. Accompanying the contract models is an innovative Devised Theater Resource Manual, which includes, among other things, an explanation of legal principles, discussions about craft, and a glossary of terms. Available only to members of the Guild.
• Free Writing Collaboration Contract Forms for Authors and Screenwriters (James Conrad)
• Negotiating Collaboration Agreements: How to Avoid Common Business and Legal Mistakes (Lloyd J. Jassin, Copylaw.com)
• Songwriting. "Simply stated, a Collaboration Agreement is a mini-partnership agreement. The partnership assets are the songs covered by the agreement. The songwriters are the partners and the agreement details how the expenses and income related to the songs will be shared." ~ Kent Newsome, "The Art of the Deal (5-15-98, Suite 101.com)
• Dramatists Guild Bill of Rights . The Guild recommends that any production involving a dramatist incorporate a written agreement in which both theatres/producers and writers acknowledge certain key rights with each other.
• How to Be a Successful Ghostwriter (Kelly James-Enger, Writer's Digest, 6-7-11) Kelly mentions typical ghosting fees and terms to cover in your collaboration agreement.
• Writing Together: 7 Books That Come From Collaboration (Christine Rau, Book Riot, 3-9-19)
• How to Draft a Collaborative Writing Agreement (Clinton M. Sandvick and James Conrad, wikiHow) A good template with explanations.
• Contract terms for book publishing (full section of links to everything from the Author's Guild's Improving Your Book Contract: Ten Book Contract Traps We Can Help You Avoid to 8 clauses an agent is likely to negotiate in a contract.
• See also Sarah Wernick's Q&A further down on this page.
What follows, adapted from the website of the late, wonderful Sarah Wernick, has migrated here by permission of Sarah's husband, Willie Lockeretz, on behalf of all the expert authors who ask, and the professional writers who are repeatedly asked, certain basic questions about writing a book and getting it published. Thank you, Sarah!
You don't have to write a book all by yourself! Team up with someone whose expertise complements yours. You'll make the process more efficient and enjoyable – and boost the odds for success.
- Why work with a professional writer?
- How do I find a collaborator?
- What should I look for in a writer?
- Should we sign a contract?
- What are the usual financial arrangements?
- Who gets credit on the book jacket?
- Who holds copyright?
- How do collaborators write together?
- Other questions?
Updated January 1, 2007
Why work with a professional writer?
The answer is obvious if you know your prose can't do justice to your ideas. But what if your friends and colleagues admire your writing? Say you’ve written for trade magazines or technical journals. Maybe you’ve published an academic book or articles. Do you really need to work with a writer?
Maybe not. But realize that a popular book requires a different writing style. Also, commercial publishing involves expertise beyond word craft, such as knowing how to find an agent and how to present a book idea effectively in this competitive marketplace.
For example, when a strong writer works with an expert who doesn’t yet have an agent, she arranges for the two to meet with several agents who would be appropriate for their book. If she's selective about the experts she collaborates with – and can write strong book proposals – her books receive six-figure advances (as Sarah's did). Her experience and connections are also useful after the book is published, when the focus turns to marketing.
If you’d rather work on your own, start by learning about the profession. For a quick overview, have a look at So, You Want to Write a Book! Check out the links and read the recommended books; join a writers’ organization and attend classes and workshops. Gain experience as a commercial writer by submitting articles to popular publications.
All this probably sounds like a lot of work – and indeed it is. Do you have the time to develop a second profession as a writer? Is this the best use of your energies? If not, collaborating with a writer might make more sense.
If you're an expert with a high profile in your profession, a writer might find you. Sarah contacted Miriam Nelson of Tufts University after reading an article Miriam wrote for the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA); they subsequently collaborated on three books.
A writer might interview you for a magazine or newspaper article, and then ask if you’ve thought about writing a book. Peggy McCarthy, a patient advocate who was a source for two magazine articles Sarah wrote about lung cancer, later called Sarah with a book idea and they became coauthors.
Sometimes experts are contacted by someone in publishing – an agent, an editor, or a book packager – who sees a potential book idea in their work. Any of these people can recommend writers.
Another approach is to look for a writer yourself. Go to a bookstore and browse through books similar to the one you’d like to write. Look at the bylines and read the acknowledgments. Also check magazines and newspapers for popular articles on your subject. When you’ve gathered some names, plug them into Google or another search engine. Many writers have websites, so it's easy to find them and learn more about their work.
You can also find a collaborator through writers’ organizations. For example, the American Society of Journalists and Authors has a free referral service called Freelance Writer Search; job listings are publicized to a membership of over 1,200 published writers who have met the organization's standards of professional achievement.
Relevant experience is valuable in every profession, including writing. The ideal coauthor is someone with experience writing collaborative books on a subject similar to yours for the same target audience as your book. A writer with an excellent track record is not only more likely to do a good job, but will also be an asset when selling the project to a publisher.
Check references. Ask the writer if you can call experts with whom he or she has worked in the past.
Get together and talk about your project. Do the two of you communicate well? Does the writer ask intelligent questions? Understand your answers? Offer good suggestions? Personal compatibility counts too. Collaborators work closely over the time required to write a book.
Should we sign a contract?
Definitely! As soon as you begin writing with someone, you are creating jointly owned property together. Having a written agreement is as important as it would be if you were building a house. Before you start working with a writer, both of you should sign a collaboration agreement. This is true even if you decide to write your book with a friend.
The collaboration agreement covers the following:Description of each person's responsibilities
- Monetary issues, including compensation and expenses
- Credit, copyright, and control
- Provisions for the unexpected and the unpleasant
For information on collaboration agreements, see the following books, all of which include other valuable information for writers:
---The Writer's Legal Companion: The Complete Handbook for the Working Writer, Third Edition, by Brad Bunnin and Peter Beren
---Business and Legal Forms for Authors and Self-Publishers, Revised Edition, by Tad Crawford.
Though model agreements can be helpful, it's prudent to have your contract reviewed by a literary attorney or agent before you sign it.
The American Society of Journalists and Authors collects data on collaborative splits from its members. Their reports indicate that the single most common arrangement is for the writer and expert to split the advance and royalties 50-50. But these deals are negotiated individually. Variations in both directions are common.
Even with a 50-50 split, specifics differ. For example, the writer – who usually must live on the proceeds, while the expert normally has other professional income – might receive a greater share of the advance, while the expert collects first royalties to make up the difference.
In most cases the writer receives an up-front fee for writing the book proposal. Fees vary considerably: $3,000 is minimal; $5,000 to $10,000 is more typical – and writers with a strong track record may charge much more. Sometimes the fee is considered an advance against money earned from the book, but sometimes it's a separate payment. All financial arrangements should be spelled out in a written collaboration agreement before work begins.
Credit is determined by mutual agreement. When peers collaborate on a book, they may flip a coin to decide whose name comes first. An author like Sarah receives a “with” byline on the jackets of coauthored books, signaling that the expert is the lead author. The expert collaborator’s name is typically printed first and in larger type. Similarly, the description of the expert-author that's printed on the book jacket flap, is longer than the description of the writer and may include a photo, which the writer’s might not. All these details should be spelled out in your collaboration agreement.
Some experts prefer not to credit the writer. But most professional writers are proud of their books and would hesitate to collaborate with someone who was unwilling to acknowledge their work. Those who agree to be a ghost writer (a writer or collaborator with no credit) usually expect commensurately higher payment to assuage the pain of no credit.
Coauthors work in many different ways. Sometimes the writer does all the writing; sometimes the expert produces the first draft and the writer polishes – and those are just two examples. Part of the challenge of collaborating is devising a congenial and effective process.
Some collaborators prefer to meet in person; others work via email or telephone. Often, there's a combination. For example, at the beginning of Sarah's collaboration with Rick Bradley, she traveled to Washington DC, where he works, for a two-day meeting to plan their book, Quick Fit. After that, telephone conferences and emails sufficed. In Sarah's experience, distance is not an obstacle to successful collaboration.
Have a look at Sarah Wernick’s chapter about collaborations in The ASJA Guide to Freelance Writing: A Professional Guide to the Business for Non-Fiction Writers of All Experience Levels, edited by Tim Harper for the American Society of Journalists and Authors (St. Martin's Press, 2003).