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What is Ghostwriting?

Ghostwriting is the act of hiring someone to write a book, article, or other text content that someone else will be credited with writing. If you hire a ghostwriter, that writer will not get a byline for their work. You or someone else can choose to be listed as the author.

Is Ghostwriting Legal?

At first glance, you might think that it is illegal or unethical to hire a professional writer to craft text on your behalf. In almost all cases, however, it is perfectly legal. It is also a lot more common than you might expect.

When a politician gives a speech, it is very rare that he or she actually wrote every word. Multiple writers might work together to create a speech that appears down-to-earth and genuine. Similarly, businesses publish press releases written by in-house or freelance writers, often without attributing the authors. Even popular authors might recruit ghostwriters to help write their best-selling novels!

While this is clearly a common occurrence, is ghostwriting legal? In a word, yes. Most types of ghostwriting, such as those mentioned above, are perfectly legal. There are, however, two big exceptions to the rule.

1. Plagiarism

It is important to draw a clear distinction between ghostwriting and plagiarism. It is perfectly fine for you to hire a ghostwriter to flesh out your biography or write your business plan on your behalf. It is not fine to steal someone else’s writing without them knowing.

The key here is consent, preferably in writing. If you hire a ghostwriter, then he or she will need to acknowledge that the writing submitted and paid for now belongs to someone else. When you pay money for ghostwriting services, both parties are typically happy with the arrangement. You have great writing for your objectives, and the ghostwriter gets a financial benefit.

In the case of plagiarism, there is a clear loser. You cannot take someone’s writing and claim it as your own unless they agree. Ghostwriting is legal, but plagiarism is absolutely not.

2. Academic Ghostwriting

There are also a lot of legal concerns when it comes to academic ghostwriting. Imagine, for example, that a doctoral candidate hires a professional ghostwriter to write their thesis. Although the paper might be an academic success, the candidate might go onto earn their PhD as a direct result of someone else’s work, talent and knowledge.

Writing a student’s paper or thesis is one thing, but there are some gray areas in the world of academic ghostwriting. For example, a ghostwriter might create a sample essay for a client who uses that as the basis for their own paper. By and large, it is best to avoid ghostwriting services in the academic world as the repercussions could include losing a scholarship, being expelled from a university or even being denied a degree.

Why Hire a Ghostwriter?

Now that you have a better understanding of what a ghostwriter does as well as the legality of ghostwriting, you might wonder why someone would choose to hire a ghostwriter. There are a number of reasons, and they vary from industry to industry. Overall, however, people hire ghostwriters to save time, to gain credibility and to gain traffic or an audience.

If you happen to run a successful company, then you might know that it is important to regularly create content for your brand. Perhaps you are a culinary expert who sells cooking products. What could be a better way to showcase your skills than with a cookbook or a series of blog posts highlighting recipes you have created and featuring culinary items that you sell?

In theory, this culinary expert is the perfect person for the job. Of course, mastery of one skill does not always translate to mastery of the written word. A great chef may not necessarily be a good writer. Even if someone does happen to be an excellent chef and an excellent writer, they may not have the time to devote to high-quality content.

This is where a great ghostwriter can be a valuable asset. Instead of spending your precious time worrying about spelling and grammar, you can choose the broad topics and then have a professional ghostwriter worry about the details. Since you will receive credit for the work rather than the ghostwriter, it can also boost your credibility. A fantastic blog post featuring a delicious recipe adds to your credibility as a chef, especially if it is written well and connects with your audience.

That segues right into the final reason to hire a ghostwriter: eyes on your content. Whether you are a politician or you run a retail store, one of the main goals of content creation is to attract a bigger audience. To attract and then retain that audience, you will need to consistently deliver quality content. Through a ghostwriter, you can set the tone but rest assured that the content will be written to a professional standard.

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Ghostwriting Rates

Hiring a ghostwriter is much like hiring any other type of writer. The rates that you can expect to pay will depend on a number of factors, including deadlines, author quality and author experience. Ghostwriters can also charge by the word, by the page, by time or by project.
Ghostwriting Rates

Paying Ghostwriters by Word

For many projects, ghostwriters are paid by the word. This simply means that the longer the project, the more you can expect to pay the ghostwriter. For a lot of businesses, this is the ideal arrangement, particularly for digital content. By opting to pay by the word, you can set your budget clearly just by specifying exactly how long each article or landing page should be.

Paying Ghostwriters by Time

Another option is to pay ghostwriters by a set amount of time, typically by the hour. This approach has both pros and cons. On the plus side, a fast, high-quality writer can create some wonderful content in a short amount of time. This is also a great route for clients who are not exactly sure what their needs are, or who plan on lots of guidance and revisions throughout the content creation process.

The downside to paying ghostwriters by the hour is that it becomes much harder to plan for the total cost. You might think a short e-book should take 10 hours to write, but a ghostwriter might charge you for 20 hours. If you opt to pay a ghostwriter by the hour, be sure to come up with estimated hours in advance and be comfortable with the numbers.

Paying Ghostwriters by Project

Ghostwriter rates can also be negotiated by project. Typically, this is best if you already have an established, reliable working relationship with a writer. This approach is most common if you are hiring a ghostwriter to write an entire book.

The upside to this approach is that you know exactly how much the project will cost, regardless of how long it takes or even how many pages it ends up being. The downside is that these fees tend to be pretty high to start with since they could include a significant number of revisions or close work along the way.

Author Quality and Experience

A huge price factor will always be the quality and experience of the ghostwriter themselves. A new ghostwriter with just a few months of experience will likely be much cheaper than someone who has been ghostwriting for decades.

Typically, ghostwriters will increase their rates over time, moving up when there are too many clients and the market demands it. If you come across a busy ghostwriter with a long line of clients and high prices, then you can assume that he or she is a talented writer.

Fortunately, the exception to the rule is newer authors. Ghostwriters may be truly excellent authors but may not yet have a foothold in the industry. In these cases, talented writers are often priced affordably in order to build up experience.

Direct, Agency and Content Platform Ghostwriting Rates

Another factor that can impact ghostwriting rates is where the ghostwriter works. If you hire a freelance ghostwriter directly, that likely means he or she can command very high rates on their own and that their clients hear about them by word of mouth. Agency ghostwriters tend to be priced similarly because there is more overhead involved in running an agency. Both freelancers and agencies require a lot of organizational effort, from drafting contracts to accounting.

The lowest prices for a ghostwriter tend to be on content platforms. These authors are paid less, but in exchange, they gain a lot of flexibility and independence over who they work for, especially when compared to agency authors. This makes a content platform the ideal place to look for a ghostwriter if you are trying to reduce your budget but still work with talented, qualified ghostwriters. You also save time and reduce paperwork.

How to Hire a Ghostwriter

Finding a ghostwriter is not always a straightforward process, largely because many ghostwriters do not publicize their work. Unlike traditional authors, whose name you might expect to find in bylines, a ghostwriter will not receive public credit for their work. So, it can take a little more work to find and then hire the right ghostwriter for the job.

1. Set Project Goals

The beginning of the process is simply to set your project goals. A common mistake is to begin searching for or even hiring a ghostwriter before you know the specifics of your project. This can cause problems or just be inefficient. You can only narrow down the choices and find the right ghostwriter if you know what kind of project he or she will be writing. Before you begin looking at individual ghostwriters, consider the type of project, the budget, the length and the style.
Ghostwriting Goals
The type of project is usually easy to determine, but make sure you get as specific as possible. If you want to write an e-book, will it be educational or promotional? Is this something you plan to give away for free or something that customers will pay for?

Next, consider the budget you are working with. It is best to come up with a number and then work backward from there over the next few steps. Think carefully about what you can afford before contacting any ghostwriters.

Then, you can decide how long your project needs to be. Typically, this will be calculated in words. For longer projects like books, however, you may wish to think in pages. If you are thinking of a multi-piece project, such as blog posts for a year for your company, factor in the number of pieces as well as the total word count.

Finally, think about the style you want for your content. Are you planning to compile an educated, knowledgeable book that places you as an industry leader? Or are you hoping to end up with casual blog posts that make your business appealing and attractive to a younger audience? Whatever the case, knowing the tone, voice and style can ensure that you start searching for the right types of ghostwriters for the job.

2. How to Find a Ghostwriter

There are three primary sources where you can find ghostwriters: freelance ghostwriters, writing agencies, and content platforms. When you want to outsource content creation of any kind, these are the three main options available.

Working directly with ghostwriters is often expensive, but this works best for celebrities, politicians, or those with big budgets who are working to publish self-titled books. To find an independent ghostwriter, you may need to have industry connections or know someone who has used the ghostwriter before.

Ghostwriters working with an agency can also be expensive, but they are much easier to find. A single online search could bring up many marketing or advertising agencies in your area that include ghostwriters willing to tackle your projects. The hard part is determining which author is the right fit and whether the agency is all flash rather than substance.

Finally, you can find ghostwriters through content platforms. Many of the writers employed through content platforms are familiar with ghostwriting, and they are often very comfortable with creating content credited to a third party. Working with freelance ghostwriters through an online platform also allows you to try out several writers for smaller projects or “shop around” until you get the right fit.

3. Find the Right Fit

Of course, not all ghostwriters are the same. Not only can they vary in terms of quality and experience, but they may differ when it comes to deadlines, work hours and communication. For example, some ghostwriters prefer to communicate via email, and they may not be responsive. Others may be available to video chat or to attend meetings on short notice. There is not one style that is better or worse, but make sure you ask these key questions before choosing a ghostwriter:

  • How do you prefer to communicate?
  • What are your turnaround times?
  • Are you available for revisions?
  • How many other clients or projects are you working with/on right now?
  • Do you prefer a formal or a casual writing voice?
  • What is your price per word/hour?

Of course, you should also ask ghostwriters for some working samples to get an impression of their quality and expertise.


4. Set Clear Expectations

Arguably the most important step in the entire process is setting clear expectations for the ghostwriter. Typically, this means ensuring that both parties have the same understanding about what work is being done and when it needs to be completed.

A good briefing for a ghostwriting project will start with voice or tone. This is where you can clarify in whose voice the writer will write as well as whether it is casual or formal in nature. If possible, provide samples of similar work that captures the tone you are going for.

Then, be very specific about length, chapters and formatting. Give a specific page or word count range. If any keywords or phrases are required, spell that out in detail. Then, be clear about when the work is due as well as whether any revisions are expected. This allows the ghostwriter to plan out the work and ensures that you receive the content back in time.


Ghostwriting is any form of writing where the author is not credited. This form of writing is very common, and it can be a great way to put out professional content for yourself or your company. Whatever type of content you are creating, a ghostwriter can be a tremendous asset.

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