top of page

How do I Define a Ghostwriter?

What’s a ghostwriter?

The first thing to do is define "ghostwriter."

The first thing to do is define “ghostwriter.”

I get a lot of emails from aspiring ghostwriters who seem to have peculiar ideas about what ghostwriting really is.

The dictionary and other sources only seem to confuse the issue. defines ghostwriter as:a person who writes one or numerous speeches, books, articles, etc., for another person who is named as or presumed to be the author.

The Urban Dictionary sayssomebody who writes lyrics secretly for another person and they get payed [sic] to do it.

Not much help. Wikipedia has a through article on ghostwriting that begins:A ghostwriter is a writer who writes books, articles, stories, reports, or other texts that are officially credited to another person.

All good as far as it goes, but way too abstract.

Where’s the financial remuneration? A ghostwriter is a professional who writes for a fee and, in rare cases, participates in the royalties (although when that happens, I think a better term for that role is “un-credited co-author”).  A ghostwriter usually works in the background.

Here’s my definition and how I unpack the elements:

My Definition

Great Caesar's Ghost! Help me define myself!

Great Caesar’s Ghost! Help me define myself!

A ghostwriter is a professional editorial partner who, for a fee, works in the background to assist authors find their voice and assemble the author’s own experiences and materials into a coherent manuscript suitable for publication.

Professional: one who undertakes to do a task guided by a set of professional standards.

Editorial partner: under the supervision of the client, ghostwriters work on books, speeches, articles, plays, song lyrics, etc. The common element is that of an editorial partner.

Fee:  A ghostwriting assignment involves a fee or a clear arrangement for payment. Professional ghostwriters hold with Dr. Johnson, who said, “No one except a blockhead wrote but for money.”  Without a fee, the arrangement is properly defined as a collaborator.

In the background: The salient element of ghostwriting is that it occupies a space in the background. That doesn’t require total obscurity, but if the role is too much in the foreground as far as the public is concerned, it becomes a collaboration.

Assist authors: Professional Ghosts provide assistance.  They can do more or less of the heavy lifting, but a professional is always assisting.

Assemble the author’s own experiences: Ghosts work with the raw materials provided by the client.  Some clients provide more materials than others, but it’s the ghost’s professional responsibility to use what is provided.  The best ghosts are inspired listeners.

Coherent manuscript: Professional ghosts deliver something tangible. It’s called a manuscript.

I was tempted to hire a ghostwriter to provide a definition of ghostwriting for this post.

I was tempted to hire a ghostwriter to provide a definition of ghostwriting for this post.

Suitable for publication:  At the end of the day, ghostwriters are measured by their ability to generate manuscripts that get published and succeed in the marketplace.


And that’s what a ghostwriter does.

What do you think? Did I miss anything? Please suggest your own definitions and I’ll post them here.

Recent Posts

See All

My Five Nevers of Ghostwriting Success

Looking back over my three decades of ghostwriting, I realize that every bad client experience I had was really my own fault. In each case, I ignored the flashing red warning signs. I’m not claiming t


bottom of page