Ghostwriters: Publishing’s Unsung Heroes

A guest post by Dianna Huff

typewriterDid you know that many of the business and self-help books you see on store shelves – or at your iTunes or Kindle store – are written by ghostwriters? Sometimes referred to as “copywriters,” ghostwriters are the voice behind CEOs, politicians, celebrities, gurus – anyone who needs something written. In addition to books, ghostwriters will often write articles, reports, speeches, and blog posts for individuals. A ghostwriter can specialize in a niche, such as a highly scientific or technical area, or generalize and tackle just about any topic.

In ghostwriting, you have the pleasure (I say joy) of working with very smart people, getting inside their brain and then communicating their ideas. If these people are well-known, you have a front-row seat to view how they work and live. With the last author I worked with, for example, I learned just how a CEO of a publicly traded company runs her life and her business (note: you do not waste time in chitchat).

The downside to ghostwriting is that if the book becomes a bestseller, your name isn’t on it, nor can you tell people that you wrote it.

One of the questions I’m often asked is how I got my start as a ghostwriter. A few years ago, a business author I know recommended me to two co-founders of an Internet startup. They had a manuscript that needed some last minute help before going to the publisher. Although I had been a marketing writer for over a decade, I had not edited a book before – and with some trepidation, I took it on. Basically, I winged it. The two co-founders were happy with the end result, however, and when it came time for one of the co-founders to write a second book with our mutual business author friend, he asked me to write his half of the book. From this book another soon followed, then another. I now regularly receive calls from people inquiring about my ghostwriting services. Like most freelancers working in publishing, referrals become the bread and butter of the business.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned while developing my skill as a ghostwriter is that when writing, you have to mute your own voice and even your own ideas. Part of the writing process is getting to know the author: how he/she thinks, talks, and writes. During interviews, which can take place face-to-face or over video chat, I take note of mannerisms, movements, inflexions, and phrases. I listen for anecdotes and ask lots of questions. My job, as I see it, is to “channel” the author as if he/she were doing the actual writing.

The best ghostwritten books have a seamless “voice” – meaning, you hear only the author’s voice versus the author and the ghostwriter. When I read books that have been ghostwritten, I can sometimes hear the “split” between the two voices, which can be disconcerting. When working on the project involving two authors, I had to match the co-author’s voice while communicating my client’s ideas. I was gratified when both the publicist and the publisher said they couldn’t tell which author wrote which chapter.

Ghostwriters are the publishing world’s unsung heroes. People who have stories to tell or wisdom to share sometimes lack the time or skills to write a book. And, because writing requires such discipline — along with the internal wrestling to formulate ideas — many non-writers simply don’t get started. A good ghostwriter ensures deadlines are met and can even do the author’s email interviews and blog posts as part of the publicity run. And, when the book finally arrives in the mail – signed by the author with, “Thank you, thank you, thank you! I couldn’t have done it without you,” on the flyleaf – you might see your ghostwriter do a fist-pump coupled with a “Yes!” Then it’s on to the next assignment.


When she’s not ghostwriting for busy CEOs, Dianna Huff helps companies grow by developing really cool Websites that generate leads. Visit her website at, or download her FREE B2B Web Marketing Toolkit.

Richard Cohen

"The highest compliment one can pay “How to Write Like Tolstoy” is that it provokes an overwhelming urge to read and write, to be in dialogue or even doomed competition with the greatest creative minds… That Mr. Cohen is an editor, that his love of literature comes in large part from awe in the presence of better writers than he, is no small matter. His love is infectious, and regardless of how well he ends up teaching us to write, that is miracle enough." — Stefan Beck, The Wall Street Journal

“An elegant, chatty how-to book on writing well, using the lessons of many of the world’s best writers . . . [Cohen] draws on plentiful advice from past and present literary titans. . . . The process of gathering advice from prominent contemporary authors such as Francine Prose, Jonathan Franzen, and Nick Hornby gives Cohen the opportunity to tell any number of amusing, often discursive stories about great literature and authors, mixed with the writers’ own observations.” — Publishers Weekly