June 16, 2022 (Updated: May 4, 2023)
John F. Kennedy. James Patterson. Gwyneth Paltrow. CopyPress. What do all these people and companies have in common? They all use ghostwriters to create content their audiences want to read. But why would famous names and content brands use ghostwriters to develop their content? The reasons for each different type of ghostwriting situation may surprise you. Today we’re uncovering who uses ghostwriters for content creation and why they do it with topics like:
A ghostwriter is an author, journalist, or copywriter who develops content without individual credit. These people might complete work for individuals, companies, or agencies and their clients. There are plenty of reasons why ghostwriters do what they do. Some love to write but don’t want the public attention that comes with sharing certain thoughts or opinions and attaching their own name.
In other cases, ghostwriters may be people that have a lot to say but don’t have the notoriety to get the word out about the topic. If they partner with someone who has more clout in the industry, either a brand or a person, they can get those ideas circulating in the community more quickly.
Ghostwriters appear in more circles and industries than you may expect. If someone has a piece of content to write, they can hire a ghostwriter to do it. Some of the most common people and organizations that use ghostwriters include:
Nonfiction writers rely on ghostwriters to help them with a variety of functions throughout the project development process. This genre includes a broad range of content, like accounts of historical events, opinion pieces, autobiographies, memoirs, and reference books. Nonfiction writers who cover historical events or topics may use ghostwriters to help with research. This type of ghostwriting is a collaborative effort. The author’s name on the cover is the same person who wrote the piece or the book. But they use ghostwriters to interview, do background research, and fact-check information to save time and meet publication deadlines.
Reference books like test prep guides or other educational resources also often use ghostwriters. The test prep company publishes that content under its own name. But it uses a team of curriculum and industry experts to create sample questions and scenarios. This helps prepare students for big tests or assignments. SparkNotes and CliffsNotes are two examples of ghostwritten reference guides.
Believe it or not, ghostwriting isn’t just for nonfiction subjects. Plenty of fiction writers also use these services. Ghostwriting in fiction is most common—and most accepted—with lengthy series that have many books. Children’s series like Nancy Drew, Goosebumps, and The Baby-Sitters Club have all used ghostwriters over the years to meet the demand of readers. Adult series like Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels and Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne books have used ghostwriters for the same reason.
Once a fiction author becomes a brand themselves rather than just an author, it’s also common for them to hire ghostwriters to meet reader demand. James Patterson is the perfect example. As of 2022, he is 75 years old. He published his first book at age 20, in 1967. Since then, over 200 novels have gone to publication with his name on the cover.
That means he’d have to be writing and publishing approximately four books per year, every year, to hit that mark. It would be impressive if someone could actually do that, but it’s not possible to do all that work alone.
Famous figures often choose to publish autobiographies or memoirs during their lifetime to tell the stories of their successes in their own words. But a talented actor isn’t always a talented author. A great lyricist might not want to tackle a full-length book. That’s where ghostwriters come in. Most celebrity autobiographies and memoirs require the help of a ghostwriter to get the famous person’s story down on paper. They help the words flow and make sense to the audience. Celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Chip and Joanna Gaines used ghostwriters to release books about their lives.
Image via Amazon
Sometimes these ghostwriters get credit on the cover of a memoir for their work. If a celebrity book has the addition of “with” an author’s name anywhere, that’s an indicator that they’ve used a ghostwriter. For example, Jack Klugman’s 2005 book, Tony and Me: A Story of Friendship, pictured above, featured the addition of “with Burton Rocks” on the cover, his ghostwriter.
Celebrities who want to venture into fiction also use ghostwriters. When Hilary Duff published her debut young adult novel, she used a ghostwriter to get her ideas organized and written. She’s since added a picture book to her author credits, which likely included the help of a ghostwriter, too.
Politicians use ghostwriters for a variety of reasons. We the people expect our state, local, federal, and world government leaders to appear put together, polished, and speak eloquently. But similar to celebrities, just because a politician is good at developing strategy or holding peace talks doesn’t mean they’re an excellent writer or a superb public speaker.
Politicians typically have the help of speechwriters, a specific type of ghostwriter. These people help them address the nation or other big crowds for various events. While the ideas in the speech may belong to the politician, the speechwriter works as an author and editor. They take those ideas and pick the right words to make the most impactful statement. They also make sure the speeches suit the location, target audience, and political climate for the time of the speech.
Other ghostwriting uses for a politician include drafting letters and other documents. Also like celebrities, if politicians choose to release autobiographies or memoirs during or after their time in office, they can hire a ghostwriter to help. John F. Kennedy released the book Profiles in Courage in 1956. It helped establish his credibility for a presidential run. He won a Pulitzer Prize for it, but what people didn’t know at the time was his speechwriter, Ted Sorensen, helped ghostwrite the book.
If you haven’t seen the pattern yet, you’re about to do so now. Just because people are good at one thing doesn’t make them great writers. Even if they have amazing stories to tell. Public speakers are no different. They’re charismatic. They’re engaging. But their skills come from delivering words, not necessarily writing them. Famous public speakers, like politicians, may turn to speechwriters to help them create the right tone and message for their audiences with every presentation.
Even the TV and movie industries can’t escape the long arm of ghostwriting. Ghostwriters for the screen go by the name script doctors. They’re writers and playwrights that production companies hire to rewrite or fix existing scripts before or during filming. Their work helps improve specific scenes or the flow of the project. They may inject more humor or gags into a scene or amp up the drama for the whole plot.
Famous screenwriters and directors often work as script doctors on other people’s projects. For example, Carrie Fisher of Star Wars fame also became a successful writer—without a ghostwriter—later in her life. She worked as a script doctor to help improve movies like Sister Act, Lethal Weapon 3, and even some of the Star Wars projects in the 1990s and 2000s.
Sometimes musicians are all about the sound and less about the words. Bands like KISS know how to put together notes that sound great but may get stuck on the lyrics. How many times can you repeat “shout it out loud” to get to the end of the song, anyway? But in genres that rely heavily on lyrics and rhymes, like rap and hip-hop, musicians who can’t find the right words turn to ghostwriters.
Image via Beats Rhymes Lists
One of the earliest examples of ghostwriting in hip-hop came from The Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight.” Big Bank Hank was ready to record the song but didn’t have the words written yet. He asked Grandmaster Caz to write them for him. Ghostwriting is trickier to pin down in the music industry.
Similar to adding “with” for a ghostwriter on a celebrity’s book, lyric ghostwriters may receive notoriety or songwriting credit over time but not upon a song’s initial release. Grandmaster Caz wasn’t credited on the original release for “Rapper’s Delight,” but his name often shows up in the credits on online sources, like lyric websites, today.
There are other cases where songwriters don’t necessarily ghostwrite lyrics but write under a pseudonym. This is a different kind of anonymous writing practice. Taylor Swift confirmed in 2020 that she’s used the pseudonym Nils Sjoberg to write music for other bands and artists over the years. This name appears in the songwriting credits, but the public didn’t know that was actually Taylor Swift until she told the world.
Like politicians, when business owners, company leaders, and upper management address their team members and their audience, they want to sound professional. But writing for a professional audience is difficult. The author has to sound authoritative but relatable. In control of any situation, but also transparent.
Plus, in a work environment, there’s often the added pressure of avoiding things like unintentional offensive language or themes in what you say and write. That’s why company management may turn to ghostwriters to help them craft emails, speeches, memos, and other documents that go out to their staff and brand audiences. For example, public relations statements for the media after an incident, product launch, or another announcement may come from the CEO of the company. But they often collaborate with a ghostwriter to get the words just right.
Any ad copy you’ve ever read, any email newsletter you’ve ever received, likely isn’t the work of just one writer. Many copywriters and content writers for marketing and sales departments work like ghostwriters. Their companies employ them to do writing work, but they don’t get byline name credit on any of their pieces. Instead, the voice belongs to the brand, and the entire team perfects and uses it.
Content agencies like CopyPress use an entire team of ghostwriters. They work for us, and we work for you. We work as an extension of your marketing department, brand, or agency. With the living style guide that you create and provide, our team develops content pieces in your brand voice. This helps ensure consistency throughout all your content. We write for your company, not for individual notoriety. You get all the traffic, attention, and reward from the pieces we create without sharing the spotlight with a writer.
No, there isn’t a difference between a collaborator and a ghostwriter. Publishers often use the term collaborator instead of ghostwriter because it has a more up-and-up connotation. The word collaborator means working together to create a finished piece. The “real” author, whose name appears on the cover or in the byline, had the stories or ideas for the content. The collaborator helped them put it into words. Or the collaborator may have done some research while the “real” author did the writing.
Either way, the term collaborator gets more respect. People view working together as a good thing in the publishing and content industries rather than a sneaky one. You don’t have to hide the name of your collaborator or the fact that you work with one. Some collaborators may get a credit on a book cover, in a byline, or the acknowledgments of a piece. This doesn’t usually happen for ghostwriters. But this practice isn’t a guarantee.
It doesn’t show anything more than the ghostwriter getting a little personal recognition for the project. In the end, as far as what the job requires, the work of collaborators and ghostwriters is the same.
Most companies and individuals who want to hire ghostwriters use typical channels that you’d use to find any other writer. Many prefer job boards, freelancer websites like Fiverr, and professional networking platforms like LinkedIn. These sources let them search for talent and let the talent find them. Companies that work in content marketing may advertise on these channels and their own websites to attract qualified candidates to apply for ghostwriter positions.
For certain projects, like nonfiction books or novel-length literature, people may work with publishing companies and agencies that represent and specialize in pairing ghostwriters with specific projects. Content agencies do the same when putting together teams for every client and project. For example, at CopyPress, we vet and test all our writers and learn their areas of expertise. That way, we put them on the right projects that benefit each client.
According to Madeleine Morel, a literary agent who’s been representing ghostwriters for over 20 years, in the past “talking about ghostwriting was a bit like sheepishly admitting you’d done internet dating.” By that, Morel meant that a lot of people did it, but there was some kind of taboo around admitting to it. But that’s not the case with ghostwriting anymore, especially not in content marketing.
A lot of brands and agencies are open about the fact that they use content teams and ghostwriters to create pieces for their brands. It’s not just traditionally written content like blogs and articles either. It also includes things like social media posts, video scripts, and eBooks. Unless there’s a legally binding contract with a freelancer or team member that says the company or agency can’t talk about the content agreement, then you can tell anyone you want that you use ghostwriters.
More often than not, the content company or agency can talk about this relationship more freely than the writers. Again, it all comes down to the legality of the contracts and documents both parties sign at the beginning of their partnership. Because using a ghostwriter is a more standard practice in content writing, it doesn’t reflect poorly on a company or agency’s reputation within its industry, or with its audience.
Related: FAQ: How Common Is Ghostwriting?
At CopyPress, we’re technically a full-service team of ghostwriters for our clients and even for ourselves. Our dedicated marketing team includes ghostwriters that create all the great content you see on our blog and in our knowledge base. We can extend that same service to you. Our creatives are experts in a variety of industries, so they know how to develop the right content for every audience. No matter what content types you need, we provide them.
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