From the earliest days of literature, ghostwriting has played a significant, if usually invisible, role in the publishing world.
Throughout history, famous writers have fallen prey to the ghostwriter rumor. One of the most well known examples is William Shakespeare, whose prolific output has been attributed most often to one of two men: playwright Christopher Marlowe and scientist Francis Bacon. Most experts agree that Shakespeare was the one and only creator of the works published under his name, but that hasn't stopped conspiracy enthusiasts from positing their favorite theories.
In the centuries since Shakespeare's famous plays and sonnets, ghostwriters created political tomes, memoirs, autobiographies, and novels. The practice continues today, moving beyond traditional publishing and into the world of the Internet.
Today, people hire ghostwriters for their blog, commonly called a ghost blog, for the same reasons people have always chosen ghostwriters: a lack of time and less-than-professional writing skills.
What Is a Ghostwriter?
Ghostwriters perform a variety of roles, the most famous of which is actually writing a work attributed to another person. Sometimes, though, the ghostwriter works as more of an advisor or rewriter. Typically, the ghost spends a great deal of time working with the credited writer, conducting interviews, taking notes, and compiling research, before organizing and outlining the book. For his or her work, the ghostwriter receives a certain percentage of the advance, and possibly some of the royalties, depending on the contract.
In the blogosphere, companies and websites hire ghostwriters to create blog postings and other Web content. The ghostwriter may receive detailed instruction and direction, or nothing more than a title. In some cases, the ghostwriter helps determine the direction of the ghost blog, advising the site's owner on subjects such as trending topics.
Political figures release a variety of books, from novels to memoirs to histories. More often than not, these works are collaborations between the political figure and a ghostwriter.
For example, most experts agree that the novelist André Malraux ghostwrote the memoirs of French statesman Charles de Gaulle. American President John F. Kennedy won a Pulitzer for his book, "Profiles in Courage." Years later, the public learned that Kennedy's speechwriter, Theodore Sorenson, actually wrote the book.
Former Georgia Representative Newt Gingrich wrote a series of novels with the help of what he calls "collaborators." Former First Lady Nancy Reagan used a ghostwriter to create her memoirs, as did former VP Dan Quayle and just about every modern President.
Some celebrities write their own books, but a ghostwriter lies behind many of the memoirs and biographies of famous people, from athletes and musicians to actors and business icons. Even journalists often employ ghostwriters.
A short list of such memoirs include those of former NBA star Charles Barkley (who complained of being misquoted in his own autobiography), soccer player David Beckham, Lee Iacocca, Tim Russert, and Tatum O'Neal.
Ghostwriting in Young Adult Fiction
Ever since teenage heroine Nancy Drew hit the scene in 1930, popular young adult (commonly referred to as YA) fiction has relied heavily on ghostwriters.
Stratemeyer Syndicate created the Nancy Drew series, first publishing all of the books under the pseudonym Carolyn Keene. The company created outlines and performed editing duties, with a wide variety of ghostwriters writing the actual stories.
This type of arrangement continued throughout the 20th Century and into the 21st. There was such a high demand for new books in RL Stine's enormously popular Goosebumps series that there was little possibility any single writer could keep up with demand. Stine admits to using ghostwriters for some of his stories, following the precedent set by the Nancy Drew series by coming up with the concept for each book himself.
Other popular YA franchises employ ghostwriters, such as The Baby-Sitters Club and Sweet Valley High.
The Song Remains the Same
Ghostwriting nonfiction continues to thrive, and the reasons remain the same. The average political figure or celebrity simply does not have the time to write a book, which is a time-consuming process even before you add in duties such as editing and revisions.
Time is also the reason many fiction series employ ghostwriters. If a book series or a writer explodes in popularity, the publisher looks to take advantage. No matter how prolific a writer is, though, he or she cannot continually pump out three or four books a year. Enter the ghostwriter.
Another reason so many people employ ghostwriters is the simple fact that not everybody can write, especially at a professional level. If your job is to run a government, or play basketball, the expectation that you also have natural writing talent seems a tad… unfair.
These reasons combined to create the job of ghost blogger, experienced writers who may have a specialized knowledge of a particular field, or who simply excel at research. A person running a business realizes that an active Web presence is an important component of his or her online marketing. However, actually running a company has to take precedence. The solution? Hire a ghostwriter.
Ghostwriting Done Right
A good ghostwriter knows how to write in another person's voice. If the client is a legal firm, the voice will likely be professional and conservative. If the ghost blog is for a fashion site, the writer may use a more colloquial style. Mimicking the client's voice usually involves reading the client's own writing, as well as talking to him or her. Once the ghost has the feel of the client, the writing begins.
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