On Ghostwriting

Writing ghost

Money is the universal shortcut.  You can get just about anything with it.  Sometimes for a lot less than you’d think.

In my line of editing work, I come across a lot of want-ads for ghostwriting.  Now, I can look the other way when it comes to surrogate writing in certain scenarios – you’re a not-so-eloquent public figure who needs the notes and rough drafts for your topical book or memoir worked into something fluid?  Sure, O.K.  But I’m talking about ghostwriting for fiction.  Things like: “I need a sci-fi novel written.  Preferably something to do with space exploration.  Need it to be around 70,000-80,000 words.  Must sign NDA and forgo copyright. I’m willing to pay up to $500.”  (No joke!)  It shouldn’t come as a surprise that there would be a few people out there with that kind of audacity, but I see a dozen of these a day.  And what’s even crazier – these listings get a ton of responses!

It’s a little hard to believe.  I can’t see the appeal to either side of this arrangement.  Does anyone really love the writing process itself so much that they’d be willing to undertake the grueling process of producing a novel for pennies an hour, only to forsake any rights and claims to their own creation upon completion?  Is anyone so desperately enamored with the idea of being known as a writer that they would be satisfied with the hollow “achievement” of putting their name on someone else’s work?  Apparently the answer is a disturbingly frequent yes on both accounts – it’s a big industry.  It baffles me.  It really does.

If I’m being entirely honest, I suppose I would consider ghostwriting a novel for someone if I were offered an absurd amount of money to do so (financial freedom to pursue other projects is nothing to take lightly), but these jobs are being offered at too comical a salary to be considered “just work”.  I could never quite comprehend the sentiment behind the other side of the table, though.  If you want to be a writer then, you know – write!  At the very least seek a co-author if you need help with a specific book.  I simply can’t see fiction-ghostwriting as something that has any reason to be a thing – particularly not as big of a thing as it is.

But I’m curious to hear others’ thoughts on the matter.  Have you ever had experience with ghostwriting (from either side)?  Would you ever consider it?  Am I taking crazy pills?


Bene scribete.


(Want to win a free signed copy of the non-ghostwritten The Amber Ring? Check the link for details. No entrants yet, so your odds are sitting at 100%!)



4 responses to “On Ghostwriting

  1. It’s the same thing I always get–art is free, right?

    Wait, you’re not going to do this for free? Jesus, you creative types are greedy. Fine, here’s a dollar. Have that mural painted on my wall by Monday.

    Art is still widely regarded as a hobby, no matter how much dedication is put into it or how much it’s actually worth in monetary terms. It’s not a “real job” because you enjoy it. Just like things can’t be healthy if you think they taste good. It’s shrugged off as something “anyone can do”, so it isn’t worth special consideration. In reality, it’s quite obviously NOT something “anyone can do”, or there would be no such things as “artists”. There would just be “everybody”. And I mean sure, anyone physically CAN, just like anyone can also pick up a scalpel and slice a tumor out of your lung, but you should probably find someone who gets paid for that sort of thing.

    But it’s the sense of entitlement that I can’t stand. I OWE you art because I produce it. You’re entitled to free work from me because you happen to have seen it. Draw me this, make me this, write me this. Sorry, I don’t have any money, but it’s okay to request this from you free of charge because it’s just your hobby–which doesn’t cost money OR time, as everyone knows. And the ones who do agree to pay offer you an insulting amount (here’s ten dollars; make me this elaborate toy. You have one week) and act like they’re doing YOU the favor (I’m getting your art OUT there. It’s being SEEN. Isn’t THAT all that really matters? Plus you’re getting “paid” for it! In fact I’d say that YOU owe ME! What a generous opportunity this is I’m giving you; you’re so welcome).

    Thanks. I’d rather die in impoverished obscurity than die in impoverished obscurity while you profit off me, though.

    • Just imagine if they also wanted to take credit for creating it when you were done!

      I can’t say I really mind putting my “job skills” (whether it be editing, computer fixing, music stuff, or whatever) to use helping out friends, since sharing talents is one of the perks of social circles – I know I’ve been grateful to have mechanic friends look at my car without expecting compensation! Strangers expecting you to do it for next to nothing, on the other hand, is absurdity.

      …and wait, you say all this now, but what if you really are the slog? Are you trying to trick me into starting a ghostdrawing ring?

  2. Well, I assume the people who would respond to a job offer like that are people who desperately need the money — and therefore it’s not so much a choice as a “I do this or my family starves” type deal. Because $500 for a 70k novel … that’s insane. Working minimum wage, that’s about 50 hours of writing … which is going to produce one heck of a terrible novel. Again, unless the person desperately needs work and therefore is willing to work for pennies an hour.

    As for me … luckily I have a job, so I don’t have to worry about that sort of thing. Would I ghostwrite? Maybe. If the project was interesting enough, and it paid well enough. I’d probably view it like any other job — I mean, right now I work as a technical writer, and it’s not like I can emblazon my name all over the documents I create. But … yeah, it would definitely have to be for the right price, and I would probably draw the line at ghost-writing fiction. Fiction is so much more personal than non-fiction, and if I were to write a fiction novel, I’d definitely want my name attached to it.

    • If someone were that desperate for money, though, I have a hard time seeing how he could afford to dedicate himself to a long-term job that would only pay a miniscule amount way down the line upon completion. Unless, like you say, he plans to blast out a single stream-of-consciousness draft in a week or two (but I tend to doubt such work would be accepted by a buyer who already has such unreasonable expectations).

      And yeah, copywriting is all good – someone has to do it, it usually pays decently, and anonymity is a far cry from someone else actively taking credit for your work!

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!


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