18 Jan 2018

Why Is Everyone Talking About Ethical Ghostwriting?


Is ghostwriting ethical? Some people believe that using a ghostwriter is unethical because the writer is not given credit for their work. It feels like cheating, because the person shown as the author on the cover of the book or article didn’t really write it. Isn’t that a lie, and aren’t lies bad?

Let’s look at it from three different points of view: the ghostwriter, the author (the person hiring the ghostwriter and getting credit for the book), and the reader.

Ethical Ghostwriting

When a work is published with a name other than the writer it is considered ghostwriting. This includes books, blog articles (also called ghost blogging), movie scripts, songs, and even occasionally articles in magazines or online journals.

A ghostwriter is essentially working for hire, much the same as any other contractor. They have a certain set of skills which they put to use to earn a living, or at least a paycheck. Ghostwriters understand that they’re not going to be listed as the author – in fact, they’re going to be completely invisible. They can’t even use the fact that they’ve written something in their portfolio, and they can’t mention it to clients without permission.

On the other hand, ghostwriters go into the relationship understanding the rules. They get paid up front, before the book is published, to write the manuscript, with an understanding that they will not be the author nor will they receive royalties (under most conditions).

What About the Author (the Client)?

Another party in a ghostwriting agreement is the client, also known as the author of the work. The writer is the ghostwriter, the one who actually does the writing. The author is the client who pays the ghostwriter to write the book.

You could argue that the author is perpetuating a lie onto their public by pretending that they’ve written a book. In actual fact, the author didn’t write the book. Is that unethical?

Some ghostwriting projects are actually collaborations where the ghostwriter and the author work together as a team to write the book. I’ve been involved in several of these where the client was the subject matter expert on a highly technical subject. It was necessary for us to work together closely to write the book. In these cases, the author is much closer to the writing than in normal ghostwriting projects.

However, that’s the wrong way to look at things. The purpose of the ghostwriter is to translate the ideas and concepts of the author into a book or article form. It could easily be argued that the author is actually writing the book using the ghostwriter as a tool to get the work done.

And then there’s the reader

Would it surprise you to learn that Donald Trump’s book, “The Art of the Deal” was ghostwritten? Did you know that the book by Hillary Clinton called “It Takes a Village” was also ghostwritten? Even her newer book, “What Happened” was ghostwritten. In fact, it’s highly likely that virtually all books by celebrities were actually written by ghostwriters.

Yet the fans and readers who avidly purchase and read these books have no idea that the books were not written by the celebrities themselves.

Think about it for a minute. Why would a politician, who presumably has work to do, have time to write a book? Would they know how to write in a compelling and enticing way? Would you expect an actress, basketball player, highly paid CEO, or famous general to have any real writing skills at all?

The truth of the matter is the politicians don’t write their own speeches. Many musicians don’t write the words to their own music. Quite a few novels and nonfiction books aren’t written by the person whose name is on the cover. And a large percentage of the professional blogs of corporations weren’t written by anyone employed by the company.

Ghostwriters understand how to write good, compelling stories. That’s a special talent that takes years to master.

Famous people and celebrities have spent their lives mastering their own skills. They haven’t had time to learn how to write, so they depend on others, ghostwriters, to take their thoughts and turn them into compelling stories.

Is that ethical? You’ll have to decide for yourself. Personally, I don’t see any problem with it.

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I don’t see how it would be unethical unless the ghostwriter in question isn’t being compensated. Mostly though, I don’t care. It doesn’t effect my enjoyment of the music one way or another.

Book writing inc

Richard, I second with all of your statements except for the point where you say some ghostwriting projects are a collaboration of authors and writers. I have never seen any client who has literally collaborated with us or my firm book writing inc.

They have always been on the guiding end and suggestion end. Won’t add a single word but rather just command us to do.

Some of the few projects they were clear from the beginning as they hired us for only editing and reviewing so.

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