31 Aug 2019

Is Ghostwriting Ethical?

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Is ghostwriting ethical? The answer to this seemingly simple question may not be as clear cut as you might think.

Is ghostwriting ethical and is ghostwriting wrong? It depends on the audience and purposeSometimes making an ethical decision is simple. For example, should you lie? Most people would say lying, under most conditions, is unethical. But what if your spouse asks you if they are handsome or pretty and at that moment you have doubts? Should you say, “no, dear” or should you tell a little white lie, “yes, you are gorgeous”?

Ethics can be defined as “that which do you when no one can find out.” Would you keep a wallet full of hundred dollar bills that you found in a parking lot if there was no way to be caught? What if you needed the money for rent? What if your children were starving? Your answers determine your level of ethics.

A criteria that I use for making ethical decisions is, “would I care if this was posted on a billboard in my neighborhood?” Asking that question before making an ethical choice can make it more approachable.

Sometimes ethical questions are more complex. Let’s take ghostwriting. What do we mean by ghostwriting? This is when a writer (and sometimes more than one) is hired to write something for a person (let’s call them the client) which is then published under the client’s name. In most instances, the ghostwriter is not credited and never divulges that they were the actual author of the piece. As far as the public is concerned, the client wrote the book, article or other material.

I am a ghostwriter, and I’ve written over 40 books for other people which they then published under their own name. Why do my clients hire me to ghostwrite their books? There are many reasons:

  • They don’t know how to write.
  • They don’t have the time.
  • They want to collaborate.
  • They want to write in a style or voice different from their own.
  • They want something written much more quickly than they can do so on their own.
  • And so on.

But who would hire a ghostwriter?

  • Celebrities
  • Sports figures
  • Actors
  • Political figures
  • Leaders

Anyone with an idea, the funds, and the motivation can and often does hire a ghostwriter to write something for them. As an example, my own ghostwriting firm is often hired to write books, articles, white papers and case studies.

Why is ghostwriting ethical?

When you hire a ghostwriter, you are hiring a person who is a trained, experienced writer. This is work-for-hire, the same as any other contractual labor. You’re paying someone with the skills you need to do the hard work of writing for you.

Let’s drill down a bit on the ethical concerns. Ghostwriting is generally considered ethical under the following circumstances:

Ghostwriting for a living is a fun and fulfilling professionBooks. Many books are ghostwritten, especially those by celebrities and industry leaders. The ghostwriter serves as the conduit between the client and the audience, translating the client’s ideas into clear, precise words.

Mailings and social media. For social media and direct marketing campaigns, it is standard practice to hire a writer – a ghostwriter – to write the copy.

Blogging. As companies and individuals work to promote their brands, they hire ghostwriters to write articles for their blogs and other online outlets. These are generally published under a branded name of some kind.

It is accepted practice for these and many other types of materials to be ghostwritten.

Is ghostwriting illegal? There is nothing illegal about ghostwriting from the perspective of the ghostwriter. For the client the answer depends on how the material is used. For example. it is clearly unethical to hire ghostwriters to write your college paper or thesis, to write answers to tests, and to write in other areas where the objective is to test your knowledge and skills. You need to do these on your own without a third-person (the ghostwriter) doing the work for you.

Is academic ghostwriting legal? I doubt (although I am not a lawyer) that there there is anything illegal about using a ghostwriter for academic writing. You probably won’t go to jail in this case, but you can be sure you will be disciplined by the school if you are caught.

What about ghostwriting rappers? An area which has been the source of controversy is the use of ghostwriters for song lyrics, especially ghostwriting for rappers. It’s certainly not illegal to use a ghostwriter to write songs; it may or may not be unethical. However, if you claim to your audience that you wrote your songs, and then it’s discovered that those rap lyrics are not yours, you may find yourself in hot water with all your peeps. This is an area where common sense trumps legality or ethics.

Why Is Everyone Talking About Ethical Ghostwriting?

Ghostwriters hit the news every once in a while, as with Trump’s famous ghostwritten book, “The Art of the Deal” or certain rap lyrics. When this happens, the news tends to ask about ghostwriting services and the legality of ghostwriting. There’s lots of chest pounding about ghostwriting ethics and outrage about ghostwriting for celebrities, books and even authors. However, in reality, ghostwriting is just another job, albeit a very creative one, and the world moves on after all the rhetoric and heated debate dies down.

Regardless of the ethics of ghostwriting, people use ghostwriters for variety of reasons. First and foremost, it’s because they don’t have the time to write a book. Let me tell you from my own experience that the process of writing a book is not easy. Brainstorming the idea, researching it, writing the first draft, revising it numerous times, getting it edited and proofread, revising it yet again, and finally getting it published are things that are best done by professionals.

Second, a ghostwriter is a professional and knows how to write. A CEO may know how to run a company, an actress may have won an Oscar, and a politician may have been elected, but odds are none of them have ever written anything of any consequence in their life.

A ghostwriter takes the ideas and concepts of a person or group and creates the book or story for them.

Why Should You Hire a Ghostwriter?

Without ghostwriters, many stories would never be told at all. It’s doubtful that any politician would write a book on their own. Very few, if any, actors or actresses would tell us their stories. The lives of sports celebrities would be mostly unknown.

You could think of a ghostwriter as kind of translator between the mind of a person or people and the written word. A ghostwriter takes ideas and, working in collaboration with the client, creates interesting stories from those.

Should you hire one? The answer to that question depends on your needs, time constraints, budget and writing skill.

What do you think about the ethics of ghostwriting?

Richard Lowe Jr

Richard Lowe Jr

Owner and Senior Writing at The Writing King
Richard is the Owner and Senior Writer for The Writing King, a bestselling author, and ghostwriter. He's written and published 63 books, ghostwritten 20+ books, as well as hundreds of blog articles.
Richard Lowe Jr

@richardlowejr

Professional Ghostwriter, author and writing coach
Trying out @theTunnelBear so I can browse privately from my ISP https://t.co/KheAIx56c7 https://t.co/pDYk1dSCMl - 1 month ago
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As long as the ghostwriter does his or her job of writing what the client is trying to get across, i don’t see anything wrong with it. it’s like hiring a copywriter for your ad campaign. When someone looks at that ad, it is as if that copy came from you. No one ever knows who wrote that copy. There are many examples of similar things that people hire to be written. Most of you would be shocked to know how many of the blogs you follow were written by someone other than the credited author. But the fact is… Read more »

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