How to Be a Ghostwriter

A ghostwriter writes books and magazine articles for someone who is either too busy or not skilled enough to write them himself. According to a 1997 New York Times article, up to half the books on the nonfiction best-seller list were written by ghostwriters, and other sources give figures from 40 to 80 percent. A long-standing practice in the publishing industry, ghostwriting provides an opportunity to earn a steady writing income in exchange for letting someone else take the credit. You too can be a ghostwriter.


  1. Image titled Be a Ghostwriter Step 01
    Decide which writing areas you wish to specialize in. There are many areas ghostwriters can write in; some examples are listed below. Decide which areas interest you.
    • Autobiographies and memoirs of famous, interesting or inspiring people
    • Self-help books, either with a pop psychology or spiritual slant
    • Success in business books
    • Books that establish the credited author as a subject-matter expert
  2. Image titled Be a Ghostwriter Step 02
    Develop your writing skills. Many ghostwriters are not great writers, but they are good writers who know how to structure a book effectively. You'll need to show that you can write better than the person who's considering you as a ghostwriter for the project.
    • Having clips of something you've previously published to show clients will lend you credibility. If you haven't been previously published, showing a good sample of unpublished writing relevant to the book project is the next best thing.
  3. Image titled Be a Ghostwriter Step 03
    Hone your interviewing skills. Much of the preliminary work as a ghostwriter involves hours of interviewing the subject. You'll need to learn to ask the right questions and ask them effectively.
  4. Image titled Be a Ghostwriter Step 04
    Be a good researcher. Depending on the nature of the project, you may have to interview people associated with your subject, consult works published within the historical period associated with your project or pore through reams of correspondence. Expect to immerse yourself in your work.
  5. Image titled Be a Ghostwriter Step 05
    Accept the client's directions, within reason. No matter what ideas you may have for the project, it is still your client's work and should be structured to your client's tastes and expressed in your client's voice. If it helps, think of yourself as an actor taking on a role.
  6. Image titled Be a Ghostwriter Step 06
    Become a trustworthy individual. Depending on the work, your client may provide you with access to confidential materials or extremely personal information. You need to be able to maintain client confidentiality as a ghostwriter and to assure your client that information given off the record stays off the record.
  7. Image titled Be a Ghostwriter Step 07
    Address the legal issues in a written contract. Putting the issues in writing before starting protects both the ghostwriter and the client. Some issues to consider:
    • Duties: Who is responsible for what and when it is supposed to be done.
    • Compensation: How the ghostwriter is to be paid while working on the project.
    • Credit: Typically, the client will be listed as author. The ghostwriter may be credited as co-author, "as told to," in the dedication or not at all. Ghostwriters may want additional compensation for the lack of credit, or they may accept less compensation to have the credit for the hope of future work.
    • Copyright ownership: Typically, the client will want the rights to the book; however, if ownership of the rights is not addressed in writing, the default is that the collaborators share it equally, which could cause problems if the contract is cancelled and both parties wish to pursue it with other collaborators.


  • For advice on setting your rates, see a current copy of "Writer's Market" or the online resources of the Editorial Freelancers Association.
  • Whether you choose to be paid by the hour, the page or the project, it's advisable to set up a payment schedule based on key deliverables, such as signing the contract, delivering an outline, first draft of the first chapter, first draft of the manuscript and final draft.


  • Be sure both you and your clients understand that there is no guarantee the book will make them money. Most books sell few copies during their publishing runs, and most generate little, if any, in the way of profits.

Things You'll Need

  • Recording device (tape or MP3 recorder)
  • Means to take written notes (pencil/pen and paper or laptop computer)

Article Info

Categories: Publishing