5 Common Ghostwriting Myths You Should Stop Buying Into Today

“Wait, you’re telling me that my favorite book wasn’t written by the person whose name is on the cover?!” This is one common reaction I get when I introduce someone to the concept of ghostwriting. The truth is if your favorite book is a nonfiction one, then the odds are good that it was ghostwritten.

According to one estimate, at least 60% of books on the nonfiction bestsellers list were ghostwritten. And that statistic was reported in 2014, so I bet it’s higher today.

Now, most people don’t have a lot of trouble believing that their favorite celebrity’s memoir was written by a professional ghostwriter. Frankly, it would be more surprising to find out Rihanna had been devoting hundreds of hours to writing a book between rehearsing for the Super Bowl halftime show, winning 9 Grammys, being honored as a Barbadian National Hero, and running to her latest photoshoot for British Vogue.

But when it comes to ghostwriting for the non-rich and famous (or the aspiring rich and famous), people have… strong opinions. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with having strong opinions, most of these opinions about ghostwriting are based on some common myths that we should all stop buying into.

Myth #1. Ghostwriting is only for celebrities and politicians.

Again, it’s not hard for us to believe that celebrities and other busy, famous people, like politicians, don’t write their own books. Investing in a ghostwriter, especially one who has written bestselling books, makes good business sense on so many levels. 

Time is one of our most precious resources and when there are a lot of demands on your time, you have to choose carefully how you spend every hour. Ghostwriters are fast writers and most have a lower hourly rate than your average famous person. Plus, we want our favorite celebrities and politicians to spend their time doing what they do best.

Also, no one expects celebrities or politicians to be strong writers, so the risk to their credibility is low. None of the 3.2 million people who bought Prince Harry’s memoir, Spare, in the first week think it would have been a better book had Harry not collaborated with novelist J.R. Moehringer. So the ROI on ghostwriting is obvious for celebrities and politicians.

Truth: The truth is that all the reasons a celebrity or politician has for working with a ghostwriter apply to us non-famous people as well. 

  • Our time is also precious. 
  • Business strategists constantly remind entrepreneurs who want to scale their businesses to spend time in their “zones of genius.” 
  • And no one expects a high level consultant, for instance, to also be a writing genius. 

Finally, if you think ghostwriting is too expensive, you have to consider the business case for your book. Unless your book makes it onto the NYT bestseller list, you’re not likely to make back the money you spend on a ghostwriter through book sales, but there are other ways for a book to make you money. A book is an excellent lead magnet; it gives you the chance to reach a wider audience and increase your prices; keynote speakers with a book earn more than those without a book… and so on.

Myth #2. If I work with a ghostwriter, the writing won’t sound like me.

This is a valid fear that authors have when deciding whether to work with a ghostwriter. If your book doesn’t sound like you, it won’t feel like yours and you won’t be enthusiastic about promoting your book or sharing it with the world. Clearly, you want to avoid this result.

It’s true that not all writers are also good ghostwriters. But if you collaborate with a ghostwriter who is a good fit for you and their process is solid, they will be able to capture your voice. This is the number one skill that only the best ghostwriters possess.

Truth: Making sure your ghostwriter captures your voice often comes down to finding a writer who is a great fit. When I work with a client to write their book, the ideas come from them and the process is collaborative. I need to spend significant time with my clients and read other stuff they’ve written so that I can absorb any unique turns of phrase, jokes, and other word choices that make their writing unique. 

With my best clients, the ghostwriting process feels like a mind meld, where neither one of us could have written the book we end up writing together and that book is better than what each of us could have written on our own. It’s all about the process.

Myth #3. Using a ghostwriter is unethical.

As a former professor who has strong opinions about students plagiarizing their work, I can relate to this myth. I admit that I had to work through a bit of cognitive dissonance too when I started working as a ghostwriter (and I would never write academic papers for college students or professors, for that matter). 

Context matters here, though. Whether ghostwriting is ethical comes down to the rules of the game. When you’re working toward a degree or working toward tenure in the academic world, being awarded those credentials suggests that you successfully played by a certain set of rules. One of those rules is that you are doing your own work and if someone else writes a paper for you, then you’re getting a degree under false pretenses. However, the context and rules in the business world are different.

Truth: Here’s why ghostwriting is not unethical: Writing is a skill that is not necessary for experts and leaders to do amazing, impactful work in the world. In this way, I don’t see hiring a ghostwriter as significantly different from hiring a bookkeeper.

I extend confidentiality to all of my clients and whether they choose to share that they worked with a ghostwriter is entirely up to them. But calling themselves an “author” is not unethical or deceptive. I couldn’t write the books I write without my clients as the primary source of the message, the ideas, and the details that fill hundreds of pages.

Myth #4. A ghostwriter needs to know as much as I do about my topic. 

As a subject matter expert, you may wonder how someone could write in your voice who doesn’t know your subject backwards and forwards. But again, this is where it’s important to realize you will be supplying your ghostwriter with all of the ideas and details they need to write your book.

What’s your ghostwriter’s job then? They will be filtering your ideas through the lens of your audience. If you are writing a book for other subject matter experts, then sure, you might need to worry about whether your ghostwriter has the chops to do the work. Otherwise, you probably want an expert writer, not an expert at whatever your topic is.

Truth: I often talk about my lack of subject matter expertise as an advantage for my clients. When you’re trying to write a book for a lay audience, it helps to have someone in your corner who can give you a gut check on your writing. 

Subject matter experts often forget that their readers don’t know everything there is to know about being a shipping magnate and I’m here to remind my clients to skip the jargon. I wrote a book with a pelvic floor physical therapist, for example, where my primary job was making sure I could understand the anatomical descriptions and practical advice she was sharing with her readers.

Myth #5. I should only hire a ghostwriter if I want to write a book.

There seems to be an assumption that ghostwriting only makes sense for book-length writing projects. Maybe the thought is something like, “I should be able to write the day-to-day content I need to fuel my business’s marketing.”

Truth: As the need for industry articles, blog posts, white papers, media pitches, presentation content, and social media content continues to grow, the day-to-day marketing content fueling our businesses could fill hundreds of pages each month. It’s no wonder there is a growing demand for ghostwriters who can write shorter pieces of content.

As our LinkedIn for Thought Leadership clients will tell you, having someone else write original LinkedIn posts for you makes spending time on social media so much more fun. With a ghostwriter, you can focus on the best parts of LinkedIn: the community, engaging with other like-minded people inside and outside of your industry, and sparking conversations with people who can help move your work forward.

And of course, who wouldn’t love another set of eyes on their marketing messages? Having someone to brainstorm content ideas with and give you that gut check on your writing boosts your confidence and makes you feel like the rockstar you are.

If you have more ideas than time to write them down, ghostwriting may be your best option for getting that book out of your head and onto the page or staying consistent with your LinkedIn content. Who knows? With the right idea and a great writer to help you execute that idea, we may be seeing your book on the nonfiction bestsellers list next!

Photo credit: Woman Thinking Between Writing Notes In An Open Workspace by Flamingo Images from NounProject.com