Gathering of the Ghosts – January 22, 2024

Ghostwriters Don’t Always Need To Stay Behind the Screen

May 9, 2023

Ghostwriting” has an air of mystery. With “ghost” embedded into the word, that’s no surprise.

For years, authors and speakers have chosen to record their big ideas, life stories, and great tales by working with people with expertise in storytelling. For years, those writers remained behind the scenes, and the authors and speakers hoped no one would know they had help.

But today’s world is smarter. People understand many authors don’t have the time or expertise to craft their book or speech without the help of a collaborator. That’s due in no small part to the social media-driven internet, which makes it almost impossible to keep secrets and helps fuel the transparency revolution.

Case in point: In April, The New York Times led an article with the news that New York Governor Kathy Hochul paid $25,000 for Gotham Ghostwriters to produce Achieving the New York Dream, a 277-page book to outline her agenda and “set the stage for budget fights over housing policy, tax rates and the state’s bail law that continue.”

(The article also went on to share criticism for her spending nearly $2 million on additional help to shape her vision for the State of the State speech this year.)

Of course, the governor didn’t expect to keep the use of outside messaging and publishing assistance a secret. It’s all a matter of public record. 

But the tenor of the critics seems stuck in old-school thinking. 

There’s no shame in working with collaborators to create your book, speech, editorial opinion writing, etc. In fact, more authors today no longer feel compelled to hide they’re working with a ghostwriter.

Readers now appreciate a top CEO, physician, or world leader probably doesn’t have the time to write their own book without assistance. (Plus, they want to read a well-written book and appreciate the expert help.) 

This is nothing new. Every book involves collaborators, given the roles of editors and publishers in shaping stories.

What is new – more and more ghosts are coming out of the shadows. Most notably, ghostwriter J.R. Moehringer is credited publicly with writing Prince Harry’s book Spare though his name does not appear on the cover. Dan Paisner has ghostwritten 50 books, working with Denzel Washington, Serena Williams and other leaders in their fields.

Even if you’re not a celebrity, you should still consider what you want publicly from your ghostwriter collaboration – and do it from the very beginning.

Takeaway 1: As the author, you get to decide if and how your ghostwriting collaboration will be disclosed. We suggest starting that decision-making from an open place, then evaluating why you should keep your ghostwriter in the shadows.

Takeaway 2: Use your contract to clarify the public and privacy expectations with your ghostwriter. For example, you can let them discreetly talk about their work with their prospective clients and team members but decide against them giving interviews about you and the book to the media.

The disclosure choice is yours but know your prospective ghostwriter can choose whether those parameters work for them, too.

A version of this article originally appeared in Gotham’s Words to the Wise May newsletter. Subscribe today so you’re among the first to get the latest news and insight for authors and those seeking to become authors.


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