What is ghostwriting?

Updated: Sep 14

In its purest form, ghostwriting is content for publication that’s written by a wordsmith on behalf of someone else.

The author is usually paid for their copywriting services but not credited for their work. Thus the real writer remains unknown and anonymous.


Ghostwriting is among the world’s oldest professions, dating back to the 5th Century BCE when literacy was limited to the elite and learned scribes would etch material exclusively for royalty. As the written word has become more prolific and accessible over the centuries, ghostwriting services have evolved to become increasingly diversified – from writing celebrity autobiographies to supplying the demand for online content we now absorb daily – making ghostwriting much more commonplace.


American sports autobiographer Christy Walsh coined the term ‘ghostwriting’ in 1921. However, the age-old profession was still shrouded in mystery as only the rich and famous could afford a ghostwriter’s copywriting services in those days.


Children’s book author Martin Jenkins puts it this way:

“Nowadays, the term ghostwriting is usually associated with books and magazines. But this was not always the case. Before there was a word for ghostwriting in our language, people were writing books with pen pals around the world, such as Anne Frank's last diary and Winston Churchill's biography.”


Famous examples of ghostwriting


We often read books and hear speeches without ever realising that they were written by someone other than the name credited. Here are some interesting examples:


- The Babysitter’s Club

Ann M. Martin wrote the first 35 books in the Babysitter’s Club series of novels for young readers published by Scholastic, but Peter Lerangis took over the reins from book 36.


- Jason Bourne

The character and protagonist Jason Bourne was created by novelist Robert Ludlum, who died in 2001, after completing the first three novels in the series, but the Bourne legacy was continued until 2017 by Eric Van Lustbader. The latter wrote another eleven novels for the series.


- Nancy Drew

If someone were to ask you, “who wrote Nancy Drew novels?”, you would probably answer, Carolyn Keene. However, Keene is actually multiple ghostwriters. We call this ‘book packaging’, which is where a person creates marketable ideas, develops the outlines or synopses, and then hires numerous writers to write them.


Why use ghostwritten copywriting services?


People hire ghostwriters for various reasons, most commonly to write books or articles for famous people, but there are many other reasons to use ghostwriting services.


Professionals with heavy workloads and time constraints often hire ghostwriters. The writers themselves aren't always well known by the public, but they are chosen for their previous work and recommendations from others that have used their copywriting services before.


People may hire a ghostwriter because they aren’t able to write for themselves, which could be for any number of reasons, including their profession, age, disabilities or even self-doubt about their own writing abilities.


Nowadays, the most prominent form of ghostwriting is creating copy for online content. Say, for example, you had a gardening business. You’re the best gardener in town and you are a fountain of knowledge about garden flora and fauna, but how do you translate your expertise into well-written content for an online platform?


That’s where a copywriting agency like Contese usually comes in, where ghostwriting services also extend to improving search engine rankings with SEO to optimise your knowledge for a digital landscape.


How to find a ghostwriter


Finding the right ghostwriter for you can be challenging but needn’t be complicated, as long as you are crystal clear about your needs and expectations.


You can use freelance platforms such as Fiverr and Upwork. Hiring a ghostwriter on Fiverr is a gamble. You search for potential “gigs” to find the services you need. You may get lucky with a good writer the first time you hire, but more often than not, it’s a process of trial and error before you find the perfect fit. Upwork provides vetted professionals that can bid to work on your projects, which means you have a better chance of hiring a writer who will deliver what you want at the price set by you.


Sourcing ghostwriters directly through an agency is probably your best bet for professional results. Our team of publicists at Contese has a wealth of diverse copywriting experience, and we can provide a range of dovetail services for any publication project, including branding and marketing.